Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff seems to be most comfortable on stage. Credit: Salesforce.com via Facebook.   

Shares of Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) stock were up 6.6% on Wednesday as of 7:59 p.m. ET, as investors cheered a rare profit and strong results that topped estimates. Here's a closer look at the final Q1 totals versus Wall Street's projections:

CRMRevenueYOY GrowthEPSYOY Growth
Consensus estimate  $1,501.32 million  22.4%  $0.14  27.3%
Q1 actuals  $1,511.17 million  23.2%  $0.16   45.5%
DIFFERENCE  $9.85 million  0.8%  $0.02  18.2%

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

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

"Salesforce has surpassed the $6 billion annual revenue run rate faster than any other enterprise software company, and our current outlook puts us on track to reach a $7 billion revenue run rate later this year. Our goal is to be the fastest to reach $10 billion in annual revenue."

What went right: Long known for piling up losses, Salesforce ended the first quarter recording a one-penny profit by generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP. The surprise gain aided cash flow from operations, which soared 54% year over year to $731 million. Salesforce also seems to be improving its collections on contracted work, as accounts receivable jumped $300 million over last year's Q1. So long as cash flow growth outpaces revenue growth, investors will continue to reap the rewards.

What went wrong: There isn't much to complain about. If there's a troubling sign, it's in the gross margin, which declined 1.5 percentage points year over year as Salesforce failed to generate a meaningful profit from professional services. Overall revenue from consulting improved 33.2%, but not enough to cover the cost to deliver those services to clients. (Though, to be fair, the gap is tightening -- losses from services delivery fell to just $1.68 million, down from $3.89 million in last year's Q1.) 

What's next: Looking ahead, Salesforce forecast $1.59 billion to $1.6 billion in revenue and between $0.17 and $0.18 a share in profit after accounting for stock-based compensation and other non-cash charges. Analysts tracked by S&P Capital IQ have the company generating $1,587.66 million in revenue and $0.17 a share in adjusted profit, versus $1,318.55 million and $0.13 a share in last year's Q2.

Longer term, analysts have Salesforce growing earnings by an average of 26.21% annually during the next three to five years. 

In the meantime, investors should keep a close eye on deferred versus unbilled deferred revenue. One speaks to sales collected but not yet recorded as revenue (deferred), while the other refers to contracted work (unbilled). I'd much rather see billed deferred revenue grow faster, because contracts can always be changed or cancelled. Checks, on the other hand, get cashed.

Tim Beyers sells new ideas every day. You just got finished reading one! 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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