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The Launch of Salesforce.com and the End of Software

Paul Holmes 09 Jul 2001

 

When you're an unknown entering a crowded market, you need to be creative to get noticed. That's precisely the approach OutCast Communications and salesforce.com took when they launched salesforce.com in February of 2000. Salesforce.com believes that enterprise software is a thing of the past, while Internet services will shape the future. Its challenge at launch time was that salesforce.com was going head-to-head with Oracle and Siebel, both of whom were making billions on enterprise software that provided that same type of solution as salesforce.com’s inexpensive web-based solution, and both were fighting salesforce.com’s entry into the market.

OutCast Communications and salesforce.com decided to take action by promoting the theme of “The End of Software.” The campaign began in February 2000 with salesforce.com’s launch at DEMO 2000, the premier launch venue for new products and technologies. Next came the staging of the “End of Software” protest, a mock protest in front of Siebel Systems' user conference. Our hired “protestors” carried large signs with anti-software messages and chanted anti-software slogans to the conference attendees as they walked past the protest. Finally came salesforce.com’s coming out ball, the military-themed “End of Software” party. The momentum from these events continued throughout February and March 2000 in the form of media outreach campaigns centered around the “End of Software” theme.

CHALLENGES:

One of salesforce.com’s major obstacles was going head-to-head with Goliath (in this case Siebel). Siebel dominates the CRM and SFA space, and it would take more then just a successful launch at DEMO and a good party to make the salesforce.com brand hold its own against the likes of Siebel and Oracle. From a PR perspective, this translates into the challenge of not only creating a huge buzz around the launch of salesforce.com, but also building a strong brand and maintaining salesforce.com’s key messages while doing so.

OBJECTIVES:  

To successfully launch a company and build a brand in an extremely crowded market to reach companies looking for an inexpensive, easy-to-use and reliable sales force automation solution.

Throw a huge “coming out” party that would lead to both positive press coverage and industry buzz around “The End of Software” theme and salesforce.com.

To maintain salesforce.com’s key corporate messages while executing buzz-generating events like the party and the protests.

To continue the momentum after the launch by consistently receiving media coverage in articles focused on competitors Siebel and Oracle.  

RESEARCH/PLANNING:

For OutCast, the first detail to tackle was finding the perfect launch venue. It decided that DEMO, the premier launch venue for new products, technologies, and companies, was the best possible venue for the launch of salesforce.com. DEMO gave salesforce.com the visibility it needed among its peers as well as the business and trade press.


 

As soon as the official launch was over, it was time to continue the momentum and focus on the party and the protests. With both events taking place on February 22, there was a lot of planning to take do! While an event company planned the details of the party, OutCast was responsible for making sure all the right press attended the party, as well as the “End of Software” protests.  OutCast developed a comprehensive list of media targets for the party, and designated the appropriate targets for the protest and the press campaign afterwards.  In addition to pitching the broadcast media, OutCast also hired a video production company to make b-roll of the protests and the party for use in future media opportunities.

STRATEGY:

OutCast’s strategy consisted of combining traditional PR tactics with aggressive marketing tactics in order to build a strong brand and effectively promote salesforce.com, while maintaining key messaging. This meant simultaneously conducting a national media tour and attending DEMO, while also executing the launch party and the “No Software” protest.

CAMPAIGN/EXECUTION:

DEMO: The launch of salesforce.com at DEMO went smoothly, with OutCast assisting salesforce.com in getting in front of all of the right people and effectively securing coverage in dozens of top-tier business publications.

THE PROTESTS: The protests were executed just as OutCast had hoped, with 25 hired protesters shouting slogans such as "Red rover, red rover, software is over," donning bright red t-shirts with the words "death to software" and passing out invitations to salesforce.com's launch party that evening. All in good fun, the protest turned more than a few heads. People began circling the block to see get a better look at the commotion and Siebel eventually resorted to parking three semi-trucks directly in front of the center, partially blocking the salesforce.com protest, and in the process, blocking Siebel’s own signage.

THE PARTY: The military-themed Salesforce.com official launch party carried the theme further to celebrate “The End of Software.” In order to be admitted to the party, guests were instructed to bring a piece of old software to donate to the overflowing software trash bins. Areas of the party were sectioned off to include  “Software-Free” zones, a game zone as well as a “Prisoners of Software” area.  The game area included “Throw the Disk in the Toilet” and other similarly themed games.  Entertainment consisted of three bands, including the B52’s. The media attendance at the party was excellent, with almost 30 top-tier press in attendance including:  The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Vanity Fair, Industry Standard, and Fortune.

THE FOLLOW-THROUGH: After all of the events were over, OutCast went to work following-up with each of the reporters who had attended the events, as well as others who followed salesforce.com’s competitors. OutCast’s constant contact with the reporters led to exceptional coverage that did more than just mention the party and the protest, but also elicited rave reviews of salesforce.com’s service.

RESULTS:

The success of the “Software Revolution” launch was more then anyone had hoped to obtain. To begin with, salesforce.com walked away from DEMO with the prestigious honor of being named a top “Company to Watch.”  The party and the protest made salesforce.com the buzz of not only San Francisco (and of course the Siebel User Conference), but also the national media. Both The Wall Street Journal and Forbes took interest in this tiny start-up and noted the lengths the company would go to in order to build its brand in a crowded market. The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, The New York Times and C/Net all wrote about the protests and the party. Business Week called salesforce.com “the ant at the picnic” for taking on Siebel.
The launch as a whole garnered more then 100 impressive articles in the business, technology and vertical sales press.  Within two weeks of the launch, salesforce.com also had more than 1,000 organizations signed up for its service, the majority of whom had learned about the service from reading articles about the launch. Almost all of the coverage portrayed salesforce.com as a viable alternative to the outrageously expensive solutions offered by Siebel and Oracle, and introduced salesforce.com as an edgy new company willing to do things differently. All in all, OutCast and salesforce.com conquered both of the aforementioned obstacles and walked away from the launch with tremendous success.

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