A small group of us were standing on the Dreamforce trade show floor surveying the more than 200 booths and vendors assembled there. We were trying to put a finger on what, exactly, the show had become. Was it a user group meeting, a conventional trade show, a partner meeting, or some hybrid? By process of elimination hybrid won out simply because we could not conclude that the show was anything else.
Most interesting to me was the number of new companies with very different ideas about applications and specific business processes. The number of applications that fit into the cracks between traditional application categories was impressive. The conventional application areas like sales and marketing have been so successfully fragmented that it became hard to know for sure where one left off and another started. It made me want to write this piece as a way to help figure it all out. Here, in no particular order and with no opinion about their long term viability, are some of my observations about a few companies that caught my eye:
On the Floor
- Zuora. I have long been impressed by Zuora and Tien Tzuo, one of its founders and, coincidentally, the eleventh person hired into Salesforce.com. Zuora provides billing and payments application services on-demand for on-demand companies. These vendors have different needs than conventional software providers in that they bill more often, and customers have the option — which they like to exercise — of changing their configurations frequently. Getting the billing right under those conditions is challenging and provides an opening for a clever provider.
- Right90. Forecasting business has never been more important than now as the economy declines into a recession. More than getting the sales forecast right, companies have an added need to get the business forecast right. There might be multiple ways to bring in a revenue number, but the business each represents can have very different implications for things like capital use that back all the way up the supply chain. Hence it is important that not only revenue goals be met, but that they be met accurately. If you think this applies only in manufacturing, you are half right. Any vendor with perishable inventory, for example, will appreciate the importance of getting the business forecast right and will want to investigate Right90.
- TimeTrade. Many people will regard this on-demand appointments scheduling application as a nice feature, but how important is it? Well, it turns out appointments scheduling is very important for a couple of reasons. First, as in any perishable inventory situation, a salesperson has only so many hours in a day to use. Making efficient use of that time is paramount. The same is true for anyone scheduling service delivery such as repairs. If you’re interested in finding a better way to service customers — pre- or post-sale — appointments scheduling might be a useful avenue.
- SkyData. This 2008 entry was founded by Siebel alumni, including CEO Kevin Nix, who believes there is a better way to deliver mobile services to products as diverse as Salesforce.com and LinkedIn. The mobility service works on three platforms including the iPhone, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile. A fast and clean interface enables mobile users to access data from corporate and public servers and do more without having to open the laptop.
- Ribbit. Although Ribbit has been around for about a whole year or two, the company’s VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) service that adds voice to conventional applications is one of those things that might not have caught on big yet, but I expect it will. Adding voice to conventional applications gives users a simpler interface and offers the chance to gain productivity regardless of where the application might be in use.
- Kadient. There were a lot of companies focused on content delivery, but there was no consensus about whether they were marketing- or sales-oriented, and I found that interesting. Content — or more broadly speaking, information — delivery is the essence of the sales process, but timing the delivery is even more important. Companies focused on marketing tended to concentrate on the mechanisms of delivery, and many offered some form of portal. A smaller number of companies looked at delivery as a sales issue, and a good example is Kadient, which focuses on how to use content strategically within a sales process.
Last but Not Least …
My old friend, Cary Fulbright, president of Saaspoint, wrote me a note with some great observations: “As a long-time marketing person, the two things that stuck out to me were Force.com Sites and Manticore Technology’s announcement of ‘Multi-Model Lead Scoring’ and a (US)$999/month no-contract offer,” and I couldn’t agree more. He said, “Manticore’s Multi-Model Lead Scoring is the most powerful lead scoring offering I’ve seen for larger companies with product portfolios.”
Even more to the point is our agreement on Force.com Sites, which makes me want to add Salesforce.com to this list of interesting companies with cool ideas for on-demand services showing their wares at Dreamforce. As I have already written, Sites is not a small idea. While it is a logical extension of both on-demand and Salesforce’s push into platform computing, it also marks an important shift for application development on the Web. Developing a Web site or other Web-based application is still a rather manual process, and if you have ever tried using development tools, you might be surprised at how much understanding of HTML is needed.
Perhaps the biggest idea around the Sites concept is embedding the Facebook API (application programming interface) into Force.com. Now, as a technical feat, providing a Force.com wrapper for the Facebook API is hardly Nobel Prize-worthy, but it’s important for any vendor that wants to tap the rich customer content sitting in social sites. Since customers maintain their own profiles, the issues of duplication and obsolete mailing lists are suddenly far more manageable. To be clear, Facebook will not be the only social site to be integrated with Force.com, and that is potentially very powerful. In the world of CRM 2.0, this could be the biggest announcement of the show.
Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is working on a book and can be reached at email@example.com.