Why the ‘Social Enterprise’ Didn’t Hunt

Why the ‘Social Enterprise’ Didn’t Hunt

Recently, there was an article on ZDNet speculating that Salesforce.com may be moving away from  its ‘social enterprise‘ marketing meme. In hindsight (being 20/20 and all), this should not be surprising:

Minding the Gap

Marc Benioff is the master of BHAM (Big Hairy Audacious Marketing). Salesforce’s original meme around ‘no software’ as a means to promote SaaS as well as the hiring of actors to picket Siebel user conferences were both masterful works of marketing. Similarly, tying current events such as the Arab Spring and the use of social media to enterprise trends such as BYOD and the consumerization of IT to promote the ‘social enterprise’ was equally brilliant.

However, in the first case (‘no software’), the BHAM message translated into tangible benefits (e.g., why spend millions of dollars and spend months/years purchasing, installing, and configuring software when you can rent it on the web and go live in a fraction of the time?). With the latter, the BHAM message was lost in translation.

In other words, to make it real and relevant, Salesforce needed to be more explicit on how the ‘social enterprise’ would help salespeople close more business (see LinkedIn’s sales navigator) or serve as an early warning system for potential customer satisfaction issues (by monitoring social media) to name a couple of examples. It was not clear how the ‘social enterprise’ would help specific groups (e.g., sales, marketing, customer support, etc.) achieve fame and fortune.

A Bridge Too Far?

The other issue with the ‘social enterprise’ is that it may have been too much of a stretch.

With the CRM market barely penetrated, Salesforce needs to figure out how to attract swaths of new customers who have not previously considered traditional SFA/CRM solutions (do.com was an attempt along these lines). Prospective customers need to understand why their status quo solutions (email, spreadsheets, paper, etc.) are no longer sufficient.

I believe that these potential customers are seeking very prescriptive and very pragmatic solutions. High-brow messaging around ‘social enterprise’ probably misses the mark (if I were Salesforce, I would consider drafting behind Square and their new offering providing SMB retailers with a turnkey commerce and customer management solution).

What Now?

Salesforce’s challenge is that to maintain company growth and meet Wall Street expectations, they need to both sell more stuff to their existing customers as well as to attract new customers. Developing BHAM that resonates with both is challenging.

Given that Salesforce is no longer a scrappy underdog and is now seen as the de facto enterprise software standard for a number of companies, my guess is they will use their new-found stature to try to own the conversation around customer experience and prescribe how enterprises can forge deeper/more meaningful relationships to drive customer loyalty (and revenues). I can see them using Apple as an aspirational example (e.g., anticipating customer needs, creating an unparalleled customer experience pre- and post-sales, leveraging loyalty to increase company valuation, etc.).

What do you think? Where do you see Salesforce heading with their marketing?

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