It solves a lot of problems.
There are plenty of ways to track Leads, Contacts and Opportunities. Maybe even better ways, especially if your business isn’t that complicated.
But Salesforce figured out relatively early in the evolution of SaaS two key things:
- How to make an incredibly extensible platform. Launching an API in 2000, then next-generation truly rich APIs in ‘04-’05, and the AppExchange in ‘05-‘06, were truly disruptive. Oracle, SAP, whatever were never open. Salesforce was, and it enabled 1000 vendors to extend their functionality. Just as importantly, from S-Controls in the early days to Apex to Lightning and more, Salesforce quickly evolved into a highly customizable platform, well before JSON and such. In 2005, you could already make Salesforce automate 1000s of workflows. By 2006, you could make it look and act almost any way you wanted. That was magical, relative to the standards of the day.
- How to solve real problems for enterprise customers. Salesforce started off as an SMB/SME play but after closing Kikkoman, SunGuard and all that, evolved into an enterprise-play. Marc learned to use his Oracle skills to go into Big Companies and ask for $1m, then $10m, and later $100m+ a year … to solve their problems. Salesforce became very, very good at this. No one else can really do this today, at scale.
The combo propelled them from the first $100m to $10b+ in ARR.
Some genius marketing also helped a lot. A lot.