How Salesforce.com plans to stay high in the clouds

Salesforce.com co-founder Parker Harris discusses key product growth areas for the company, the challenges of innovating, the future of development and flexible infrastructure, and what the cloud market itself will look like years from now.

One of four co-founders, Parker Harris has been a quietly powerful force in the success of Salesforce.com, which has grown to nearly $7 billion and earned a top spot in the CRM market since launching in 1999. Harris leads all product development, data centers and technology for the cloud company and has built the underlying platform that supports an increasing array of products and a huge community of customers around the world.

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In this interview with IDG U.S. Media Chief Content Officer John Gallant, Harris talks about key product growth areas for Salesforce.com, how customer expectations of cloud are changing and what the cloud market itself will look like in years to come. He also discusses how to run infrastructure at vast scale and how Salesforce.com’s approach to software development is changing. Harris also explores the challenges of innovating in a market where nimble cloud startups are always nipping at this early cloud leader’s heels.

Let’s start by exploring your role at Salesforce.com.

Harris: I’m a co-founder of the company and have been running all of product and technology the entire time. Today, I do that in partnership with Alex Dayon, who is our president of products. He brings a strategic view, which I also have. I [also] bring a very strong technical view. Together we run everything, any product or technology or data centers. All the data centers work for me, so I also run data center strategy.

In terms of technology, the one thing I don’t run is our internal IT group. There’s the focus of serving our customers and that’s what I do, and then there’s the focus of serving our employees, often using our technology, which is our internal IT group. There is a lot of collaboration between the two.

How do you see customer expectations of the company changing? And how do you see the customer set changing, the people who are buying?

Harris: I’ll take the second question first. I don’t really see the customer set changing dramatically. We started the company and it was dot-com and we had lots of high-tech companies [who said] ‘Hey, we’ll take a chance on Salesforce.’ We grew from small tech companies -- small companies in lots of different industries -- and kept growing. [Our] revenue is still pretty much trifurcated, small companies, mid-market and enterprise. The mix has changed fairly slowly as we moved upmarket and got breadth and we organized our sales groups to work into the process. From a product perspective, we feel like we need to provide one service that, kind of like an onion, all the different groups can use. That’s why we think of our platform-first perspective.

I think what’s changing for us, one of the things I find fascinating, is this. Before Salesforce I worked for a company called Metropolis Software. It was around when Siebel Systems was just beginning. We were doing salesforce automation. That was in 1993 and, now, we’re still doing CRM. But I think what we call CRM is radically different than how people thought about it in ’93, and I think that’s coming from the customer base. Our message and our vision is that we want to change the way our customers connect with their customers.

We are very much a relationship company [focused on] customer success. We are very focused on how to deliver that to customers. Our customers are saying: ‘We want to transform.’ So it’s less about salesforce automation and check the boxes, what features, I’ll buy that. It’s less of a transactional nature. Our customer base has new expectations, they’re mobile and they’re social. They’re expecting more from us. We’ve seen stories of success that Salesforce has enabled with other customers [based more on a] ‘can you please help us?’ [type of situation]. It’s a more consultative relationship with our customer. We do something with a lot of customers we call Ignite.

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