Cloud Wars analysis: can Salesforce redefine CRM in 2020?
Cloud Wars analysis: can Salesforce redefine CRM in 2020?

Salesforce Vs. SAP: Can Marc Benioff Win the Battle to Redefine CRM?

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(Third in a series exploring the primary challenge facing each of the Cloud Wars Top 10 vendors going into 2020.)


Since the buyer-seller relationship today is managed primarily and sometimes exclusively by the customer, does the term “Customer Relationship Management” mean anything anymore?

Yes, that question contains a bit of mushiness—after all, who cares what the category’s called as long as the technology does what it’s supposed to do?

But if terms and categories didn’t matter, we’d still be calling this stuff “salesforce automation” rather than CRM, and your CIO would be the director of Data Processing.

And since Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff has for the past two decades been the world’s primary driver behind the ascendancy of the CRM category to one of the largest and most-influential tech segments, Benioff is in a perfect position to usher in a new era for the type of work his company has begun to do. (See his plan in detail at How Salesforce Plans to Defeat Oracle and SAP While Scaling to $35B.)

Benioff has certainly got the credibility. Long regarded as one of the world’s most-innovative and visionary leaders and never afraid to say exactly what he thinks, Benioff has the well-earned chops and bully pulpit to articulate a new model for not just CRM but the entire enterprise-software business.

Or he could just stand pat. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ and all that.

But if that happens, then Salesforce will be leaving the door wide open for SAP to stroll right in and establish the new model for what customer-facing enterprise apps are all about. (Please see Salesforce vs. SAP: Who Will Lead the Customer-Experience Revolution?

And if SAP does that, it will certainly be on its terms and the ones it plans to exploit for the next 2-3 years, rather than on a pre-existing model that plays to the strengths of Salesforce. 

Cloud Wars: Outlook 2020

The Top 10’s Biggest Challenges

1. Microsoft — Can it sustain a reputation for reliability for the Azure cloud?
2. Amazon — Can it win vs. Oracle Autonomous DB? AND vs. Microsoft Azure?
3. Salesforce — Can Marc Benioff win the battle to redefine CRM?
4. SAP — Can it sell the marketplace on Experience Management / HXM?
5. Oracle — coming soon
6. Google — coming soon
7. IBM — coming soon
8. Workday — coming soon
9. ServiceNow — coming soon
10. TBD

Because SAP has a very powerful story of its own to tell, built around its acquisition of Qualtrics and SAP’s resulting embrace of “Experience Management” as the new engine for the modern digital economy.

And SAP has the chance to push that new approach for not only CRM but also the other major categories of enterprise apps, HCM and ERP.

In fact, it’s already done so with HCM by rebranding the category HXM (Human Experience Management) for its SuccessFactors suite of solutions. (See SAP Says HCM Is Dead—Can Qualtrics Transform it to HXM?)

Meanwhile, it’s perfectly clear that in this new world of modern business, data and applications and analytics that were once the protected province of a small number of siloed specialists are becoming essential tools for just about every employee in every company. 

And as that universe expands, how many will know—or care—about 3-letter acronyms the industry cooked up 20 or even 30 years ago, but that supposedly still govern how information and data are presented, used and analyzed around the company?

In today’s red-hot war for talent, where data-savvy young (and not so young) professionals are aggressively scrutinizing the IT strategies of prospective employers, will talk of ERP and HCM and CRM be appealing? 

Or appalling?

And this isn’t just some silly thing about trying to put a cool-sounding name on antiquated technology. Qualtrics brings to SAP huge volumes of data about customers and their first-hand experiences that SAP can match with the operational data it has helped global businesses collect for decades.

In a data-driven world, isn’t that what everyone wants to have? Needs to have?

Around the space formerly known as HCM, there’s been a great awakening among businesses in every industry regarding the value and strategic necessity of recruiting, retaining, grooming and unleashing great talent. Those efforts rely massively on understanding the *experiences* those employees are having, and then taking steps to optimize those experiences.

So SAP’s made an excellent move—a leadership move—by flipping the category-name it deploys from the industrial Human Capital Management to the contemporary Human Experience Management.

For Marc Benioff, the challenge for 2020 isn’t blowing past his company’s target of $20 billion in revenue—Salesforce has already demonstrated its ability to achieve that.

Rather, it’s to do on a big scale what Salesforce has always done: see around the corners and over the horizon to where the world is headed, and to chart a new course that continues to inspire people to follow it eagerly and passionately.

I believe that means it’s high time for Marc Benioff to redefine not only the future of his company, but the future of a huge chunk of the tech industry.

Disclosure: at the time of this writing, SAP was a client of Evans Strategic Communications LLC.


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