Salesforce acquired Seattle-based Tableau Software for $15.7 billion in stock in June 2019 -- and triggered considerable industry speculation about Salesforce's market strategy in the process.
Salesforce has continued to innovate despite rapid infusions of new technology from smaller companies; however, many question whether the purchase of Tableau will change Salesforce's approach to its growth and development.
Tableau isn't the CRM vendor's first such acquisition. Salesforce acquired MuleSoft for $6.5 billion in May 2018, which greatly bolstered its integration friendliness with one stroke and sparked similar curiosity as to what the San Francisco tech giant might be up to. Salesforce has absorbed almost 60 tech companies -- large and small -- since 2006.
The idea behind the Salesforce and Tableau integration is simple -- to infuse Salesforce with the functionality of the leading business intelligence vendor, empowering the Salesforce user base with broader analytics insights and increased ease of use.
By extending its footprint to Seattle, Salesforce has greater access to its abundant community of technology professions, which will likewise extend its capacity for innovative development. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has said in the past that this has been a long-standing strategic imperative. He has even called Seattle his company's "HQ2."
Innovative development -- the creation of not just new products, but new processes and ways of working -- takes time, and in the digital transformation race, time is sparse. The digital transformation market is evolving quickly. Acquiring top BI software vendor Tableau may simply be a case of Salesforce playing catch-up, especially in the wake of Google's $2.6 billion acquisition of BI and analytics startup Looker.
In an episode of Mad Money in June 2019, Benioff defended the acquisition by saying that innovation is one of Salesforce's core values. However, to be competitive, businesses also must rely on inorganic innovation -- buying new ideas rather than coming up with them in-house.
The Salesforce and Tableau integration repositions Salesforce favorably in the digital transformation marketplace, which analysts expect to reach $1.8 trillion by 2022. Salesforce customers will extend their capacity to dig into data across the enterprise and surface a deep range of insights into customer thinking and behavior, yield better decision-making and more intelligent, integrated customer experiences.
Salesforce was already well-positioned regarding intelligent customer experiences. Einstein AI -- embedded in its Customer 360 product -- provides data-driven insights throughout the customer journey. Customer 360 is a customer data and identity platform that offers a CDP along with customer data management and privacy tools. Tableau's intuitive self-service tools will enhance these predictive customer analytics. Customers of any skill level will be able to use the self-service tools to generate results and easily import them into Salesforce campaign planning.
Another indication that Salesforce is being reactive rather than proactive is the fact that it will leave Tableau's brand in place. Tableau will not change its company name and will not overhaul its technology to conform to Salesforce's pure-SaaS model. It will remain a hybrid desktop, server and cloud product, with Salesforce adapting to its model, rather than the other way around.
Salesforce made its name on the pure-SaaS model, seized CRM market leadership in the process and incited many companies to go pure-SaaS as well -- HubSpot, Atlassian and Zendesk, for example. Tableau, however, is a hybrid product that runs on premises and in a public cloud. If Salesforce's commitment to its pure-SaaS strategy changes, it could have major implications for the future evolution of its CRM platform.
There is considerable risk in such a shift from a pure-SaaS strategy. Salesforce has led the CRM market largely by being different in kind from its major competitors. Moving in the direction of the hybrid cloud -- looking more and more similar to those competitors -- would be a difficult transition. Competition is easier for the company that stands out. It is much tougher for those that don't.
If things go smoothly, this Salesforce and Tableau integration could be stronger than the sum of both. The promised strength of the resulting analytics functionality and ease of use could rival or surpass what Microsoft has achieved with Power BI. This acquisition, or one similar, was inevitable. Moving forward, it remains a matter of which of the remaining variables turn out to have the biggest influence.