Benioff's claim to fame is that he pioneered the idea of "software as a service," meaning you don't need to buy a copy of his software and install it on your computer. Instead, the software sits on servers at Salesforce.com and you just pay to use it. Back in 1999, when Benioff, a former Oracle executive, launched Salesforce.com, software as a service (aka SaaS) was a pretty big change. Today it's common, only now it's called "cloud computing," which is why Benioff's book is called Behind the Cloud.
One thing about Benioff is he doesn't miss a trend. Before "cloud computing" was the buzzword du jour, the same notion was called "on-demand computing," and for a while "utility computing"—and Salesforce.com was those, too. Even the company's name speaks to its trend-chasing nature, because, if you'll recall, in 1999 all the cool kids were appending the ".com" suffix to the names of their companies. Didn't matter what you did or what you made. You were a dotcom, baby. You were hip. You were new. Now, of course, having .com on the end of your name is about as hip as wearing Hammer pants. In a way it's almost embarrassing, like some weird vestigial appendage from that wacky dotcom craze.
Anyway, the thing is, Benioff is ripe for parody, and now someone has done it—and it just happens to be one of his competitors. SugarCRM, a tiny company that makes the same kind of software that Salesforce.com makes but charges less, decided to have some fun at Benioff's expense and maybe to drum up a little business at the same time. So they created a knock-off of Benioff's book and called it Behind the Smoke Screen: the untold story of how Salesforce.com still manages to sell 1999 technology 10 years later. Where the real book has a glowing blurb from Michael Dell, the parody features one from Kim Jong Il. Inside are six tiny chapters that poke fun of Salesforce.com for using proprietary code (SugarCRM is open source) and relying on stodgy, old Oracle database software (SugarCRM runs on MySQL, a newer database program).
SugarCRM printed up 1,000 copies and gave them out to people arriving at Salesforce.com's big annual conference in San Francisco this week—an event modestly called "Dreamforce 09: The Cloud Computing Event of the Year." SugarCRM also gave out flyers urging Salesforce.com customers to check out a special page on the SugarCRM Web site and consider switching to SugarCRM. "By 10 a.m. we had 1,500 hits on our Web site, and by noon we had four qualified sales opportunities," says Chris Harrick, vice president of marketing at SugarCRM. "If we close even one deal, our ROI on this guerrilla marketing campaign will be two- or three-fold."