I just got around to reading Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff's book "Behind the Cloud." Ian Howells over at Alfresco recommended it to me. Benioff tells the story of how he started salesforce.com in 1999 and over the course of ten years, turned it into a billion dollar power house. Although we take for granted the idea that Software as a Service (SaaS) and cloud-based applications make sense, just a few years back this was radical stuff.
Of all the CRM implementations I've been involved in during my career, the only ones that were really successful were those that used Salesforce.com. The old model of spending a million dollars and taking a year or more to customize never had a good payoff and salespeople hated using them. But with the SaaS model, you can be up and running in days. And its easy enough to use most sales people will take to it with a minimum of fuss.
Benioff's model for making salesforce.com was completely disruptive of the traditional enterprise software approach: It was a proven market, with the incumbents were only catering to the needs of large customers. So there was an even larger market whose needs weren't being met and could never afford a traditional enterprise solution with all its complexity. And better yet, the traditional competitors couldn't afford to sell at Benioff's lower subscription prices.
Just five years after he launched salesforce.com, his largest independent competitor, Siebel Systems, was acquired by Oracle, putting Salesforce.com in an even stronger position. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The book is divided into chapters covering elements of marketing, sales, technology, finance and so on, each with a dozen or so "playbooks" describing a technique salesforce.com used. Some are short and obvious, but the lengthier entries, where Benioff describes what worked and what didn't at Salesforce, are excellent. That said, the book's style leaves it in a bit of a no-man's land. It's not quite the usual biography or behind-the-scenes business book, but neither is it a standalone management tome.
Still, there are good lessons here for any CEO or executive. And if you're interested in Software-as-a-Service, then this book is essential reading; it's practically a blueprint.