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Struck by Lightning from

Once again, I didn’t go to Dreamforce. It is just too hard. They had over 150,000 registered attendees this year which means getting a hotel room is either expensive or impossible. Everything is difficult when you have a convention that size in any city. While not quite up to late 90’s COMDEX standards (where attendance peaked around 250,000), Dreamforce still pushes San Francisco to the limits. Luckily, thoughtfully streams the keynotes which is mostly what I care about anyway.

The problem was that it was actually hard to care. The majority of the first day’s keynotes were these feel good, hand waving, chanting, socially conscience speeches and interviews that are fun but have almost nothing to do with technology and how a customer uses it. The second day was much better because it focused on the products. Even so, I was mostly sleeping through presentations that were much too similar to last year. That is until I was struck by Lightning.

Lightning is the name of the latest iteration of the Sales Cloud Platform. It is, in many ways, a radical departure from traditional CRM. Instead of being a pumped up customer database like most CRM software, Lightning reimagines CRM as salesperson centered. For the first time, CRM is more about selling than record keeping and reporting. I don’t even think it’s fair to call it CRM anymore. Here are some additional thoughts on Lightning:

  • The sales pipeline is now center stage. It becomes a primary tool for the salesperson, not just the sales manager, to manage deal flows.
  • Everything is more analytics driven. Once again, analytics is being moved from a management tool to a way for sales people to meet their targets.
  • SalesforceIQ is a full featured email client baked right into Sales Cloud. This has two advantages to the average sales professional: One, tight integration with their sales tools and two, the ability to capture information from emails into lead and contact fields. The second advantage is the huge one. It drastically helps to automate the most onerous part of selling – record keeping for the boss. Most email clients that are part of CRM apps are pretty basic and clunky. SalesforceIQ is a modern ready-for-mobile application that many sales pros will want as their primary client.
  • Data entry automation, in general, is a big deal in Lightning. Lots of small companies have provided tools to help reduce the typing that sales pros so despise but this is now a core function.
  • The Pipeline Board is a Kanban style display that organizes opportunities as cards associated with various stages in the sales process. It’s like Trello for selling. This makes it easy for sales people to see what is stuck and create actions to unstick opportunities. It also allows the overall management of individual pipelines much easier. This is a killer feature.

One new feature that I’m not a fan of is Sales Engage. It allows sales professionals to create their own email campaigns using Pardot,’s email marketing platform. I can only imagine the overeager, young, salesperson spamming their prospects. I can’t imagine Marketing will be too fond of having their precious branding efforts undermined by terrible salesperson driven email campaigns either. There is a separation of marketing and sales for a reason folks.

Here’s a few other high and lowlights:

  • Marketing cloud is finally well integrated. Since the majority of the Marketing Cloud came via acquisitions, the pieces were always a bit uncoordinated. has finally knitted them all together into a more coherent marketing toolbox.
  • Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, showed a lot of class when his demo bombed on him. He persevered without even a hint of annoyance. Many of his peers would have been more obviously irritated. While he was asked a lot of silly questions (“What is the soul of Microsoft?” Really? It’s to make money through technology. Duh!) Mr. Nadella said a couple of things that I thought were noteworthy. I especially liked his idea of the mobility of experience, the idea that your personal experience should follow you from device to device. He also said that revenue and profits are lagging indicators of success. How true. Money only measures, after the fact, your ability to execute. Nice focus.
  • Stevie Wonder was sad. First off, that an artist of his stature should be playing a few songs to warm up the crowd for a tech CEO is painful. Equally painful was his performance. He was often off key and his voice just sounds shot. To make matters worse, some roadie kept fiddling with his gear and interfering with his performance. I don’t know if it was intentional or not but it certainly seemed like Marc Benioff cut off his last song. If so it was a mercy.
  • There is way too much social justice, holding hands, Kumbaya stuff. It’s great that tries to do good for society and not just institutional investors but really, this is a convention about using to do business better not church. A little bit is fine. Too much is a waste of time.
  • I predict that Dreamforce can’t go on like this. Sooner or later it will collapse under its own weight and form a black hole. It’s too big to be useful. I worry that most people go for the parties. When I heard Foo Fighters, The Killer, and Gary Clark Jr. were performing, I had a moment of weakness and almost called my travel agent. That’s not a good reason to spend corporate education and travel dollars.

Lightning makes a company to watch again. It’s what next generation sales tools are about. It should worry both the host of sales automation startups buzzing around like blowflies and the giant CRM vendors who are still lumbering around like dinosaurs. In some ways, Lightning proves that can still be a scrappy and disruptive company.

Taking One for the Cloud Team

The quarterly earnings announcement season is in full swing for large tech companies. This past week IBM announced its quarterly financial results and SAP issued guidance. Oracle did the same a month ago. Each of these companies is still showing reduced overall revenue due to the shift to cloud computing. On the surface, this would appear to be a big problem. When companies undergo radical changes that drop revenues, everyone has to worry that their favorite supplier may become the next Sun, Palm, or worse, Novell which is only a shadow of its former self.

I, for one, am not worried. Yes, these quintessential IT companies are taking it on the chin revenue-wise owing to the shift to cloud computing. Cloud computing is disrupting the traditional on-premises software businesses and wreaking havoc with vendors’ hardware units. Major shifts in a market can cause these type of short-term effects on any business. Just look at how the introduction of shale oil has effect the otherwise same energy business, dropping oil prices precipitously in a year. The current disorder in the IT industry is, however, over-shadowing the future benefits of cloud computing.

See, the problem lies in short term versus long term expectations. On a quarter to quarter basis, less money is being made by IT companies switching from traditional to cloud models for their products. Yet these cloud businesses are growing rapidly versus stagnating software and hardware businesses. On top of that, cloud business are locking in revenue far into the future. The traditional model of hardware and software requires customers to make big upfront investments which generate a lot of money all at once. Cloud business generate revenue over time but that revenue is stickier. Big upfront investments make it hard for companies to make decisions about a product; Subscriptions ease the worry that a wrong decision will be made. When IT products start to age, especially hardware, responsible IT managers reevaluate vendors opening the door to competitors; With cloud services offering constant updates and incremental cost increases, it’s easier to stay with what is already in place.

Of course, these are the strategies of growth companies in the IT sector. Companies such as Amazon,, and Netsuite are successful because they reduced resistance to sales and locked in customers for the long haul. They act like media companies, worried about innovation and churn as much as scoring big deals. I suspect this is what is messing with the heads of the financial analysts the most. They see companies that should be acting like lumbering dinosaurs, grazing safely in placid waters free of major predators, acting like nimble up and comers. Stock prices are as much a reflection of perceived future value as present value. Financial analysts are used to viewing companies such as IBM, SAP, Microsoft, and Oracle act in a certain and predictable manner. That major IT companies are taking steps to ensure they don’t become lunch for some upstart should suggest more value in the future. It’s just not foreseeable what that value will be. The outmoded models no longer work well, as is always the case when big changes are in progress.

So, while market analysts (like me) are predicting accelerated growth in the IT market because of the shift to cloud computing, financial markets will continue to punish the major companies that are embracing these changes. Ours is a long-term view based on successfully delivering superior products and services to customers. Theirs are short-term models based on financial metrics from an earlier age.