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Salesforce1: As The Innovation Story Spins

Salesforce.com will share its Salesforce1 story in New York this week. Will this be the next confusing chapter in the company's innovation story?

It's tough being the trendsetter. If you're not being copied and undercut on price by competitors, you're being misinterpreted by analysts and the media.

On Wednesday, Salesforce.com will kick off its Salesforce1 tour in New York, and we're sure to hear CEO Marc Benioff talking up the latest "amazing, incredible," and "exciting" chapter in the company's innovation story. Each year, Salesforce.com seems to give that story a new spin, and it's often a reaction to customer misunderstanding of the old spin.

Did you take Salesforce.com's advice to "become a social enterprise"? Social is still a big deal for Salesforce, but the topic was pushed out of the spotlight by last year's "customer company" yarn. (Or is that still this year's spin?) I heard a bit about the social-enterprise misinterpretation last week from Peter Coffee, Salesforce.com's director of platform research and one of the company's chief spinmeisters.

"People thought we meant social networking and consumer social media becoming enterprise marketing tools," Coffee says of the old social enterprise messaging. "That was part of it, but it wasn't the whole thing. It's also about bringing social behavior into IT."

[Want more on the Salesforce1 story? Read Salesforce.com's Salesforce1 Platform: A Closer Look.]

IT has been predominantly anti-social, says Coffee, ignoring users until they demand attention and rarely anticipating their needs based on past behavior and apparent interest. "Now we're starting to expect that technology is going to be aware of us, adaptive to our behavior, and proactive in doing things for us that our past behavior indicates we might find useful," Coffee says. He cites examples, including the Amazon recommendation engine and Facebook timeline story prioritization.

Salesforce has had a lot to say about last year's $2.5 billion ExactTarget acquisition, but it's often misunderstood as just being about automating email, Coffee says. "[It's really a] customer journey tool [that lets you] construct the arc of the customer conversation," he explains. The content of customer communications is determined dynamically, based on both the channel of communication (web, email, mobile, etc.) and awareness of customers (including their buying histories and recent interactions).

So what's the big deal with the Salesforce1 story we'll hear about this week?

"It's not just a new branding of the Chatter Mobile app," says Coffee. "It's a feed-first environment in which everything that bears on the state of your relationship with a customer is visible." In other words, the "1" in Salesforce1 is about having one place to understand customers instead of a collection of tools and silos of information and tasks.

It's an important story that speaks to the evolution of CRM, but by the time it all sinks in, Salesforce will probably move on to the next chapter in its trend-setting saga. Better to be a bit mysterious and "out there" than to sound too familiar and be too well understood.

Doug Henschen is executive editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data, and analytics. He previously served as editor-in-chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor-in-chief of Transform magazine, and executive editor at DM News.

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