Salesforce plays an outsized role in many enterprise digital landscapes. Perhaps initially licensed by your sales and customer support team as a simpler alternative to on-premise CRM platforms, now Salesforce now wants to cover a wide range of digital capabilities for you. But should you let it?
Is Salesforce still the simpler, more effective choice it promised after arriving with a bang nearly 20 years ago? I'd argue that the answer is "no," and you need only look to some similar history with Microsoft to see the potential challenges ahead.
What SharePoint Taught Us
SharePoint, too, emerged with a surprising rush and grew rapidly, generating substantial revenues for Microsoft, but also substantial headaches for both Redmond and customers alike.
Originally conceived as a simpler management system for Office files, SharePoint quickly grew into an omnibus development platform. Microsoft's vaunted channel ecosystem was encouraged to heavily customize SharePoint to address the specific business use cases that Redmond typically avoided.
Customers wanting to bend this platform to their needs faced three choices: extend, complement with other adjacent tools, or supplement with various partner layers. Many of you chose all three. And you might remember the result: high cost of ownership and incredible difficulty upgrading your estate.
Three options for turning SharePoint from a technology platform into a business service. Source: RSG
Microsoft finally threw its hands up and rapidly pivoted to a highly standardized cloud version, leaving those enterprises with on-prem SharePoint estates high and dry on an aging platform. Read more about this in RSG's SharePoint / O365 Evaluation Report.
Of course Salesforce is already in the cloud, but that hasn't prevented them from self-identifying as a "platform" vendor, which means that most of you need to rely on complicated customizations and 3rd-party tools of varying provenance. Already an expensive solution from a per-seat perspective, the costs of the typical Salesforce implementation rise yearly.
Salesforce has been more aggressive than Microsoft in acquiring other vendors, so it serves up a mix of different tools, on different technology stacks — some more out of the box than others. For example, in RSG's MarTech research we cover no less than three different Salesforce offerings.
Like Microsoft, Salesforce has struggled to convert its employee-facing systems into effective customer-facing systems. Our research has found that enterprise licensees have encountered some nasty surprises around licensing, performance, and usability. As does Redmond, Salesforce will tend to claim "solutions" for manifold digital problems, but many of those offerings are aspirational — things you could do if you invested heavily in Force.com extensions.
What Should You Do?
At the end of the day, Salesforce and Microsoft are very different firms, and SharePoint does not really compete directly with Salesforce, except where they overlap in areas like enterprise social networking (i.e., Yammer vs. Chatter), and of course CRM.
As a Salesforce customer, though, you can take away several lessons from the SharePoint experience:
- Don't default to multiple Salesforce toolsets just because you already license part of the platform
- Remain wary of accumulating technical debt via extensions or questionable AppExchange add-ons
- Don't count on Salesforce executing well in new tech domains
- Be prepared for significant roadmap changes, including opportunistic sunsetting of specific tools
- Don't confuse Salesforce channel-fanboy enthusiasm with real platform maturity
- Monitor cost creep
If you're an RSG research subscriber, remember we're always available to advise you on maximizing your current or future vendor portfolio.