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Microsoft Teams With Adobe and C3.ai to Take on Salesforce on Its Home Turf

Dina Bass
·3 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Microsoft Corp. is teaming with Adobe Inc. and C3.ai, the company of customer-software pioneer Tom Siebel, in another bid to better compete with Salesforce.com Inc., the market leader for such programs.

C3.ai will release a new customer-relations management software program that blends its artificial intelligence tools with Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 CRM software and Adobe’s marketing and customer-targeting cloud. The offering pulls in an array of data from a client’s internal systems and outside information, such as social media sentiment and regulatory filings, to predict, for example, future revenue, what new products are needed and which customers might be ready to take their business elsewhere.

Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker, has been trying for more than 15 years to catch Salesforce, the top vendor in the $56 billon market for customer-relations management software, according to Gartner Inc. While Salesforce had 20% market share in 2019 compared with Dynamics 2.6%, the most popular choice in Gartner’s data was “other” with 68%. The fragmented market creates an opportunity for Microsoft, C3 and Adobe, according to executives of the companies. The shift to cloud computing and the demand for AI tools means there’s a desire for new products, especially those that can analyze formerly siloed sets of data. Of course Salesforce is trying to do similar things — it has AI tools called Einstein and spent $6.5 billion to buy MuleSoft to offer products that combine a customer’s in-house systems with data and apps on the public internet.

“Salesforce has done a fantastic job, but they have 20% share and therein lies the story — we talk about this as if it’s all over, and the reality is it is a pretty competitive market,” Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella said in an interview. Called C3 AI CRM powered by Microsoft Dynamics 365, the software is available beginning Monday and will be jointly sold by the three companies.

The partnership brings together executives with a long history in this part of the industry. Siebel pioneered software that manages and tracks a company’s interactions with clients when he founded Siebel Systems in 1993. Nadella ran the Dynamics business for Microsoft more than a decade ago and has reinvigorated Microsoft’s focus on it since taking over the top job in 2014. Adobe, the leader in software such as Photoshop for creative artists, has been a close partner of Microsoft in various efforts on its cloud businesses. Siebel’s C3.ai was founded in 2009 and now has customers including Bank of America Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc and the U.S Defense Department.

Siebel said customers want products tailored to their specific industry and that use AI to do things like reduce customer churn — tracking which customers may leave so the company can prevent it. Manufacturing customers meanwhile want to forecast how many units they need to make. Everyone wants to project revenue and the technology available today is “highly inaccurate,” he said. “Virtually every one of these customers that are approaching us are existing Salesforce users,” he said.

Salesforce didn’t return a request for comment.

Attracting more customers will also be a boon to Microsoft’s Azure cloud infrastructure service, which is trying to narrow the gap with market leader Amazon.com Inc., and to Adobe’s Experience Cloud. The new product will run on Azure but will be able to take in data stored in other clouds.

It’s a much bigger market than the traditional one for customer-relations software that Siebel started and Salesforce leads. “This is now blending what the sales person wanted and what the marketing person wanted and what the finance person wanted,” said Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen.

(Updates with Siebel’s comment on competition with Salesforce in sixth paragraph. )

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