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In the course of my nearly 20-year career I've collaborated with 1000s of customers making a CRM vendor selection, many involving Salesforce. Customers would often boil it down to two questions:

“Salesforce is a higher price. Is it worth it?”

“Why do customers pay a premium?”

These are fair and reasonable questions. Salesforce is a premium offering. It will always be incumbent upon Salesforce to continually justify that premium. Because many of you are considering Salesforce, I thought I would share my top 5 thoughts on what clients told me were reasons why they believed the premium was worth their Salesforce investments.

Salesforce Brand

The Salesforce brand is very strong — built on 17 years of high revenue growth, market-share leadership in multiple CRM and platform categories, passionate customer evangelists, and a community spirit amongst Salesforce, its partners and customers. Brand itself does not necessarily mean you will have a more successful implementation, you will save costs, or you will even be quicker to market with your implementation, but it does provide the sense that you are joining something special.

To have the long-term, sustainable brand that Salesforce has, they have had to consistently show:

  • Success as a company through business results;
  • Success with customers so they continue to renew their services and receive value;
  • Spirit of collectiveness (something Salesforce calls Ohana - meaning Family) with customers and all stakeholders to move the industry and world forward for the betterment of all.

Given Salesforce’s strong brand, they were almost always on the top of any initial short list. It didn't mean Salesforce would always win (although they clearly won more than they lost), but it would be difficult not to include them in an evaluation.

Innovation

Customers would continually tell me the same thing,“I am buying Salesforce not just for what they can deliver for me today, but for what they will deliver for me three years from now.” The cornerstone for this customer quote is innovation. Innovation should not be measured on something a vendor says, but rather something that is in the vendor's DNA. Innovation should be measured based on a track record of introducing innovations to the market over a period of time. To the contrary, the same could be said for followers. Vendor followers continually come out with products and approaches only after it has already been established in the market (in some cases 3-5 years prior).

In Salesforce's case it has a strong track record for innovation:

  • Salesforce launched the first cloud-based CRM offering, when established vendors (and I must admit some analysts) thought it would never go beyond SMB customers.
  • Salesforce established the Platform as a Service (PaaS) market with Force.com when traditional application development platforms, CRM vendors and analysts were skeptical that a cloud-based development environment would ever support creating real-world business applications.
  • Salesforce launched the first iPhone CRM app called TouchForce (now evolved to Salesforce1), when established vendors did not so much think it was a bad idea, but took a while to get there (with some still struggling).
  • Salesforce launched the first Social Collaboration app (Chatter) in the context of a CRM application, when established vendors and analysts were skeptical that you could bring social technology into the enterprise for CRM.
  • Salesforce launched AppBuilder which changed the rules of PaaS by launching a full integrated no code - low code - code development environment.
  • Salesforce launched a revolutionary educational tool Trailhead that will help the industry close the supply gap on much needed development resources.
  • Salesforce introduced an AI layer to its platform, that every one of Salesforce's cloud products will leverage to make every customer interaction a smarter interaction and finally bring the promise to AI to everyone.

The common themes with these selected Salesforce innovations are Salesforce was first—competitors initially tried to criticize the idea only to implement the very idea they criticized 2-3 years later—and, secondly, Salesforce customers had access to these innovations years before customers of Salesforce's competitors.

Technology alone was not the only source of innovation Salesforce customers felt they were getting. Salesforce offers unique Ignite and Spark services that are business innovation engagements. These services are often conducted before any contract is signed to help customers “think out of the box” and transform their businesses in ways they did not think possible. Customers would often tell me: “Salesforce expanded my thinking to what I thought was possible, to what is possible with Salesforce.” The evidence of this is customer case examples. I would often ask Salesforce to provide me with 10 innovative case study references. Within 48 hours they would be in my inbox. The bottom line: innovation is measured both in a vendor's track record to deliver innovations, and vision to unlock the value for a customer.

Trust/Reliability

When customers mention what they believe Salesforce's advantage is on trust/reliability it was not so much about uptime and availability (where Salesforce had a good track record), but more towards seamless upgrades. I think we often forget how much of a problem this was in the on premise world, and still is a problem for many cloud application vendors. It is important to realize cloud computing in itself does not solve upgrade issues. Vendors who offer cloud computing or at least a version of it, can still have upgrade problems.

What Salesforce has uniquely been able to offer is a consistent and predictable release cycle where all customers are upgraded to the latest version in a tight window, and have the ability to opt-in to new features at their own pace. In addition, these new releases do not break a customer’s customizations or alter the APIs. Salesforce checks the box on all of these, which is why customers often factored the upgrade expense savings Salesforce enables into their Total Cost of Ownership calculations.

In my career, and more than 11,000 customer interactions, not once did a Salesforce customer call me and say that a new Salesforce release broke their implementation (even those that used AppExchange partners). This is a pretty remarkable achievement when considering Salesforce has three releases a year. During the history of Salesforce, competitors had launched multiple new CRM products (in some cases three), and all competitors suffered some level of regression during a release cycle. This is not to say everything was perfect with Salesforce implementation because it was not (every vendor has issues at some level), but on the metric of managing upgrades Salesforce has an impeccable track record. As we all know, poor upgrades has a significant impact on adding expense to a project.

Platform

In the Age of the Customer, information and connections are rich and complex, and will require companies to rethink how they deliver customer apps. And it’s not just about the apps themselves: companies must deliver unmatched customer experiences along with every app, and they must do so in release cycles of weeks, not months. Salesforce was always founded on these principles, “Make the Complex, Simple, and Make the Impossible, Possible”. This exactly what customers told me attracted customers to Salesforce's platform.

The three key elements customers would often cite as Salesforce platform advantages are:

  • Meta-data model
  • No Code to Low Code to Code Development Tools
  • Mobility

At its core the Salesforce Platform has an innovative meta-data model (something to this day I found many vendors struggling to get right). Simply put, who wants to deal with low level database calls and interactions if there is no need to do so. Metadata enables benefits such as seamless upgrades and quick time to market. Interestingly, there were some vendors I found who would offer upgrade compatibility tools to validate changes before a customer upgraded. Customers would ask me why Salesforce doesn't have this feature, and I would tell them Salesforce customers have had no need for it.  

From a development tools perspective, Salesforce customers felt the emphasis on a complete spectrum of development capabilities from no-code to low-code to code can expand the pool of resources to develop and build valued applications to help better connect to the customer.

On the topic of connecting to the customer, the fact that Salesforce had early mover advantage with a “Mobile-first” strategy came at the right time when we saw the explosion of smartphones and tablets. Customers felt Salesforce was in a unique position to handle both employee facing and customer facing mobile applications off of the same platform. Salesforce took the word Platform from primarily an IT term, to the lexicon of the line of business. The end result was improved agility that could keep pace with the business. Something customers place premium value on.

Ecosystem

Customers understand that one vendor can't possibly deliver all the capabilities they need to transform their customer engagement processes either currently or at some point in the future. Salesforce also understood this, and that the old way of simply developing or building everything yourself as a single vendor is not a feasible model. Salesforce expanded the pool of developer talent to a broader more diverse community than just Salesforce. So if anyone in the world has a good idea they can build, offer it through AppExchange, and customers can immediately access it pre-built into the platform. The range of AppExchange Partners goes from a company with a $5 billion market capitalization to two people offering a utility for free so others can benefit.

The power of AppExchange is its stability, and ease of navigation. I saw firsthand some vendors go through three attempts of building an ecosystem type marketplace like AppExchange, while other vendors simply didn't think it was a good model. But Salesforce customers who desire a more expansive universe of application possibilities, realize AppExchange, like Apple's App store, is the only true way to deliver it.