Salesforce.com's Benioff pushes 'social enterprises'

Benioff pointed to the growing use of Facebook (see video below)

Salesforce.com is ready to help customers turn their businesses into "social enterprises," CEO Marc Benioff said Thursday during the on-demand software vendor's Cloudforce event in Boston.

"This is the defining concept for everyone in our industry over the next few years," Benioff said. "Salesforce.com was born cloud, but we were reborn social."

Benioff cited recent statistics showing an uptick in the amount of time people are spending on social networks such as Facebook. It's come to a point where companies simply have to change the way they find and serve customers, he argued.

The old thinking used to be to pack corporate websites with every possible piece of information customers might need, and that would suffice, Benioff said. "It was a great pitch 20 years ago, but our industry doesn't stand still. [Social sites are] where your customers are spending time more and more each day."

Companies should follow a three-step process to become social enterprises, Benioff said. First, they must connect to public social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter. Next, they should create a private social network, and finally, their enterprise applications should be made social, he said.

Benioff positioned Salesforce.com as a company prepared to help customers accomplish this process through its array of technologies, which include the Force.com development platform, Chatter social networking tool, and more recent additions to the catalog, such as the acquisition of Radian6, maker of a system companies can use to monitor and track what customers are saying about their products and services on the Web.

Salesforce.com's message is apparently starting to resonate with many customers and partners. While a similar event held last year in Boston drew around 500 attendees, about 2,000 signed up for Thursday's installment, Benioff said.

Prudential Financial has deployed about 900 users on Salesforce.com, said Vice President Monica Oswald, who joined Benioff onstage briefly. The company sells to organizations that want to offer their employees retirement plans, she said.

Oswald sees "huge potential" for the collaborative aspects of Salesforce.com. "When an RFP [request for proposals] comes through the door, with the amount of information that has to come into that in a short period of time, it really requires collaboration."

Prudential Financial is also planning to roll out iPads to some of its users for use with Salesforce.com, she said. "For us, one of the challenges for the past year has been user adoption, especially [among] our field force. People don't like to dive back into their laptop." She expects the iPad user experience will change that.

During his Thursday keynote Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff called for a cloud computing test.

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