A lot of observers are smirking at the recent announcement that Salesforce is giving up its efforts to trademark the phrase ‘social enterprise’. Salesforce is doing more than abandoning its trademark claim; CEO Marc Benioff vowed to “discontinue its use in our marketing” — despite spending the last two years trying to make ‘Salesforce’ and ‘social enterprise’ synonymous.
The easy takeaway is that Salesforce is a humbled corporate Goliath righteously beaten back by the erstwhile Davids of the social media echosphere and the non-profits and charities which use the phrase ‘social enterprise‘ to describe entities that employ corporate best practices to enact positive social change. Kiva and Tom’s Shoes are social enterprises and Salesforce isn’t; so sayeth Twitter.
There’s something to that compelling storyline, but the really interesting story is the one that explains why Salesforce was trying to be the social enterprise in the first place. At the end of the day, Salesforce is a database provider, one that offers data warehousing on par with a very serious Oracle, SAP or Microsoft SQL Server solution, but without the headaches of running a data center. That’s heady company. So why would Salesforce pivot away from being the arguable leader in software-as-a-service databases to court a social business reputation?
Because corporate social media is a major battleground for every serious enterprise software provider. Salesforce has Chatter, Microsoft has Yammer and Google just extended Google+ to business domains. Salesforce has spent over a billion dollars acquiring social media specialty firms Buddy Media and Radian6. Oracle spent roughly $300 million to bring in Vitrue. The list goes on: Everyone wants a piece of employee social sharing and customer social interaction.
More specifically, social is a growth area for enterprise software; lots of companies are just now moving into the corporate social space, which means for the first time in a while, corporate solution providers have a new area of business they can grow — and Salesforce wants to be the dominant player. Think of it like this: if the core Salesforce database is the cloud equivalent of Microsoft Windows, then Chatter is Salesforce’s version of MS Office — an application that everyone will want, even people not running the company’s flagship product. Customers can deploy Chatter without running a full Salesforce solution, just like there are Macintosh ports of Microsoft Office.
The entire social enterprise play was an attempt to brand Salesforce as the namesake leader in corporate social media, because that’s where the new money is. So what can be divined from Salesforce’s sudden willingness to concede that trademark — beyond the obvious desire to not appear insensitive to the non-profit community?
The Dreamforce conference, Salesforce’s in-house tradeshow, is mere hours away, which presents the perfect opportunity to rebrand the company yet again. Benioff recently let slip the company is about to unveil a Dropbox competitor, Chatterbox, and a single sign-on service called Salesforce Identity.
Salesforce doesn’t want to just be a customer relationship management provider; Salesforce wants to be the leader in cloud solutions for every aspect of corporate software. Salesforce didn’t give up the social enterprise trademark because it’s giving up on social, but because it’s moving beyond social to dominate the end-to-end enterprise.
The new Salesforce trademark should be a doozy indeed.