March 8, 1999: The Day Salesforce Changed the CRM Game Forever

20th Anniversary of Salesforce

Do you remember what you were doing 20 years ago today?

I was working for PricewaterhouseCoopers helping to build up the CRM practice in Atlanta … but on a project in Mobile, Alabama.

That is another story all to itself. But, I digress …

In 1999, CRM was a four-letter word to most people involved with it.

Every day you were hearing about a new, failed multi-million dollar CRM project. The software was expensive and hard to use. The hardware (remember when you actually had to install software on your computers?) to run the software was expensive … and hard to use.

And the people you needed to keep the software running on that expensive hardware were ridiculously expensive to hire.

After all of that expense, most people still didn’t get anything useful from it.

And if you think I’m painting a pretty dark picture of what CRM was like back in the day, I’m actually taking it easy.

There was no “cloud” as we know it today. If your computer died, your data went with it.

And you couldn’t do anything on the go, because there were no smartphones … only those ridiculous brick phones that were anything but mobile.

Forget about having two applications being easily integrated together without you having to do much of anything.

Now, did all that change overnight with Salesforce? No it didn’t.

But looking back on it now, that day changed the trajectory of a lot of things:

  • CRM
  • Enterprise/business software
  • The future of work
  • How business software is evangelized
  • How business models were created and implemented
  • How philanthropy is embedded into the core of business models
  • The user conference experience (ever been to a Dreamforce?) …

There’s a bunch of other things I’m not even thinking about right now.

According to Gartner, businesses spent approximately $40 billion the past year on CRM . That makes it the most-purchased software category and the fastest growing category.

It’s hard to see the transition from hatred-to-$40 billion happening without Salesforce coming along and doing what it has the past 20 years.

Now, of course, they don’t get all of the credit for that. They were not alone (or even first) in making business apps available in the cloud. It’s safe to say they evangelized and popularized the idea, though.

And they had enough fortitude to stick it out in those early, dark days to last longer than any of the other companies that were with them 20 years ago.

20th Anniversary of Salesforce

So, 20 years later, it’s safe to say that the game changed on March 8, 1999 — and it changed forever.

You have to give Marc Benioff, Parker Harris and their co-founders (Dave Moellenhoff and Frank Dominguez) a big shout-out for what they did back in 1999. They led the way in turning CRM back into a three letter word by making it easier to build relationships with customers without having to be a computer genius to do it.

To get a bit more scoop on the early days of Salesforce, check out the video of Paul Greenberg and I (aka the CRM Playaz) chatting with Techcrunch enterprise software journalist Ron Miller, who wrote an extensive piece on Salesforce at 20.

Image: Salesforce

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.