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Salesforce.com's brash new ads reflect the style of its leader

It's no surprise that Salesforce.com is going on the offensive with a series of bold new print ads that target CRM heavyweights. After all, the ads merely mirror the outspoken style of its off-the-cuff CEO.

Online CRM provider Salesforce.com is hoping to garner widespread attention through a series of advertisements that directly mock industry giant Siebel Systems Inc. Whether the ads lend the upstart company new recognition in the enterprise space or merely highlight its eagerness to compete in the top-tier arena remains to be seen.

"Don't get bullied" is the mantra accompanying the aggressive new campaign Salesforce.com is splashing across industry publications, including The Wall Street Journal.

In one ad, the refrain sits below a picture of a schoolboy writing the message "I will not give my lunch money to Siebel" on a chalkboard. It immediately calls to mind the smart-alecky behavior of cartoon brat Bart Simpson and his introduction during each episode of Fox's long running show "The Simpsons."

The bold ads should actually come as no surprise considering the San Francisco-based Salesforce.com is led by an outspoken, off-the-cuff CEO never known to cower from the spotlight.

SearchCRM recently caught up with CEO Marc Benioff, fresh from a two-hour, mid-day yoga class, as he drove through the Silicon Valley.

"Enterprise software companies are doomed," Benioff boasted. "They will never be successful; they hit their peak. Companies that think they need to buy $20 million in CRM software only to fail 50% of the time won't get what they're looking for. It's foolish."

Benioff's philosophy is founded on the concept that companies should treat CRM like a utility rather than a massive internal project. If he had his way, organizations would use Salesforce.com's application service provider (ASP) model for one-stop shopping rather than calling in software vendors, consultants and integrators.

The message may be catching on. Salesforce.com's revenues tripled last year, reaching roughly $25 million.

Before founding Salesforce.com in 1999, Benioff served as a senior vice president at Oracle Corp. working under Larry Ellison. He was the fifth investor in Siebel, also founded by former Oracle executives. When asked if he models his style after the equally outspoken Ellison, Benioff replied:

"When I was at Oracle, we built a great company. Now I'm trying to build a 21st century company and change the world with technology. We're talking about a new model for corporations."

It's all about attention

But as Salesforce.com's new Enterprise Edition begins to gain momentum in the market, some wonder if all the histrionics and sharp-tongued image cultivation aren't just a ploy for attention. For the record, Siebel won't comment on its competitors' marketing schemes. Privately, sources at the company say they don't see Salesforce.com as a major competitor. (In response to The Wall Street Journal running the advertisement, Siebel CEO Thomas Siebel said, "I am surprised that any reputable publication would agree to run an ad of such questionable taste.")

"I can buy the idea of Siebel not seeing Salesforce.com as a competitor as things stand," said Steve Bonadio, senior program director at researchers Meta Group, Stamford, Conn. "For broader implementations they're not, but for divisional-level sales automation projects they probably run into each other and each take their fair share of deals. But the perception is that [Salesforce.com] is not an enterprise player."

Bonadio contends that Salesforce.com has yet to prove itself in settings where CRM users number in the thousands and locates the company's sweet spot in sub-1,000 seat environments. He finds the new ad campaign humorous and points out that by inspiring stories like the one you're reading, the tactic may just prove it has some merit.

"The hard thing to do in this marketplace is get on a short list," Bonadio said. "You need to have mind share so that people think of you when it's time to go look at different solutions. Salesforce.com wants to be on that list and at least be brought to the table to get a fighting chance at the deals. So maybe the publicity helps in that sense."

Yet, the analyst believes that Salesforce.com's products remain distant from the broader offerings of the established players, lacking technological tools like powerful analytics, one of the most hotly desired aspects of CRM for many companies. He also questions calling out an industry giant like Siebel, when such a firm could wield influence in the market that may work to Salesforce.com's detriment down the road.

"I'm curious as to why Salesforce is attacking the 800-pound Gorilla in the marketplace because it seems to be an ill-advised strategy at the end of the day," said Bonadio. "Sometimes when you pick on the giants you're the first to get crushed."

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

What do you think of the ads and the Salesforce.com strategy? Sound off in our SearchCRM discussion forum and read the posts from your colleagues

Read a recent interview with Benioff."Salesforce.com CEO: Some CIOs don't get it

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