Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) isn't necessarily a household name, but the software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform provides cloud-based solutions to businesses focused on customer relationship management (CRM). Additionally, the company provides analytics and business intelligence, as well as empowering enterprises in such areas as marketing and e-commerce.

Salesforce has a long history of delivering returns for investors, gaining over 2,000% in the past decade. More recently, the stock jumped as much as 57% in 2018, before giving back some of those gains in the recent market turbulence, and it's currently up about 30% so far this year. To put that into perspective, the broader market as represented by the S&P 500 index has gained just 2% year to date. Let's look at some of the things that have driven Salesforce higher this year and what investors can expect in the future.

People walking about and standing in front of a large building with the Salesforce logo over the entrance.

Image source: Salesforce.

Credible results

The impressive stock price gains by Salesforce have been fueled by solid underlying business performance. The company has soundly beaten expectations in the two quarters for which it has reported thus far this year, and it raised its full-year guidance in response to its strong results. There's little reason to think its practice of "beat and raise" will change anytime soon.

Salesforce's most recent quarterly results are representative of what investors have seen from the company. Revenue of $3.28 billion grew 27% year over year, topping both the high end of management's forecast and analysts' consensus estimates. The company was also more profitable than anticipated, with adjusted earnings per share of $0.71, more than twice the $0.33 achieved in the prior-year quarter.

Shooting for the stars

The organization may have its head in the cloud, but Salesforce is shooting for the stars. In late 2017, Salesforce announced plans to more than double its revenue from $8.4 billion to $20 billion annually by 2022. It has ambitious goals further into the future as well, forecasting sales of $40 billion by 2028, and then $60 billion by 2034. Salesforce then plans to grow revenue by an additional $20 billion for each successive 6-year period. 

Thus far, the company is on track to reach its 2022 goal, having achieved trailing-12-month sales of nearly $12 billion through mid-2018, up 39% since it released its forecast. Salesforce is scheduled to release its third-quarter fiscal 2019 results after the market close on Tuesday, Nov. 27, and will likely be closer to reaching its target. 

Leveraging AI

Salesforce recognized early on the significant potential advantages offered by artificial intelligence (AI), and embedded Einstein -- its AI software -- into the Salesforce platform in mid-2016. This allows users to apply AI capabilities to sales, service, and marketing, allowing them to "deliver more personalized and predictive customer experiences." 

Einstein allows Salesforce users to analyze any data on the platform, including emails, social media streams, and e-commerce transactions, to be able to customize an approach for each customer. The models developed by the system learn and improve with every interaction and additional data point, making them highly efficient and predictive for customer interactions.

Cloud computing icons over a blurred background

Image source: Getty Images.

Moving beyond CRM

CRM is the fastest-growing segment in enterprise software, driven by the ongoing digital transformation -- as many businesses move to the cloud -- so Salesforce is well-positioned to continue its durable growth. However, the company isn't stopping there. Through the development of new technology and strategic acquisitions, Salesforce is expanding its product offerings and expanding its addressable market.

The company has moved beyond its humble roots and now has solutions that cater to sales, service, marketing, e-commerce, collaboration, and integration of data, as well as across a variety of industries. As a result of these moves, Salesforce expects its total addressable market to grow from $72 billion this year to over $120 billion in 2022. 

The future is bright

The factors that have propelled Salesforce higher so far in 2018 -- technological innovation, strategic acquisitions, expanding its addressable market, and consistent performance, are the same factors which pave a significant runway for future growth. Salesforce has already outperformed most its peers in 2018 -- and that may be just the beginning for this company.

Danny Vena has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Salesforce.com. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.