Salesforce wants Salesforce+ to be the Netflix of biz content
Salesforce just closed a $ 28 billion mega-deal to buy Slack, generating significant debt along the way, but it’s not through spending big money.
Today the CRM giant announced it was taking a leap into streaming media with Salesforce+, a forthcoming digital media network with a focus on video that, in the words of the company, “will bring the magic of Dreamforce to viewers across the globe with luminary speakers.” (Whether that’s a good thing or not is in the eye of the beholder.)
Over the last year, Salesforce has watched companies struggle to quickly transform into fully-digital entities. The Slack purchase is part of Salesforce’s response to the evolving market, but the company believes it can do even more with an on-demand video service providing business content around the clock.
Salesforce president and CMO Sarah Franklin said in an official post that her company has had to “reimagine how to succeed in the new digital-first world.” The answer apparently is involves getting the larger Salesforce community together is a new live, and recorded video push.
In a Q&A with Colin Fleming, Salesforce’s senior vice president of Global Brand Marketing, he sees it as a way to evolve the content the company has been sharing all along. “As a result of the pandemic, we looked at the media landscape, where people are consuming content, and decided the days of white papers in a business-to-business setting were no longer interesting to people. We’re staring at a cookie-less future. And looking at the consumer world, we reflected on that for Salesforce and asked, “Why shouldn’t we be thinking about this too,” he said in the Q&A.
The company’s efforts are not small. Axios reports that there are “50 editorial leads” aboard the project to help it launch, and “hundreds of people at Salesforce currently working on Salesforce+” more broadly.
Notably Salesforce does not have near-term monetization plans for Salesforce+. The service will be free, and will not feature external advertising. Salesforce+ will launch in September in conjunction with Dreamforce and include four channels: Primetime for news and announcements, Trailblazer for training content, Customer 360 for success stories and Industry Channels for industry-specific offerings.
The company hopes that by combining the announcement with Dreamforce, it will help drive interest in what Salesforce has cooked up. After the Dreamforce push, Salesforce+ will enter into interesting territory. How much do Salesforce customers, and the larger business community really want what the company describes as “compelling live and on-demand content for every role, industry and line of business,” and “engaging stories, thought leadership and expert advice”?
Salesforce is considered the most successful SaaS-first company in history, and as such may have an opinion that people are interested in hearing. In its most recent quarterly earnings report in May, the company disclosed $ 5.96 billion in revenue, up 23% compared to the year-ago quarter, putting it close to a $ 25 billion run rate. The company also generates lots of cash. But being cash-rich doesn’t absolve the question of whether this new streaming effort will prove to be a money pit, costing buckets of cash to produce with limited returns.
The service sounds a bit like your LinkedIn feed brought to life, but in video form. At the very least, it’s probably the largest content marketing scheme of all time, but can it ever pay for itself either as a business unit or through some other monetization plans (like advertising) down the road?
Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM essentials says that he could see Salesforce eyeing advertising revenue with this venture and having it all tie into the Salesforce platform. “A customer could sponsor a show, advertise a show, or possibly collaborate on a show. And have leads generated from the show directly tied to the activity from those options while tracking ROI, and it’s all done on one platform. And the content lives on with ads living on with them,” Leary told TechCrunch.
Whether that’s the ultimate goal of this venture remains to be seen, but Salesforce has proven that there is market appetite for Dreamforce content at least in the physical world with over a hundred thousand people involved in 2019, the last time the company was able to hold a live event. While the pandemic shifted most traditional conference activity into the digital realm, making Dreamforce and related types of content available year-round in video format makes some sense in that context.
Precisely how the company will justify the sizable addition to its marketing budget will be interesting; measuring ROI from video products is not entirely straightforward when it is not monetized directly. And sooner or later it will have to have some direct or indirect impact on the business or face questions from shareholders on the purpose of the venture.
Qualified raises $51M to help Salesforce users improve their sales and marketing conversations
Salesforce dominates the world of CRM today, but while it’s a popular and well-used tool for organizing contacts and information, it doesn’t have all the answers when it comes to helping salespeople and marketers sell better, especially when meetings are not in person. Today, one of the startups that has emerged to help fill the gap is announcing a round of growth funding on the back of a huge year for its business.
Qualified — which builds better interactions for B2B sales and marketing teams that already use Salesforce by tapping into extra data sources to develop a better profile of those visiting your website, in aid of improving and personalizing the outreach (hence the name: you’re building “qualified” leads) — has picked up $ 51 million in funding. The startup will be using the Series B to continue building out its business with more functionality in the platform, and hiring across the board to expand business development and more.
Led by Salesforce Ventures, the funding round also included Norwest Venture Partners and Redpoint Ventures, both previous backers, among others. As with so many rounds at the moment — the venture world is flush with funding at the moment — this one is coming less than a year after Qualified’s last raise. It closed a $ 12 million Series A in August of last year.
Qualified was co-founded by two Salesforce veterans — ex-Salesforce CMO Kraig Swensrud and ex-SVP of Salesforce.com Sean Whiteley — serial entrepreneurs who you could say have long been hammering away at the challenges of building digital tools for sales and marketing people to do their jobs better online. The pair have founded and sold two other startups filling holes to that end: GetFeedback, acquired by SurveyMonkey; and Kieden, acquired by Salesforce.
The gap that they’re aiming to fill with this latest venture is the fact that when sales and marketing teams want to connect with prospects directly through, say, a phone call, they might have all of that contact’s information at their disposal. But if those teams want to make a more engaged contact when someone is visiting their site — a sign that a person is actually interested and thinking already about engaging with a company — usually the sales and marketing teams are in the dark about who those visitors are.
“We founded Qualified on the premise that a website should be more than a marketing brochure, but not just a sales site,” Swensrud, who is the CEO, said in an interview.
Qualified has built a tool that essentially takes several signals from Salesforce as well as other places to build up some information about the site visitor. It then uses it to give the sales and marketing teams more of a steer so that when they reach out via a screen chat to say “how can I help?” they actually have more information and can target their questions in a better way. A sales or marketing rep might know which pages a person is also visiting, and can then use the conversation that starts with an online chat to progress to a voice or video call, or a meeting.
If a person is already in your Salesforce rolodex, you get more information; but even without that there is some detail provided to be slightly less impersonal. (Example: when I logged into Qualified to look around the site, a chat popped up with a person greeting me “across the pond”… I’m in London.)
Qualified also integrates with a number of other tools that are used to help source data and build its customer profiles, including Slack, Microsoft Teams, 6sense, Demandbase, Marketo, HubSpot, Oracle Eloqua, Clearbit, ZoomInfo and Outreach.
Additional data is part and parcel of the kinds of information that sales and marketing people always need when reaching out to prospective customers, whether it’s via a “virtual” digital channel or in person. However, in the last year — where in-person meetings, team meetings, and working side-by-side with those who can give advice have all disappeared — having extra tools like these arguably have proven indispensable.
“Sales reps would heavily rely on their ‘road warrior’ image,” Swensrud said. “But all that stuff is gone, so as a result every seller is sitting at an office, at home, expecting digital interactions to happen that never existed before.”
And it seems some believe that even outside of Covid-19 enforcing a different way of doing things, the trend for “virtual selling”, as it’s often called, is here to stay: Gartner forecasts that by 2025, some 80% of B2B sales interactions will take place in digital channels. (So long to the expense account lunch, I guess.)
It’s because of the events of 2020, plus those bigger trends, that Qualified has seen revenues in the last year grow some 800% and its net customer revenue retention rate hover at 175%, with funding rounds come in relatively close succession in the wake of that.
There is something interesting to Qualified that reminds me a bit of more targeted ad retargeting, as it were, and in that, you can imagine a lot of other opportunities for how Qualified might expand in scenarios where it would be more useful to know why someone is visiting your site, without outright asking them and bothering them with the question. That could include customer service, or even a version that might sell better to consumers coming to, say, a clothes site after reading something about orange being the new black.
For now, though, it’s focused on the B2B opportunity.
There are a number of tools on the market that are competing with Salesforce as the go-to platform for people to organise and run CRM operations, but Swensrud is bullish for now on the idea of building specifically for the Salesforce ecosystem.
“Our product is being driven by and runs on Salesforce,” he noted, pointing out that it’s through Salesforce that you’re able to go from chatting to a phone call by routing the information to the data you have on file there. “Our roots go very deep.”
The funding round today is a sign that Salesforce is also happy with that close arrangement, which gives it a customization that its competitors lack.
“Qualified represents an entirely new way for B2B companies to engage buyers,” said Bill Patterson, EVP of CRM Applications at Salesforce, in a statement. “When marketing and inbound sales teams use this solution with Sales Cloud… they see a notable impact on pipeline. We are thrilled about our growing partnership with Qualified and their success within the Salesforce ecosystem.”
Salesforce delivers, Wall Street doubts as stock falls 6.3% post-earnings
Wall Street investors can be fickle beasts. Take Salesforce as an example. The CRM giant announced a $ 5.82 billion quarter when it reported earnings yesterday. Revenue was up 20% year over year. The company also reported $ 21.25 billion in total revenue for the just-closed FY2021, up 24% YoY. If that wasn’t enough, it raised its FY2022 guidance (its upcoming fiscal year) to over $ 25 billion. What’s not to like?
You want higher quarterly revenue, Salesforce gave you higher revenue. You want high growth and solid projected revenue — check and check. In fact, it’s hard to find anything to complain about in the report. The company is performing and growing at a rate that is remarkable for an organization of its size and maturity — and it is expected to continue to perform and grow.
How did Wall Street react to this stellar report? It punished the stock with the price down over 6%, a pretty dismal day considering the company brought home such a promising report card.
So what is going on here? It could be that investors simply don’t believe the growth is sustainable or that the company overpaid when it bought Slack at the end of last year for over $ 27 billion. It could be it’s just people overreacting to a cooling market this week. But if investors are looking for a high-growth company, Salesforce is delivering that.
While Slack was expensive, it reported revenue over $ 250 million yesterday, pushing it over the $ 1 billion run rate with more than 100 customers paying over $ 1 million in ARR. Those numbers will eventually get added to Salesforce’s bottom line.
Canaccord Genuity analyst David Hynes Jr. wrote that he was baffled by investors’ reaction to this report. Like me, he saw a lot of positives. Yet Wall Street decided to focus on the negative, and see “the glass half empty,” as he put it in his note to investors.
“The stock is clearly in the show-me camp, which means it’s likely to take another couple of quarters for investors to buy into the idea that fundamentals are actually quite solid here, and that Slack was opportunistic (and yes, pricey), but not an attempt to mask suddenly deteriorating growth,” Hynes wrote.
During the call with analysts yesterday, Brad Zelnick from Credit Suisse asked how well the company could accelerate out of the pandemic-induced economic malaise, and Gavin Patterson, Salesforce’s president and chief revenue officer, says the company is ready whenever the world moves past the pandemic.
“And let me reassure you, we are building the capability in terms of the sales force. You’d be delighted to hear that we’re investing significantly in terms of our direct sales force to take advantage of that demand. And I’m very confident we’ll be able to meet it. So I think you’re hearing today a message from us all that the business is strong, the pipeline is strong and we’ve got confidence going into the year,” Patterson said.
While Salesforce execs were clearly pumped up yesterday with good reason, there’s still doubt out in investor land that manifested itself in the stock starting down and staying down all day. It will be, as Hynes suggested, up to Salesforce to keep proving them wrong. As long as they keep producing quarters like the one they had this week, they should be just fine, regardless of what the naysayers on Wall Street may be thinking today.
Former Salesforce chief scientist announces new search engine to take on Google
Richard Socher, former chief scientist at Salesforce, who helped build the Einstein artificial intelligence platform, is taking on a new challenge — and it’s a doozy. Socher wants to fix consumer search and today he announced you.com, a new search engine to take on the mighty Google.
“We are building you.com. You can already go to it today. And it’s a trusted search engine. We want to work on having more click trust and less clickbait on the internet,” he said. He added that in addition to trust, he wants it to be built on kindness and facts, three worthy but difficult goals to achieve.
He said that there were several major issues that led him and his co-founders to build a new search tool. For starters, he says that there is too much information and nobody can possibly process it all. What’s more, as you find this information, it’s impossible to know what you can trust as accurate, and he believes that issue is having a major impact on society at large. Finally, as we navigate the internet in 2020, the privacy question looms large as is how you balance the convenience-privacy trade-off.
He believes his background in AI can help in a consumer-focused search tool. For starters the search engine, while general in nature, will concentrate on complex consumer purchases where you have to open several tabs to compare information.
“The biggest impact thing we can do in our lives right now is to build a trusted search engine with AI and natural language processing superpowers to help everyone with the various complex decisions of their lives, starting with complex product purchases, but also being general from the get-go as well,” he said.
While Socher was light on details, preferring to wait until GA in a couple of months to share some more, he said he wants to differentiate from Google by not relying on advertising and what you know about the user. He said he learned from working with Marc Benioff at Salesforce that you can make money and still build trust with the people buying your product.
He certainly recognizes that it’s tough to take on an entrenched incumbent, but he and his team believe that by building something they believe is fundamentally different, they can undermine the incumbent with a classic “Innovator’s Dilemma” kind of play where they’re doing something that is hard for Google to reproduce without undermining their primary revenue model.
He also sees Google running into antitrust issues moving forward and that could help create an opening for a startup like this. “I think a lot of stuff that Google [has been doing] … with the looming antitrust will be somewhat harder for them to get away with on a continued basis,” he said.
He acknowledges that trust and accuracy elements could get tricky as social networks have found out. Socher hinted at some social sharing elements they plan to build into the search tool including allowing you to have your own custom you.com URL with your name to facilitate that sharing.
Socher said he has funding and a team together working actively on the product, but wouldn’t share how much or how many employees at this point. He did say that Benioff and venture capitalist Jim Breyer are primary backers and he would have more information to share in the coming months.
For now, if you’re interested, you can go to the website and sign up for early access.
Daily Crunch: Slack and Salesforce execs explain their big acquisition
We learn more about Slack’s future, Revolut adds new payment features and DoorDash pushes its IPO range upward. This is your Daily Crunch for December 4, 2020.
The big story: Slack and Salesforce execs explain their big acquisition
After Salesforce announced this week that it’s acquiring Slack for $ 27.7 billion, Ron Miller spoke to Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield and Salesforce President and COO Bret Taylor to learn more about the deal.
Butterfield claimed that Slack will remain relatively independent within Salesforce, allowing the team to “do more of what we were already doing.” He also insisted that all the talk about competing with Microsoft Teams is “overblown.”
“The challenge for us was the narrative,” Butterfield said. “They’re just good [at] PR or something that I couldn’t figure out.”
Startups, funding and venture capital
Revolut lets businesses accept online payments — With this move, the company is competing directly with Stripe, Adyen, Braintree and Checkout.com.
Health tech venture firm OTV closes new $ 170M fund and expands into Asia — This year, the firm led rounds in telehealth platforms TytoCare and Lemonaid Health.
Zephr raises $ 8M to help news publishers grow subscription revenue — The startup’s customers already include publishers like McClatchy, News Corp Australia, Dennis Publishing and PEI Media.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
DoorDash amps its IPO range ahead of blockbuster IPO — The food delivery unicorn now expects to debut at $ 90 to $ 95 per share, up from a previous range of $ 75 to $ 85.
Enter new markets and embrace a distributed workforce to grow during a pandemic — Is this the right time to expand overseas?
Three ways the pandemic is transforming tech spending — All companies are digital product companies now.
(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)
WH’s AI EO is BS — Devin Coldewey is not impressed by the White House’s new executive order on artificial intelligence.
China’s internet regulator takes aim at forced data collection — China is a step closer to cracking down on unscrupulous data collection by app developers.
Gift Guide: Games on every platform to get you through the long, COVID winter — It’s a great time to be a gamer.
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.
Addapptation snares $1.3M seed to build a better UX for Salesforce
Addapptation, a startup that wants to build a practical design layer on top of Salesforce and other enterprise tools, announced a $ 1.3 million seed investment today.
2048 Ventures led the round with participation from East Coast Angles, The Millworks II Fund and additional angel investors from New Hampshire, where the firm is located
Co-founder Sumner Vanderhoof says the startup’s goal is to build a user experience platform for enterprise tools like Salesforce . “Our goal is to help make simple, easy to use Salesforce.com solutions built on the addapptation UX platform.
“At the end of the day, we’re really helping transform the way companies work, making their employees more efficient, making the job they do easier and more consistent, so they have a bigger impact on the companies that they work for,” Vanderhoof told TechCrunch.
He says they do this by looking at the company workflow and what issue the customer is trying to solve — such as a problem converting deals through the sales cycle. They will then help build tools and an interface to make it easier to pinpoint this information with the goal of being able to reuse whatever solutions they create for other customers.
He says the platform is template-driven and designed to quickly go from idea to solution. A typical solution takes no longer than two weeks to build and implement. Once a customer is using addapptation, employees can log into the addapptation platform or it can be a layer built into Salesforce providing a more guided experience.
The company has built around 40 plug-ins for the platform, including a heat map that identifies where sales is likely to find the best opportunities to close a deal. The solutions they build are designed to work online or on mobile devices as needed.
Vanderhoof says that the company has a good relationship with Salesforce, and it doesn’t compete directly with the company. “Their main focus is providing tools for a wide audience. Ours is extending the platform beyond what it can do,” he said.
The two founders, Vanderhoof and his wife Carla, took three years building the platform, essentially bootstrapping before taking today’s funding. The company has 15 employees in its Exeter, NH, headquarters and has 20 customers including Comcast and Ingram Micro.
Revenue train kept rolling all year long for Salesforce
Salesforce turned 20 this year, and the most successful pure enterprise SaaS company ever showed no signs of slowing down. Consider that the company finished the year on an $ 18 billion run rate, rushing toward its 2022 revenue goal of $ 20 billion. Oh, and it also spent a tidy $ 15.7 billion to buy Tableau this year in the most high-profile and expensive acquisition it’s ever made.
Co-founder, chairman and CEO Marc Benioff published a book called Trailblazer about running a socially responsible company, and made the rounds promoting it. In fact, he even stopped by TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco in September, telling the audience that capitalism as we know it is dead. Still, the company announced it was building two more towers in Sydney and Dublin.
It also promoted Bret Taylor just last week, who could be in line as heir apparent to Benioff and co-CEO Keith Block whenever they decide to retire. The company closed the year with a bang with a $ 4.5 billion quarter. Salesforce, for the most part, has somehow been able to balance Benioff’s vision of responsible capitalism while building a company makes money in bunches, one that continues to grow and flourish, and that’s showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
All aboard the gravy train
The company just keeps churning out good quarters. Here’s what this year looked like:
Salesforce, AWS expand partnership to bring Amazon Connect to Service Cloud
Salesforce and AWS announced an expansion of their on-going partnership that actually goes back to a $ 400 million 2016 infrastructure services agreement, and expanded last year to include data integration between the two companies. This year, Salesforce announced it will be offering AWS telephony and call transcription services with Amazon Connect as part of its Service Cloud call center solution.
“We have a strategic partnership with Amazon Web Services, which will allow customers to purchase Amazon Connect from us, and then it will be pre-integrated and out of the box to provide a full transcription of the call, and of course that’s alongside of an actual call recording of the call,” Bill Patterson, executive vice president for Service Cloud explained.
It’s worth noting that the company will be partnering with other telephony vendors as well, so that customers can choose the Amazon solution or another from Cisco, Avaya or Genesys, Patterson said.
These telephony partnerships fill in a gap in the Service Cloud call center offering, and give Salesforce direct access to the call itself. The telephony vendors will handle call transcription and hand that off to Salesforce, which can then use its intelligence layer called Einstein to “read” the transcript and offer the CSR next best actions in real time, something the company has been able to do with interactions from chat and other channels, but couldn’t do with voice.
“As this conversation evolves, the consumer is explaining what their problem is, and Einstein is [monitoring] that conversation. As the conversation gets to a critical mass, Einstein begins to understand what the content is about and suggests a specific solution to the agent,” Patterson said.
Salesforce will begin piloting this new Service Cloud capability in the spring with general availability expected next summer.
Only last week, Salesforce announced a major partnership with Microsoft to move Salesforce Marketing Cloud to Azure. These announcements show Salesforce will continue to use multiple cloud partners when it makes sense for the business. Today, it’s Amazon’s turn.
Why Salesforce is moving Marketing Cloud to Microsoft Azure
When Salesforce announced this week that it was moving Marketing Cloud to Microsoft Azure, it was easy to see this as another case of wacky enterprise partnerships. But there had to be sound business reasons why the partnership came together, rather than going with AWS or Google Cloud Platform, both of which are also Salesforce partners in other contexts.
If you ask Salesforce, it says it was ultimately because of compatibility with Microsoft SQL.
“Salesforce chose Azure because it is a trusted platform with a global footprint, multi-layered security approach, robust disaster recovery strategy with auto failover, automatic updates and more,” a Salesforce spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Marketing Cloud also has a long standing relationship with Microsoft SQL which makes the transition to SQL on Azure a natural decision.”
Except for the SQL part, Microsoft’s chief rivals at AWS and Google Cloud Platform also provide those benefits. In fact, each of those reasons cited by the spokesperson — with the exception of SQL — are all part of the general cloud infrastructure value proposition that all the major cloud vendors provide.
There’s probably more to it than simply compatibility. There is also a long-standing rivalry between the two companies, and why in spite of their competition, they continue to make deals like this in the spirit of co-opetition. We spoke to a few industry experts to get their take on the deal to find out why these two seeming rivals decided to come together.
Tony Byrne, founder and principal analyst at Real Story Group, thinks it could be related to the fact it’s a marketing tool and some customers may be wary about hosting their businesses on AWS while competing with Amazon on the retail side. This is a common argument for why retail customers in particular are more likely to go with Microsoft or Google over AWS.
“Salesforce Marketing Cloud tends to target B2C enterprises, so the choice of Azure makes sense in one context where some B2C firms are wary of Amazon for competitive reasons. But I’d also imagine there’s more to the decision than that,” Byrne said.
How Salesforce paved the way for the SaaS platform approach
When we think of enterprise SaaS companies today, just about every startup in the space aspires to be a platform. That means they want people using their stack of services to build entirely new applications, either to enhance the base product, or even build entirely independent companies. But when Salesforce launched Force.com, the company’s Platform as a Service, in 2007, there wasn’t any model.
It turns out that Force.com was actually the culmination of a series of incremental steps after the launch of the first version of Salesforce in February, 2000, all of which were designed to make the software more flexible for customers. Company co-founder and CTO Parker Harris says they didn’t have this goal to be a platform early on. “We were a solution first, I would say. We didn’t say ‘let’s build a platform and then build sales-force automation on top of it.’ We wanted a solution that people could actually use,” Harris told TechCrunch.
The march toward becoming a full-fledged platform started with simple customization. That first version of Salesforce was pretty basic, and the company learned over time that customers didn’t always use the same language it did to describe customers and accounts — and that was something that would need to change.