Salesforce Benioff On Stage

CEO Marc Benioff taking the stage to speak to customers. Credit: Salesforce via Facebook.

Shares of Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) stock were up 9.4% as of 5:11 p.m. ET, as investors cheered strong gains in deferred revenue, signaling continued growth in the core business. Here's a closer look at the final totals versus Wall Street's projections:

SalesforceRevenueYOY GrowthEPSYOY Growth
Consensus estimate  $1,439.96 million  25.7%  $0.14  100%
Q4 actuals  $1,444.61 million  26.1%  $0.14  100%
DIFFERENCE  $4.65 million  0.4%  $0.00  0%

Sources: S&P Capital IQ and Salesforce press release.

For the full year, Salesforce reported $5,373.59 million in revenue and $0.52 a share in non-GAAP profit. Analysts tracked by S&P Capital IQ were calling for $5,368.61 million and $0.52 a share, respectively.

Commenting on the results, CEO and co-founder Marc Benioff said in a press release:

Salesforce delivered yet another year of exceptional growth, with revenue, deferred revenue and operating cash flow all growing more than 30%, while exceeding our expectations in non-GAAP operating margin improvement. Salesforce reached $5 billion in annual revenue faster than any other enterprise software company and now it's our goal to be the fastest to reach $10 billion.

What went right: Deferred revenue jumped 32% in the quarter and 27% for the full year. Salesforce tends to bill its cloud-delivered software as a subscription service, collecting cash upfront. Strong growth in this area suggests the company is having success signing deals and then banking or reinvesting the cash to fund new growth. Salesforce ended fiscal 2015 with just under $1 billion in cash and current investments versus $300 million in revolving debt.

What went wrong: Stock-based compensation expense ($151.8 million) accounted for nearly half of cash from operations, and the majority of the profit counted in non-GAAP earnings per share. That's an awful lot of artificial sweetener for a business that, by most other measures, is growing quite nicely. Separately, unbilled deferred revenue is a key metric to keep an eye on. If the balance begins to grow more slowly than current deferred revenue, it could suggest that the company is having a tougher time signing the sorts of lucrative, multi-year deals Benioff wants.

What's next: Looking ahead, Salesforce expects total revenue in the range of $1,485 million and $1,505 million with non-GAAP earnings of $0.13 to $0.14 a share. Analysts tracked by S&P Capital IQ have the cloud computing specialist generating $1,499.99 million in revenue and $0.15 a share in profit versus $1,226.77 million and $0.11 a share in last year's first quarter.

Longer term, analysts have Salesforce generating 28.03% average annual earnings growth over the next three to five years.

Tim Beyers sometimes has his head in the clouds. He's also a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission and owned shares of Apple and Salesforce.com at the time of publication. Check out Tim's web home and portfolio holdings or connect with him on Google+Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool.

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