Recapping Dreamforce 2016 & Looking Ahead at the Future of CRM

Tawheed Kader October 14, 2016

Last week marked the fifth Dreamforce that I’ve attended. It also happens to be the fifth year for ToutApp being in business.

Five years in, I’ve started to pick up on a few patterns on how Dreamforce and for that matter Salesforce works, and naturally I’ve started to develop a better understanding than ever about where CRM (and as an extension all the other things that Salesforce does) is headed. I’ll share my top three takeaways here.

1) Dreamforce always has two big announcements, one is a moonshot dream, the other is what customers can buy today

Dreamforce always has a big huge product announcement. This year was no different with the launch of Salesforce Einstein.

Here’s the thing though — very rarely does Salesforce make something the headliner that is readily available to customers and fully built. It’s always more of a vision for the future and something that they will build with customers over time and finally deliver on.

To refresh your memory, in 2013 they launched Salesforce1, in 2014 they launched Wave Analytics, and in 2015 it was all about IoT and Lightning. Interestingly enough, in the years that they were announced, it wasn’t available to customers fully or required an opt-in, and even today, those products can be limited in usage, success and availability. 

Will Einstein start to predict your sales forecast perfectly, score your leads accurately, and close the deal for you through AI? Probably not. Probably not for another 3 years, but Salesforce sets the vision on stage to say this is what they’re going to aim for.

Underlying every announcement like Einstein, is a sub-announcement that is the real product updates. The things that shipped and customers can use now, and much like previous year, the big clear story was around: Productivity

Which takes me to my next point…

2) Productivity is still the achilles heel for Salesforce

AI may be the hot thing this year, but the ability for reps to use Salesforce quickly and effectively from where they work (their Email and Phone) and for managers to truly forecast accurately continues to be the big issue that every customer clamors for.

The lack of Productivity in Salesforce is the reason ToutApp and others have raised over $100m+ in aggregated venture capital and the lack of Productivity is why Salesforce continues to try to make their real product updates around the Inbox, Phone and the primary user interface (Lightning).

And while Salesforce continues to invest into Salesforce IQ and Inbox, companies that provide direct solutions to improve prospecting, closing and enablement productivity for reps and managers continues to thrive in their ecosystem.

Why is that? It’s because Salesforce is fighting a multi-front war both against big competitors and against startups looking to disrupt their core business.

3) CRM, and Salesforce, is evolving into ERP, but CRM is about to get disrupted

Salesforce is fighting a three-front war. They originally gained momentum and popularity because they were a better alternative for reps and their productivity from clunky hosted systems. Once they succeeded wildly due to the migration to the Cloud, they’ve since been on a mission to own the whole company’s dataset. Salesforce’s ultimate goal is to sell a seat for every employee in the company whether they’re in Sales, Service, Marketing, or even Engineering.

The war to transform from CRM to ERP

If they were to succeed in this mission, in a long enough timeline, Salesforce will look a lot more like a full ERP solution and a full-stack IT solution. Custom applications for businesses will be built on their platform, all data across Sales, Marketing and Finance will be stored on their databases, and now — Einstein will be able to predict exactly what to do with your business next.

Sound familiar? Of-course it does. That’s exactly what Microsoft is to enterprises today. It’s no wonder that Satya Nadella is taken a keen interest in CRM as part of his new strategy for the company to ensure Microsoft stays dominant in the enterprise.

The war to stay king as Microsoft, Oracle and others take aim at CRM and ERP

Salesforce’s sweet spot has always been the mid-market. And so it’s interesting to see how with the recent purchase of Netsuite by Oracle, and with renewed investment into Dynamics — Oracle and Microsoft essentially has set a target to own the mid-market cloud.

Which basically means, Salesforce has awakened the giants and they’ve realized that CRM and ERP is a valuable core asset and the company that owns it in the Cloud will own the future.

The war to keep reps productive and their core business relevant

So while Salesforce pursues their dream of owning the Enterprise in their quest to hit $10b in recurring revenues, as they expand into AI, Service, Cloud Engineering and more, their core business of CRM — which has a sole goal of keeping reps productive is under attack.

Even with all the technology and tools, Sales Productivity is still at an all time low. And so with over $100m+ in venture capital funding, from small CRM vendors that are providing end-to-end experiences, to startups like ToutApp that is completely changing the definition of “Customer Relationship Management”  by morphing email, phone and crm — the core business of Salesforce is slowly being disrupted.

In Conclusion

In my five years at Dreamforce and being in the Sales and Marketing software space, there has never been a more exciting time. The stakes has never been higher. Players that win in the next few years will control the core workflow for business users, will own the systems of record, and with the advent of AI, will start to completely transform how humans work.