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Salesforce's Acquisition Appetite Is Insatiable

By Nicholas Rossolillo - Aug 13, 2019 at 11:56AM

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To say 2019 is a record year of acquisitions at Salesforce doesn’t quite do the situation justice.

Customer relationship management software and cloud-computing specialist salesforce.com (CRM 2.60%) is no newbie to making waves. At the company's founding back in 1999, it made a splash by going all-in on the cloud -- long before "the cloud" was a buzzy technology catch-all, let alone a buzz word in the investment world. Founder and co-CEO Marc Benioff has continued the mindset all along the journey, pushing the company in new directions to maximize its potential as the world increasingly goes digital.

As it stands right now, 2019 could go down as a unique year for Salesforce. No stranger to making big acquisitions, the company is seriously outdoing itself in that department this year. Not everyone is thrilled with the strategy (the stock is only up 3% compared to a year-to-date return of 16% for the S&P 500), but those who understand the massive potential out there shouldn't complain.

A man in a suit holding a tablet. Hovering above the screen is an illustrated brain made of electrical connections.

Image source: Getty Images.

Another day, another billion-dollar-plus investment

Just days after closing its massive $15.7 billion deal to acquire Tableau Software, Salesforce announced it is also scooping up field service software provider ClickSoftware for $1.35 billion. The latest addition will get added to the "Service Cloud" segment, where it will expand Salesforce's capabilities in helping businesses schedule and optimize field work for their employees.

The price tag may be another head-turner, but not an especially surprising one. Rumors circulated back in the spring that Salesforce was in talks with ClickSoftware's soon-to-be-former parent Francisco Partners Management, a technology investment firm that bought the software outfit back in 2015 for $438 million. The new valuation would indicate ClickSoftware has grown quite a bit the last few years -- just the type of company Salesforce looks for to add to its own suite of offerings.

Salesforce is no newcomer on the acquisition trail, but its activity in the last couple of years has really ramped up in dramatic fashion. Since the start of 2018, the company has purchased at least 10 companies at a cost of at least $18 billion.

Acquisitions have been diverse and include artificial intelligence start-ups, business-to-business e-commerce, and service software. The price tags have also varied, from the small undisclosed sum likely totaling no more than a couple hundred million dollars to the early 2018 blockbuster takeover of data integration software MuleSoft for $6.5 billion. To an outsider, the takeovers may seem random and lack direction, but there is a well-defined strategy behind the scenes.

Cashing in on digital transformation

Long gone are the days of Salesforce being a niche software provider. Customer relationship management (CRM) is still its largest segment, but digital sales support is now less than a third of the grand total. The service, marketing and commerce, and platform segments are all catching up and growing north of 20% year over year. The increasingly diverse toolset all feeds into the same goal: helping businesses make a "digital transformation," with the customer experience at the heart of that transformation.

Digital transformation is a sweeping term, but it's one that encompasses some $1.8 trillion of the global economy each year. It's a big number, but it's one that will likely keep growing as businesses and organizations continuously update their operations for the 21st century. Thus, it's an area that Salesforce has increasingly focused on, especially given its runaway success in CRM -- an early part of the digital transformation movement.

Benioff and his team have ambitious goals. At the outset of 2019, the stated target was to double annual revenue to $26 billion by 2023 from organic growth alone. Recent events would suggest Salesforce will certainly grow by leaps and bounds due to its new subsidiaries being added to the mix, but a well-developed ecosystem of technology is the key to wooing new customers in today's day and age. Thus, to keep its older segments in high-growth mode for the next few years, it looks like Salesforce is adding new segments to sweeten the deal for prospective customers, not to mention adding the opportunity to cross-sell services to existing customers picked up via acquisition.

In the interim, though, Salesforce's strategy might set some investors on edge. The price paid for new subsidiary businesses exceeds Salesforce's one-year top-line total. However, maximizing the bottom line isn't the concern yet, even though Salesforce is already one of the world's largest software enterprises. Still, becoming the world's largest is certainly the ultimate goal, and Benioff and friends are aggressively trying to make it happen as the digital economy continues to build momentum. ClickSoftware is just another means to that ultimate end.

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