Is Salesforce still a leader in CRM?

by Ian Campbell April 12, 2022
Salesforce is no longer a leader in the CRM market as customer satisfaction is eroding and cost increases decrease the vendor's value.

In a recent report, we called out Salesforce for decreasing value and ultimately found that it was no longer a leader in the CRM market. The conclusion was that Salesforce customer satisfaction was on the decline and most organizations would be better served, and achieve a higher ROI, by choosing one of the other solutions in the market.

Although the report is recent, it had its beginnings in 2019.

I’ve been an analyst for almost 30 years and have seen a lot of smoke and mirror presentations. I sat with Jim Barksdale when he pontificated on Netscape taking over the desktop and listened to Balmer expand on Bill’s brilliance while ignoring the rise of the internet in the mid-’90s. I listened to Prada go on about how RFID would transform its stores and Google about how we would all be wearing a Google Glass device. Frustratingly, I’ve listened to far too many marketing people wax lyrically about AI without a single clue about the underlying technology.

With Nucleus, we’ve taken a numbers-based approach to our research and called out companies that weren’t delivering value. Siebel was one of the early investigations. They were at the top of the Gartner Magic Quadrant at the time (“magic,” it seems, being the operative word) but after analyzing actual deployments we found the solution delivered a poor ROI. Now there’s an interesting side note to that story. A few months after the release of that report we received a copy of a confidential survey Siebel had commissioned for its own senior staff. Unlike the surveys they were publicly presenting to customers, their own private survey paralleled the poor results we found. Yes folks, Siebel it turned out, wasn’t entirely upfront with their marketing message. Siebel was soon purchased by Oracle and sanity came back to that product.

That brings me to Salesforce, ironically one of the biggest users of that early Siebel report.

I attended Dreamforce in late November 2019 to find bands, cartoon characters, and a playground taking center stage to an ostensibly technical conference. The hype was palatable, but the value of the content, well, not as much. Bright smiles and handshakes from the analyst relations team contrasted with the casual conversations I had with actual customers during the conference that painted a more concerning picture.

We started watching Salesforce customers more closely and taking note of their experiences. Through COVID and the Nucleus Research move to Miami in 2020, we gathered data from Salesforce customers, customers of other CRM vendors, and organizations that decided to move away from Salesforce for other solutions.

What did we find?

Through 2020 and 2021, we found an increasing number of customers dissatisfied with the cost and value of Salesforce. “Difficult to use without a lot of customization” was a common theme. One person noted their company had a Slack channel devoted to tracking features that broke in their customization every time Salesforce did an update. At the user level another jokingly (or not) said they were looking for a new job just so they didn’t need to deal with Salesforce. Even one of our past sales reps had a lot to say about the difficulties he was having with Salesforce at his new job. Not unexpectedly, we received unpublishable hate about the solution from some users but curiously few glowing references. This was not evenly distributed feedback.

During that same time, it became increasingly difficult for us to complete ROI case studies on Salesforce. References seemed willing to talk to our analysts, but less willing to put their names behind numbers.

The Salesforce analyst relations team started sounding a lot like the old Siebel team. Less willing to provide references and far more controlling about their outbound message. We had bi-weekly calls with them throughout the second half of 2021 with little actual content to show for it. While the market moved ahead with analyst teams from solutions like Zoho, HubSpot, SugarCRM, and Oracle providing great information on real customer success, Salesforce had little to show, and certainly didn’t want to hear feedback from Nucleus on what we’d been finding.

Time for a survey.

In late 2021 we fielded a survey to quantify the experiences of Salesforce customers. Would they buy it again and are they receiving value? The results didn’t look good. To be sure, we re-fielded the study to add more data points. The results didn’t change. A widely panned, self-serving Superbowl ad didn’t help their image of a customer-focused company. When asked if Salesforce cared more about their customer’s success than their own, the results we overwhelmingly negative (yes, the worst by at least 20%).

Right now, we can’t recommend Salesforce.

For a CRM system, Salesforce ranks poorly in usability, taking far too long to train a user when compared to other top solutions. The value received was the lowest when compared to others and the perception among customers is that the value equation is only getting worse, not better. Salesforce may want to slow their notorious automatic price increases until the product’s actual value catches up. When asked if they would buy it again, 51% of customers said no. Not good.

If you are considering Salesforce, take a look at the other vendors in our CRM Value Matrix report. Small and medium-sized organizations will get immediate value from Zoho or SugarCRM while others might benefit from the depth of Hubspot. Medium and larger companies with an Oracle foundation would be far better served looking in that direction. Marc Benioff may famously hate Oracle, but there’s a reason the folks in Redwood Shores have been around for 45 years. I’ll give you a hint, it’s about listening to the customer.

Did you already choose Salesforce?

All is not lost. We found most organizations moving away from Salesforce received a positive ROI in less than 12 months. One customer who moved from Salesforce to Hubspot was not only happy with the value they received but personally happy that the weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Salesforce, he quipped, isn’t getting cheaper.

I’ve been in this industry too long.

We’ve come full circle, and honestly, I’ve seen it before. Companies such as SAP, Infor, Oracle, and IBM post-Ginni know that staying relevant in the long term takes real work. Others such as SugarCRM and Zoho provide sustainable value for their customer every day. Salesforce, unfortunately, has lost its way. A conversation on a flight with a seatmate whose spouse is one of Salesforce’s top sales reps summed it up when they said their spouse “hates the company but the money is too good to leave.”