Here's what experts think is ahead for Salesforce in 2020: More acquisitions and the possibility of a massive leadership upheaval (CRM)


marc benioff

  • Salesforce had a big year in 2019, including completing its biggest acquisition ever in June, after buying Tableau for $15.7 billion and inking a cloud deal with its sometimes-rival Microsoft. 
  • We asked analysts what’s ahead in 2020, and they say Salesforce will have to show how well it can integrate Tableau and how it can use these technologies to deliver on “Customer 360.” 
  • Some also say we could see Salesforce make more big acquisitions to hit its ambitious growth targets.
  • They also believe that this year could see Marc Benioff stepping back from his co-CEO role to focus on advocacy, with co-CEO Keith Block and newly-minted COO Bret Taylor taking the reigns.
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Salesforce turned 20 years old in 2019, and marked the occasion with plenty of big news.

It completed its biggest acquisition ever in June, buying data analytics company Tableau for $15.7 billion. It inked a cloud deal with its sometimes-rival Microsoft. It marked the first full year of Marc Benioff and Keith Block serving as co-CEOs of the company. It also set an ambitious goal of doubling the company’s revenue within the next 5 years. 

We asked analysts how Salesforce will follow that act in 2020. In short, they’re expecting to see the company continue to grow to meet those ambitious revenue targets, though some of that may come in the way of more mega-acquisitions.

However, analysts say that they’re keeping a few areas under particular watch: This is the year Wall Street will want to see results from the Tableau acquisition, especially if the company plans to go on an acquisition spree. And similarly, Salesforce will have to deliver on its so-called “Customer 360” initiative, which promises to give its clients a unified view into the habits and preferences of their own customers.

More than that, though, analysts speculate that this could be the year where Salesforce faces its biggest shift ever. With cofounder and co-CEO Marc Benioff spending more of his time and energy on social and political causes outside the company, experts wonder if the time isn’t coming where he steps away from a day-to-day operational role.

Here’s what experts think is ahead for Salesforce in 2020:

Salesforce made its biggest acquisition ever in the form of Tableau. This is a “make it/break it” year for proving to Wall Street that it was all worth it.

The biggest theme for Salesforce this year will be looking at how well Salesforce can do with its recent acquisition of Tableau, Wedbush analyst Steve Koenig told Business Insider.

Salesforce technically closed its acquisition of Tableau in August, but only recently got the regulatory approvals necessary to begin the hard work of integrating the platforms.

Tableau is in many ways the antithesis of Salesforce, said Daniel Newman, an analyst at Futurum Research. While Salesforce was founded in the cloud, Tableau began as a traditional, on-premise software company.

But Salesforce’s strategy hinges on helping its clients make sense of all the data they gather on their own customers, which means it needed Tableau’s analytics technology to form a major backbone of its efforts, Newman said.

So this is a “make it/break it year” for Salesforce to show how Tableau will fit into the company, Newman told Business Insider — how well Salesforce is able to integrate Tableau will determine how Salesforce defines itself going forward, and whether the company will be able to show results from such a major deal.

“People are looking and going to be judging the success for that acquisition. Last year they got the pass, this year people are going to want to see more integration and understand better the Salesforce strategy,” Newman said. 

Another pressing question will be if Salesforce can “accelerate Tableau’s growth by selling the product into Salesforce’s large customer base,” Koenig said.

Still, there’s some optimism that Salesforce will be able to pull it off.

“I think yet again, we’re going to see Salesforce prove to the world that it’s a very astute acquirer of innovative software companies,” Brad Zelnick, an analyst at Credit Suisse, told Business Insider.

Salesforce is betting big on “Customer 360,” an initiative to help its clients understand their own customers like never before. But it has to prove that there’s some bite behind the bark.

A big talking point for Salesforce in 2019 was its “Customer 360” initiative. The goal is to give companies the ability to track a customer’s actions, preferences and habits across devices — the company has been known to call it a “customer data platform.” It’s something Salesforce co-CEO Keith Block has called a “Holy Grail” for its customers.

To make this dream a reality, Salesforce will have to take advantage of big bets like its Einstein AI tools, and its MuleSoft and Tableau acquisitions, in order to help customers sift all the data that can go into this platform, Wedbush analyst Steve Koenig said. 

This is year Salesforce is expected to really build momentum with this initiative, now that the Tableau acquisition has been finalized and it has all the pieces it needs, Daniel Newman, an analyst at Futurum Research, said. 

“They’ve been a little more smoke than fire with [Customer 360],” he said, referring to Salesforce’s Customer 360 truth product offerings. “Their acquisition of MuleSoft and other technologies required to really make the customer data platform a reality. It’s going to finally come to fruition this year.”

Some believe this could be the year where co-CEO and cofounder Marc Benioff steps away from his day-to-day role at the company — opening the door for a massive executive reshuffling.

Marc Benioff is the public face of Salesforce, the company he’s led as CEO since the day he helped found it in 1999. In the last few years, however, Benioff has become an outspoken activist on social and political matters.

Now, while Benioff himself hasn’t said anything, analysts say it seems like he’s setting the stage to take a step back from his day-to-day duties at the company — a dramatic move that could see Keith Block, his co-CEO since mid-2018, take on more responsibilities, and shake up the company’s management.

“I don’t necessarily expect [Benioff] to step away entirely, but I could see him becoming a chairman, more of a hands on chairman, in the next year as he goes to pursue some of his more personal ambitions in the community,” Newman said. 

Analysts say that Block is well-positioned to lead, if Benioff were to take a step back. Similarly, he may already have a top lieutenant in the making, when in December the company named Bret Taylor as chief operating officer.

Taylor came to Salesforce by way of the acquisition of his startup Quip, and was quickly named chief product officer for the overall company.

Zelnick thinks both Block and Taylor have the right expertise to lead Salesforce into the next decade. Block is one of the few enterprise software executives out there that knows how to run the business, and Taylor is a “luminary in terms of product vision and somebody that can very clearly take Salesforce into the next decade,” he said.

“Marc has achieved what very, very few in our lifetime have achieved,” Zelnick said. “He’s got a very powerful voice, as it relates to broader social and political issues. So I wouldn’t be surprised to one day see him move on to a position where he feels he can have more leverage to change the world.” 

Get ready for more Salesforce mega-deals to hit growth targets.

Salesforce has set ambitious growth targets for the next few years. Marc Benioff himself said he wants to grow the company’s revenue to $35 billion by 2024.

Reaching this level of growth will be difficult without more large acquisitions, and analysts expect Salesforce to potentially make more this year. 

Newman thinks a smart strategy would be for Salesforce to make an acquisition in the fintech or blockchain space. Tech companies have increasingly been looking at the fintech space — for example, Apple via its partnership with Goldman Sachs — as a means to growth.

Creating a system for payment transaction could help fuel the company’s growth, Newman said. 

“Could Salesforce be looking into some strategic partnerships with financial institutions to enable more on demand cash availability to customers? There’s a logic to that given the fact that they have the data of your company’s performance,” Newman said. “Finance could be an interesting way to monetize, but also looking at fintech companies that could potentially improve invoice to cash processes.”

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