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3/30/2011
04:05 PM
Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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Salesforce.com Acquisition Points To Marketing Ambitions

Radian6 brings social media monitoring capabilities to the SaaS-vendor’s CRM suite, but Marc Benioff makes no bones about the broader application potential.

Salesforce.com is known for its sales force automation and customer service capabilities -- the two sides of its software-as-a-service-based customer relationship management system. But with Wednesday's purchase of Radian6 for $276 million in cash and $50 million in stock, Salesforce has the social-media-analysis beginnings of what could become a marketing suite.

That's not just speculation. Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff suggested it's a probable next direction for the company during a conference call on the acquisition. And it's a crucial step for a vendor that wants to be known as "the enterprise cloud computing company," not just another SaaS-based CRM vendor.

Based in Canada, Radian6 offers technology for monitoring what's said about brands, products and services across public social networks and media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as across websites, blogs and discussion forums. Compared to the simplistic Salesforce for Facebook and Salesforce for Twitter applications, Radian6 gives marketing executives more sophisticated, cross-source analysis, sales and service response mechanisms, and lead-handling capabilities.

"Radian6 helped establish the social-media measurement category and has been one of the category's leading lights," says Seth Grimes, an analyst with Alta Plana. Salesforce had previously partnered with Radian6 and the two were set to release an integrated application in the third quarter. The acquisition should accelerate that effort while also enabling Radian6 capabilities to be embedded into Salesforce sales, service and Chatter collaboration applications.

Plenty of customers would like better ties between Chatter and public networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIN, so people inside the company go see what people are saying on public networks. But that's also a dividing line that's fraught with enterprise security concerns.

Salesforce says Radian6 will let Chatter users peer outside the walls of the company by providing "real-time insights" from popular social networks. "Insights" is a code word for aggregated dashboard measurement and keyword summaries, rather than live feeds. A Radian6 Engagement Console lets trained service and support professionals respond to public comments and questions directly, but that sure to remain separate from the internal Chatter environment.

Alterian, Attensity, Lithium, Sysomos, and Visible Technologies are among the most direct competitors to Radian6, according to Grimes, but he views broader heavyweights such as IBM, Nielsen and SAP -- vendors that offer both analytics and enterprise software capabilities -- as the competition for Radian6 as part of Salesforce.

Where does Salesforce turn next to fill out its marketing suite? Grimes says a natural would be a tuck-in acquisition to bolster Radian6 text- and sentiment-analysis capabilities.

But given recent forays by IT giants into the marketing arena -- with IBM buying Unica, Oracle buying Market2Lead assets, SAS buying AssetLink and Teradata buying Aprimo -- it's easy to imagine Salesforce.com's next step might be to acquire a partner such as Marketo or Eloqua. Both offer the kind of campaign and lead management and automation capabilities that would strengthen Salesforce.com's marketing portfolio.

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