10 takeaways from Salesforce.com’s FY2012 SKO, Part I

I spent a few days last week in Las Vegas at Salesforce.com’s (SFDC) sales kickoff (SKO) for the upcoming year. SFDC’s fiscal calendar ends January 31st, so after a couple days to recharge the batteries, reorganize some management groups and redesign sales territories the sales force was gathered to learn about the new plans for FY2012 and to get re-invigorated for another year of growth at the SaaS leader.

SKO is also an invitation-only event for select partners who have helped drive sales momentum, traction and ultimately success over the past 12 months. This year just over 40 partner companies – from Deloitte and IBM to small ISVs and implementation partners – were invited to attend, and Okta was the only Identity and Access Management (IAM) vendor invited, and one of only three integration vendors of any type alongside IBM Cast Iron and Dell Boomi.

After spending 48 hours with old friends and former colleagues in Las Vegas, here are some highlight takeaways from the event ..

1. The SFDC sales machine is accelerating as much as ever

I was amazed at the number of customer-facing sales and related professionals at SFDC, many of whom I met for the first time. Todd, Roger and I were part of the early growth at SFDC starting in 2002, in my case from 100 to 2500 employees company wide and $30M to $750M in revenue. Last week at SKO over 2600 employees from sales, sales engineering, customer success and professional services descended on Las Vegas, over 1000 of which started in the last 12 months - talk about growth!

2. The partner Independent Software Vendor (ISV) ecosystem is alive and well

Okta was in good company on the ISV partner side at SKO as Xactly, DocuSign, Coupa, and Eloqua were also invited as essential solutions that drive increased success for SFDC’s customers. Whether it’s sales compensation management, electronic signature, expense reporting, marketing automation or identity and access management in our case, sales professionals see companies like ours as enablers for their customers and frankly accelerators for their sales opportunities.

In addition to independently built 3rd party ISVs, SKO also showcased some successful companies like ServiceMax that are built on the Force.com platform. Dave Yarnold and Stacey Epstein from ServiceMax commented to me that their business is thriving with the uptake of SFDC’s Cloud 2 product line.

3. The System Implementation (SI) channel for SaaS has come a long way

Roger Goulart, Okta’s VP Sales & Business Development, was the first VP of BD at Salesforce.com, hired in the Summer of 2002. When it came up in conversation, Roger told the story of how when he first visited Accenture with Joe Williams (still a very successful VP of Sales at SFDC) some eight years ago, and suggested that Accenture start building a SaaS practice because their Siebel implementation dollars were going to disappear, they initially weren't convinced - and rightfully so. SFDC implementations back then didn't have the kind of services dollars that a company like Accenture needs to build a viable practice.

Times have changed for the better: in addition to the new crop of cloud-born SIs like Model Metrics, Astadia and Appirio, Accenture was a platinum sponsor at SKO this year, with a strong team in attendance to talk about joint FY 2011 success with the SFDC Account Execs. With Force.com, the SFDC product suite is about a lot more than just website configuration, featuring the most robust APIs in the industry offering an enterprise solution for customers “from wall to wall” as I heard say more than once.

4. The SFDC Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) program has arrived

The last initiative that I led at SFDC was the first OEM effort in 2006. It was clearly early for its time, with no platform licenses to package and sell, and we were focused on testing the market out with early vertical partners. We didn’t have any of the product and marketing support, sales enablement, delivery tools, billing infrastructure or support programs that SFDC has today.

Today the SFDC OEM efforts are ambitious and aggressive – as you’d assume from SFDC – and we were given a talk at the partner event kickoff about the value of OEM to SFDC and the program’s revenue contributions for FY2011. SFDC even had a booth focused on educating reps on quota credit for OEM in the off-chance that we received any detailed questions from Account Execs when we spoke with them about OEM offerings.

5. IAM is a growing concern in SaaS across market segments

One of the most positive takeaways that I had was for the Okta business specifically, as Roger, Andrew and I had literally a hundred conversations about SSO and user management for SFDC customers, how to tie SFDC into Active Directory with an on-demand approach and so on. Dozens of Sales Engineers and Professional Services sales folks stopped by our booth asking for demos, educational materials and often times towing their Account Execs along with specific deals in mind, from SMB customers to F100 prospects. I even had a former sales leader from CA, who used to run the SiteMinder practice and recently joined SFDC, approach me to talk about “ripping out that old legacy infrastructure and getting [F100 company] going with an on-demand SFDC ELA and Okta as a cloud-based domain controller.” Great stuff!

In Part II of this post early next week I'll run down my second set of highlights from SFDC's SKO including ..

6. SaaS billing is heating up and Zuora is flying high 7. SFDC’s footprint inside companies is growing, from the VP Sales to the CXO 8. Heroku + Force.com = Enterprise SaaS platform strength 9. Dare I say it: Mobile might be ready for the enterprise 10. SFDC still throws the best party around!