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Five questions for Salesforce.com at Dreamforce

The company's burgeoning array of products and 'social enterprise' strategy will be on display

By Chris Kanaracus, IDG News Service
September 17, 2012 01:10 PM ET

IDG News Service - Salesforce.com has grown into a company much broader in scope than its name would suggest, having moved well beyond its roots in on-demand CRM (customer relationship management) software.

During next week's Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, Salesforce.com is planning to give attendees the full rundown on how it can be a central player in their companies' IT strategies and help them "touch the social enterprise," as the show's homepage puts it.

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While Salesforce.com recently abandoned its bid to trademark the phrase "social enterprise," those words will still define its core strategy of combining an array of business applications with social networking tools in order to bring together customers, partners and employees.

Here's a look at some key questions the company may look to answer at Dreamforce, which starts Tuesday.

Is the social enterprise strategy starting to click?

A survey of Salesforce.com customers released this week by consulting firm Bluewolf found that only 24 percent were currently "working on becoming social."

Another 18 percent said "social is important for some businesses, but not for us" and a total of 27 percent said they either weren't familiar with it, think it's a fad, or believe it's important but don't know how to proceed.

The survey also found that adoption of Salesforce.com's Chatter social collaboration tool, which provides messaging and document sharing, remains "cold," despite the fact that it was launched more than two years ago and is available in a free version.

All of that suggests that Salesforce.com has some more work in store convincing and educating customers on its vision.

Still, it's only one survey, and Salesforce.com has some revealing figures of its own on tap.

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff said last month that he would discuss at Dreamforce how many customers have signed Social Enterprise License Agreements, a new offering announced last year that provides fixed-fee access to a wide range of the company's products, from CRM to application development tools.

Benioff's clear goal here is to show concrete proof that customers are making Salesforce.com a strategic element of their IT strategies.

Showgoers will be "impressed" by Salesforce.com's progress with SELAs, according to Benioff.

Platform cohesion or confusion?

Salesforce.com has for years sought to recast itself as a full-blown application development platform provider, exposing its underlying Force.com stack to partners and customers for building new products and extensions. More recently, and perhaps in response to or recognition of the growing age of Force.com's technology, it purchased Ruby application platform vendor Heroku, which has also added support for Java.

Salesforce.com has never made it entirely clear for developers of when each platform makes more sense to use, said Forrester Research analyst China Martens.

In addition, Salesforce.com has seemed to keep Heroku at arms-length from a marketing perspective. The company still has its own website, which features a much different look and feel from Salesforce.com's own. In fact, it's difficult to immediately discern that Salesforce.com now owns the vendor, based on Heroku's homepage.

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