The business world has been abuzz all week over rumors that CEO Mark Benioff (above) might be entertaining a sale of Salesforce.com, but Paul Greenberg thinks that it’s much abuzz about nothing. “I have some doubts that Benioff would sell unless the price is insanely high, so high above what they should be sold for that he wouldn’t be able to say no,” says Greenberg, author of CRM at the Speed of Light and noted thought leader in the CRM industry.
That makes the short list of potential buyers very short: Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and IBM by most accounts in the investment community. Greenberg adds a few wild cards, such as Google or Apple—should they all of a sudden desire an entré into the B2B arena, but that’s about it.
“There was some speculation over the last year or so because Salesforce and Oracle made overtures for a partnership, and then there was the Office integration with Microsoft,” says consultant Brent Leary, cofounder of CRM Essentials, who mentions Google and Facebook as long-shot acquirers. “It would be fascinating to see if a company out of that tradition, selling advertising with very high margins, made overtures into that space.”
Microsoft and Salesforce entered into a partnership last year that made Salesforce available on Office 365 and Salesforce1 on Windows and Windows Phone 8.1. Yesterday’s announcement by Microsoft of a data sharing alliance with Adobe Marketing Cloud might have fueled further acquisition rumors, but Greenberg thinks they’re unfounded. “Microsoft’s not missing all the things Salesforce is providing,” Greenberg says. “The deal with Adobe tells you that there’s another piece of the puzzle they don’t need.”
IBM is the potential buyer that could most use what Salesforce brings to the party, but is the old-line technology player up to the task? “IBM doesn’t have CRM and doesn’t have a foothold in the enterprise cloud. It would be a big splash for them and they definitely need something like that,” Leary says. “But is it a fit in terms of culture? Saleforce moves fast; IBM doesn’t.”
Greenberg is also sour on IBM as a buyer. “If we’re going on history, I don’t like the way IBM typically handled such acquisitions,” he says. “They buy them and drop them into a hole and do not do much with them.”
Should speculation become reality, loyal Salesforce users have no need to fret. “Assuming that a company buys them for something less nefarious than taking them out of the marketplace, there will be no change in Salesforce over the course of a few years,” Greenberg says. “Salesforce users would find themselves in a period of stasis—and I mean that in a good way.”
Greenberg, who has known Benioff as long as the Salesforce founder has been in the business, says he can envision one scenario—and only one—that would have him stepping down from his lofty throne over the CRM world. “He’s incredibly charitable. He likes to do good things for people—Bill Clinton-like. He might be at a point where he’d be interested in focusing his life that way,” Greenberg notes. “Benioff will drive me up a wall sometimes, but his charitable heart is real. And you know what they say, the heart wants what the heart wants.”