Why has the Microsoft-Salesforce partnership soured?

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While the Microsoft-Salesforce partnership was touted with great fanfare just two years ago, the relationship has since soured.

Two years ago, the Microsoft-Salesforce partnership was announced with great optimism and fanfare. But today, it appears to be languishing.

Tony Prophet, then an executive at Microsoft, and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff gave a visual demonstration of that partnership on stage at Dreamforce 2014. The partnership enabled Windows and Windows Phone customers to access Salesforce, the company's CRM platform, as well as offering new interoperability with Office 365, Microsoft's suite of business productivity applications.

At the time, Benioff sounded optimistic about the bright future the partnership foretold. "There is a new Microsoft because the people are new -- at the top," he said.

In 2015, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella delivered a keynote at Salesforce's annual conference, which was also uncharacteristic for the historic rivals.

The newfound partnership had promise for both sides, said BI and SharePoint expert Scott Robinson. "This romance ... was an unprecedented thing," Robinson noted, "an entente, like in the U.S.-Soviet era -- definitely different from the [former CEO of Microsoft, Steve] Ballmer era."

This mutually beneficial relationship could have benefited not only Microsoft shops, through partnership with a solid, cloud-based CRM provider, but also Salesforce by giving its users integration possibilities with the Microsoft stack.

"An alliance with Salesforce -- which had moved faster and more nimbly and scooped up a user base more quickly than Microsoft ever did -- would have been good for Microsoft and for Salesforce because it [Salesforce] has been kind of a one-trick pony. This looked really good going in," Robinson recalled.

However, by November of this year, the relationship had clearly gone off the rails. Benioff chided Microsoft for creating mistrust. "These relationships are 100% based on trust, and what we found was this new Microsoft unfortunately turned out to be the old Microsoft," Benioff said in a recent story in The Australian.

Things may already have been amiss in May, when Salesforce chose Amazon Web Services, not Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud, as its preferred cloud provider.

Benioff said in The Australian story that a scheduled meeting with now head of cloud products, Scott Guthrie, is to blame for eroding the trust. Benioff said he was unaware of Guthrie's role, which created conflicts of interest. Benioff denied that Microsoft's purchase of LinkedIn in June soured the relationship, a $26.2 billion purchase that outbid Salesforce.

This broken relationship between the two technology giants needs to be repaired, Robinson said. In the cloud era, he added, companies cannot engage in tactics to freeze each other out, as users will be the ultimate losers.

"The basic paradigm of IT in the next decade, going forward, is cooperation and collaboration," Robinson said. "For these two industry giants to not be moving in that direction would be a great disadvantage to both of them and to users. We need open doors moving forward. We're going to have all these different clouds and they need to talk to each other."

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