Salesforce (CRM) shares rose as much as 3.4% Thursday after activist shareholder Third Point LLC reportedly took a stake in the embattled business software giant.
Dan Loeb's Third Point LLC is at least the fifth activist firm to make a significant investment in the company recently, joining Elliott Investment Management, Starboard Value, ValueAct Capital Partners, and Inclusive Capital. The size of Third Point's investment and its intentions could not be confirmed.
Shares of Salesforce plunged 48% last year, mirroring investors' broader distaste for technology stocks but also reflecting the company's financial challenges and concerns about its leadership.
Salesforce in November reported its fiscal 2023 third-quarter profit fell 55% from the same period the prior year, with rising expenses outpacing a 14% revenue increase.
In January, the company announced plans to cut 10% of its workforce, totaling about 8,000 jobs, and reduce office space in a large restructuring—the company's first in its 23 years of existence—that could cost as much as $2 billion. The company will announce its full-year earnings results March 1.
The company's financial woes have coincided with disarray in its executive leadership. Co-CEO Bret Taylor left the company at the end of January after sharing the role with co-founder Marc Benioff since late 2021.
Taylor helped guide the company's $27 billion acquisition of Slack Technologies, the largest transaction ever for a firm that seemingly specializes in them. Salesforce has made 72 acquisitions in the past 16 years, and critics now question that buying spree.
Stewart Butterfield, Slack's former CEO who joined Salesforce upon completion of that deal, also recently left the company.
In a letter to employees announcing January's layoffs, Benioff conceded the firm hired too many employees as sales rebounded dramatically in the wake of pandemic shutdowns.
That explanation apparently didn't satisfy the company's workforce. About 500 Salesforce employees reportedly sent a letter to the company's leadership, demanding answers about the layoffs.
Meanwhile, Salesforce's shares have rebounded considerably since the start of the year, gaining 31% after rising as high as $175.37 per share Thursday. That's still 44% less than the stock's all-time high of $311.75 reached 15 months ago.
Morgan Stanley analysts, in a recent research report, said they think the stock's rebound could continue. They raised their price target on the company's shares to $236, up from $228.
Despite the company's current turmoil, Morgan Stanley praised management's recent shift from growth objectives to profitability.
Moreover, stakes from activist firms "with proven records of helping (or pushing) software companies to better realize inherent value, may help to bolster confidence Salesforce should continue to head in the right direction," the firm's report stated.
Salesforce has added new fields for gender identity and pronoun data across its product line, to help customers be more inclusive when it comes to collecting and using personal data.
The firm has launched two new fields across the Lead, Contact and Person Account objects on Salesforce. This opt-in addition lets customers and their users select, identify and capture pronoun options like he/him, she/her, they/them, and gender identity options like male, female, non-binary. Both fields also offer a ‘not listed’ option.
The fields are part of Salesforce’s core objects, which means they are populated through most of its products and available by default.
Organizations from airlines to hotels, restaurants to government agencies and healthcare companies all need this type of personal data to be able to serve their customers accurately. Standardizing the fields removes the need for admins to create custom versions, so companies can capture more accurate customer data in a more efficient way.
However, there is no pressure on customers to use the fields, as Salesforce's Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer, Paula Goldman, explains:
We understand this data can be sensitive, so we've designed it with a walkthrough process for admins setting this up. There's guidance that says you don't always need to be collecting this data. In fact, there are some times when it may not be as appropriate to collect this data. Then admins would choose to include it or not include it, as they're setting up various instances of Salesforce.
Salesforce worked in close contact with its Inclusive Language Steering Committee to develop the gender inclusive features. This included members of Outforce, the company’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group, and Out and Equal, an Oakland-based organization working on LGBTQ+ workplace equality.
Working in collaboration with relevant groups is a standard approach at Salesforce’s Office of Ethical and Humane Use. One of its core pillars is ethics and inclusion in Salesforce products, so the Office works hard to ensure the products the firm delivers are inclusive and accessible to all. Goldman says:
A core way we do that is knowing that I as an individual and my team, we don't have all the answers, and nor necessarily do the teams that are working on these specific products. Participation and gaining insight from folks that live these experiences directly is very important. That's why we worked both with our Employee Resource Group to understand first of all - what's the problem; second - what's the right solution, what's the right language to learn, which of these terms are the most important to address.
Similarly with outside experts, if our whole goal is inclusion in our product, then we need to be inclusive in the processes that lead to these outcomes as well. We need to be bringing in this expertise and designing based on that expertise.
Using the right identifiers is a key part of building trust with users, but the standard options in data systems and CRM tools don’t always capture peoples’ full identity, or make it simple to do so. By making these new fields available, firms can use the gender inclusive features they prefer, and if they don’t need or want to collect gender-related data, they can bypass the features. Goldman notes:
For airlines or hotels or restaurants, which are giving personalized experiences to their customers, they don't want to be making a mistake on sensitive data like this. They want to be giving the correct experiences to their customers and serving them well. If they were to make an error on something like this, you can imagine how that would break trust.
Conversely, when people feel included, they’re more likely to trust the company they're interacting with. Goldman adds:
Study after study shows that when people trust companies, they're willing to share more data. That in turn feeds a more accurate and trusted personalized experience with the company, which feeds the sort of data they're willing to share.
At a time when first-party data is so crucial for companies wanting to serve and market in different segments, this model creates a virtuous loop where they're going to have more customer loyalty and trust, and be able to better serve their customers.
The new identity fields are part of Salesforce’s ongoing efforts to develop and promote ethical and inclusive technology. The firm had already made updates to its technical language in 2021 to address implicit bias and increase racial inclusivity. Goldman says:
We spent a long time remediating language in our code and our product around racial terms, like master and slave or blacklist and whitelist, and replacing those with more inclusive terms.
Ethics and inclusivity are embedded across product development at the company, she adds. For example, in the area of Artificial Intelligence, Salesforce aims to ensure that the data sets it’s using to train models are representative of the populations it’s serving and as free from bias as possible.
The firm also puts intentional defaults in its products to make them as inclusive as possible. During the pandemic, one of the products it was developing for vaccination campaigns offered default pick lists associated with that product type. Goldman adds:
We decided that we shouldn't make an address field mandatory for people that wanted to sign up for vaccine. Why? Because if you are unhoused, that might exclude you from getting access to the thing that you're signing up for. Oftentimes it's these small design decisions that can make a world of difference in how inclusive products are when they launch and are used in the world.
A positive move.
The Microsoft Dynamics 365 product suite contains a comprehensive set of tools built to perform practically every aspect of business management. Based on Microsoft Azure, a cloud-computing ecosystem―although an on-premise solution is also available, if preferred―Dynamics 365 features 11 core “modules,” which cover everything from sales, customer service, automation and marketing to talent management, finance and operation, retail and AI. What sets Microsoft Dynamics 365 apart from the competition is the full integration with Microsoft’s extensive list of software including the classics we all know and love, like OneDrive, Excel and Outlook.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 offers three main sales plans and two main customer service plans designed to cover a wide variety of business needs. On top of that, Microsoft Dynamics 365 has a whole host of add-ons for businesses with specific needs. Most of Microsoft Dynamics 365 plans are discounted to $20 per user, per month, if the user already has one Dynamics 365 product.
The Microsoft Dynamics 365 product tiers start with the Sales Professional at $65 per user, per month, billed annually. The Professional plan offers an extensive suite of sales executing services, full reporting and analysis with exports to Excel and some amount of customization.
The Sales Enterprise, at $95 per user, per month, adds knowledge management and gamification as well as a limited amount of contextual insights and AI.
The Sales Premium plan, at $135 per user, per month, offers the full package when it comes to sales acceleration, fully customizable solutions and more in-depth contextual insights and conversational intelligence.
For the customer service side of your business, Microsoft Dynamics 365 offers a Professional plan at $50 per user, per month, which includes an unlimited number of named users, extensive case and knowledge management and includes service for mobile.
The Customer Service Enterprise plan, at $95 per user/per month adds more advanced capabilities like a unified service desk, embedded AI intelligence which gives context-driven suggestions and analytical reports.
All the Microsoft Dynamics 365 sales and customer service products are fully integrated with all Microsoft products, such as Outlook, Excel, OneNote and more:
Third Point joins other activist investors with stakes in Salesforce – potentially threatening co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff’s position with the vendor.
A fifth activist investor, Third Point, has taken a stake in enterprise applications vendor Salesforce, potentially threatening co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff’s position with the vendor.
New York-based Third Point, led by CEO and founder Dan Loeb, joins Starboard Value, ValueAct Capital Partners, Elliott Investment Management and Jeff Ubben’s Inclusive Capital as an activist investor taking share of the San Francisco-based vendor, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Third Point has taken stakes in Campbell Soup, Walt Disney Co. and Shell before pushing for changes, according to the Journal.
Notably, Third Point took a stake in Intel in 2020 before the chipmaker’s CEO Bob Swan stepped down and was replaced by VMware leader Pat Gelsinger.
[RELATED: Salesforce Board Of Directors: Who’s In, Who’s Out, Who Stays After Elliott Stake]
CRN has reached out to Third Point and Salesforce for comment.
Although the end goals of the activist investors aren’t publicly known yet, along with Third Point’s history of CEO changes, Elliott Management has a history of taking publicly traded companies private.
Elliott Management recently made headlines for its role in Citrix going private and merging with data applications vendor Tibco. The activist investors could potentially push Salesforce to make more job cuts or divest one or multiple subsidiaries – which include Slack, MuleSoft and Tableau.
Gerry Szatvanyi, CEO of OSF Digital, a Québec-based Salesforce partner, told CRN in an interview that he has been happy with the company’s leadership.
“I’m pretty confident in the leadership with Salesforce,” Szatvanyi said. “I’m very confident that they are going to drive through this transformation quite well. So they still have my vote of confidence, hands down.”
OSF has experienced some of the slowdown in business discussed by Salesforce and other vendors, Szatvanyi said. But he still expects north of 20 percent growth in business from 2022 to 2023.
In January, OSF even announced the purchase of U.S.-based Salesforce partner Original Shift as part of OSF’s growth strategy.
“I would say demand, it’s still pretty healthy,” Szatvanyi said. “We see a lot of desire, on our customers’ side, to better use the technology that they already have. (To) better integrate between different (Salesforce) clouds, gain more efficiencies, drive higher return on the technology that they already have.”
He continued: “Salesforce is at the center of everything that we are doing.”
The activist investors come as Salesforce – and other tech vendors – contend with moderated customer demand for digital tools after a surge at the height of the pandemic. In January, Salesforce announced layoffs for about 7,000 employees.
The company also seen the departure of key leaders Bret Taylor, Benioff’s former co-CEO, and Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield.
Salesforce’s total market value in 2022 went from $250.3 billion at the start of the year to $132.6 billion by year’s end.
The activists appear to have had a hand in changes coming to Salesforce’s board of directors. Salesforce will have three new board of directors members come March 1 – and lose two longtime members.
Pedestrians near Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, California, on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023.
Marlena Sloss | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A fifth activist investor has taken a stake in Club holding Salesforce (CRM), making loud and clear that well-respected hedge funds see a money-making opportunity in the enterprise software giant. While that many activists in one stock is certainly unusual, we welcome the scrutiny and any push that boosts shareholder value.
Salesforce has increased performance pressure on some employees as it executes its plan to reduce its workforce by 10%, multiple current and former employees tell Insider. Workers aren't sure if performance-related terminations are part of that 10%, they say.
The company is planning to introduce new performance metrics for engineers and has already forced some salespeople to choose between a 30-day performance improvement plan (PIP) or a severance option called a "Prompt Exit Package," according to several current and former Salesforce employees. PIPs are commonly used in the tech industry as a step prior to firing someone. The PEP, on the other hand, is basically voluntarily quitting, but Salesforce offers two months of severance with it, according to an email viewed by Insider.
"The company is pushing hard for productivity tracking and metrics on all facets," one employee told Insider.
"Performance pressure and return to office became big themes," a former employee, who was laid off from Salesforce in February, said of their last few months with the company.
One new metric Salesforce is planning to use to evaluate engineer productivity, the person said, is code check-ins, a controversial practice some say incentivizes quantity over quality and reduces trust between teams. A code check-in is when a developer makes a set of changes to a codebase.
The heightened focus on performance comes as the software giant works to shed 10% of its workforce, or some 7,000 people, after a two-year hiring spree. Salesforce increased its workforce from 57,000 to 73,000 in 2021, according to its annual report.
The company notified some employees on January 4 that their jobs were being eliminated, and sent another round of notifications on February 2. Insider has reported that more than 4,000 people have likely been laid off so far, but Salesforce has not confirmed how many more employees it has actually cut, leaving its remaining workforce anxious for their jobs.
Meanwhile, activist investors have been mobbing Salesforce, which has seen its market value shrink in half since its peak in 2021. Five such investors have revealed significant stakes since October, including Starboard Value and the feared Elliott Management, which is said to be mounting an effort to replace some board members, Reuters reports. Other activist investors include Mason Morfit's ValueAct, Jeff Ubben's Inclusive Capital, and Dan Loeb's Third Point Capital LLC, which just last week disclosed a stake.
Activist investors typically want their targets to trim expenses and focus on more profitable businesses, rather than pursuing growth at all costs. Starboard first approached Salesforce this summer, spoke with some of its executives and pushed for cost-cutting measures. Salesforce cut a few hundred salespeople in November, a person familiar with the matter told Insider, and the company told Insider the cuts were made for "accountability," implying that performance was a consideration.
Employees worry that so much activist attention will result in more performance pressure or further layoffs which, insiders say, the company has already contemplated. Sources say there's been internal talk on whether to cut an additional 10% of staff later this year.
One Slack message sent by an employee after the first round of layoffs in January said that Salesforce has a goal to reach 25% operating margin by the 2026 fiscal year and asked execs at the time if the target was a factor in layoffs.
Meanwhile CEO Marc Benioff has also repeatedly mentioned productivity to employees when discussing the cuts. "We don't have the same level of performance and productivity that we had in 2020 before the pandemic. We do not," he said during an all-hands meeting in January after the first notices went out.
Workers who spoke to Insider are concerned that the company's increased focus on performance could mean more people will be targeted for a PEP, leaving them with less severance than their colleagues who were simply laid off.
Laid-off workers will be offered a minimum severance of five month's pay and possibly more based on tenure as well as other benefits like company-sponsored COBRA, Benioff wrote in a January email to employees announcing the restructuring.
But employees who have been targeted for a PEP are offered eight weeks of severance and company-sponsored healthcare benefits under COBRA.
Employees are given two business days to elect the PEP option, according to an internal email viewed by Insider. If they don't choose the PEP, employees will then be allowed to view the 30-day PIP plan, which they then have to start within 3 days of declining the PEP offer.
Around Thanksgiving, the company offered some sales employees who had been deemed underperforming in certain areas, such as annual contract value and pipeline generation, the option to start a 30-day PIP or accept the PEP and immediately leave the company. In some cases, the company has presented employees with PEP offers in the same week it has executed mass layoffs, employees told Insider.
Four Salesforce employees who spoke to Insider, including two who had been offered a PEP, said the option to choose between PEP or PIP feels like a way of pushing employees out of their jobs.
"It's a shady optics play," said one person who was given a PIP or PEP offer last month. "From an outside perspective, it looks like these people quit."
They also said they felt like Salesforce had set some salespeople up to fail, saying the company expected them to hit unachievable quotas that bested their results during a pandemic-fueled boom for cloud software, even though the economy is weakening and post-pandemic demand is waning.
"The markets we all work in are only so big," a recently laid-off Salesforce sales executive said.
It is unclear how many engineering employees have been affected by the new performance management system, or if PEP offers are being made outside of sales teams.
A former Salesforce executive who left the company in recent months told Insider that a push to accelerate the company's PIP system began in the fall. A common complaint held by Salesforce managers over the last decade has been that the system made it too difficult to fire underperforming employees, even if they were regularly labeled as such despite multiple changes in managers or roles.
The new performance management system implemented in the fall was designed to address those complaints, the former executive said, noting that it was "literally impossible" to manage anyone out of the company, including legitimately 'terrible' performers.
"This is a classic enterprise performance improvement plan, but faster," they said of the company's new system.
The sales employees who spoke to Insider say that plan has not worked out in practice, and has left the door open for colleagues they consider to be strong performers to be pushed out of the company.
Salesforce did not respond to a request for comment.
Are you a Salesforce employee or do you have insight to share? Contact Ashley Stewart by sending a secure message from a nonwork device via Signal (+1-425-344-8242) or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Contact Ellen Thomas via email (email@example.com) or send a secure message from a nonwork device on Signal: (+1-646-847-9416).
Many years ago, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk and spiritual leader, posed a question to Marc Benioff, the co-founder and chief executive of Salesforce.
“What is more important, being successful or being happy?” he asked.
Mr. Benioff answered pretty much the way you would expect a Silicon Valley entrepreneur to answer.
“Both,” he said.
Thich Nhat Hanh cautioned that “if everything is important, nothing is important.” But for many years it seemed that Mr. Benioff, just like Silicon Valley itself, was able to have success as well as happiness — not to mention money, respect and influence.
Salesforce, which makes software to help companies sell better, became a hard-driving and influential tech company, the biggest employer in San Francisco. Mr. Benioff, 58, became a philanthropist, the advocate for a new model of capitalism and, at least in the Bay Area, as inescapable as the 61-story tower that bears his company’s name.
Then came 2022. Suddenly Salesforce made less money. The stock wilted. An activist investor, Starboard Value, bought a stake, never good news for management. Mr. Benioff’s co-chief executive, Bret Taylor, abruptly departed after only a year in the job. He was the second co-chief executive to do so, leaving the question of succession to Mr. Benioff’s 24-year reign at the company in doubt.
Last month, Salesforce said it would lay off 10 percent of its staff, a decision that seemed to go against Mr. Benioff’s repeated declarations that the company was one big family. He was chastised on social media for handling the cuts poorly. A second activist investor, Elliott Management, bought a stake in Salesforce. Then another and another and another. For those keeping count, that’s five.
“Marc believes you can have a great company, give great returns to your shareholders and help your community and your planet, all at the same time,” said Steve Fisher, a longtime Salesforce employee who was also a teenage friend of Mr. Benioff’s. “This is one of the times when that notion is being tested.”
Salesforce’s troubles, like those of many of its tech peers in this moment of turmoil, spring from the pandemic. Three years ago, it looked as if technology might save humanity. For tens of millions of people, tech was suddenly the interface between their couch and their job.
“In the darkest depths of the pandemic, I was like, ‘How will we ever get out of this?’” Mr. Benioff said in one of a series of conversations with The New York Times over the past week. Maybe, he thought, we would not. “I felt we were going to be pivoting much more aggressively to an all-digital day.”
Salesforce’s big pandemic purchase, announced in late 2020, was the remote-work app Slack for $28 billion. If everyone was going to stay on Slack all day long forever, it was cheap at that price. But they didn’t, and it wasn’t.
The troubles at Salesforce may be more wide ranging, but they are mirrored all over the tech industry. About 100,000 tech workers have been laid off since the beginning of the year, according to Layoffs.fyi. That’s a rounding error for the larger economy, but these workers were until recently among the best paid and best treated. The notion that free massages, say, might no longer be part of the Silicon Valley experience was yet more evidence that tech was losing its pandemic grip.
Salesforce never offered massages, but its corporate philosophy promotes the idea that its workers are special. A word Mr. Benioff tosses around a lot is “Ohana,” which he picked up in Hawaii. “Ohana represents the idea that families — blood-related, adopted, or intentional — are bound together, and that family members are responsible for one another,” Salesforce’s website says.
Mr. Benioff sees no contradiction between layoffs and the Salesforce Ohana. Families are sometimes difficult.
“I wish I offered lifetime employment,” he said. “But the reality is when you have a big company with 80,000 employees, there are going to be times you have to make a head count adjustment. Our layoff packages are some of the most generous ever.” The dismissed employees got a minimum of nearly five months’ pay.
It may have come as a shock to some, he added, but layoffs at Salesforce are nothing new.
“There’s been some hard times since we began in 1999,” he said. “It’s not all up and to the right. But this is the opportunity for growth. If you’re in a steady state, you don’t grow.”
A random sampling of laid-off Salesforce employees contacted through employment sites yielded few who wanted to complain about Mr. Benioff, even anonymously. “I think he got lost somewhere, had too many sycophants telling him what he wanted to hear,” one offered. That was as savage as it got.
Mr. Benioff, though, had lots to say, often by text — sometimes words but also photos, links and emojis. His mother, Joelle, said in an interview that he was “not a big talker” as a child but now has words to spare. At a virtual company meeting after last month’s layoffs, he talked for two hours.
Bad idea, he says now.
“We were trying to explain the unexplainable,” Mr. Benioff said. “It’s hard to have a call like that with such a large group and have it be effective, and we paid a price.” Other tech companies didn’t bother with hand holding: They just cut off their former employees’ access in the middle of the night.
It was a rough month at Salesforce. Mr. Benioff went to one of his favorite places, French Polynesia, for a 10-day digital detox.
“We are so addicted to our devices (at least I am) it’s very freeing to leave them all behind for a while!” he wrote in a text.
On an earlier trip, he had contributed $1 million in cash to local pandemic relief. For these and other services to the French, he is now a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. He made his family listen to the speech.
Any conversation with Mr. Benioff inevitably touches on his grandfather Marvin E. Lewis, a San Francisco trial lawyer and politician who was a major force behind BART, the regional transit system.
Mr. Lewis was best known for developing the concept of “psychic injury.” His most famous case, in 1970, was called “The Cable Car Named Desire.” A dancer, Gloria Sykes, said she had hit her head in a cable car accident, lost her “mental balance” and developed “an insatiable appetite for sex” as well as other problems, including at least one suicide attempt. With Mr. Lewis as her lawyer, Ms. Sykes was awarded $50,000 by a jury.
“He was truly a visionary,” Mr. Benioff said. “He was in business as a lawyer but made the world a better place.” He texted a photo of a tribute to Mr. Lewis in a BART station that calls him “a determined prophet.”
If a lawyer can scale these heights, why not a tech executive? Especially if he can make himself happy in the process?
“You’re not going to be happy if you’re not giving to others,” Mr. Benioff said. “A lot of my tech peers are extremely unhappy.”
Salesforce, and Mr. Benioff, have undoubtedly made major contributions to the well-being of San Francisco. But more questions are being asked these days about the inherent contradictions of working for the powerful to aid the powerless. As a reviewer on Amazon wrote of Mr. Benioff’s book “Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change”: “Benioff often seems surprised at the scale of the problems in the world, despite many of his customers playing a part in them.”
“Marc makes himself a target for criticism by positioning himself as much more than a rampant capitalist tech bro,” said Joshua Greenbaum, a software industry analyst with Enterprise Applications Consulting. “But if you don’t want your company to pay taxes” — Salesforce paid no tax, legally, on billions in corporate income — “what right do you have to lecture people on how to make the world better?”
And if your company is faltering, Mr. Greenbaum said, you have even less right. Mr. Benioff posted more than 30 times on Twitter in January about his initiative to restock the world’s forests, a cause he was promoting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. There were no tweets acknowledging Salesforce’s turmoil.
“Marc has let the cash cow meander out into the weeds,” Mr. Greenbaum said.
That is the logic behind the stakes taken by the activist investors, which also include Third Point, Inclusive Capital and ValueAct Capital. Maybe Mr. Benioff can be compelled to bring the cow home faster, or he can step down in favor of someone who will. None of the activists would comment, but Mr. Benioff would.
“I’m as excited about our future as all our investors are — I’m a stockholder too!” he texted, adding a heart emoji.
Salesforce shares have rebounded since the layoffs were announced. But to fend off the activists and extend his reign, Mr. Benioff needs to Boost profit margins. That quest is likely to prompt more stress in the Salesforce family, perhaps even more layoffs. Which means Thich Nhat Hanh’s question still hangs there — success or happiness?
“What do I really want? The answer is trust,” Mr. Benioff said. “Trust from our employees, trust from our customers.”
This is, of course, a salesman’s answer. From Marc Benioff, would you expect any different?
Marc Benioff, cofounder and CEO of Salesforce, attends a session at the Congress centre during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 17, 2023.
Fabrice Coffrini | Afp | Getty Images
Dan Loeb's hedge fund Third Point has built a position in Salesforce, expanding the group of activists circling the business software maker, CNBC has confirmed.
The news comes two weeks after Salesforce said ValueAct Capital CEO Mason Morfit will join its board in March. Elliott Management and Starboard Value have also disclosed positions in Salesforce in recent months.
Salesforce, which joined the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 2020, has faced high-profile departures and slowing revenue growth of late and dealt with criticism for buying companies such as Slack and Tableau at high multiples. In November, Salesforce gave weaker-than-expected quarterly revenue guidance.
ValueAct's Morfit said in a statement last month that he looks "forward to helping them deliver profitable growth and shareholder returns."
Shares of Salesforce underperformed in 2022, declining almost 48% while the S&P 500 fell 19%. Starboard said in a presentation in October that Salesforce was trading at a discount to its peers mainly because of a "subpar mix of growth and profitability."
On Jan. 4, Salesforce shares rose more than 3% after the company announced a plan to cut 10% of employees.
"The environment remains challenging and our customers are taking a more measured approach to their purchasing decisions," Marc Benioff, Salesforce's co-founder and CEO, wrote in a letter to employees.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Third Point's investment on Wednesday.
Last year, Third Point took a stake in Disney, and it later reached a deal with the media company that included adding former Meta executive Carolyn Everson to its board of directors. In 2020, the firm invested in Intel and urged the chipmaker to pursue "strategic alternatives" after losing market share.
WATCH: Salesforce: Cowen analyst Derrick Wood weighs in on the recent stock surge
Salesforce is looking at new ways to cut costs as activist investors continue to put pressure on the company. Today, Insider was reporting that the company is implementing much stricter performance measurements for engineering, with some salespeople being put under pressure to quit or succumb to harsh performance policies of their own. This is consistent with what sources have been telling TechCrunch.
This could include performance reviews based on the quantity of code produced for engineers, a flawed way to measure engineering productivity, which encourages quantity over quality. While salespeople are being put between a rock and a hard place, being asked to choose between signing a strict one-month performance improvement plan or taking an exit package.
When asked about this, Salesforce responded with this comment: “Our performance management process drives accountability and rewards excellence.” The company did not elaborate or answer follow-up questions regarding the timing or details of this policy.
TechCrunch has also been hearing that the company is mandating a return to the office, and according to a Salesforce spokesperson, it’s now up to the managers to decide. “Our hybrid approach empowers leaders to make decisions for their teams about which jobs need to be in the office or remote.”
That’s an interesting attitude shift for a company has been promoting the idea of the “all digital, work-from-anywhere workplace” since the pandemic hit in 2020, something they call the Digital HQ. It’s a big part of why the CRM leader spent almost $28 billion to buy Slack in 2020.
But neither is it surprising since CEO and chair Marc Benioff practically telegraphed this at the end of last year, suggesting that folks working from home weren’t as productive.
All of this is probably related to the fact that activist investors — including Elliott Management, Starboard Value, ValueAct and Inclusive Capital — have been circling the company, undoubtedly putting tons of pressure on Benioff to increase productivity and cut costs. These firms are a big part of the reason Salesforce announced that it was cutting 10% of its workforce in January, a process that has been handled badly with layoff notices coming in dribs and drabs, leaving workers anxious and uncertain.
Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, blames Boston Consulting Group, which he says was brought in at the behest of the activists to deal with the cuts and implement new performance review policies. “From what we know, BCG made some significant recommendations on how salespeople and developers should be measured to Boost productivity,” Wang told TechCrunch. Update: BCG denies being responsible for the performance review policies.
Wang says that whether you think this approach is a good idea or not depends on your perspective. “If I was an investor, I would advocate for this approach, but if I was the owner-founder, I would want something less harsh and more nuanced,” he said.
Wang isn’t a fan of how the activists have handled this, calling them “vulture firms.” While he does agree with their assertion that Salesforce overpaid for bad acquisitions, he believes these firms lack an understanding of how to run a company like Salesforce, and they are ultimately doing more harm than good.
“The vulture firms do not have a good understanding of the investment levels in R&D that are needed for innovation to continue, nor did they understand what level of marketing spend Salesforce needs to remain top of mind for execs,” Wang said.
“They don’t add any value. They come in to just make money on the arbitrage and they leave the firms more damaged than when they were before they were taken over,” he said.