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Salesforce.com's Benioff Laughs in the Face of Danger

With the aftermath of the U.S. election in full bloom (by the time you read this), NFL playoff races heating up and much of the country basking in unusually warm fall weather, we're going to head back a few months and make...an Olympics reference! Or, at least, a track and field reference, which might as well be an Olympic reference. (Seriously, though, doesn't it seem as though the 2008 Olympics happened about 17 years ago? The shelf life for an event is short in our YouTube culture.)

Anyway, did you ever watch one of those middle-distance races in which one runner would dart way out ahead of everybody else, only to get caught about three-quarters of the way through the race and finish fifth? We're fairly sure that this runner is called the rabbit -- he or she sets the pace early in a race but never really has a chance to win it.

We're wondering here at RCPU whether Marc Benioff and Salesforce.com -- pioneers in Software as a Service -- are starting to grow floppy ears and a fluffy tail. Salesforce.com has done a pretty solid job of leading the SaaS-based customer relationship management race, but a few big-name competitors are starting to catch up. Microsoft, of course, is among them, not only with Dynamics CRM online -- a direct competitor to Benioff's company -- but also with the whole Azure S+S platform.

And there are others starting to leg it forward in the SaaS scramble. SAP, Oracle -- they should have Salesforce.com looking over its shoulder at least a little bit. But this week, at the company's Dreamforce show in San Francisco, Benioff spoke with the confidence of a runner who'd already lapped his foes. He took more shots than Sarah Palin in a forest full of moose -- at Oracle, at SAP...but less so at Microsoft, which he (for once) treated with a bit more caution.

We like Benioff and Salesforce.com here at RCPU because the CEO is a quote machine and because the company is a pretty genuine pioneer in what could eventually become a pervasive computing model. But we can also see this trailblazer going the way of Netscape...or, more likely, Lotus: snapped up eventually (although probably not in this economy) by a larger competitor but still continuing to produce innovative technology. That second scenario doesn't seem so bad, actually, at least for customers and Salesforce.com partners.

But Benioff won't hear of it. Salesforce.com is building or planning to build datacenters worldwide and ramping up its offerings to compete with the other runners in the race. Benioff's got bluster, and he's got a lead. But does his company have the kick to finish off the race? We'll see.

What has your experience been with Salesforce.com? Have you worked with the company as a partner or customers? Let us know at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 11/05/2008 at 1:22 PM


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