Marc Benioff’s enterprise ambitions (first look at Salesforce Chatter)

Marc Benioff, CEO of, has big ambitions for the enterprise. He no longer wants Saleforce to be seen as a service just for salespeople. He’s going after the whole pie. Today he is releasing a new social service that looks sort of like Facebook for the Enterprise, called Chatter. Here’s a video first look at the latest beta.

He just might get it.

First, what pie is he going after? Microsoft’s Sharepoint. Now, he’s not alone in those ambitions. Jive,, Zoho, SocialText and other companies have the same ambitions. The problem is they don’t have a big stick to get into the CTO’s office. Salesforce already has a relationship with almost every company’s CTO. The other players have had some good wins, but they won’t be able to make an entire marketplace pay attention the way Benioff can.

When I interviewed Benioff I compared him to Steve Jobs. He didn’t like that comparision, but the comparison is apt. No one is positioned to become the Steve Jobs of the Enterprise the way that Benioff is.

OK, today Salesforce has firmed up the position in the enterprise as THE service for salespeople. It’s how salespeople track their contacts, sales pipelines, and much more. But here’s the rub: Salesforce is releasing a version of Chatter (which is really a copy of Facebook) for the entire enterprise. How will Salesforce convince the non salespeople to use it?

A few ways.

1. Pricing. Chatter will be free to non-salespeople. So, they will be able to join in without getting approval to buy something new. Other players like Jive and Socialtext don’t have their feet into enterprises yet (at least not most of them) and they don’t have the ability to offer a version of their product for free the way Salesforce does.
2. Salespeople now will badger coworkers, like our friends badgered us to join Facebook. Salesforce already has a strong position in most enterprises with salespeople. Those salespeople will now badger their coworkers to join in. How will they do this? “Hey, John, can you join in this Chatter thing because we are pitching XYZ company next week and we need your engineering input.” Other companies don’t have a built in badgering force the way Salesforce does.
3. Integration into already existing enterprise systems. In the demo I filmed you’ll see that Chatter isn’t really just a copy of Facebook in that it allows developers to integrate already existing enterprise databases and systems like SAP to shove information into Chatter’s feed. This is very powerful and will cause enterprises to adopt it wholly, while other systems will have troubles.
4. Salesforce is positioned to take advantage of a continuing anti-Microsoft force (and the continuing charge into Web services). When I speak at conferences you can see this anti-Microsoft force. How much marketshare has IE lost to other browsers? Do you use Microsoft Word anymore? Have you tried to find ways to reduce your reliance on Microsoft? Many have and you can see this force. Salesforce led the charge when it came on the scene 11 years ago with its “no software” chant. If you buy Sharepoint, for instance, you have to load that software. Someone has to setup a server and keep it running and update it when Microsoft inevitably comes out with updates. Plus, Microsoft is behind in its adoption of Facebook-like gestures. I know workplaces that have already adopted things like Jive or Yammer because they are far better than Microsoft in bringing social gestures to the workforce. Who is better positioned to take over than Salesforce? You might say Google, but, sorry, Google Buzz just isn’t even close to the enterprise trust and thinking that Salesforce has. So, I see two choices: stick with Sharepoint (Rackspace, my employer, is helping make that choice more palpable through its hosting of Sharepoint) or go with Salesforce. Which one will your company choose?
5. This sticks another nail into Lotus Notes. Enough said.

Anyway, it might seem weird for a Rackspace guy to be helping out Salesforce, which is really now a competitor to Rackspace’s enterprise efforts. But great companies aren’t built by companies ignoring their competitors. They are built by being honest about the marketplace and Benioff has big ambitions that’s gotten our attention.

Has he gotten yours? Can anyone stop Benioff? Here, listen to Benioff in his own words describe his ambition for the enterprise in an interview I did a couple of weeks ago.