What Salesforce Likely Wanted from LinkedIn

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Benioff could have had a better week (Photo: World Economic Forum)
Benioff could have had a better week (Photo: World Economic Forum)

What would the world look like if we’d woken up Monday morning to discover that Salesforce has bought LinkedIn?

After all, we now know that’s not sheer fantasy.  Thanks to reporting by Kara Swisher at Recode, it’s been officially confirmed that Salesforce was “a serious bidder” for the B2B social network, retaining Goldman Sachs as banker. Indeed, it beat Microsoft to the negotiating table.

Although Benioff has said that Salesforce was primarily interested in LinkedIn’s recruitment business, it seems at least as likely that the San Francisco-based “customer success platform” saw an opportunity to integrate LinkedIn’s 433 million professional profiles with the hundreds of millions of records stored in customer iterations of Salesforce CRM.

But that’s not the only value Salesforce might have wrung from a LinkedIn detail. As a pure SaaS-player, Salesforce organizes itself as a series of interlinked clouds: Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Service Cloud, Data Cloud, and so on. Plug and play LinkedIn’s user base in any of those environments, and the results could be highly valuable–especially in the B2B environment. For example:

  • In the Sales Cloud, you get much closer to a 360 degree picture of key players on purchase team
  • In the Marketing Cloud, you go beyond personas to get truly personalized background on leads and prospects
  • In the Service Cloud, you’re no longer dealing with a case; you’re dealing with a real individual.

And all this comes in a package with contact details–imperfect, maybe, but probably the best out there.

But wait. Doesn’t the availability of LinkedIn data via the Sales Navigator app available on the Salesforce platform mean that this integration is already available?  To a certain extent, but some analysts say that the app set-up “does not have the level of integration with LinkedIn’s data that Microsoft hopes to achieve after buying the company.” Or that Salesforce would presumably have had, if it could have done the deal.

What’s more, the existing Salesforce-LinkedIn relationship is rightly described as a “loose partnership.” There’s no guarantee that Sales Navigator will continue to provide existing levels of access to LinkedIn data, or indeed be available to Salesforce customers at all.

Is there anywhere else Salesforce might now spend its money?  Not really.  Facebook has social data surpassing anything LinkedIn can offer—but not professional data, and in any case Facebook isn’t for sale. Twitter has a vast user base, but its accounts aren’t closely tied to real identities, let alone actionable individual data.

Even worse news, now that Microsoft can bolster its own CRM and marketing suite with LinkedIn data, the argument for Microsoft buying Salesforce is now weaker than ever.

No question, Monday would have dawned brighter if Salesforce had been able to close.  Brighter for Marc Benioff, anyway.

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