Salesforce.com‘s strategy can be boiled down to one word, according to chief executive Marc Benioff — love. Of course, Benioff was being a little tongue-in-cheek as he answered questions from analysts and reporters at today’s Dreamforce conference in San Francisco. But he was illustrating a real argument about how Salesforce.com might beat software giant Microsoft in the cloud computing market.
As with its other offerings, Microsoft’s new cloud-computing application platform, Windows Azure, is all about tying people into Microsoft products and services, Benioff said. Salesforce, on the other hand, is much more about being open and cooperative, both in its customer relationship management (CRM) services, and in Force.com, its platform for business applications. Salesforce is interested in connecting multiple clouds, platforms and devices — witness today’s announcement that Force.com will integrate with the Facebook platform and Amazon Web Services, or Salesforce’s integration of Google Apps earlier this year.
Comparing Microsoft and Salesforce, Benioff said: “They hate everybody and we love everybody, and that’s pretty much the difference. We even love Microsoft. … This is our core strategy, love.”
When an audience member pressed Benioff on his touted openness, Benioff emphasized that he’s talking about cooperation with other companies, not open source, per se. He also acknowledged that Force.com has its closed aspects, namely the fact that if you build an application on Force.com, you can connect it to other platforms, but you can’t fully move it to another cloud.
“Portability of code is just not something we have gotten to in our industry,” Benioff said. He cited Apple’s App Store as a platform that’s closed to a certain extent (now that’s an understatement) but is thriving anyway.
Benioff also talked about why Salesforce is integrating with Facebook first, rather than another networking site, particularly business-oriented network LinkedIn. Force.com plans to add LinkedIn and MySpace integration eventually, but Facebook’s users and platform infrastructure made it an obvious first choice.
Lastly, Benioff took some questions about how Salesforce will be responding to the declining economy. The common theme: We’re going to stick to our game plan. For example, Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison has said the downturn presents an opportunity to acquire companies at bargain rates, but Benioff said he has no plans to change Salesforce’s acquisition strategy. Another questioner pointed out that some of the vendors who sell apps to extend Salesforce’s capabilities will go out of business in the downturn, which could be bad for Salesforce’s customers. Benioff responded that Salesforce has always tried to provide “bridges” for its customers, so they aren’t hurt when a vendor goes out of business.
“The way I think about this is very very simple,” he said. “We don’t want to make a lot of material changes to our business right now.”