You can bet what would have happened if Salesforce.com had not focused on becoming more of a platform company than a CRM provider. It would have faced a market with more modern CRM vendors, putting it in a corner as a legacy provider.
Instead, the company today hit a milestone of sorts, with 2 million apps downloaded and installed on its AppExchange, making it clear that Salesforce is now a platform provider more than anything else.
There is really no doubt about it. Look at all of the company’s efforts over the past 18 months and it’s possible to project what it will be focusing on through 2014. The company is doubling its efforts on developing its app platforms and using its acquisitions to build out its marketing cloud.
The company has spent $3.5 billion in acquisitions for its marketing cloud. This past spring, Salesforce.com announced Social.com, which pulls data from a customer’s CRM environment to craft campaigns. Through its acquisition of Radian 6, the expectation is that companies can also get a view of the social stream with its CRM data. With ExactTarget, Salesforce.com added an email-marketing platform that it can use with Social.com.
In essence, Salesforce is using its CRM platform as a data source with apps serving as data-integration packages, which it makes available on its AppExchange platform . This data can then be integrated with third-party apps from companies such as Dropbox, Marketo and Evernote, its latest partner.
Salesforce.com launched AppExchange in 2006. In 2011, the company reached the 1 million installation mark, and with today’s totals it is growing at a pace that reflects the broader adoption of mobile in the enterprise.
The market for enterprise apps first emerged with the iOS and Android app stores. These are still core channels for developers, but more recently, third-party marketplaces have emerged that provide a different avenue for developers to sell apps.
As more apps were developed, apps marketplaces emerged that have served as hubs for both end users and developers. Google Apps was one of the first to offer a marketplaces. In recent months, platform-as-a-service (PaaS) providers have started offering application exchange environments. Heroku, for example, has a diverse add-on marketplace. AppDirect now offers Cloud Foundry developers with a way to connect with channel reseller partners that are using the platform.
Other companies such as Bitnami, which helps power the Amazon app marketplace, are finding success as well in helping companies build out app marketplace environments.
Salesforce does get criticized for its closed-platform environment. That’s true to some extent but notice that the conversation is about the platform, not about Salesforce’s CRM strength. It’s about Salesforce as a platform company. Period.