Salesforce wants Salesforce+ to be the Netflix of biz content

·4 min read

Salesforce just closed a $28 billion mega-deal to buy Slack, generating significant debt along the way, but it’s not through spending big money.

Today the CRM giant announced it was taking a leap into streaming media with Salesforce+, a forthcoming digital media network with a focus on video that, in the words of the company, “will bring the magic of Dreamforce to viewers across the globe with luminary speakers.” (Whether that’s a good thing or not is in the eye of the beholder.)

Over the last year, Salesforce has watched companies struggle to quickly transform into fully digital entities. The Slack purchase is part of Salesforce’s response to the evolving market, but the company believes it can do even more with an on-demand video service providing business content around the clock.

Salesforce president and CMO Sarah Franklin said in an official post that her company has had to “reimagine how to succeed in the new digital-first world.” The answer apparently involves getting the larger Salesforce community together in a new live, and recorded video push.

In a Q&A with Colin Fleming, Salesforce’s senior vice president of Global Brand Marketing, he sees it as a way to evolve the content the company has been sharing all along. "As a result of the pandemic, we looked at the media landscape, where people are consuming content, and decided the days of white papers in a business-to-business setting were no longer interesting to people. We’re staring at a cookie-less future. And looking at the consumer world, we reflected on that for Salesforce and asked, “Why shouldn’t we be thinking about this too," he said in the Q&A.

The company’s efforts are not small. Axios reports that there are “50 editorial leads” aboard the project to help it launch, and “hundreds of people at Salesforce currently working on Salesforce+” more broadly.

Notably Salesforce does not have near-term monetization plans for Salesforce+. The service will be free, and will not feature external advertising. Salesforce+ will launch in September in conjunction with Dreamforce and include four channels: Primetime for news and announcements, Trailblazer for training content, Customer 360 for success stories and Industry Channels for industry-specific offerings.

The company hopes that by combining the announcement with Dreamforce, it will help drive interest in what Salesforce has cooked up. After the Dreamforce push, Salesforce+ will enter into interesting territory. How much do Salesforce customers, and the larger business community, really want what the company describes as “compelling live and on-demand content for every role, industry and line of business,” and “engaging stories, thought leadership and expert advice”?

Salesforce is considered the most successful SaaS-first company in history, and as such may have an opinion that people are interested in hearing. In its most recent quarterly earnings report in May, the company disclosed $5.96 billion in revenue, up 23% compared to the year-ago quarter, putting it close to a $25 billion run rate. The company also generates lots of cash. But being cash-rich doesn’t absolve the question of whether this new streaming effort will prove to be a money pit, costing buckets of cash to produce with limited returns.

The service sounds a bit like your LinkedIn feed brought to life, but in video form. At the very least, it’s probably the largest content marketing scheme of all time, but can it ever pay for itself either as a business unit or through some other monetization plans (like advertising) down the road?

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM essentials, says that he could see Salesforce eyeing advertising revenue with this venture and having it all tie into the Salesforce platform. “A customer could sponsor a show, advertise a show or possibly collaborate on a show... and have leads generated from the show directly tied to the activity from those options while tracking ROI, and it's all done on one platform. And the content lives on with ads living on with them,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Whether that's the ultimate goal of this venture remains to be seen, but Salesforce has proven that there is market appetite for Dreamforce content at least in the physical world, with over a hundred thousand people involved in 2019, the last time the company was able to hold a live event. While the pandemic shifted most traditional conference activity into the digital realm, making Dreamforce and related types of content available year-round in video format makes some sense in that context.

Precisely how the company will justify the sizable addition to its marketing budget will be interesting; measuring ROI from video products is not entirely straightforward when it is not monetized directly. And sooner or later it will have to have some direct or indirect impact on the business or face questions from shareholders on the purpose of the venture.

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