On Aug. 31, 2020, salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) will join the other 29 companies on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, supplanting ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) for the position. Among other reasons, Salesforce's inclusion in the iconic index better reflects the current state of the American economy and the direction the world is heading.
Salesforce's second-quarter report backs up the move. Halfway through a year marked by pandemic, calls for social justice, and sweeping changes to everyday life, the latest update is a big win for Salesforce and stakeholder capitalism principles -- in which the interests of not just shareholders, but also customers, employees, partners, and communities are considered -- of which co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff has been a champion.
Blowing away expectations amid a pandemic
Benioff introduced the Q2 2021 earnings call (an update on the three months ended July 31, 2020) by reiterating the company's success can be attributed to its commitment to making decisions with all of Salesforce's interested parties in mind. And given the current state of world affairs, the message is resonating with the users of the company's software platform.
A few months ago, the Q2 revenue forecast called for $4.89 billion to $4.9 billion. The actual result was $5.15 billion -- a 29% year-over-year increase. And while the bottom line was essentially deemed unimportant as the current crisis is worked through, anticipated adjusted earnings per share of $0.66 to $0.67 ended up coming in at $1.44. New customers, lower-than-expected attrition of its existing user base during the worst of the lockdown, and investment gains from the nCino IPO accounted for the higher results.
Best yet was updated guidance for the second half of the year. The previous outlook calling for 17% growth for full fiscal year 2021 has been replaced with 21% to 22% growth, or revenue of at least $20.7 billion. The slowdown from the 29% gain just registered is due to the acquisition of data visualization firm Tableau last summer for $15.7 billion, as results going forward will no longer be lapping the period before the Tableau deal.
The world has changed and there's no going back
Even in the midst of pandemic-induced recession, Salesforce remains near the top of many organizations' "must-have" lists. As Benioff asserted, old ways of doing business have given way to a "totally digital work-from-anywhere economy" -- which has created a redundancy crisis and rendered many old habits and operations obsolete and unnecessary.
The massive digital shift that has gotten underway with renewed vigor started last quarter with Salesforce's biggest-ever single business deal with AT&T. The telecom and media giant wanted to build a "single point of truth" when viewing its customers, across all of its myriad platforms and services from physical stores to e-commerce to entertainment. Benioff said the company inked another new deal with PayPal to help it manage its large and growing list of digital payments and e-commerce customers.
Operating expenses are predicted to go up because Salesforce is pulling forward marketing efforts planned for next year as its needs have suddenly changed. And there's always the possibility this software giant will drop a large acquisition announcement at any moment, possibly using a combination of its cash and "expensive" share price as currency to further expand its reach in the software world. But while its spend-happy strategy and focus on all stakeholders' benefit (rather than solely on owners of the stock) makes some investors uncomfortable, it's worth reviewing how well Salesforce's brand of capitalism has paid off over the last two decades.
At the heart of a massive shift to a digital-first economy, it's easy to see why Salesforce was added to the iconic Dow Jones Industrial Average. This technologist has plenty of good days left ahead of it.