A shrewd business professional looks for ways to move up (or over) to Strengthen their salary, benefits and job opportunities. One way to reach that goal is by getting a business certification.
It’s tricky to nail down what constitutes a “business certification.” Think about the sheer number of lines of business (LOBs) in U.S. companies, and that most LOBs can have multiple associated certifications. To narrow our focus, we looked at general business and management credentials, as well as customer resource management, supply chain, sales and purchasing certifications. Although most of the certifications we selected are vendor-agnostic – not tied to a specific system or application – we researched several credentials from SAP, SAS and similar companies that specialize in business applications.
These are the certifications we examined:
Whether you’re just starting out in a professional track or have been at it for a while, you should find one or more of the certifications described in this article of interest and value.
The following table lists the top business-related certifications based on the number of open positions on a single day that call for the certification specifically. This isn’t a scientific analysis in which every job description is examined (especially when the numbers reach into the hundreds or thousands); it’s just an overall glance at search numbers as of Dec. 23, 2020.
|Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)||528||988||1,516|
|Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP)||246||399||645|
|Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP)||426||791||
|Project Management Professional (PMP)||11,910||20,485||32,395|
|SAP Certified Application Associate – Business Planning and Consolidation||340||728||1,068|
|Salesforce Certified Administrator||694||1,170||1,864|
|HubSpot Inbound Marketing||599||108||707|
|Oracle Certified Professional (OCP)||830||1,444||2,274|
The following sections provide details on the top business certifications according to job site searches, as well as other certifications from their various organizations.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) has been around since 1969, helping business workers develop careers in project management, mainly through professional development and certifications.
The Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) is ideal for up-and-coming project managers. You need to show proof of a high school diploma, associate degree or global equivalent. The single exam has 150 questions, costs $225 for PMI members or $300 for nonmembers, and is available through Pearson VUE. By the time you take the exam, you need to have attained 1,500 hours of project experience or 23 hours of project management education. The certification is valid for five years, and you must retake the exam to maintain the credential.
PMI has other certifications aimed at the business community, such as the Project Management Professional (PMP), PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA), Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP), Program Management Professional (PgMP) and PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP).
If you’re interested in analyzing business needs and coming up with solutions, take a look at the Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) by the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA). The CBAP is an advanced certification aimed at managers and leaders with more than five years of business analysis experience. More precisely, you need at least 7,500 hours of business analysis experience over the last decade, and 900 of those hours must directly relate to four of the six BABOK Guide knowledge areas. On top of that, you need at least 35 hours of professional development credits (earned over the last four years), plus two references.
The CBAP exam has 120 multiple-choice questions, based on scenarios and case studies, and is available through PSI. The exam costs $325 for IIBA members or $450 for nonmembers, and a $125 application fee is required. To maintain the CBAP, credential holders must earn at least 60 continuing development units within three years of achieving certification.
The IIBA offers related credentials, such as the Entry Certificate in Business Analysis (ECBA), Certificate of Capability in Business Analysis (CCBA), Agile Analysis Certification (IIBA-AAC) and Certification in Business Data Analytics (IIBA-CBDA).
APICS is all about supply chain management. As part of its goal to develop qualified operators, supervisors and leaders, it offers the Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) and a few other certifications. The CSCP covers supply chain concepts and technology, plus strategies for end-to-end operations, from supplier to company to consumer.
To earn the CSCP, you need a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, at least one other approved certification, and at least three years of related business experience. You also need to pass an exam that costs $695 to $965, depending on your APICS membership status.
The Project Management Professional (PMP) from PMI is among the most recognized and sought-after certifications for both business and IT. The requirements are stiff. Option one requires a high school diploma, associate degree or global equivalent; 7,500 hours of experience leading projects; and 35 hours of project management education. Option two is a four-year degree, 4,500 hours leading projects and 35 hours of project management education. [Read related article on our sister site Business News Daily: Best Project Management Certifications]
You must pass a 200-question exam to earn the PMP, which is available through Pearson VUE. The exam costs $405 for PMI members and $555 for nonmembers. You maintain the PMP certification by earning 60 professional development units (PDUs) every three years.
Are you SAP savvy? SAP, a European multinational software program, stands for “systems, applications and products.” The software is used by companies around the world to manage business operations and customer relationships across several lines of business, including human resources, marketing, sales, manufacturing and supply chain.
The SAP Certified Application Associate – CRM recognizes a consultant’s skills in understanding and using SAP CRM software, including how it integrates with other SAP solutions like NetWeaver. SAP recommends that candidates have a combination of experience and training before sitting for the certification exam; training courses are available if needed. The exam has 80 questions and costs $571. You can take the exam through the SAP Certification Hub.
If you’ve ever worked with or considered using a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, you’ve likely heard of Salesforce. From help desk and lead management to sales and customer service, Salesforce is an all-in-one CRM platform that scales with a business’s needs as it grows. The platform has become so popular since its launch in 1999 that it’s considered an industry leader and won our best pick for enterprise CRM usage.
If you’re looking to leverage the platform at an administrative level, Salesforce offers a certification program to increase your knowledge of the platform. The program requires you to take several classes and workshops before completing a proctored credential exam. The classes and exam typically cost a few thousand dollars.
Salesforce suggests that anyone seeking this certification should already have a decent handle on the platform, since the certification seeks to build upon their understanding of existing features and functions. Once you complete this program, the company also offers the Advanced Administrator certification to further your knowledge of the platform.
HubSpot is a CRM platform that helps businesses handle their marketing, sales and help desk needs. While the platform covers various specialties, the HubSpot Inbound Marketing certification teaches how to use content creation, social media and other inbound marketing methods to your advantage.
This is a free certification course comprising seven lessons, complete with 34 videos and eight quizzes, that takes slightly over four hours in all.
Oracle is a leading cloud database software company that helps apply the nebulous digital concept to numerous business functions. More than 2.2 million people have earned their Oracle Certified Professional credentials, and our initial research found over 2,000 job openings for the designation.
With numerous certification paths spanning the platform’s cloud-based and on-premises software and hardware solutions, Oracle offers free learning courses in a wide range of specialties. Once you’re ready for an exam, you must purchase a voucher at prices ranging from $95 to $245. These vouchers are good for six months, giving you enough time to hone your skills with the Oracle platform before committing to a test.
The American Purchasing Society is the membership organization behind the Certified Purchasing Professional (CPP), Certified Professional Purchasing Manager (CPPM), Certified Green Purchasing Professional (CGPP), Certified Professional in Distribution and Warehousing (CPDW), and Certified Professional Purchasing Consultant (CPPC) programs.
If your career involves the creation, use, retrieval and disposal of business records, check out the Institute of Certified Records Managers (ICRM), Certified Records Analyst (CRA) and Certified Records Manager (CRM) programs.
On the global front, the Institute of Management Consultants offers the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) certification, and NASBITE’s Certified Global Business Professional (CGBP) focuses on global business management and marketing, supply chain management, and trade finance.
Finally, the Business Relationship Management Institute has two certifications: the Business Relationship Management Professional (BRMP) and Certified Business Relationship Manager (CBRM).
Andrew Martins contributed to the writing and research in this article.
Bill really didn't want to fail.
A Midwestern tech worker who had risen to become a vice president of IT at a big bank, Bill was set to take a Microsoft certification test to prove his proficiency with the company's Azure platform. Passing the exam would help boost his career, adding another technical certification to his résumé that he could parlay into a raise, or maybe even a higher-paying job.
But after spending several hundred dollars to register for the test and studying for weeks, he didn't want to leave anything to chance.
So he decided to cheat.
It wasn't hard. With a little searching online, Bill — whose real identity Insider is concealing to avoid professional repercussions — was able to find the exact test he was going to take, along with the answers. He set aside a few hours, learned them all by heart, and aced the test.
It was one in a long line of tech certifications that Bill freely acknowledges he earned, at least in part, by cheating. And he's far from alone: In the tech industry, it's an open secret that there are thousands, if not millions, of cheaters just like Bill. By combing through "exam dumps" or "brain dumps" — online repositories of certification tests, answers included — fraudsters can rack up professional credentials without knowing anything about what they're being tested on. And the companies issuing the specialized certifications, from Microsoft and Amazon to Google and Salesforce, have been virtually powerless to stop the cheating, even on the major platforms that they own.
The rise of real qeustions for tech certifications could have devastating consequences. Tech insiders familiar with the practice say unqualified candidates are using copies of exams for major tech systems and software to land jobs handling sensitive data and mission-critical infrastructure that affect employers and consumers alike.
"If you step on a plane to Phoenix from San Francisco, imagine how you would feel if you found out your pilot cheated on all the exams and memorized all the answers," said Humphrey Cheung, an engineer with more than two decades of experience in the tech industry who has seen real qeustions used countless times. "That would kind of suck, right?"
Underneath every modern business, from grocery stores to missile manufacturers, lies a complex web of servers, databases, and other technology that is maintained by an army of IT and tech workers. In today's increasingly digitized economy, this critical infrastructure is as essential as electricity and water. Companies rely on tech to do everything from tracking sales and paying vendors to keeping their employees connected via Slack.
But with so many different platforms and systems to manage, companies need a quick way to ensure that IT employees and job candidates are proficient with the tools they're expected to work with. That's where third-party certifications come in. Like plumbers or electricians, IT workers earn independent certifications to confirm they understand leading systems and can install and repair them on the fly. Need to prove you can connect a Cisco router, or deploy a Salesforce instance, or secure a dataset in Google Cloud? Just get certified.
The popularity of certification tests has exploded in recent years. The research firm IDC estimates that the US market for IT education and training that includes certification tests is now worth $1.4 billion a year. That's in part because third-party certification offers workers a quick route into the tech industry without an expensive college degree, and in part because tech vendors have discovered that they can outsource the work of maintaining the systems they sell to third-party IT companies staffed up with certified technicians instead of having giant, cumbersome customer-service departments of their own.
Imagine how you would feel if you found out your pilot cheated on all the exams and memorized all the answers.
But the high stakes have also led to what many in the industry acknowledge privately is an epidemic of cheating. It's impossible to put a reliable number on the amount of cheating happening, but Cheung and several other industry veterans said that based on how often they've spoken to people who admit to using real qeustions and seen them circulate in professional networks, they'd guess that nearly half of all certifications worldwide are obtained by test-takers who crib the answers from exam dumps.
These fraudulently obtained certifications are not just prevalent but also dangerous, certifications experts who track the use of these real qeustions say. It can be hard to pin direct customer harm on exam dump usage, these experts said, in part because companies are reluctant to admit to that sort of harm — if an employee screws something up, companies are much more likely to just fire them, not launch an investigation into their professional qualifications. But the cheating is clearly having a corrosive effect on the tech industry, particularly the hiring process.
"Maybe the person themselves doesn't deliver the value that they're supposed to have delivered," Randy Russell, the director of certification at Red Hat, an open source solutions provider, said. He added that fraudulently obtained certifications can also damage the reputation of the certification issuer, making the credentials they issue more suspect in the eyes of recruiters and hiring managers.
And for those recruiters and companies, they're forced to eat up more of their time weeding out candidates who may be cheaters. "The hiring managers and companies are also harmed, because they now have to devote more time and resources to vetting who is and isn't actually qualified," Tim Woodruff, a developer and consultant who specializes in the IT tool ServiceNow and has tracked the use of real qeustions in the industry, said. But the biggest losers in the whole debacle, Woodruff said, are the aspirant tech workers who are taking the certifications legitimately, only to see the value of these tests degrade. "The people trying to launch or grow their career are probably the ones who are harmed most of all," he said.
Given how high-tech the industry is, the wave of cheating is surprisingly a low-tech scam. Many of the questions on major technical certification tests are reused for months or even years, so unscrupulous test-takers simply jot down or memorize the exam, type them up afterward, and then post the mock test online. Prospective test-takers then pay for access to the completed test and breeze through their own exam. It's the same kind of scam college students run, just transferred to the world of IT testing.
The people trying to launch or grow their career are probably the ones who are harmed most of all
Exam dumps have been around for years. In 2002, a man in Vancouver, Washington, pleaded guilty to theft of trade secrets after compiling answers to the Microsoft exams for system engineers and solution developers and selling them online. But two decades later, such cheating is so ubiquitous that people are no longer being charged for the theft. Cheat sheets are available through countless channels online, from group chats and social-media ads to the websites of hundreds of companies — with names like CertKillers.net and ExamTopics.com and DumpsGate.com — that openly sell the answers to certification exams. Some of the sites feature threads and forums where users praise the dumps for helping them cheat, helpfully correct mistakes in the posted tests, and request the answers for other certification exams.
"Exam dumps are an industry now, is the sad truth," Michael Paul, a data-protection consultant in the United Kingdom, said. "You get this attitude from some people of, 'Oh, I just need to get the exam passed.' They don't care that they're diminishing the entire value of that certification."
In an ironic twist, major tech companies host lively marketplaces for real qeustions on their own platforms. On the messaging app Telegram, group chats with impressive-sounding names like "Salesforce Support" connect thousands of users looking to buy and sell exam dumps. Cheaters say that WhatsApp, the messaging app owned by Facebook's parent company, Meta, is a popular venue for finding dumps, and sellers advertise their wares on Instagram, YouTube, and Amazon's Marketplace. You can buy the answers to major tech certifications — including Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services — for as little $10, complete with reviews attesting to their reliability.
Even LinkedIn, the job-networking site owned by Microsoft, has become a place where users offer real qeustions for sale — despite the fact that Microsoft's own tools are affected by the cheating. The answers to "LinkedIn Skill Assessments," a set of free in-house exams that LinkedIn offers to enable users to certify their proficiency with dozens of tech tools, from Adobe Illustrator to Google Analytics, are all freely available on GitHub, which is also owned by Microsoft. Gleeful TikTok users have been quick to make videos highlighting this flaw in LinkedIn's tests.
Cheung, the developer based in Singapore, was working for a networking company a few years ago when he received a résumé from a job applicant who had recently obtained his certification as a Cisco Certified Network Professional.
Cheung noticed some potential red flags in the application, so he invited the candidate to sit down with a Cisco router and run through a few problems. The candidate was stumped. Cheung then asked him to change some basic configurations. The candidate still couldn't do it — even after Cheung told him he could use Google for help.
"People get nervous in an interview, and I'm OK with that," Cheung said. "So I gave him every chance, and he couldn't do it."
Ultimately, it became clear to Cheung that despite the candidate's "certification" in Cisco systems, he had no clue what he was doing. So Cheung asked the candidate if he had used an exam dump to pass his certification. The defeated-looking candidate said yes.
For some, using real qeustions is driven by nothing more than a desire to climb the corporate ladder by any means necessary. They aren't worried about getting caught — they're worried about whether or not the cheat sheets are right. Because real qeustions are crowd-sourced by people who previously took the tests, there's no ensure that the dump-makers copied out the questions correctly — or that they actually knew which of the multiple-choice options were the right answers. "When I started looking for the questions, there's a lot of wrong answers, so I didn't trust it," said an IT consultant in Italy who used an exam dump this summer.
But others have more complex reasons for cheating. For some, it's the expense. Certification tests can cost several hundred dollars a pop — or more for higher-level credentials. Sometimes the exam fees are paid for by a worker's employer, but those trying to break into the industry often have to foot the bill themselves. Bill, the IT worker at a Midwestern bank, said that one reason he cheated was the reassurance the exam dump gave him that he wouldn't have to pay to retake the test.
I was quite surprised to see the exam that came up was literally the same questions
For others, it's desperation. The IT consultant in Italy, who asked to remain anonymous, said he studied hard for a certification offered by the cybersecurity firm CyberArk, and thought he knew the subject matter. But he turned out to be a bad test-taker, and he failed the exam — twice. So he found some dumps online, studied the genuine questions in advance, and finally passed. He then used the certification to help him land a pay raise.
There's a perception in the tech industry that real qeustions are particular widespread in emerging market economies, where the relative cost of taking a test — and the potential payoff for achieving a certification — is much higher. "Broadly speaking, we do find that there tends to be more issues around exam security in those markets, India being one in particular where we see a fair amount of it," said Russell, the Red Hat director. "Getting certified in that market can actually be absolutely transformative to one's income prospects and livelihood."
An engineer from Pakistan said when he was starting his career, he used dumps to get his first Salesforce certification. Taking the exam cost him the equivalent of half his monthly salary — he simply couldn't afford to fail and pay to retake it. After memorizing some real qeustions he found, he aced the test.
"I was quite surprised to see the exam that came up was literally the same questions," he recalled. "They didn't have a big bank of questions." He now works for a major tech firm in the United States and said he only obtains certifications through legitimate means now.
But the perception that workers from poorer countries are more likely to be cheaters can also fuel racism against foreign-born tech workers. "People from India are often looked upon with a disproportionate level of suspicion," Woodruff, the ServiceNow developer, said. "Companies and hiring managers are much more likely to assume that an Indian person obtained their certifications by fraudulent means, even if that biased expectation is subconscious and due to their recent experiences in hiring."
Given the onslaught of cheating, companies that offer certifications are taking a variety of countermeasures to try to combat cheaters. Some periodically refresh the exams with new questions; others monitor test-takers to see if anyone is answering the exams suspiciously fast. A Google spokesperson said the company asks exam-dump sites to take down the questions — an approach that seems unlikely to stem the tide of cheating. ServiceNow said it employs data analytics to identify when clusters of exam-takers all answer questions similarly, indicating that they likely used the same exam dump.
Red Hat, the cybersecurity firm, eschews multiple-choice questions altogether, opting instead for hands-on exams that require the test-taker to demonstrate genuine proficiency with its tools. Many companies incorporate a hands-on component in their most senior certifications, but the increased costs of supervising and assessing such tests make them too expensive for many entry-level certifications.
But certification companies acknowledge that they are far from eradicating the problem. The more people cheat, the more others feel obligated to utilize underhanded methods to keep up with the cheaters they're competing against. And in many cases, the cheating appears to be condoned — and even encouraged — by employers. Vendors often deliver consulting and technical-support companies better deals on their products if the firms have more certified workers on staff. Multiple tech workers told Insider that it's common for unscrupulous employers to push their workers to use illicit dumps to earn extra credentials — either to make the company more attractive to potential clients or to earn it a discount on IT products.
One said his company provided him with copious real qeustions when he asked them if they had any legitimate training resources for an upcoming exam he was due to take. It made him suspect the expertise of his colleagues, and paranoid that if his employer's actions ever emerged, he might also be falsely accused of using dumps and stripped of his legitimately acquired certifications.
Fed up with the lack of progress at cracking down on cheaters, some workers in the tech industry are taking matters into their own hands. Woodruff spent the summer infiltrating multiple Telegram groups — some of which have thousands of members — that are dedicated to sharing the company's exams. Over time, he gained the trust of the group's administrators, ultimately convincing them to appoint him as a fellow administrator to help oversee the groups.
He immediately disbanded the groups and banned all their members, disrupting — if only temporarily — one small part of the exam-dump trade.
Rob Price is a correspondent at Insider, based in San Francisco.
Got a tip? Contact Rob by phone or Signal at +1 650-636-6268, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @robaeprice. Confidentiality offered.
Correction: November 14, 2022 — An earlier version of this story misstated the scope of Red Hat's business, it is an open source solutions provider not solely a security software provider.
This website is using a security service to protect itself from online attacks. The action you just performed triggered the security solution. There are several actions that could trigger this block including submitting a certain word or phrase, a SQL command or malformed data.
Salesforce has plans to lay off hundreds of workers by the Thanksgiving holiday.
Salesforce plans to lay off hundreds of workers by the Thanksgiving holiday as technology vendors feel the slowing economy.
The start of the layoffs is unclear but should happen before Thanksgiving, according to Protocol.
Although the news outlet put the number of workers laid off at up to 2,500, Axios put the number at hundreds.
In a statement to CRN, Salesforce attributed the layoffs to sales performance.
[RELATED: Tableau Channel Chief Out As Company Combines Partner Program With MuleSoft, Salesforce]
“Our sales performance process drives accountability,” according to Salesforce. “Unfortunately, that can lead to some leaving the business, and we support them through their transition.”
Salesforce has more than 70,000 employees. CNBC reported that Salesforce let fewer than 1,000 employees go Monday due to lighter demand for the company’s products – which include Slack, Tableau and MuleSoft.
Although possibly unconnected to the Salesforce layoffs, subsidiary Tableau parted ways with channel chief Julie Bennani last month as Tableau, MuleSoft and Salesforce join their partner programs together.
The reported layoffs come less than a month after Salesforce allegedly cut dozens of recruiting contractors and froze hiring. In October, activist investment firm Starboard Value bought a stake in Salesforce.
Earlier this year, Salesforce lowered its guidance for the amount of revenue it expects to see for the fiscal year, ending Jan. 31, 2023. It was the second haircut to guidance this year from Salesforce.
Salesforce is expected to report its next quarterly earnings this month.
Cloud vendor giants Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Google Cloud also raised concerns over the economy in their October earnings reports. And Oracle has reportedly laid off hundreds of employees.
Some have taken to LinkedIn to try to use the big tech layoffs to boost their own employee base, including a recruiter with tech giant IBM, gaming and financial technology company Everi’s data science director, an executive with customer experience vendor Braze and an account manager with residential solar battery storage provider Sunnova.
New York CNN Business —
Tech stocks have taken a nasty tumble this year, but some are doing even worse than others. Exhibit A: software giant Salesforce.
Shares of Salesforce (CRM) have plunged about 40% so far in 2022. That makes it the second-worst performer in the Dow, trailing only chip leader Intel (INTC). Salesforce (CRM) has lagged the performance of top cloud software rivals such as Microsoft (MSFT), Germany’s SAP (SAP) and Oracle (ORCL).
Salesforce isn’t really doing all that badly. In fact, the company reported sales growth of 22% from a year ago back in August, but it also cut its revenue and profit forecasts at the time.
Salesforce said it now expects earnings per share of about $1.20 to $1.21 for this quarter and sales of $7.82 billion to $7.83 billion. Analysts had been expecting earnings of $1.29 a share and revenue of nearly $8.1 billion.
So is Salesforce, led by co-CEOs Marc Benioff and Bret Taylor, due for a comeback in 2023? Or will the company remain in Wall Street’s penalty box as it absorbs and integrates a series of expensive acquisitions over the past few years?
Salesforce has spent nearly $50 billion since 2018 to buy application software company MuleSoft, data visualization software leader Tableau and workplace productivity suite Slack. The Slack deal cost Salesforce about $28 billion.
Investors will get an update on how all these deals are panning out when Salesforce reports its latest earnings after the closing bell Wednesday. Analysts are predicting that sales will be up 14% from a year ago but profits will fall slightly.
Salesforce president and chief financial officer Amy Weaver conceded during an analyst meeting in September that “we have seen increased risks and uncertainties” in recent months. But she stressed that demand for the company’s software remains strong.
A majority of Wall Street analysts remain bullish on Salesforce. According to data from Refinitiv, 40 of the 50 analysts that cover the company have a “buy” rating on the stock. (The remaining 10 have a “hold.” There are no “sell” recommendations.)
And the consensus price target for the stock is nearly $216 a share, 40% higher than current levels.
Still, analysts are likely to have questions about what’s next for Slack under Salesforce’s ownership. Microsoft has stepped up its own competitive efforts versus Slack with its Teams product.
“Microsoft Teams continues to be the gorilla in the room, indicating that existing customers of Salesforce have been less responsive to picking up Slack,” said Daniel Morgan, senior portfolio manager with Synovus Trust Company, in a report. “Mounting competition from Teams and increasing pricing pressure create some headwinds.”
The year so far has been tough for investors as all markets have been falling so far this year. We are dealing with high inflation, rate hikes by the central banks, and a serious threat of a recession in the near term. It is therefore no surprise that markets are down by double digits. But where most investors might be down over 10% this year, it is not all just negative. The current market does offer us some very interesting buying opportunities as some companies keep growing earnings and pop up as very resilient. But even these companies are down significantly. The best thing we investors can do now is to identify the stocks that are undervalued as a result of the downturn (and of course don’t panic sell your existing holdings).
Technology stocks have been the winners over the last couple of years, or actually, for the last decade or so. Covid gave another boost to growth stocks as technology services became increasingly important as people were forced to stay at home and work from home. As a result, a lot of these technology companies were massively overvalued at the end of 2021, even though a lot of these companies were not even profitable. But the environment has changed drastically, and people are not willing to pay for unprofitable companies in the way they were a little over a year ago.
One of the companies that has been growing at a rapid pace is CRM software company Salesforce (NYSE:CRM). The big difference for Salesforce, of course, is that this company is profitable. Salesforce is down over 40% this year, despite the recent rally. As a result, the stock price has only increased by 40% over the last 5 years. Meanwhile, revenue has grown from around $7 billion in FY16 to approximately $22 billion in FY22, meaning revenues have more than tripled over the last 5 years.
It is the drop in share price so far this year that caused me to start following Salesforce. I think it is a very interesting business and I like software companies in general. Generally, these companies have very high margins and are believed to be more recession and inflation-resistant. I cannot imagine businesses cutting on their CRM systems as these might even increase in importance when times get tough.
I currently do not own any shares in Salesforce. The company has always been a bit too expensive for my taste, while profits were almost non-existent. Now, as I mentioned earlier, the drop in share price so far this year for a quality business like Salesforce did attract my interest. For that reason, I will try to find out within this article whether Salesforce is a buy at current prices. This is my initial thesis on Salesforce and so I will do a company deep-dive.
Salesforce is an American cloud-based software company with its headquarters in San Francisco, California. Salesforce provides CRM software and applications with a focus on sales, customer service, marketing automation, and analytics. Salesforce made its IPO in 2004 and has grown to a market cap of $154 billion today. Salesforce is one of the largest cloud-based companies on the planet.
Customer 360 is the CRM software Salesforce offers to its customers and has been the #1 CRM system in the world for many years now.
Nowadays, more than 150,000 companies use Salesforce’s CRM platform and use it to grow their business and increase customer relations. What CRM does is help companies understand their customers’ needs and solve problems more effectively through an all-in-one platform that includes all information you need to serve your customers in the best way possible.
You can imagine from the introduction above that Salesforce still has a load of growth prospects. Their dominant position in CRM offers them the ability to expand their platform and upsell their customers or expand into other industries and services while using their huge existing client base to sell these products. In September Salesforce held its annual investor day and this gave us some new insights into the future potential for Salesforce.
Salesforce expects its total addressable market [TAM] to continue to grow at a 13% CAGR until 2026 and to reach a massive $290 billion.
One key point regarding Salesforce’s customer 360 is the change in the cloud environment. An increasing number of businesses use multiple cloud vendors. More cloud vendors mean more annual recurring revenue [ARR] for Salesforce. Salesforce provided a nice overview of the difference in ARR per number of cloud providers and this shows the massive potential as more and more businesses shift towards multiple cloud vendors as the cloud grows in importance.
This is reflected in Salesforce’s financial results as 20% of customers use more than 4 cloud vendors, but these customers account for 85% of ARR. Salesforce believes it can use its land-and-expand strategy to boost ARR growth over the longer term as it plans to upsell to existing customers.
Salesforce also still sees a lot of growth potential through geographic expansion. According to Salesforce, there is still a large part of its TAM untapped, and it sees potential to drive new market opportunities. Salesforce has seen its ARR grow at a 21% CAGR in North America over the last three years, while ARR from international markets has grown at a 27% CAGR. Despite this strong growth, Salesforce remains to believe it has plenty of room to expand at a similar pace over the next couple of years. ARR is the best kind of revenue for Salesforce as it is a predictable revenue stream and less sensitive to economic problems and a potential recession. The majority of revenue is subscription revenue and therefore recurring annually.
According to Salesforce, they should be able to grow their revenue to a massive $50 billion by 2026, growing revenue at a 17% CAGR and doubling revenue compared to last year. Salesforce currently projects $31 billion in revenue for FY23. I feel like the goals Salesforce is aiming for might be a bit too high. If we take into consideration the possibility of a potential recession, it seems unlikely that Salesforce is going to double its revenue by FY26. Yet, I would not say it is impossible as I feel like Salesforce has a relatively stable business that should not be hurt as much as many others.
In addition to significantly increasing revenue by FY26, Salesforce also wants to increase its margins. It believes it can do this by benefitting from its land-and-expand strategy, product innovation, an increase in brand awareness through networking, and system automation. This all should lead to a 25%+ non-GAAP operating margin by FY26.
Salesforce has been a great player regarding business innovation over the years and it is not planning on stopping now. Salesforce plans on bringing a whole bunch of innovations in 2023 which should boost platform attractiveness and upsell opportunities to increase ARR.
In addition to business growth, Salesforce confirmed it will stay active in M&A when they believe it will be a significant addition to its product portfolio. Also, Salesforce announced its first-ever share repurchase program. Management authorized a $10 billion share repurchase program. This is very good news for investors, although I am not sure whether I would rather see Salesforce invest this money into the business. Yet, it does confirm that management believes the stock is currently undervalued.
Of course, I already shared the outlook Salesforce presented regarding market growth by using their TAM. According to Allied Market Research, the CRM market is expected to grow at an 11.1% CAGR from 2020 to 2027 and will reach a market size of close to $100 billion. Since CRM is the main business for Salesforce and they are the largest player by a fair margin, as is shown by the graph below, I expect them to profit from this industry growth. Salesforce even grew its market share over the last 5 years to a massive 23.8% in FY21. This shows us Salesforce is in a great position to benefit from market growth. Now, how is this strength reflected in their recent financial results?
On August 24th Salesforce presented its second-quarter results. Revenue came in at $7.72 billion, showing 22% YoY growth and 26% on constant currency. Subscription revenues for the quarter were $7.14 billion and grew 21% YoY. Non-GAAP EPS was $1.19, while GAAP EPS was significantly lower at just $0.07. Management stated the following:
Our results demonstrate the strength and diversity of our product portfolio across regions, industries and segments. In this more measured buying environment, our Customer 360 portfolio is even more strategic and relevant as our customers focus on productivity, efficiency and time to value.
Management confirmed what I said earlier and that is that its Customer 360 platform will be of increasing importance to businesses as it increases efficiency and productivity in times when this is crucial. This is also part of the reason I do expect Salesforce to remain relatively stable in revenue, even if we see a severe slowdown.
The operating margin for the second quarter came in at 19.9% non-GAAP and GAAP margin of only 2.5%. In addition, operating cash flow came in at $330 million, which is a 14% decrease YoY and free cash flow was just $130 million, 24% lower YoY. This might also immediately bring on a big problem with Salesforce, its profitability. Yes, there is a profit, but cash flows are low for a business earning over $30 billion in revenue annually and existing for over 20 years.
Growth for the quarter remained very strong on the top line, but the bottom line saw a significant decrease, which was disappointing. If we look at the revenue split by region, we see that the strongest growth was visible in the EMEA region, which grew by 23% YoY and 35% YoY on constant currency. APAC saw 17% growth and 31% constant currency. Growth in the Americas was a solid 22%. This does show that growth for the international markets is growing faster, most likely because of a lower penetration of the market in these regions.
The outlook for the third quarter is also not the most positive one. Salesforce will report its third-quarter results later this week on November 30th. For this quarter Salesforce expects revenue between $7.82 - $7.83 billion, representing just 14% growth YoY and a serious slowdown compared to previous quarters. Non-GAAP EPS is expected to be between $1.20 and $1.21.
As a result, Salesforce now expects FY23 revenue (current fiscal quarter) of $31 billion on the top end, up 17% YoY. FY23 margin is expected to be 20.4% on a non-GAAP basis.
Salesforce does have a solid balance sheet with total cash of $13.5 billion at the end of its 2Q23. This was an increase of 40% YoY. Total debt was $14.3 billion, meaning Salesforce has a negative net debt position of about $800 million. I really like the cash position of Salesforce as it does deliver the company a lot of opportunities regarding M&A, but also investing in business opportunities. I am less of a fan of the debt position, but as this is almost fully covered by its cash, this should not be a problem for now. Salesforce is not generating loads of free cash flow at the moment, so debt should not go much higher for my taste. The 40% YoY increase in its total cash position is positive as it shows the business is fully capable of generating free cash flow.
Salesforce is currently valued at a forward P/E of 31.25 and is therefore 44% undervalued compared to its 5-year average, yet it is also not particularly growing at the same rate as it did the last 5 years. Salesforce receives a C- from Seeking Alpha for its valuation as the stock is still not cheap compared to its (slowing) growth rates.
Current analyst estimates are projecting 17% growth for the current fiscal year, in line with management expectations. For FY23 (or fiscal FY24 for Salesforce) analysts project 14.4% revenue growth and 16% for the two years after that. That would mean Salesforce would reach close to $48 billion in revenue by FY26, not reaching management's current goal of $50 billion. I am personally very curious to see whether Salesforce will be able to manage to grow the business by 14% over the next fiscal year. This will highly depend on the severity of a potential recession. I think analysts' estimates for revenue to come in around $48 billion by 2026 seem fair. Bottom line growth is expected to grow at a faster pace closer to 20% per year until 2026.
All in all, I still think Salesforce is richly valued, but the significant decline so far this year has made the stock a lot less expensive. If Salesforce would manage to grow its top line by over 14% next year, which I doubt, I think the stock is fairly valued at prices around $150/160 per share. I do want to add to this that if growth would come in closer to 10% or lower next year, there is still significant room for downside to around $120 per share. Personally, when comparing the growth outlook and current price, I would be comfortable with opening a small position or slowly adding to an existing position.
We have discussed the upside potential for Salesforce so far, but now it is time to turn to a bit more of a negative view and look at the risks of an investment in Salesforce. Of course, one of the main risks for a growth stock with a higher valuation in the current environment is the risk of more downside. Salesforce is, as discussed above, still not cheap and if the economy would make a turn for the worse, there would still possibly be significantly more downside for Salesforce through valuation contractions. Later this week Salesforce will report its 3Q23 earnings and it will be crucial for Salesforce to report solid numbers. The outlook is already guiding for slowing growth. Also, this quarter will deliver us a better look at how resilient the business and growth are. In the case of a disappointing quarter, this could have a significant impact on the fiscal 2024 expectations as well.
On November 8th, CNBC reported that Salesforce reportedly laid off hundreds of employees, and job cuts could jump as high as 2500. So far, according to CNBC, less than 1000 workers lost their jobs. Salesforce did not respond to the matter so far but will probably deliver us some information about it when they report their earnings next week. It could already point to lower expectations for growth by management and the need to save costs. Laying off personnel is never a good sign, but it could be a good move by management to increase its top line in the case of a slowdown. It is something to keep an eye on next week.
Finally, I want to point out that cash flows remain to be low, except for the fourth and first quarters. This does not leave much room for mistakes for Salesforce. I prefer companies with more of a solid bottom line, but I expect Salesforce to significantly increase their bottom line over the next years as less money will be needed for R&D.
Salesforce is a great company, with strong management, a dominant market position, strong growth ahead, and a solid balance sheet. The main issue for Salesforce remains its valuation as this creates the most risk for a lower share price. A lot will depend on what Salesforce will report later this week when they report their 3Q23 earnings. Despite all near-term weaknesses and uncertainties, I do think the long-term thesis for Salesforce is strong and the current share price is not a bad one to start a position in this dominant enterprise software company. Long-term growth will be supported by growth in cloud computing, CRM industry growth, and business expansion.
I feel like the company is a hard one to judge. I think the company is right in between a buy and a hold. Yet, as I do believe in the long-term potential of the business and the valuation has come down significantly to more acceptable prices, I rate the company a buy at current prices and under current growth assumptions.
I will keep a close eye on earnings later this week and will update the thesis if necessary. For now, I rate Salesforce a buy on a strong growth outlook driven by industry growth and business expansion. I recommend being careful with buying this stock and adding or buying small bits split over time as near-term problems might cause the share price to trade lower.
Salesforce cofounder and co-CEO Marc Benioff speaks during the grand opening of the Salesforce Tower, the tallest building in San Francisco, Calif., Tuesday, May 22, 2018.
Karl Mondon | Bay Area News Group | Getty Images
Salesforce reported earnings and revenue on Wednesday that beat analyst expectations. It also announced that co-CEO Bret Taylor is stepping down. CEO and Salesforce co-founder Marc Benioff will the be sole person in charge of the company.
Salesforce stock fell over 6% in extended trading.
Here's how the company did versus Refinitiv consensus estimates for the quarter ending in October:
Salesforce said it expected between $7.9 billion to $8.03 billion in revenue in the company's fourth fiscal quarter, lower at the midpoint than analyst expectations of $8.02 billion in sales in the fourth quarter. The company also said it would take a $900 million hit in sales because of foreign currency effects.
Salesforce's total revenue increased 14% year-over-year. Last quarter, Salesforce trimmed its year-end estimates for both revenue and earnings, citing a weaker economic cycle. It reaffirmed those estimates on Wednesday.
Salesforce said that its operating cash flow came in at $313 million for the quarter, which was a decrease of 23% year-over-year.
Subscription and support revenue, which includes the company's flagship Sales Cloud software and comprises the majority of the company's sales, came in at $7.23 billion, which was up 13% year-over-year.
The Platform and Other category that includes Slack reported $1.51 billion in sales, an 18% increase year-over-year.
Salesforce spent $1.7 billion on share repurchases during the quarter, the company said.
More than 1000 sacrificed
Salesforce is one of the latest tech companies to let go of employees.
It is believed that more than a thousand workers have been seen leaving Salesforce buildings with their personal gear in an old photocopy paper box.
In January, Salesforce had 73,541 employees. In August, the company revealed that year-over-year, its headcount had increased by 36 per cent, so the latest round of layoffs will still leave the firm with more employees than it had in August 2021.
But when Salesforce saw its staff numbers increase it said it was to look after the huge number of customers it was getting.
Amy Weaver, Salesforce’s finance chief, said in August that demand among small and medium-sized businesses in North America and Europe slowed down.
Sectors that reduced their demand for Salesforce’s services included communications, consumer goods, media, and retail. As business falls, Salesforce sees a need to reduce costs and this comes in the form of making employees redundant.
The city’s largest private employer could continue to downsize its office footprint, executives said in a recent earnings call.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said there will continue to be flexibility for employees who want to work from home, while Chief Financial Officer Amy Weaver said the software company is continuing to evaluate its real estate holdings. Salesforce did not respond to a request for comment as of publication.