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SaaS Bad Boy

Whether making seemingly outlandish comments such as "Oracle, SAP, and PeopleSoft are the Packards and Dodges" of business software, doomed to irrelevance or publicly chastising Microsoft's recent software-as-a-service (SaaS) Titan release by referring to it as "Titanic", CEO and industry commentator Marc Benioff does not mince words or shy away from media opportunity.

Referred to as "The Biggest Mouth in Silicon Valley" by Erick Schonfeld of CNN, Marc Benioff is no stranger to making outlandish, and often insulting, comments. Perhaps a master showman, guerilla marketer or "just a blowhard" as CNN Erick Schonfeld questioned, he seems to use every venue to promote his message. While completely acceptable to some, many others question the strategy of the unorthodox and relentless barbs and insults. Some of the more well known media circus events are near legendary.

  • Party Crasher
    The tone for what was coming from Benioff and seemed to begin on Feb. 22, 2000, when Benioff recalls he had "protesters" show up at the Siebel conference in San Francisco. According to Benioff, they were protesting "the end of software." Ha! Tom Siebel was so mad. Twenty Siebel executives came out of Moscone to see what was going on. Local television trucks showed up. This spoiler role would go on to be repeated many times over.
  • Guerilla marketing of religious proportion
    Perhaps the all time audacious marketing stunt was the use of a religious leader for a marketing event. created and distributed a promotional poster with a giant photograph of the spiritual leader, who is depicted praying beneath a advertising slogan with a caption "There is no software on the path to enlightenment". The poster also advertised a "100,000 Enlightened Users" event with the Dalai Lama at San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall, however, it appeared nobody bothered to confer with His Holiness about this promotion. The American Himalayan Foundation, a customer, vividly complained of the use of His Holiness image for marketing purposes and returned a donation previously made by later publicly apologized to the Dalai Lama and the American Himalayan Foundation, however, the apology itself may have been little more than additional mileage for a shameless promotion. In a follow on explanation, Benioff said "Sometimes these things happen when you're an aggressive marketer like us," the poster, he said, was intended to be "lighthearted." To further ignore the religious relevance, company spokeswoman, Jane Hynes, said that even though the poster was pulled, she did not think it was inappropriate to suggest a link between and the Dalai Lama.
  • Personal barbs
    After likening himself to His Holiness, personal attacks on respected industry leaders seems pale and boring. Nonetheless, we find it at least amusing when Benioff suggests that the only reason PeopleSoft CEO Craig Conway decided to buy J.D. Edwards instead of Siebel is because Tom Siebel has a greater Napoleon complex than Conway does. "Tom is even shorter than Craig," he notes, "which is really short." To add to the irony, it seems all the more unusual that after Conway was fired from PeopleSoft in large part for his alleged hatred of Oracle, he was appointed to the board; particularly as Conway, who once worked with Benioff at Oracle, was quoted as saying "I'm not predicting the extinction of, but it's going to end up being just a small company that sells services to other small companies."
  • Transcending smack talk from companies to entire countries
    Even after referring to SAP as "innovation-free" and describing its software as "bulky and inefficient as it is expensive and unloved by its users" it was the jump from the negative company comments to the mocking German accent which seemed to upset an entire nation. Benioff's interview rant included "Vell! At SAP, let me tell you, softVARE as service is just one way to deliver softVARE!" Benioff blusters. "It's just a del-i-ver-y met-o-do-lo-gy! Customers vant hosted--and zen zay moove!"
  • Where's the love?
    Like his former mentor Larry Ellison, Benioff can be overbearing. As Ellison shoved Ray Lane from Oracle in mid-2000, despite years of success, Benioff ousted Salesforce's CEO, John Dillon and then Benioff even fired his old mentor Larry Elison from his board of directors in 2000. This after Ellison invested $2 million in Salesforce in 1999.

Trash talker, blowhard or marketing genius? Perhaps all of those things. Salesmanship or ego? I don't really know. Whichever it may be, Benioff has used the media to deliver a message that has grown a company to become the poster child of the SaaS Customer Relationship Management software industry.

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