Apr
17
2019
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Salesforce is buying MapAnything, a startup that raised over $84 million

Salesforce announced today it’s buying another company built on its platform. This time it’s MapAnything, which as the name implies, helps companies build location-based workflows, something that could come in handy for sales or service calls.

The companies did not reveal the selling price, and Salesforce didn’t have anything to add beyond a brief press release announcing the deal.

“The addition of MapAnything to Salesforce will help the world’s leading brands accurately plan: how many people they need, where to put them, how to make them as productive as possible, how to track what’s being done in real time and what they can learn to improve going forward,” Salesforce wrote in the statement announcing the deal.

It was a logical acquisition on many levels. In addition to being built on the Salesforce platform, the product was sold through the Salesforce AppExchange, and over the years MapAnything has been a Salesforce SI Partner, an ISV Premier Partner, according the company.

“Salesforce’s pending acquisition of MapAnything comes at a critical time for brands. Customer Experience is rapidly overtaking price as the leading reason companies win in the market. Leading companies like MillerCoors, Michelin, Unilever, Synchrony Financial and Mohawk Industries have all seen how location-enabled field sales and service professionals can focus on the right activities against the right customers, improving their productivity, and allowing them to provide value in every interaction,” company co-founder and CEO John Stewart wrote in a blog post announcing the deal.

MapAnything boasts 1900 customers in total, and that is likely to grow substantially once it officially becomes part of the Salesforce family later this year.

MapAnything was founded in 2009, so it’s been around long enough to raise over $84 million, according to Crunchbase. Last year, we covered the company’s $33.1 million Series B round, which was led by Columbus Nova.

At the time of the funding CEO John Stewart told me that his company’s products present location data more logically on a map instead of in a table. ‘“Our Core product helps users (most often field-based sales or service workers) visualize their data on a map, interact with it to drive productivity, and then use geolocation services like our mobile app or complex routing to determine the right cadence to meet them,” Stewart told me last year.

It raised an additional $42.5 million last November. Investors included General Motors Ventures and (unsurprisingly) Salesforce Ventures.

Apr
16
2019
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Why it just might make sense that Salesforce.com is buying Salesforce.org

Yesterday, Salesforce .com announced its intent to buy its own educational/nonprofit arm, Salesforce.org, for $300 million. On its face, this feels like a confusing turn of events, but industry experts say it’s really about aligning educational and nonprofit verticals across the entire organization.

Salesforce has always made a lot of hay about being a responsible capitalist. It’s something it highlights at events and really extends with the 1-1-1 model it created, which gives one percent of profit, time and resources (product) to education and nonprofits. Its employees are given time off and are encouraged to work in the community. Salesforce.org has been the driver behind this, but something drove the company to bring Salesforce.org into the fold.

While it’s easy to be cynical about the possible motivations, it could be a simple business reason, says Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research. As he pointed out, it didn’t make a lot of sense from a business perspective to be running two separate entities with separate executive teams, bookkeeping systems and sales teams. What’s more, he said there was some confusion over lack of alignment and messaging between the Salesforce.com education sales team and what was happening at Salesforce.org. Finally, he says because Salesforce.org couldn’t issue Salesforce.com stock options, it might not have been attracting the best talent.

“It allows them to get better people and talent, and it’s also eliminating redundancies with the education vertical. That was really the big driver behind this,” Wang told TechCrunch.

Tony Byrne, founder and principal analyst at Real Story Group agreed. “My guess is that they were struggling to align roadmaps between the offerings (.com and .org), and they see .org as more strategic now and want to make sure they’re in the fold,” he said.

Focusing on the charity arm

Brent Leary, principal and co-founder at CRM Essentials, says it’s also about keeping that charitable focus front and center, while pulling that revenue into the Salesforce.com revenue stream. “It seems like doing good is set to be really good for business, making it a potentially very good idea to be included as part of Salesforce’s top line revenue numbers, Leary said.

For many, this was simply about keeping up with Microsoft and Google in the nonprofit space, and being part of Salesforce.com makes more sense in terms of competing. “I believe Salesforce’s move to bring Salesforce.org in house was a well-timed strategic move to have greater influence on the company’s endeavors into the Not for Profit (NFP) space. In the wake of Microsoft’s announcements of significantly revamping and adding resources to its Dynamics 365 Nonprofit Accelerator, Salesforce would be well-served to also show greater commitment on their end to helping NFPs acquire greater access to technologies that enable them to carry out their mission,” Daniel Newman, founder and principal analyst at Futurum Research, said.

Good or bad idea?

But not everyone sees this move in a positive light. Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst and founder at Moor Insights and Strategies, says it could end up being a public relations nightmare for Salesforce if the general public doesn’t understand the move. Salesforce could exacerbate that perception if it ends up raising prices for nonprofits and education.

“Salesforce and Benioff’s move with Salesforce.org is a big risk and could blow up in its face. The degree of negative reaction will be dependent on how large the price hikes are and how much earnings get diluted. We won’t know that until more details are released,” Moorhead said.

The deal is still in progress, and will take some months to close, but if it’s simply an administrative move designed to create greater efficiencies, it could make sense. The real question that remains is how this will affect educational and nonprofit institutions as the company combines Salesforce.org and Salesforce.com.

Salesforce did not wish to comment for this story.

Apr
16
2019
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Salesforce ‘acquires’ Salesforce.org for $300M in a wider refocus on the nonprofit sector

Salesforce yesterday announced a move to reposition how it provides software to and works with nonprofits like educational institutions and charities: the company announced that it would integrate Salesforce.org — which had been a reseller of Salesforce software and services to the nonprofit sector — into Salesforce itself as part of a larger, new nonprofit and education vertical. The new vertical, in turn, will be led by Rob Acker, the current CEO of Salesforce.org.

As part of the deal, Salesforce said it would pay $300 million in cash for all shares of Salesforce.org. The latter had existed as a California public benefit corporation, and now it will be converting into a California business corporation.

Salesforce said that the $300 million, in turn, will be distributed to another independent public benefit corporation called the Salesforce.com Foundation, which will use it for philanthropic purposes. Salesforce will be making further contributions to the Foundation, but did not specify the amount.

Salesforce also said that the combination will add between about $150 million and $200 million to the company’s full-year revenues, depending on when the deal closes.

Salesforce.org had been a vehicle for the company to provide nonprofits, educational institutions and philanthropic organizations free or very discounted licenses to use its software, to the tune of some $260 million in grants distributed to over 40,000 organizations. Salesforce will continue that practice, but now that effort, it seems, will come in line with a bigger business operation in which Salesforce will also develop and sell commercial software and services as well.

“Combining Salesforce and Salesforce.org into a new nonprofit and education vertical reinforces the strength of Salesforce’s philanthropic model,” the company notes. “Salesforce will extend this model by continuing to provide free and highly discounted software to nonprofits and education institutions around the world and investing in local communities through employee volunteering, strategic grants and matching employee giving up to $5,000 per employee annually.”

The new organization will include sales, marketing and the company’s Salesforce Customer Success Platform tailored for the nonprofit and education communities, and all future development of the company’s Nonprofit Cloud, Education Cloud and Philanthropy Cloud vertical applications.

Education, nonprofits and philanthropy might not be the most lucrative sectors that come to mind when you think of enterprise IT, but by virtue of their sheer size and ubiquity, and the fact that these organizations also very much need better technology to operate more efficiently, there is a big opportunity.

Some of that will firmly never catapult into the world of big money — and nor should it, in my opinion — but as Newsela and its backer TCV, and Microsoft, identified recently, schools are still big buyers of IT, and the same goes for other nonprofit and philanthropic organizations.

I’m not sure how Salesforce will bring the different sides of the business together, but it makes sense for the company to at least think of them in a more cohesive way, providing financial help where it’s needed and selling where it is not.

Salesforce said that it expects the deal to close in Q2 or Q3 of this year, pending approval from the Attorney General of California and “other customary closing conditions.”

Apr
10
2019
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Salesforce and Google want to build a smarter customer service experience

Anyone who has dealt with bad customer service has felt frustration with the lack of basic understanding of who you are as a customer and what you need. Google and Salesforce feel your pain, and today the two companies expanded their partnership to try and create a smarter customer service experience.

The goal is to combine Salesforce’s customer knowledge with Google’s customer service-related AI products and build on the strengths of the combined solution to produce a better customer service experience, whether that’s with an agent or a chatbot..

Bill Patterson, executive vice president for Salesforce Service Cloud, gets that bad customer service is a source of vexation for many consumers, but his goal is to change that. Patterson points out that Google and Salesforce have been working together since 2017, but mostly on sales- and marketing-related projects. Today’s announcement marks the first time they are working on a customer service solution together.

For starters, the partnership is looking at the human customer service agent experience.”The combination of Google Contact Center AI, which highlights the language and the stream of intelligence that comes through that interaction, combined with the customer data and the business process information that that Salesforce has, really makes that an incredibly enriching experience for agents,” Patterson explained.

The Google software will understand voice and intent, and have access to a set of external information like weather or news events that might be having an impact on the customers, while Salesforce looks at the hard data it stores about the customer such as who they are, their buying history and previous interactions.

The companies believe that by bringing these two types of data together, they can surface relevant information in real time to help the agent give the best answer. It may be the best article or it could be just suggesting that a shipment might be late because of bad weather in the area.

Customer service agent screen showing information surfaced by intelligent layers in Google and Salesforce

The second part of the announcement involves improving the chatbot experience. We’ve all dealt with rigid chatbots, who can’t understand your request. Sure, it can sometimes channel your call to the right person, but if you have any question outside the most basic ones, it tends to get stuck, while you scream “Operator! I said OPERATOR!” (Or at least I do.)

Google and Salesforce are hoping to change that by bringing together Einstein, Salesforce’s artificial intelligence layer and Google Natural Language Understanding (NLU) in its Google Dialogflow product to better understand the request, monitor the sentiment and direct you to a human operator before you get frustrated.

Patterson’s department, which is on a $3.8 billion run rate, is poised to become the largest revenue producer in the Salesforce family by the end of the year. The company itself is on a run rate over $14 billion.

“So many organizations just struggle with primitives of great customer service and experience. We have a lot of passion for making everyday interaction better with agents,” he said. Maybe this partnership will bring some much needed improvement.

Apr
05
2019
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On balance, the cloud has been a huge boon to startups

Today’s startups have a distinct advantage when it comes to launching a company because of the public cloud. You don’t have to build infrastructure or worry about what happens when you scale too quickly. The cloud vendors take care of all that for you.

But last month when Pinterest announced its IPO, the company’s cloud spend raised eyebrows. You see, the company is spending $750 million a year on cloud services, more specifically to AWS. When your business is primarily focused on photos and video, and needs to scale at a regular basis, that bill is going to be high.

That price tag prompted Erica Joy, a Microsoft engineer to publish this Tweet and start a little internal debate here at TechCrunch. Startups, after all, have a dog in this fight, and it’s worth exploring if the cloud is helping feed the startup ecosystem, or sending your bills soaring as they have with Pinterest.

For starters, it’s worth pointing out that Ms. Joy works for Microsoft, which just happens to be a primary competitor of Amazon’s in the cloud business. Regardless of her personal feelings on the matter, I’m sure Microsoft would be more than happy to take over that $750 million bill from Amazon. It’s a nice chunk of business, but all that aside, do startups benefit from having access to cloud vendors?

Mar
29
2019
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Marketing tech vendors need to find right balance between digital and human interactions

As I walked the long halls of Adobe Summit this week in Las Vegas and listened to the company’s marketing and data integration story, I thought about the obvious disconnect that happens between brands and their customers. With tons of data, a growing set of tools to bring it together and a desire to build an optimal experience, you would think we have been set up for thrilling consumer experiences, yet we all know that is not always what happens when the rubber meets the road.

Maybe part of the problem is that data sitting in databases doesn’t always translate into employee action when dealing directly with consumers. In many cases, the experience isn’t smooth, data isn’t passed from one source to another and when you do eventually reach a person, they aren’t always knowledgeable or even nice.

It’s to the point that when my data does get passed smoothly from bot to human CSA, and I’m not asked for the same information for the second or even third time, I’m pleasantly surprised, even a little shocked.

That’s probably not the story marketing automation vendors like Adobe and Salesforce want to hear, but it is probably far more common than the one about delighted customers. I understand the goal is to provide APIs to connect systems. It’s to stream data in real time from a variety of channels. It’s about understanding that data better by applying intelligent analytics, and to some extent I’m sure that’s happening and there are brands that truly do want to delight us.

The disconnect could be happening because brands can control what happens in the digital world much better than the real one. They can know at a precise level when you interact with them and try to right wrongs or inconsistencies as quickly as possible. The problem is when we move to human interactions — people talking to people at the point of sale in a store, or in an office or via any communications channel — all of that data might not be helpful or even available.

The answer to that isn’t to give us more digital tools, or more tech in general, but to work to improve human-to-human communication, and maybe arm those human employees with the very types of information they need to understand the person they are dealing with when they are standing in front of them.

If brands can eventually get these human touch points right, they will build more loyal customers who want to come back, the ultimate goal, but right now the emphasis seems to be more on technology and the digital realm. That may not always achieve the desired results.

This is not necessarily the fault of Adobe, Salesforce or any technology vendor trying to solve this problem, but the human side of the equation needs to be a much stronger point of focus than it currently seems to be. In the end, all the data in the world isn’t going to save a brand from a rude or uninformed employee in the moment of customer contact, and that one bad moment can haunt a brand for a long, long time, regardless of how sophisticated the marketing technology it’s using may be.

Mar
26
2019
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Adobe and Salesforce announce Customer Data Platforms to pull data into single view

Marketing analytics is an increasingly complex business. It’s meant to collect as much information as possible across multiple channels from multiple tools and provide marketers with as complete a picture of their customers and their experience in dealing with you as possible. Perhaps not coincidentally, Adobe, which is holding its Adobe Summit this week in Las Vegas, and Salesforce both made Customer Data Platform (CDP) announcements this week.

The Customer Data Platform is a complex construct, but it’s basically a marketer’s dream, a central database that pulls customer data from a variety of channels and disparate data sources to give marketeers deep insight into their customers, all with the hope of gathering enough data to serve the perfect experience. As always, the ultimate goal is happy repeat customers, who build brand loyalty.

It always comes down to experience for marketers these days, and that involves serving up the right kind of experience. You don’t want the first-time visitor to have the same experience as a loyal customer. You don’t want a business customer to have the same experience as the consumer. All of that takes lots and lots of information, and when you want to make those experiences even more personalized in real time, it’s a tough problem to solve.

Part of the problem is that customers are working across multiple channels and marketers are using multiple tools from a variety of vendors. When you combine those two problems, it’s hard to collect all of the data on a given customer.

The process is a bit like boiling, the ocean and to complicate matters even further, it involves anonymized data and non-anonymized data about customers being stored in the same database. Imagine those two elements being hacked. It wouldn’t be pretty, which is just one reason that these kinds of platforms are so difficult to build.

Yet the promise of having a central data hub like this is so tantalizing, and the amount of data growing so quickly, that having a tool to help pull it all together could have great utility for marketers. Armed with this kind of information, it could enable marketers to build what Salesforce’s Bob Stutz called “hyper-targeted messages” in a blog post yesterday.

Stutz used that same blog post to announce Salesforce’s CDP offering, which is not the same as the Customer 360 product announced at Dreamforce last year, although you would be forgiven for confusing the two. “Salesforce Customer 360 helps companies easily connect and resolve customer data across Salesforce and 3rd party applications with a single customer ID. Our Customer Data Platform builds on this unified identity foundation to deliver a ‘single view of the customer’ for marketing professionals,” Stutz wrote.

Adobe, which announced its CDP use case today, sees it in somewhat similar terms, but its approach is different, says Matt Skinner, product marketing manager for the Adobe Audience Manager product. For starters, it’s powered by the Adobe Experience Platform and “brings together known and unknown data to activate real-time customer profiles across channels throughout the customer journey,” Skinner said. In addition, he says it can use AI to help build these experiences and augment marketer ideas.

Both companies have to pull in data from their own systems, as well as external systems, to make this work. That kind of integration problem is one of the reasons Salesforce bought MuleSoft last year for $6.5 billion, but Skinner says that Adobe is taking its own open API approach to the problem. “Adobe’s platform is open and extensible with APIs and an extensive partner ecosystem, so data and applications can really come from anywhere,” he said.

Regardless, both vendors are working hard to make this happen, and it will be interesting to see how each one plays to its strengths to bring this data together. It’s clearly going to be a huge data integration and security challenge, and both companies will have to move carefully to protect the data as they build this kind of system.

Mar
26
2019
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Vlocity nabs $60M Series C investment on $1B valuation

As we wrote last week in How Salesforce paved the way for the SaaS platform approach, the ability to build extensions, applications and even whole companies on top of the Salesforce platform set the stage and the bar for every SaaS company since. Vlocity certainly recognized that. Targeting five verticals, it built industry-specific CRM solutions on the Salesforce platform, and today announced a $60 million Series C round on a fat unicorn $1 billion valuation.

The round was led by Sutter Hill Ventures and Salesforce Ventures. New investors Bessemer Venture Partners and existing strategic investors Accenture and New York Life also participated. The company has now raised $163 million.

Company co-founder and CEO David Schmaier, whose extensive career includes stints with Siebel Systems and Oracle, says he and his co-founders (three of whom helped launch Veeva) wanted to take the idea of Veeva, which is a life sciences-focused company built on top of Salesforce, and extend that idea across five verticals instead of just one. Those five verticals include communications and media, insurance and financial services, health, energy and utilities and government and nonprofits.

The idea he said was to build a company with a market that was 10x the size of life sciences. “What we’re doing now is building five Veevas at once. If you could buy a product already tailored to the needs of your industry, why wouldn’t you do that?,” Schmaier said.

The theory seems to be working. He says that the company, which was founded in 2014, has already reached $100 million in revenue and expects to double that by the end of this year. Then of course, there is the unicorn valuation. While perhaps not as rare as it once was, reaching the $1 billion level is still a significant milestone for a startup.

In the Salesforce platform story, co-founder and CTO Parker Harris addressed the need for solutions like the ones from Veeva and Vlocity. “…Harris said they couldn’t build one Salesforce for healthcare and another for insurance and a third one for finance. We knew that wouldn’t scale, and so the platform [eventually] just evolved out of this really close relationship with our customers and the needs they had.” In other words, Salesforce made the platform flexible enough for companies like these to fill in the blanks.

“Vlocity is a perfect example of the incredible innovation occurring in the Salesforce ecosystem and how we are working together to provide customers in all industries the technologies they need to attract and serve customers in smarter ways,” Jujhar Singh, EVP and GM for Salesforce Industries said in a statement.

It’s also telling that of the three strategic investors in this round — New York Life, Accenture and Salesforce Ventures — Salesforce is the biggest investor, according to Schmaier.

The company has 150 customers, including investor New York Life, Verizon (which owns this publication), Cigna and the City of New York. It already has 700 employees in 20 countries. With this additional investment, you can expect those numbers to increase.

“What this Series C round allows us to do is to really put the gas on investing in product development, because verticals are all about going deep,” Schmaier said.

Mar
22
2019
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How Salesforce paved the way for the SaaS platform approach

When we think of enterprise SaaS companies today, just about every startup in the space aspires to be a platform. That means they want people using their stack of services to build entirely new applications, either to enhance the base product, or even build entirely independent companies. But when Salesforce launched Force.com, the company’s Platform as a Service, in 2007, there wasn’t any model.

It turns out that Force.com was actually the culmination of a series of incremental steps after the launch of the first version of Salesforce in February, 2000, all of which were designed to make the software more flexible for customers. Company co-founder and CTO Parker Harris says they didn’t have this goal to be a platform early on. “We were a solution first, I would say. We didn’t say ‘let’s build a platform and then build sales-force automation on top of it.’ We wanted a solution that people could actually use,” Harris told TechCrunch.

The march toward becoming a full-fledged platform started with simple customization. That first version of Salesforce was pretty basic, and the company learned over time that customers didn’t always use the same language it did to describe customers and accounts — and that was something that would need to change.

Customizing the product

Mar
19
2019
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Salesforce finally embedding Quip into platform, starting with Sales and Service Cloud

When Salesforce bought Quip in 2016 for $750 million, it was fair to wonder what it planned to do with it. While company founder Bret Taylor has moved up the ladder to chief product officer, Quip remained a standalone product. Today that changed when the company announced it was embedding Quip directly into its sales and customer service clouds.

Quip is a collaboration tool with built-in office suite functionality, including word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software. As a standalone product, it enables teams to collaborate around a rich set of documents. Quip for Salesforce is embedding that kind of functionality at the platform level.

Alan Lepofsky, who recently joined Salesforce as VP of Salesforce Quip, says the announcement is the culmination of a desire to embed the tool into Salesforce. “By bringing productivity directly into the context of business workflows, sales and customer support teams can collaborate in brand new ways, enabling them to be better aligned and more efficient, ultimately providing a better customer experience,” Lepofsky told TechCrunch.

Quip appears as a tab in the Sales or Service Cloud interface. There, employees can collaborate on documents and maintain all of their information in a single place without switching between multiple applications or losing context, an increasingly important goal for collaboration tools, including Slack.

Photo: Salesforce

Administrators can build templates to quickly facilitate team building. The templates enable you to start a page pre-populated with information about a specific account or set of accounts. You can take this a step further by creating templates with a set of filters to refine each one to meet the needs of a particular team, based on factors like deal size, industry or location.

In the service context, customer service agents can set up pages to discuss different kinds of issues or problems and work together to get answers quickly, even while chatting with a customer.

Salesforce has various partnerships with Microsoft, Dropbox, Google, Slack and others that provide a similar kind of functionality, and those customers that want to continue using those tools can do that, but 2.5 years after the Quip acquisition, Salesforce is finally putting it to work as a native productivity and collaboration tool.

“As an industry analyst, I spent years advising vendors on the importance of purpose and context as two key drivers for getting work done. Salesforce is delivering both by bringing productivity from Quip directly to CRM and customer service,” Lepofsky said.

The idea of providing a single place to collaborate without task switching is certainly attractive, but it remains to be seen if customers will warm to the idea of using Quip instead of one of the other tools out there. In the meantime, Quip will still be sold as a standalone tool.

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