Markets often react negatively towards an acquisition that they think could be harmful to a company's shareholder value. And occasionally, they might give a harsh reaction to the mere possibility such an acquisition will happen.
Still, the magnitude of the selloffs Salesforce.com (CRM - Get Report) has seen in response to reports the cloud CRM software leader is interested in buying Twitter (TWTR - Get Report) are pretty exceptional -- particularly given that several other companies are viewed as credible suitors.
First, Salesforce fell 5.6% on September 23 after CNBC reported the company, along with Alphabet's (GOOGL - Get Report) Google, had shown interest in Twitter, and that the beleaguered microblogging service was now open to a sale.
And after subsequently recovering a portion of their losses, shares are down 5% on Wednesday after The Wall Street Journal reported Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff views Twitter as "an 'unpolished jewel' with untapped potential in advertising, e-commerce and other data-rich applications he regards as important to the cloud-software juggernaut's next phase of growth."
The paper added Benioff has been trying to convince Salesforce investors and others about the value of a deal -- they apparently need a lot more convincing -- and noted he recently proclaimed "data is the new currency in the software world." In addition to Salesforce and Google, Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report) and Disney (DIS - Get Report) reportedly have interest in Twitter.
During a CNBC interview on Wednesday with Jim Cramer, Benioff neither confirmed nor denied Salesforce's interest in Twitter, but didn't exactly sound as if a deal is certain. "We have to look at everything, we're going to pass on most things," he said. Salesforce, which was down over 7% at one point, pared its losses a little following Benioff's remarks.
The fact that Twitter is already often used as a marketing and customer service vehicle by many companies -- including, presumably, many Salesforce clients -- probably isn't lost on Benioff. Salesforce likely sees value in integrating Twitter with its Marketing Cloud (online marketing automation) and Service Cloud (customer service and enterprise collaboration) software. It also could leverage data on Twitter activity to give clients a better understanding of their customers, as well as engage with them more effectively.
There might also be some value to pairing Twitter with Salesforce's mainstay Sales Cloud (sales force automation) software to help clients discover and reach out to leads. Sales Cloud has been seeing slowing growth, and there's speculation Salesforce wants to make a big acquisition in order to offset this slowdown.
However, as a social selling platform for contacting and engaging with customer leads, Twitter is well behind LinkedIn, which received bids from Salesforce before ultimately deciding to sell to Microsoft. LinkedIn's Sales Navigator has become a popular social selling tool, and the hundreds of millions of profiles on the company's site provide an unmatched trove of professional data.
Meanwhile, buying Twitter would task Salesforce, at heart an enterprise software developer that sells subscriptions to its cloud software, with running a social network that remains to a large extent consumer-facing, gets the lion's share of its revenue from advertising and has been trying to develop into a media platform.
It would also be acquiring a company that's struggling to grow its active user base amid questions about whether it can appeal to a broader set of consumers -- What's the value of Twitter as a sales, marketing or customer support engagement platform if the users aren't there? -- as well as one beset by major ad execution and sales challenges that could soon lead its revenue growth to turn negative.
Investors understandably have concerns about whether Salesforce can address such challenges, especially given all the brain drain and management upheaval Twitter has seen. And with Twitter currently sporting a $17.3 billion market cap to Salesforce's $46.5 billion, Salesforce would need to be successful at running Twitter's existing core business to make an acquisition work, regardless of any software synergies.
With Salesforce's valuation having declined by $4.5 billion on reports that it's just one of several companies eying Twitter, investors are making it clear they think an acquisition would be deeply destructive to shareholder value. If a deal was to be announced, the pressure to make Salesforce reconsider would likely be fierce.