Analysis: Old rivalries have been set aside as Salesforce looks to spread to Windows.
It was not so long ago that Marc Benioff, chief executive and founder of Salesforce, was trashing Microsoft.
In January this year at the Salesforce1 tour in New York the boisterous Benioff reaffirmed his reputation for rubbishing competitors in an attack on Bill Gates’ company. "The whole concept of Windows everywhere was a really interesting mantra 20 years ago, but it doesn’t work today, and it’s led them down some very dark paths to products that are not any good," he said at the time. "They have really unbelievable assets that every company in the world wishes they had — in brand, market position, technology, and monopoly — but they can’t execute it."
Yet even a man as blunt as Benioff is not immune from revising his views when the bottom line is at stake.
Following the dethroning of Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer in February it seems Salesforce has altered its assessment of its erstwhile enterprise software rival, in a relationship consummated in a public conversation between Benioff and Tony Prophet, CVP of Windows.
The presentation was as fawning as any at the Dreamforce conference, Salesforce’s annual shindig held in San Francisco, where it seems every paragraph must be prefaced with an award ceremony-esque thanksgiving. The corporate flirtation between the two was only slightly marred by a few Benioff gags at Microsoft’s decision to reinstate the Start Menu on the upcoming Windows 10, which were warmly received by the audience.
What has prompted this change in perceptions? The main reason, judging by Benioff’s remarks, is the change of leadership at Microsoft.
"We have seen a dramatic shift at Microsoft in a very short period of time when we’ve seen a huge leadership change," he said approvingly, referring in part to the appointment of Satya Nadella, a man raised from Microsoft’s own ranks.
The Salesforce/Microsoft partnerships was said to have been brokered by Microsoft chairman John Thompson, who took up his role at the same time as Nadella. Both Thompson and Prophet have history with Benioff and those friendships appear to have been vital to the thawing of relations.
Of course there is more to it than that, especially as Salesforce seeks to spread its products across more devices.
Parker Harris, product strategy boss and co-founder of Salesforce, told a roundtable a few days later that his firm would be "doing a lot more with Windows in the future".
A lot more includes a partnership where Salesforce will build an app for Windows phones, alongside plans to integrate its software with Microsoft Office, a productivity suite. Benioff also said in a conference school with financial analysts that his company was "more involved with SQL Server than ever before", referring to Microsoft’s data platform.
But the laughter at Prophet’s expense might in the end prove rather apposite.
Only a month ago Jody Kohner, director of product marketing at Salesforce, told a training event that her company planned to the "suck the life" out of Microsoft. It is possible the intent is mutual.