Benioff Keeps on Top CEO Marc Benioff discusses plans to offer better integration with ERP, as well as his company's latest upgrade-Winter '04-and Siebel's aggressive move into hosted CRM.

In just four years, Inc.s high-profile chairman and CEO, Marc Benioff, has guided the upstart hosted CRM provider to 8,200 customers, more than $100 million in revenues and profitability. The San Francisco-based company, which has come to dominate the hosted customer relationship management services landscape, seems to have scaled back plans for back-office applications in favor of offering better integration with ERP (enterprise resource planning) software. Benioff recently discussed those plans with eWEEK Senior Writer Dennis Callaghan. He also spoke about Salesforce.coms latest upgrade, called Winter 04, and licensed CRM software leader Siebel Systems Inc.s aggressive move into hosted CRM.

Is Salesforce.coms Winter 04 release more about adding new features than improving on things youve done in the past?

Its really about taking on-demand computing to the next level. Were adding more base application features, but were kind of in two businesses. Were in the applications business, and in terms of the applications business, weve greatly extended the CRM applications. And were also in the systems software app platform business. Weve radically extended our platform. And [our] Sforce [application development toolkit] runs independently of

How many of your 8,000-plus customers are actively using Sforce today?

We have about 3,000 developers who are registered in the Sforce environment, and 1,000 of them are actively building applications on top of Sforce. That has been really interesting to see, all the different things people are building with the environment, a lot of stuff that we couldnt necessarily predict.

In terms of the number of customers who are now using Sforce … they all use it of course because Salesforce is built on Sforce 2.0. I would say about 20 to 25 percent are actually running on the platform itself in some kind of integrated way where theyve integrated with the API in some powerful way. It could be higher.

Theyre developing their own applications?

Right. Dont forget Sforce allows you to take your Web site and then front-end our system so you can capture leads and then use Sforce APIs to move the data through XML from your Web site to our service. So it could be something as simple as lead management. It could be something as simple as case management.

Sforce also lets you put up on your Web site self-service cases and self-service support, or self-service partner portals or whatever it is. A significant percentage of our customer base does that. In terms of more advanced Sforce stuff, I think its probably 20 to 25 percent.

Youve been talking about your Billing Edition for a while. Have you released that product yet?

Orders and invoices we have not yet released, thats our whole billing and accounts receivables capability. Weve released the first part of that now, contract management, which is a key part of getting the rest of the stuff running for our customers. We use it internally. So we demonstrated that [at Salesforce.coms user conference in November], and were getting customer feedback.

Were really looking at how we can extend and complement the Sforce environment to make customization and integration much much easier for our customers. We think the traditional software products like Siebel, their ability to integrate is actually relatively limited because they dont have the depth of Web services capabilities that we have.

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