What is the deal with Salesforce.com and their Cult?

Last night I spoke on a panel about Web 2.0 in the enterprise, and one of my co-panelists was Adam Gross from Salesforce.com. All throughout the discussion he kept dinging me as a representative of SAP and insisting that nobody should install software. I find this position a little mystifying because while I appreciate competitive aggressiveness I also reject the notion that any market should be all of one philosophy or another. The whole point of having competitors in a dynamic marketplace is to provide customers with choice, and most importantly, consistently better products and services at lower unit economics. Their position is somewhat undermined when you consider that they have been aggressively touting their SAP connector to bolster their bona fides in the enterprise market.

My SFdC colleague also prattled on about how the user experience should form the basis for everything a company does. It’s hard to disagree with this in principle, but in practicality there are many other considerations that need to be taken into account when building software. I have written here and spoken frequently about the absolute requirement to have improved user experience (and not just a better UI either) as a core and continual value, and quite frankly this is something we have not delivered on over the years. But that doesn’t mean we have failed either, or somehow abandoned our customers… the fact that SFdC will never admit to is that the overwhelming majority of our customers not only rely on our software to run our businesses but that they also willingly do so.

Here’s the real problem that I see SFdC running into with their obsession with multi-tenant hosted software, it’s really their religion and just like you can’t decide it’s convenient to switch religions when the opportunity avows itself, they will not be able to offer anything other than what they are currently doing when customers ask them to. SAP (Oracle and everyone for that matter) has not architected this level of rigidity into our corporate values and as a result if an opportunity presents itself to adopt multi-tenant hosted apps we can do it easily. I would much rather be able to adapt my business to offer a variety of delivery models than be so rigid that I can’t regardless of how many times my customers ask for it.

Lastly, I find it rather unsettling when your competitor can’t be intellectually honest about anything of value that their competitor is doing; when they are in constant selling mode that is the equivalent to a young child demanding attention and validation at every turn. I’d like to think that prospects, customers, influencers, and whoever else we speak to is saavy enough to see through competitive posturing for what it is. I do subscribe to principles of transparency and honesty in my approach to these matters, I have written here and talked publicly about how significant I think AppExchange is, that their efforts to put their system status online is a great idea, and the benefits of their approach to software services, would it be too much to ask that Adam at least acknowledge that SAP has done something of value over the 30 years we have been in business? As a professional in this business you try to have the attitude that the Valley is a small place and irrespective of the competitive dynamics between companies you try to maintain a level of respect for your peers. My experience last night just pissed me off and eroded the goodwill that had been building up with my interactions with other execs from the company.

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