retools marketing message around 'customer companies'

CEO Marc Benioff described the repositioning away from 'social enterprises' in a keynote address CEO Marc Benioff has laid out a new strategic and thematic direction for his company, saying that its goal will now be to help clients become "customer companies," with the end result being greater success.

He started off a keynote address in New York on Tuesday by applying the message to itself. "We believe strongly right now that listening, as a vendor, is probably the most important thing you can do," Benioff said to the customers in attendance.

There are eight components to realizing's vision, Benioff said. Companies must "listen to every customer," "engage on every channel," "sell as a team," "service customers everywhere," "create communities," "connect partners," "connect products" and "deliver apps everywhere," according to a slide Benioff displayed.

To the last point, "every company in this room, not just, is becoming a software company," as consumers increase their use of mobile applications, Benioff said.

Meanwhile, a "customer revolution" is the next logical step for the business world, according to Benioff.

Benioff listed a series of trends to support his thesis, including the billions of people now using social networks, the rampant rise of mobile and touchscreen-powered devices, geolocation, and portable identity management.

"How do we reconceptualize our companies around these critical technologies?" Benioff said. "Are you connected to your customer?"

The new theme will succeed's previous marketing tagline, "social enterprises," which had been its focus for some time but never seemed to catch on broadly with its customer base.

Last year, withdrew a trademark application on the phrase following criticism from social and environmental agencies.

Some might find it odd that would reposition itself around the "customer companies" theme after so many years in business as a CRM (customer relationship management) software vendor.

But the move really speaks to the fact that CRM as a concept just hasn't delivered on the promises inherent in its name, according to one observer.

"Customers seek outcomes," said analyst Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research. "The social enterprise message didn't address what the outcomes were. Customer companies is really about the outcome, and it addresses what customers wanted from CRM but didn't get."'s goal is to make money, however, and rhetoric alone won't make that happen.

To that end, Benioff's speech occurred shortly after announced a number of new customer-service products that tie into the company's repositioning, including mobile live agent chat and mobile screensharing.

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

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