Amid Salesforce's leadership shakeups, increasing pressure to make sales goals, and the influence of an activist investor, employees told Insider they're bracing for another round of layoffs.
"People are afraid it could come at any point," one employee told Insider.
Salesforce declined Insider's request for comment.
The company laid off hundreds of employees in November and has since enacted what some insiders called unrealistic new mandates primarily for salespeople, like making daily in-person meetings throughout the holiday season and returning to working in the office despite Marc Benioff's public statements saying workers were just as productive at home.
Rumors are swirling inside the company that more layoffs could come as soon as this month.
Some employees who spoke to Insider speculated much of these internal pressures might be related to the activist investor Starboard Value, which disclosed a significant stake in Salesforce in October, just before the layoffs. A person familiar with the matter told Insider the firm has pushed for cost-cutting measures since first approaching the company this summer.
Employees said these changes were indicative of a larger cultural shift at Salesforce. Where once the company was rated one of the best firms to work for, they said, its welcoming "Ohana" culture is being replaced by a ruthless prioritization of metrics and sales targets. Perhaps fittingly, even its most latest layoffs were referred to internally as a "performance management event."
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Salesforce (CRM 1.89%) posted its latest quarterly report on Nov. 30. For the third quarter of fiscal 2023, which ended on Oct. 31, the cloud-based software company's revenue rose 14% year over year (and grew 19% in constant currency terms) to $7.84 billion and surpassed analysts' estimates by $10 million. Its adjusted earnings increased 10% to $1.40 per share and also cleared the consensus forecast by $0.18.
Salesforce's growth rates seemed stable, but they didn't impress the bulls. Its stock remains down nearly 40% this year and continues to trade at a discount to many of its cloud-based peers. Is it finally time for investors to take the contrarian view?
Salesforce operates the world's largest cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) platform. It also provides additional cloud-based marketing, commerce, analytics, and data visualization services.
For many years, Salesforce benefited from the digitization of large businesses. It locked in its customers with sticky subscriptions and its own proprietary apps, and it repeatedly expanded by gobbling up smaller companies. Its business model remained resilient during the pandemic, which drove companies to accelerate their digital transformations and accommodate the shift toward hybrid and remote work.
That's why Salesforce's revenue and adjusted earnings per share (EPS) rose 24% and 65%, respectively, in fiscal 2021 (which ended on Jan. 31, 2021). In fiscal 2022, its revenue grew another 25%, but its adjusted EPS dipped 3% against its bigger investment-related gains in the previous year.
However, Salesforce's year-over-year revenue growth decelerated throughout the first three quarters of fiscal 2023 as it faced two major challenges.
First, macro headwinds caused large companies to rein in their spending and postpone big software deals. Second, the rising dollar -- which was bolstered by higher interest rates -- generated tough currency headwinds.
As a result, Salesforce expects its reported revenue to only rise 17% for the full year, as its adjusted EPS grows 3%. That slowdown isn't disastrous, but it raises some questions regarding the company's long-term goal of generating $50 billion in annual revenue in fiscal 2026. To achieve that goal, it would need to grow its top line at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17% between fiscal 2023 and 2026 -- which assumes its deceleration this year won't lead to a deeper slowdown.
But analysts aren't as optimistic. They expect Salesforce's revenue to rise 17% in fiscal 2023, 14% in fiscal 2024, and 16% in fiscal 2025. We should be skeptical of those expectations, but that slowdown could certainly occur if the current macro headwinds lead to a full-blown recession.
The bears will also point out that Salesforce still faces lots of competition from Microsoft's (MSFT 1.75%) Dynamics CRM, as well as Adobe's (ADBE 1.27%) e-commerce and marketing tools. They'll also claim that Salesforce's heavy dependence on acquisitions could "diworsify" its business and squeeze its margins. Co-CEO Bret Taylor's latest decision to leave Salesforce, which will leave founder Marc Benioff as the only CEO, raises additional questions regarding its future.
However, the bulls will argue that Salesforce's latest acquisitions -- including Tableau, Mulesoft, and Slack -- have increased the overall stickiness of its cloud-based ecosystem. They'll also claim that economies of scale are boosting its margins as it expands: Salesforce expects its adjusted operating margin to expand 200 basis points to 20.7% for the full year, and to exceed 25% by fiscal 2026.
Lastly, Salesforce's stock looks fairly cheap at 31 times next year's earnings and four times next year's sales. Its smaller healthcare-oriented CRM peer Veeva (VEEV 3.12%), which is growing at a similar rate, trades at 40 times forward earnings and 12 times next year's sales. ServiceNow (NOW 3.62%), the cloud-based digital workflow company which is growing slightly faster than Salesforce, trades at 43 times forward earnings and 10 times next year's sales. That's probably why the value-oriented activist hedge fund Starboard Value acquired a significant stake in Salesforce this October.
Salesforce will likely remain in the penalty box until the macro situation improves and its revenue growth accelerates again. That said, I'm still optimistic about Salesforce's long-term prospects as large companies continue to digitally optimize their operations.
Therefore, I believe Salesforce is still a good long-term investment at these levels -- but investors shouldn't expect the bulls to rush back until some of these near-term headwinds dissipate.
Leo Sun has positions in Adobe, Salesforce, and Veeva Systems. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Adobe, Microsoft, Salesforce, ServiceNow, and Veeva Systems. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long January 2024 $420 calls on Adobe and short January 2024 $430 calls on Adobe. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
Salesforce has always fashioned itself as a socially responsible company, and that includes working on a Net Zero carbon emissions goal. In fact, it launched Sustainability Cloud (now called Net Zero Cloud) in 2019, a product for tracking customer Net Zero goals. This year, they are taking that idea a step further with a new product that incorporates not only the environmental pieces, but also social and governance goals, all of which fall under the ESG umbrella.
Ari Alexander, GM for Salesforce Net Zero Cloud and Net Zero Marketplace, says the idea is to take advantage of the range of Salesforce tooling from MuleSoft for connecting to data sources to Tableau for data visualization to help companies better understand their progress towards ESG goals.
“ESG is a broad and very important trend where our customers are looking for help, direction and solutions, and increasingly we started hearing that they needed help with reporting, both voluntary and regulatory,” he said.
The amount of information required to build such reports can be a daunting task for those charged with the reporting requirements. “The solution needed to reach across their business to bring in data from many different sources and streamline their reporting. And so we decided it was time to kind of bring the full power of Salesforce to that problem and extend our Net Zero Cloud to broaden into a full ESG solution.”
ESG reporting is challenging in its current state, particularly because there is no common regulatory reporting framework for all of this data, other than for greenhouse gas reporting. “Whereas the E part of ESG has the Greenhouse Gas Protocol to guide it, that’s fairly well aligned as a global standard; when it comes to ESG reporting, that is very much still an alphabet soup of voluntary frameworks,” Alexander said.
What’s more, the regulatory bodies that are there are changing their requirements frequently, and it is expected that there will be in-country requirements in the not-too-distant future.
“So the specific kinds of data that we’re talking about, whether it’s emissions data, whether it’s diversity, equity and inclusion data, whether it’s data about suppliers and whether there are any kind of human rights flags or abuses anywhere deep in your supply chain, the kinds of things that companies are collecting or looking to put in one place and one single source of truth and report out on. There isn’t yet a clean and easy way to say this is good data or this is bad data on an unstructured dataset [like this],” he said.
He says the data can be reported to third-party auditors, however, and the tool is set up to allow that. “There is increasingly pressure on companies to take the data they’re reporting out more seriously, to provide some of the kinds of audit trails, so the Big Four audit firms can come in and look at enterprise data and have a point of view on whether the data that’s being shown to them is up to a certain standard when it comes to workflows and processes, transparency and being able to explain how you get to the kinds of numbers you report out on,” he said.
The full ESG reporting product is expected to be publicly available in the next couple of months.
The stock market did not like the third-quarter earnings report from subscription software giant Salesforce (CRM 1.89%). The company beat analyst expectations, but guidance called for a growth slowdown in the fourth quarter. On top of that lackluster outlook, co-CEO Bret Taylor unexpectedly stepped down effective Jan. 31. The stock closed Thursday down about 8%.
More concerning than all of this, though, is the splashy $10 billion share buyback program Salesforce unveiled earlier this year. "...we're thrilled to initiate our first-ever share repurchase program to continue to deliver incredible value to our shareholders on our path to $50 billion in revenue in FY26," said co-CEO Marc Benioff in August.
The last thing Salesforce's share buyback program does is deliver value to its shareholders. Normally, share buybacks are a good thing, assuming the price paid for shares is reasonable. After the buyback, profits are spread across a smaller number of shares, boosting per-share numbers and potentially the stock price. In some cases, share buybacks are a better way to return value to shareholders than dividends.
The problem with Salesforce's share buyback program is that it doesn't reduce the share count by much at all. How is that possible? Let me tell you about stock-based compensation.
Like most tech companies, Salesforce doles out equity and options to employees and executives. Stock-based compensation helps retain talent, and it gives employees some skin in the game by tying compensation to the performance of the stock. There's nothing wrong with this in theory.
But also like most tech companies, Salesforce likes to report adjusted profit metrics. These adjusted, or non-GAAP, profit metrics treat stock-based compensation as if it weren't a real expense. While stock-based compensation is a noncash expense, it is very real. Back in 1992, super-investor Warren Buffett had this to say about stock-based compensation:
If options aren't a form of compensation, what are they? If compensation isn't an expense, what is it? And, if expenses shouldn't go into the calculation of earnings, where in the world should they go?
For the current fiscal year, which ends in late January, Salesforce expects to report adjusted earnings per share as high as $4.94. A whopping $3.26 per share will come from the company treating stock-based compensation as something to be ignored.
Here's how this ties back into the buyback program. Even if you were to make the argument that it's OK to pretend stock-based compensation can be ignored because it doesn't use cash, the buyback program uses cash to offset the dilutive effects of stock-based compensation.
Salesforce spent $1.68 billion on share buybacks in the third quarter. The diluted share count at the end of the third quarter was 1 billion, down from 1.001 billion at the end of the second quarter. Salesforce effectively paid over $1,600 for each share it retired. That's more than 10 times the current stock price.
Salesforce is handing out stock options, claiming that these expenses don't matter by virtue of touting adjusted profit metrics, then turning around and pouring cash into preventing a share count explosion caused by those very same stock options. All the buyback program does is turn a non-cash expense into a de facto cash expense.
Salesforce has more than $8 billion left as part of its share buyback authorization, and more likely than not, the vast majority of that will go toward offsetting the dilution from stock-based compensation. Investors would be wise to ignore Salesforce's adjusted profit figures when evaluating the stock. They're nonsense.
Salesforce is losing a number of key execs in the wake of Bret Taylor's departure.
Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield is also departing, along with some other product-focused execs.
The departures come as Salesforce's growth has slowed and it's facing tough questions.
Salesforce is in the midst of a serious brain drain at the highest levels. Last week, co-CEO Bret Taylor made the surprise announcement that he'd be departing the company.
Shortly afterwards came the news that Mark Nelson, the CEO of Salesforce subsidiary Tableau, and Steven Tamm, a CTO at the cloud tech giant, are also departing. In November, the company also said Gavin Patterson, the company's chief strategy officer who had previously been its chief revenue officer will depart at the end of January.
Then, earlier this week, Insider reported that Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack — the workplace chat app that Salesforce acquired in 2021 for $27.7 billion —will be leaving the company in the new year. Tamar Yehoshua, Slack's chief product officer, is also resigning, as is Slack senior VP of communications Jonathan Prince.
It's not clear if the timing of all these departures is anything more than coincidence: In a memo to employees, Butterfield wrote that his plans to depart have nothing to do with Taylor's, as Insider earlier reported.
Still, it comes at a critical moment for Salesforce and its now-sole CEO Marc Benioff. The company's stock is down some 48% from the beginning of the year, as the larger tech downturn takes its toll on the markets. Salesforce has warned investors that a slowing economy is making it more difficult to close deals as IT spending stalls out, even as investors push Benioff to demonstrate a commitment to improving its profit margins.
And the specific executives who are hitting the exits represent some of Salesforce's biggest bets on the future. Taylor himself was seen as a product visionary who would help Salesforce break into new markets, as seen when he masterminded the Slack acquisition. Indeed, Slack and Tableau represented Salesforce's two largest acquisitions in its history, as it invested in new lines of business.
The departures of Taylor, Butterfield, and Nelson come as Salesforce's strategy comes under the microscope on Wall Street.
With Slack and Tableau, Salesforce already had a lot to prove. Wall Street thought that the $27.7 billion it paid for Slack and the $15 billion for Tableau was far too steep given the company's financial situation. The scrutiny hasn't stopped.
"Growth has been slowing for years," Bernstein analysts wrote in a latest note to clients. "But that has not been readily apparent due to the cadence of large acquisitions which generate a multiyear tailwind to growth due to acquisition accounting."
Taylor, who had been COO of Salesforce before becoming co-CEO in 2021, championed the two as key to a strategy of building the company's platform into an all-in-one tool for sales, to service, to marketing and commerce, to data analysis. Slack would be the "digital HQ" where work gets done, while Tableau helps customers crunch the massive amounts of data stored in the Salesforce platform and turn it into useful insights.
Neither Slack nor Tableau is going anywhere. Salesforce has already said that Lidiane Jones, an executive VP, will take over for Butterfield as Slack CEO. She'll be working with Cal Henderson, Slack's CTO and cofounder, who remains in his role. And Salesforce has said that in the wake of Nelson's departure, Tableau will be rolled more closely into Salesforce's engineering organization.
What it does mean, however, is that Salesforce, Slack, and Tableau are all losing the biggest champions of the integrated product strategy right as the company faces hard questions.
Amid the chaos, however, some on Wall Street thinks there may be an opportunity.
While some of Salesforce's most experienced execs remain on Benioff's leadership team, including CFO Amy Weaver and COO Brian Millham, analysts think Benioff needs to recruit new leadership.
Now could be a good time to recruit talent from a smaller rival or startup, Jaluria told Insider. The relative stability of Salesforce compared to a smaller startup during an uncertain economic environment would be a major draw.
"You need leadership that's focused on the next chapter of Salesforce and the way things should be done, not necessarily the way things have been done from the get go," RBC analyst Rishi Jaluria said last week at the time of Taylor's announcement.
Read the original article on Business Insider
Investors' enthusiasm for Salesforce (NYSE:CRM) remained low on Wednesday as the cloud-based business-software company's shares continued to slide and dropped to a point not touched in almost three years.
Salesforce (CRM) fell to as low as $130.02 a share--the stock's lowest point since slumping to $128.86 on March 19, 2020--and is now down by almost 50% this year.
A combination of factors has hit Salesforce (CRM) of late, including a fourth-quarter revenue outlook last week that suggested weak growth and a challenging year ahead in 2023.
But, just as concerning to Wall Street has been a spate of executive departures that have shaken up Salesforce's (CRM) management ranks.
Along with Salesforce's (CRM) earnings results and outlook, co-Chief Executive Bret Taylor said he would leave the company at the end of January. Then, just this week, Slack boss and co-founder Stewart Butterfield said he would leave the company that Salesforce (CRM) acquired in a $27B deal in 2021. Butterfield's departure announcement came on the heels of Tableau CEO Mark Nelson saying on December 2 that is leaving would leave the company.
Speaking at a UBS tech conference on Tuesday, Salesforce (CRM) Chief Financial Officer Amy Weaver stressed that even though "people love to try to connect the dots," the departures of Taylor and Butterfield, in particular, "are either completely unrelated events."
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.
Stewart Butterfield speaks on November 08, 2019 in San Francisco, California.
Phillip Faraone | Getty Images
Salesforce said Monday that Slack founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield is leaving the company. He'll be succeeded by Lidiane Jones, an executive vice president at Salesforce who joined in 2019.
Butterfield's announced departure comes days after Salesforce said co-CEO Bret Taylor was stepping down just a year after being promoted to share the top job with Marc Benioff, Salesforce's co-founder.
Benioff informed employees on a call on Monday that Butterfield was leaving, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because they weren't authorized to speak on the record. Salesforce acquired Slack for about $27 billion last year, its largest purchase ever. The deal was announced in late 2020.
"Stewart is an incredible leader who created an amazing, beloved company in Slack," a company spokesperson told CNBC in a statement. "He has helped lead the successful integration of Slack into Salesforce and today Slack is woven into the Salesforce Customer 360 platform. Stewart also was instrumental in choosing Lidiane Jones as the next Slack CEO to lead it into its next chapter. Lidiane has a strong background in customer and enterprise tech and has been among Salesforce's leadership for over three years. We're grateful for Stewart and excited for Lidiane as she takes over the reins of Slack."
Tamar Yehoshua, Slack's product chief, will also depart, along with Jonathan Prince, senior vice president in charge of marketing, brand and communications, the people familiar said. Noah Weiss, senior vice president of product at Slack, will succeed Yehoshua, Butterfield said in a Slack message to all Salesforce employees that CNBC viewed.
Jones spent more than 12 years at Microsoft, before leaving to join Sonos in 2015. She's been at Salesforce since 2019 and is currently executive vice president and general manager of digital experience clouds.
Butterfield originally worked with the other co-founder of Slack, Cal Henderson, at photo-sharing website Flickr, which Yahoo acquired in 2005. In 2009 the two men founded Tiny Speck as they sought to build an online video game named Glitch. The game failed to become a world-beating hit and Tiny Speck shut it down. Tiny Speck had developed software employees had used to build Glitch, and the startup made the software available to the public as Slack in 2014.
It grew quickly, mobilizing Microsoft. When Microsoft launched Teams in 2016, Slack took out an ad in The New York Times to welcome Microsoft to the market.
"I'm not going to do anything entrepreneurial," Butterfield wrote in the Slack message. "As I said in my announcement to Slack team, these days my fantasies are about gardening. As hackneyed as it might sound, I really am going to spend more time with my family (as well as work on some personal projects, focus on health and generally put time into those things which [are] harder to do when one is leading a large organization)."
In March 2020 Butterfield met with Taylor and told him Slack wanted to acquire Quip, the productivity app Taylor sold to Salesforce in 2016, from Salesforce. Months later, Taylor told Butterfield that while Salesforce wasn't interested in selling Quip to Slack, Salesforce was interested in buying Slack.
Butterfield said that the leadership changes at Slack were not related to the announcement of Taylor's resignation from last week. "We've been planning this for a while," Butterfield wrote.