Perhaps it was fitting coming across this Seeking Alpha article after reading about Salesforce's slowdown in hiring after spending billions in acquisitions in 2016.
As Salesforce paid out billions in stock and cash for deals that not only seemed questionable from a financial position, but also from a product perspective - I had many questions. Why would such an "innovative" company overpay for non-revenue generating companies - when they could easily build these tools, or find much less expensive versions of the functionality.
For example, Salesforce paid over a $billion for RelateIQ and Quip combined - whereas SugarCRM paid a fraction of a fraction of the cost for both Stitch and Contastic which offers even broader functionality, and has desktop publishing integrations tools with free Google apps, as well as Office plugins, since everyone already has office. Shouldn't "innovative" companies be innovative, and nimble about how they acquire new technologies, regardless of their size?
Salesforce's M&A problem stems from two sources, in my opinion. One, the incestuous cycle of hot shot CEOs funding then acquiring companies in which they have large stakes (see quote below).
Second, Salesforce continues to acquire "at the edges" - pulling focus away from core CRM by design. That;s because its core product and delivery architecture of its "cash cow" is out-dated, underwhelming to users, and no amount of Lightning re-skinning tools can hide that fact.
Is Salesforce on an inevitable decline, or at least hitting a plateau? I hope not. For all the negatives, Salesforce's success is still important to the industry. I just hope it can get its acquisition strategy in better alignment with a true focus on CRM, though all signs point to the opposite.
Since 2011, CRM has acquired 11 companies, spending over $7 billion. Over that same time, EBIT margins have declined from 6% in 2011 to 2% in 2016, and gross margins have declined from 80% in 2011 to 75% in 2016. Return on capital (ROC) has also declined from 6% in 2011 to 1% in 2016. Taken as a whole, all of these metrics suggest that Salesforce's acquisition efforts have not been beneficial for its fundamentals and that management is not great at allocating its capital for the benefit of shareholders.