(Veteran tech columnist Jon Markman publishes Strategic Advantage, a popular daily guide to the great digital transformation of business and society -- and how to invest in it. Click here for a free two-week trial.)
Salesforce.com ( (CRM) - Get Report) is adding another piece to its empire and investors are not pleased. This is what they are getting wrong and why the big share price decline is a buying opportunity.
Salesforce is moving beyond its customer relationship management roots. That’s a good thing.
CRM is an important industry. For many businesses it is the first step toward digital transformation, the idea of strengthening enterprise business models with measurable digital data. Salesforce excels at providing big businesses with an intelligent platform to extract more sales from company leads, contacts and customers.
Its cloud-based platform is so dominant that 83% of the Fortune 500 are customers. And it commands a 19.8% share of the global CRM market, a business segment that Grandview Research predicts will each $80 billion by 2025.
However, CRM is only one piece of digital transformation. International Data Corp., an IT research firm, predicts spending for DT will reach $2.3 trillion by 2023.
The acquisition of Slack gives Salesforce a chance to play for it all.
The company is been moving in that direction. Like Apple ( (AAPL) - Get Report) and Alphabet ( (GOOGL) - Get Report) in mobile, Salesforce built a thriving third party application ecosystem around its platform. The AppExchange store features developer software for finance, human resources, enterprise resource planning, sales, customer service, IT administration, marketing and more.
And Salesforce managers since 2014 have made a number of strategic acquisitions to infuse the platform with modules for software tools integration, data analytics, ecommerce, and artificial intelligence.
Sales have risen by greater than 25% annually since 2016, with revenues exceeding $17 billion in fiscal 2020. And Marc Benioff, chief executive officer, set an ambitious plan to grow annual revenues to $60 billion by 2034. Such long range corporate planning would be laughable normally but betting against Benioff is folly. He started Salesforce from scratch.
The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant has an arsenal of digital tools to court the enterprise clients Salesforce must win over. Often Microsoft sales managers bundle access to its Azure cloud computing business with Office 365, its popular productivity software suite. Dynamics 365 is an Office component. It’s also a direct Salesforce competitor.
Bundling software and services is business as usual at Microsoft. Teams, a Slack competitor, was paired in May with paid subscriptions to Office. Later Office was bundled with Azure for discounted corporate renewals. It’s a big competitive advantage.
Slack managers cried foul. They even filed a lawsuit with the European Union.
Judging by the 8.5% share price decline Wednesday, investors are focused on Slack’s uphill battle against Microsoft. In my opinion, this misses the point. The Slack buyout is about moving Salesforce beyond CRM.
I’m reminded of Google buying Motorola for $12 billion in the early days of Android. The deal seemed dumb at the time. Motorola was never going to build a credible iPhone competitor. However, its rich trove of patents effectively ended litigation that had become an existential threat to Android.
Google later leveraged the fledgling operating system into a wealth of real-time, location-based digital data. The real prize was never about handsets.
Salesforce has the best-in-class CRM platform. Benioff is a visionary manager with the opportunity to leverage his platform successes into a much larger DT payoff. Slack lessens the risk of Microsoft bundlepalooza.
Slack is an insurance policy of sorts. It will also be a much better business inside Salesforce. It’s win-win.
I have been bullish on Benioff and Salesforce for 10 years. I clearly remember a hedge fund manager mentioning its unusually high ceiling and potential just before its IPO as we had lunch in New York; it was a much smaller company then, but she insisted it would be huge. Always bet on visionary leadership and companies with the best products. Salesforce is in the ideal position to dominate as more companies transition to transformative digital strategies.
Shares trade at 10x sales and 56x foreword earnings. Given the size of the market opportunity these metrics are reasonable.
Investors should use this weakness to buy long-term positions.