Salesforce.com provides on demand CRM (customer relationship management) software, coupled with a development environment, Appforce, whereby outside developers can create add-on components and applications, using the companys proprietary tools.
During an impromptu question-and-answer session following a luncheon keynote, Benioff said the company is looking at ways to enable non-CRM users to utilize the platform.
"We see ourselves going in that direction," said Benioff. "Were making strategic changes in our company," to address the issue.
Benioff said the company has been running focus groups to determine its next steps and is "really almost ready" to announce a strategy.
Ben Pring, an analyst with IT research firm Gartner Group Inc. said Salesforce is targeting a November launch of a more open Appforce platform, with a medium-term strategy rollout over the next 12 to 24 months.
To date, Salesforce.com has done well as a niche provider of on-demand CRM software. During Tuesdays launch event it announced new capabilities for service and support, and the company is moving full steam ahead with its AppExchange applications marketplace. But opening up Appforce to non-CRM users would be a stratospheric leap for the company by bringing in any number of new development relationships beyond the core competency of CRM, and opening up the competitive landscape to much bigger application development platform providers.
There are two scenarios that could ensue, according to Gartners Pring.
"Either it really opens the potential to sell and have relationships with a lot of new people, and potentially grow revenues," said Pring, in Stamford, Conn. "Or alternatively, by diffusing what theyve been doing, they start the potential dilution of what they are doing… Confusing and diluting their strengths [could be] a real issue. Theyre going to come up against a lot of goliaths."
Salesforce.com does seem to be aware of the distractions an open platform could bring. Theyve hired a vice president of channels and alliances to lead the partnership initiatives that would come from a broader platform. At the same time, though, the company seems to be taking a gee whiz approach to what comes next.
When asked what the revenue split between CRM and platform income is, Benioff said he has no way of determining such a breakdown.
"Most of [the users] use the platform to customize and quite a few of the customers used it to build applications, but it is early days," said Benioff. "Were like Lewis and Clark here, going down the path."