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Internet Marketing and Web Development in Higher Education and other tidbits…

3 Reasons You Should Know About Dreamforce and Salesforce

08 Sep 2011

written by Kyle James

3 Reasons You Should Know About Dreamforce

There was a recent discussion in a specific higher education group in which someone was asking the question, “What is Dreamforce?”  I guess they had probably seen the flood of tweets and news about this huge event.  Well I just happened to spend last week out in San Francisco at Dreamforce.  I have been told that this year’s Dreamforce took the distinction of being the largest annual conference with over 46,000 registrants and over 31,000 total attendees!  Yes, those numbers are in the thousands.  This was also my first conference (and Dreamforce) where I was a hardcore vendor.  I have been at conferences as a vendor before but never to the point where I spent all week at the vendor booth talking to prospects.  In many ways this post is kind of a nice complement to Fienen’s post last week around consultants.  Here’s to you, software vendors.

Many of you are probably thinking the same thing, “what is Dreamforce and how does it relate to higher education?”  That is a great question and one that I’m happy to answer.  Dreamforce also had a special half-day Higher Ed Summit that I attended with hundreds of other attendees.  I might be wrong, but I believe I heard 1,600 higher education individuals attended.  Dreamforce is Salesforce’s annual user conference.  That’s right, a company has an annual user conference that has tens of thousands of attendees and a very respectable higher education showing!

What’s so amazing is that so few people in higher education have heard of Salesforce or have any clue what they do.  So here are a few reasons that you should know about this conference and specifically this multibillion dollar company.

1. Salesforce Practically Invented SaaS and Cloud Computing

SaaS stands for Software as a Service.  If you still have no clue what that means I highly recommend checking out the Wikipedia article on SaaS.  Many of us credit Amazon with making cloud computing super sexy through their EC2 environments and S3 storage, but Salesforce was there the whole time.  In fact when you look at the big .com bubble bust of the early part of this century Amazon and Salesforce were the only two companies to really come out of it as huge giants that revolutionize everything we do.  Google and Facebook weren’t around yet and maybe you could argue that Ebay and Yahoo also survived, but not like these two giants.

The web has taken over the way we do everything.  The funny thing is every college out there already uses SaaS/Cloud Computing technology whether they know it or not!

2. Salesforce is a Major Player in The CRM Market

Tossing out another acromoym CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management.  It is hard to get accurate numbers of CRM market share, but the best I can find says that Salesforce will own almost one quarter of global market share by the end of this year.  Yes, that means that they will own a quarter of this market with such stiff competition as SAP, Oracle, Microsoft and IBM.  This is also incredible considering in 2006 they only owned 7%.

For higher education purposes you are still probably asking why you care about this, but every school uses a CRM system.  Most of you use Sungard or Datatel which announced merge in the past month.   Other popular higher education CRMs include Hobsons and Jenzabar.  I’m going to be honest here and say that I’ve never heard anyone say a single nice thing about any of these systems.  Maybe I’m wrong and some of you want to speak up against that but I’m holding to that statement.  All these are on ancient technology, require insane upfront investments and require additional staff to manage hosted technology.  There is just no way that ancient + ancient = new and innovative technology. Things just don’t work that way!  The reason Salesforce has become a major player is because of their SaaS/Cloud foundation that allows them to innovate at a rate impossible by these other companies.  As for non-higher education specific CRM systems, all the major companies I mentioned above have introduced SaaS options for their CRM systems.  Of higher education specific CRMs that I have heard of, only Intelliworks is forward thinking enough to have adopted a SaaS model.

Did anyone even know that Salesforce has 700 colleges and universities using their system?  Yes, it is true that they aren’t higher education specific but a relationship is still a relationship whether you call it a lead or an inquiry.

Innovate or die.  Also don’t just innovate, innovate rapidly.  Remember Facebook didn’t exist eight years ago and the iPad still isn’t a year old yet!

3. The Power of the Ecosystem

Salesforce has built an amazing ecosystem around their product.  As I mentioned at the beginning, I spent all week working HubSpot’s vendor booth.  I’ve never seen a vendor area that was so active or had so many individuals actually interested in talking to third parties.  This is because they have built an AppExchange marketplace, similar to Apple’s app marketplace, to make it extremely easy for third parties to build onto their platform.  We have seen how valuable an ecosystem has been for iPhones/iPads, Android phones/tablets and Facebook.  It is no less valuable for Salesforce.

Why aren’t major higher education CRM systems building APIs and easier ways to let people extend upon them?  Well the major reason is when you host the solution you can customize it yourself, but you also run the risk of voiding yourself from future upgrades.   Building an ecosystem around a major platform allows companies to strengthen their own product in ways that are exponentially more powerful.  All things being equal, it is much easier for someone to build another social network or smartphone than it is to build a platform with thousands of third party apps built upon it!

External developers can strengthen your product.  You can never hire enough engineers to build every feature that your customers want, so open up your platform to let people build upon it and share (or sell) their customized applications.


So this turned into a little bit of an essay and kind of got off topic of the actual conference.  After spending three years at a quickly growing SaaS software company I’ve definitely come to drink tohe kool-aid of this development model.  No, I don’t work at Salesforce, but I really do admire the company that Mark Benioff has built.  If you want recommended reading you should check out Behind the Cloud: The Untold Story of How Went from Idea to Billion-Dollar Company-and Revolutionized an Industry.

So I actually didn’t talk much about the conference besides the power of the ecosystem.  I think that is quite telling.  Salesforce does a great job of marketing and especially listening.  They realize that it’s not about them but listening to their customers.  The conference made this very central.  The customers and vendors were central in telling their stories and offering their advice about how they use the platform.  I think that is the big takeaway for a vendor specific conference like Dreamforce.  You aren’t a successful business unless your customers are successful because of you.

Photo Credit: Dreamforce by Steve Rhodes

The content of this post is licensed: The post is released under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa 3.0 license

About the author

Kyle James

Kyle is the CEO & Co-Founder at nuCloud and formerly the webmaster at Wofford College. He also spent almost 4 years at HubSpot doing a range of jobs including inbound marketing consulting, sales, management, and product management.  Kyle is an active contributor in the social media spectrum. Although his background is technical, he claims to know a thing or two about marketing, but mostly that revolves around SEO, analytics, blogging, and social media. He has spoken at multiple national conferences and done countless webinars on topics ranging from e-mail marketing to social media and Web analytics. He's definitely a fairly nice guy.

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This post was written by Kyle James - who has written 274 posts on .eduGuru

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