Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff is known as a big thinker and talker, and now he's hoping to be one of Silicon Valley's biggest party hosts, with more than 42,000 people registered so far for the company's annual Dreamforce event this week in San Francisco.
Those numbers arguably have been boosted by offers of free admission to the show floor and Benioff's keynote, but nonetheless it's set to be a huge crowd within striking distance of rival Oracle's OpenWorld conference.
The anticipated crowd for Dreamforce also underscores the fact that Salesforce.com has become much more than an on-demand CRM (customer relationship management) software vendor, given its forays into cloud-based application development, social networking and collaboration, and raw infrastructure provisioning through the new Database.com service. It has also closed in on $2 billion in annual revenue and acquired more than 90,000 customers.
But all that growth means many more questions for its user base and partners to mull over, and hopefully get answers to, at Dreamforce.
"Salesforce has about five major product lines at this point, and because this is a show for the whole company they need to make sure they're making some kind of statement of direction for each of the product lines," said analyst Denis Pombriant, CEO of Beagle Research.
Here's a look at some of the areas Salesforce.com is likely to cover during the show, which features an opening keynote by Benioff on Wednesday.
What's this "social enterprise" thing Salesforce.com is talking about?
Benioff's favorite topic of late is what he calls "the social enterprise." He's been taking the mantra on the road, delivering details with characteristic gusto to regional crowds of Salesforce.com customers and it will be the centerpiece marketing message at Dreamforce.
The gauzy-sounding theme can be boiled down to a few components: The mining and monitoring of social networking sites by companies in order to learn more about customers than their names and e-mail addresses; internal collaboration among company workers through tools like Salesforce.com's Chatter service; and the creation of social networks for customers, as well as ones focused on specific products.
The first pillar got a boost through Salesforce.com's acquisition of Radian6 earlier this year. Like other so-called "listening platform" vendors, Radian6's software can track mentions of products or companies from a wide variety of social sites and then apply an array of analytics to the information.
"[Salesforce.com] will want to tell customers and shareholders how [Radian6] fits into the product line and affects business processes for customers," Pombriant said.
Expect plenty of talk about Chatter as well, both in terms of its uptake among customers as well as new features.
But there are questions to raise about Chatter's adoption, according to Forrester Research analyst China Martens. While many tens of thousands of companies are using the software, according to Salesforce.com, "how many are using it aggressively?" she said.