Salesforce.com's Dreamforce: What to expect

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff will discuss his company's vision for marketing software

Salesforce.com is gearing up for its annual Dreamforce conference, which is set to be the biggest yet, with 120,000 people expected to register.

The show's massive size reflects Salesforce.com's rapid growth and status as the industry's largest pure cloud software company. Dreamforce has also become a major event for Salesforce.com's vast partner and developer community.

Here's a look at what to expect from the show, which kicks off Nov. 18 in San Francisco.

Marketing mayhem: Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff said earlier this year that marketing software would become his company's next US$1 billion product line.

To get there, Salesforce.com has invested heavily in acquisitions, such as the $2.5 billion purchase of ExactTarget in June. Benioff will likely spend a good portion of his opening keynote spelling out the company's marketing software strategy, as well as how its approach is superior to that of Oracle, SAP, Microsoft and other vendors.

"I think there's an awful lot of buzz around the industry regarding marketing," said analyst Denis Pombriant, managing principal of Beagle Research. "If Salesforce doesn't work on the marketing message and make a considered effort to tell the world what it's got, that will be a mistake."

The Marc and Larry show?: Speaking of Oracle, CEO Larry Ellison may make a previously unthinkable appearance at Dreamforce. Benioff and Ellison famously feuded for years, despite the fact that Benioff is a former Oracle employee and Ellison was an early investor in Salesforce.com.

Their rivalry has no doubt involved a bit of theater. But it was still surprising to see the virtual love-fest between Ellison and Benioff in June, when their companies announced a broad partnership and Salesforce.com committed to continue using Oracle technology for the long term.

Benioff even invited Ellison to Dreamforce during that joint conference call, and Ellison quickly accepted. All in all, the exchange was a far cry from events such as Ellison's cancellation of a keynote Benioff was scheduled to deliver at Oracle's OpenWorld conference in 2011.

As for Ellison appearing at Dreamforce, the answer may be up in the air, particularly given that he was too distracted by the America's Cup to make his own scheduled keynote at OpenWorld this year.

Ellison will make it to Dreamforce, according to Pombriant

"I think that's a done deal," he said. "That's going to happen." Most likely, Ellison will speak about Oracle's products for big data analytics as well as the Exadata database machine, Pombriant said.

Showgoers may also get an update on the Salesforce.com-Oracle partnership, which involves integrations between some of the companies' products.

Developers rule: Salesforce.com says more than 20,000 Dreamforce attendees this year will be developers. Last year's event included a developer keynote for the first time. This year, Salesforce.com is even running a "hackathon" contest, with a $1 million top prize up for grabs to the developer or team that makes the highest-scoring mobile application with Salesforce.com technology.

Mobile and social application development will be the focus of this year's developer keynote, with hundreds of other Dreamforce sessions also aimed at the programming crowd.

It's far from surprising that Salesforce.com would do so much to support developers, given their crucial role along with ISVs in creating a product and services ecosystem around Salesforce.com's core platform.

There are now more than 2,000 applications available on Salesforce.com's AppExchange marketplace, with about half available at no charge.

With this explosion of add-ons comes the question of complexity, one Salesforce.com is hoping to address with the recently launched Identity, a service it says provides "integrated identity services to connect every employee, customer and partner to any app, on any device."

Benioff and the big picture: Benioff is often praised for his speaking ability and he has certainly exercised it over the course of many sprawling, multi-hour Dreamforce keynotes. The test for any tech CEO is to deliver a talk that fully and clearly fleshes out their company's vision and future strategy.

Benioff's got plenty to talk about this year, in Pombriant's view.

"This company is doing a lot to invent the business processes of the future," he said. The CRM (customer relationship management) software Salesforce.com was founded upon was originally aimed at "manufacturing-centric" businesses, which made products, sold them, sent out invoices and collected payments, he said.

"The environment today is one of services, where companies are selling more and more online instead of sending salespeople out into the world," Pombriant added. "It's more focused on collecting data and analyzing it. [Salesforce.com] is trying to capture that zeitgeist."

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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