Perhaps it’s the fact Salesforce runs in the cloud. Salesforce essentially invented software-as-a-service – but today, many companies play in this space, and first-mover advantage counts for little. Just ask search engines AltaVista and Excite.

Or maybe it’s the Salesforce1 Platform. More than a suite of sales, marketing, and other customer relationship applications, Salesforce provides the underlying infrastructure for a host of third-party apps and services.

But we’ve seen many platform plays as well, from Microsoft to IBM. And while these incumbent vendors are unquestionably successful, neither they nor any other platform provider has the growth trajectory of Salesforce.

Then there’s the ecosystem of partners and other participants in the broad customer-focused story that Salesforce has been telling for over a decade. And while other vendors have built flourishing ecosystems to be sure, the sheer scale of last week’s Dreamforce conference underscores the fact that nobody has ever built an ecosystem bigger or better than Salesforce has.

How to accommodate 170,000 attendees in a city as crowded as San Francisco? Rent a cruise ship, that’s how.

How to accommodate 170,000 attendees in a city as crowded as San Francisco? Rent a cruise ship, that’s how.

Ecosystem in Action

There were hundreds of Salesforce partners exhibiting at Dreamforce. Here are a few of the most disruptive participants in this vibrant ecosystem.

Take for example, ecommerce vendor CloudCraze. CloudCraze bills itself as the first and only enterprise- cross-channel eCommerce product developed natively on the Salesforce1 Platform.

CloudCraze takes advantage of the reliability and scalability of Salesforce while sharing data and processes with their customers’ Salesforce deployments. Competing ecommerce suites, in contrast, must build that infrastructure themselves or hobble it together.

Where CloudCraze leverages Salesforce for ecommerce, Stantive does the same for content management. They offer an enterprise web content management (WCM) system that also runs natively on the Salesforce1 Platform.

While competing enterprise WCM products like SAP hybris must build out their own workflow, security, governance, and scalability infrastructure, Stantive is able to leverage those important but commodity capabilities from Salesforce. (See my Forbes article on hybris.)

As a result, both Stantive and CloudCraze can focus on providing their differentiated value-add to their customers – while those customers can count on seamless integration with their own Salesforce accounts.

Even enterprise resource planning (ERP) benefits from the Salesforce platform. AscentERP (with a small and midsize business focus) and Kenandy (who targets midsize to large enterprises) offer ERP solutions that run on – and integrate with Salesforce.

In Kenandy’s case, the big question is whether it can take business away from market leader SAP. What it has found is that existing SAP customers come to Kenandy for their ability to orchestrate SAP, Salesforce, and other functionality.

In other words, leveraging the Salesforce platform can make a small vendor more nimble than the large incumbent, while still offering enterprise-class functionality. Ironically, SAP customers must work with other vendors to achieve the flexibility with its own product that SAP has long promised but has never been able to deliver.

Diversity: The Key to Any Strong Ecosystem

Core enterprise apps like ecommerce, WCM, and ERP are central to the Salesforce ecosystem value proposition, but as with ecosystems in nature, their strength comes from their diversity.

Take Devicify, for example. Devicify enables companies to capitalize on the Internet of Things (IoT). Devicify allows physical products from lawn mowers to forklifts to interoperate with the digital transactions in business systems and applications.

For example, a lawn mower manufacturer can leverage Devicify and Salesforce to track individual mowers from owner to owner, alerting them to necessary service as well as managing their warranties. Devicify also integrates with AscentERP to connect customer management to back office financials. (See last week’s article on Salesforce’s new IoT Cloud for more information on Salesforce’s support for the IoT.)

Marketing is central to the Salesforce value proposition, and many ecosystem players provide additional value to marketers. Lattice Engines, for example, provides predictive applications that drive results across the entire revenue funnel.

Lattice uses its predictive analytics to gauge three key B2B customer metrics: fit (does this individual work at the right size company?), behavior (did this person just download a white paper about our product?), and intent (are they also searching for similar products online?)

There are also several integration providers in the Salesforce ecosystem. RapidiOnline provides preconfigured integration solutions between Salesforce and other cloud apps as well as existing on-premise apps like those from SAP and Oracle.

RapidiOnline enables customers to complete application-specific integrations using a ‘configuration, not coding’ approach, and is also able to support the ability to commit transactions in real-time across Salesforce and on-premise back office applications.

Other vendors in the Salesforce ecosystem target the user experience (UX). Skuid offers a code-free UX platform that can connect to data on Salesforce and various other applications. Skuid enables the creation of bespoke (custom) apps and portals via a code-free, drag-and-drop interface.

The Salesforce ecosystem also includes professional services firms. LiquidHub, for example, is a system integrator with customers in financial services, life sciences, healthcare, insurance, and retail.

LiquidHub’s most disruptive differentiator is perhaps their ‘next-generation’ enterprise architecture (EA) solution. The entire field of EA has taken several knocks over the last few years as digital transformation has become a driver of change in the enterprise.

By leveraging the Salesforce platform and corresponding architecture, LiquidHub is able to rise above the paperwork-laden EA context to provide templates that facilitate customers’ move to end-to-end digital environments – running on the Salesforce1 Platform, naturally.

The Salesforce Virtuous Cycle

The core enabler of Salesforce’s ecosystem, of course, is the cloud-based platform – and the virtuous cycle it creates for customers and partners. Partners benefit from Salesforce’s technology, and find the Salesforce customer base a willing market for their products.

Customers, in turn, appreciate the synergies between Salesforce and the third-party products that integrate with it. Customers benefit when the products and services they use work with their Salesforce applications.

As the teeming multitudes at Dreamforce will attest, the real winners here are the end-customers – the customers of the customers of Salesforce and its ecosystem partners, an audience that includes everyone reading this article.

As we can all attest, the better the companies we buy from and work with can keep track of our needs and desires, the better our experience overall. Optimizing that customer experience drives both Salesforce and its ecosystem of partners.


Image credit: Kevin Krejci.