Marc Benioff's 2023 to-do list after his co-CEO's shocking departure




Marc Benioff Salesforce
Marc Benioff Salesforce  
  • Salesforce is seeing it's co-CEO Bret Taylor depart and facing slowing revenue growth.

  • The combo has some investors spooked about the CRM giant's future, especially going into Q4.

  • Here's what they are worried about and what analysts think Salesforce needs to do.

With co-CEO Bret Taylor's sudden departure and a waning growth rate, investors are worried about the future of Salesforce, the $147 billion CRM giant.

Salesforce's stock is down up to 10% today. While earnings beat analyst expectations, it also revealed the slowest revenue growth in the past two years, at 14%. It may not be surprising given the economic environment, but investors are worried about Salesforce's ability to meet its growth targets for the year.

Additionally, as Insider reported, Taylor's departure from the company blindsided many employees and surprised many top leaders - including cofounder and now sole CEO Marc Benioff. Taylor is set to leave at the end of January, the end of Salesforce's fiscal year.

Taylor was seen as Benioff's likely successor and the next chief executive of the company, and his appointment to the co-CEO role seemed to cement that. His departure throws those succession plans into flux.

Taylor leaving adds "further uncertainty during times when stability is critical," analysts at Bernstein wrote in a note to clients. "Not a good mix and investors must be wondering if the wheels are falling off."

Here are the things Benioff will need to tackle in 2023:

Figure out who will lead Salesforce

With Taylor out as Benieoff's successor, there are open questions about who Benioff will bring into the executive team now.

Two other execs are leaving as well. Gavin Patterson, Salesforce's chief strategy officer and previously chief revenue officer, is set to depart at the end of January. And on Thursday, Mark Nelson, CEO of the Salesforce-owned company Tableau, announced he would be leaving Salesforce as well. While experienced execs remain on Benioff's leadership team, like CFO Amy Weaver and COO Brian Millham, analysts think Benioff needs to recruit new leadership.

"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. Now could be a good time to recruit talent from a smaller rival or startup, Jaluria said. The relative stability of Salesforce during an uncertain economic environment would be a major draw.

Figure out the future of Slack

Taylor's departure also raises questions about Slack, since Taylor spearheaded the $27.7 billion acquisition in 2020. He was also instrumental in integrating Slack into the rest of Salesforce's platform and the overall strategy and vision behind the acquisition.

Many analysts said they have questions about what happens to Slack and that product strategy upon Taylor leaving.

"We believe it was Bret's vision that drove the acquisition of Slack and many of the recent product direction changes. Without Bret, we wonder if the focus may change," Bernstein analysts wrote.

Figure out how to jump-start revenue and land big customers

While it wasn't a huge shock given the overall economic environment, Salesforce's slowed revenue growth is worrying. For one, Salesforce and other software vendors have always been seen as recession-proof.

"The numbers on Salesforce don't say a lot of great things," RBC's Jaluria said. "It does show that they're definitely facing some macro headwinds and potentially some sales execution challenges. Especially if you look at their guidance for Q4, definitely weaker than I think people would've expected."

Secondly, as part of its larger platform strategy, Salesforce has been going after larger customers and looking to land deals for multiple Salesforce products versus just one or two. But that's more difficult to do when there's more "intense customer scrutiny on every investment dollar," RBC analysts said in a note to clients, referencing what Salesforce management told analysts on a call after earnings.

Salesforce's numbers are also noteworthy because other software vendors like Workday aren't seeing these same challenges, Bernstein analysts note.

"Some of this is likely the economic slowdown/recession," they wrote. "But that we believe does not tell the complete story because we are not seeing similar issues across software."

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