Salesforce.com is close to naming a PR agency for its $2 million to $3 million account -- a move to help it promote its offerings through a cool consumer-facing image that 's unusual for a business-to-business CRM brand.
The company provides business services mainly through its cloud-subscription platform, as opposed to a software system. Among other internal communications services, the offerings include a Sales Cloud, which might help a company develop a customer relationship management and content management system so its sales team can more effectively sell media; a Service Cloud, which could provide the technology and consulting to build a site and campaign for consumer feedback; and social-media tool Chatter, which builds private social networks for brands.
In March, Ad Age reported that Salesforce.com acquired social-media-monitoring firm Radian6 for $325 million in cash and stock. At the time, Salesforce.com said the integration of Radian6 would allow it to combine analysis of public network conversations with Chatter, as well as other cloud sales-management products. The Radian6 deal followed Salesforce's investment in Twitter and Facebook management tool Seesmic, as well as in software firm HubSpot.
The company already spends a great deal on marketing relative to sales: When it reported second-quarter 2012 fiscal earnings this month, the company said sales and marketing expenses grew 50% year-over-year, accounting for 46% of revenue. It reported a 38% year-over-year increase in revenue to $546 million, and the company said it will disclose an "8-figure megadeal" with a large telecommunications company at cloud-computing event Dreamforce, Salesforce.com's annual conference.
One executive familiar with the company said that global sales ambition could in part be driving the increased marketing spending and the aim for a cooler, more consumer-facing image synonymous with existing social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. The most visible mainstream marketing execution was its 2011 Super Bowl ad featuring Will.I.Am.
Another impetus could be heightened competition from companies such as Microsoft and Google, which also tout internal communications tools and cloud-based services. In one of numerous bylines last year, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff makes a jab at Microsoft. Via Fortune: "I had spent my career with Microsoft as the ever looming Goliath: from my days at Oracle wondering how Bill Gates and Co. would steal away our database business to starting salesforce.com and waiting (and waiting) for Microsoft to turn to the cloud and offer a product that our customers would want (Neither happened)."
Whether the company will spend another $3 million-plus on a 30-second Super Bowl spot remains to be seen. But it's looking for a fresh PR approach and willing to spend for it.
During the recent earnings call, the company said: "Sales and marketing expense reflects a very active event campaign through the second quarter, including Cloudforce events in Boston, Minneapolis, New York and Washington. As you know, we view these events as important not just for near-term revenue growth through pipeline generation, but also the building awareness of Salesforce.com."
According to knowledgeable executives, the company, which declined to comment at this time, issued the RFP to large firms with global capabilities, as well as smaller firms with offices on the West Coast. It's understood that the review is nearing completion.
The company started working with Facebook's PR firm OutCast months after Salesforce's launch in 1999. An executive familiar with the brand said there was a mutual parting between the company and its long-time agency, which lost its two founders over the past year. The executive added that a client conflict would have been unlikely, even as Salesforce continues to expand its social media offerings and promote Chatter. OutCast declined to comment.