Interview: Phill Robinson, Salesforce.com

MyCustomer.com

Phill Robinson is looking forward to heading for home. It's the end of day two of what has proved to be a highly eventful Dreamforce user conference in San Francisco, eventful not only because of what his current firm is doing, but because of events involving a previous employer.

Not only has the Salesforce.com senior vice president of marketing been involved in the running of the main Salesforce.com event itself, he’s spent the previous 48 hours managing the firm’s reaction to the takeover of arch enemy Siebel, announced in potentially show stealing form in the hours before Dreamforce kicked off.

In fact the Siebel announcement has resulted in a lot more media and analyst attention being turned on Salesforce.com rather than stealing attention away from events at the Moscone Conference Centre. "It's been hectic, but people have stayed focused," says Robinson. "The conference didn’t become dominated by the Siebel takeover. We're stayed on track and focused on things like the new AppExchange. We’ve been asked for a lot of comment, but that’s good. We tracked over 600 pieces of media coverage on Monday."

Robinson is himself a former Siebel executive, having been in at the start in the UK and been in a senior position throughout the glory days of the company in the 1990s. "I had been at Siebel for 7 years," he recalls. "To be honest, the last two were reasonably painful. I was fed up with the traditional way of selling software. There was just a sense that there had to be a better way of doing it. The chance to move to Salesforce.com came up.I thought that might be interesting for a couple of years. In fact in the two years, I've found that it had way more potential than I ever thought."

Robinson’s reaction to the Siebel takeover is pragmatic. "I don’t think it will slow the market down," he says. "In fact in some ways it opens up the pipeline a bit in terms of the deals we’re looking at. The person that loses out right now is the Siebel customer. There’s a lot of uncertainty about the future of the products that they’ve invested in. Then there are prospective Siebel customers who will also see the uncertainty."

But uncertainty surrounding Siebel is potentially good news for Salesforce.com. "We already see a lot of companies which have taken a corporate decision to adopt Siebel, but then the country manager or someone at local level gets frustrated waiting for the implementation to work and so he goes off and implements Salesforce.com and gets it up and running," says Robinson.

Robinson heads up one of the most aggressive marketing operations in the software industry. Salesforce.com’s strategy has taken the firm from start-up to one of the most influential firms in the CRM sector. "We are now the leader in CRM," claims Robinson. "Look at Siebel’s strategy towards us over the past year or so. At first it was to ignore us and hope that we’d go away. Our own strategy was to try to influence the media coverage that they were getting and get comments in to articles about them. Then at the start of this year it all flipped over. Siebel was in trouble and Salesforce.com was in the ascendent. The result was that they were commenting in our coverage, not the other way around. At that point, our strategy was to ignore that they existed."

But while Salesforce.com has notched up some significant successes since the last Dreamforce conference, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. There has been some adverse publicity in relation to the flagship implementation at Cisco. According to one analyst report, the project has stalled and is under review. The speculation about the project is not helped by the lack of comment from either Cisco or Salesforce.com.

"The project is still going ahead," says Robinson. "Really the situation is that Cisco don’t want to come out and talk publically. It’s been a bit hard for us. We’d love them to come and talk to the press, but it’s just their policy not to talk about their suppliers and we have to respect that."

With the consolidation in the industry continuing, Robinson is clear about where the competition now lies - and what the shortcomings are of some of Salesforce.com’s rivals. "I don’t see SAP making acquisitions like Oracle has been doing," he reckons. "It’s just not in SAP’s corporate DNA. As for NetSuite, theyhad 7000 subscribers last year, they have 7000 subscribers now. Now if they have all the wins they claim to have, then why is that subscriber number staying flat. Where are the news ones coming from and where are the others going?

"As for Microsoft, everything they do in CRM is locked into everything else that Microsoft does. MS CRM has all the issues of every other piece of client server software. You need to have the most up-to-date versions of other Microsoft software just to make it work. You need to have every component known to man in there. All of that has to be installed, managed, maintained, upgraded. People just don’t want to have software any more."

Related Reading

  • After Siebel: 8 things to think about

  • Confusion or Fusion Con?

  • Siebel falls to Oracle

  • Analysis: Siebel - dead man walking

  • What the analysts think

  • Rival reactions

  • Special Report: The 6th Level of Marc Benioff
  • Replies

    Please login or register to join the discussion.

    There are currently no replies, be the first to post a reply.