Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff Mike Windle/Getty Images for Weinstein Carnegie Philanthropic Group
Given what we know about how hard Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff tried to buy LinkedIn , we wouldn't be surprised to learn that he was doing the same in pursuit of Twitter. The Wall Street Journal just reported that Salesforce is currently the top bidder for Twitter.
Benioff wanted LinkedIn for the same reason Microsoft wanted it: the data. But not just any old data. This is data about who works where that salespeople can use to find prospects and do cold calling.
He didn't get LinkedIn or that data. And the only second choice that's even close to that kind of thing is Twitter.
Twitter's data is different, of course. While lots of people use their titles and note their companies in their Twitter profile, many do not. And many don't use Twitter for work at all.
But Twitter is the all-important source of data for many areas that Salesforce plays in: sales, marketing and customer support. More importantly, it's a source of data that Salesforce can use for its big goal of adding artificial intelligence to all of its products, a new service it calls Einstein.
Einstein will attempt to help Salesforce customers predict stuff, everything from finding and predicting which sales leads are most likely to become customers, to identifying how to solve customer support problems faster.
By analyzing tweets, companies can figure out how customers feel about their products, find customers who are having issues and complaining on Twitter, and find people talking about buying various products.
It's not LinkedIn, but it's just as good for Salesforce's needs.
What's more, if Salesforce loses access to both LinkedIn and Twitter, that could really stymie the company's ambitions. It's already worried that Microsoft, which has products that directly compete with Salesforce, will cut it off from LinkedIn.
There's no reason to believe that some of the other companies wanting to buy Twitter, like Disney, would cut others off from using Twitter's data. They probably wouldn't. Selling Twitter's data to other companies could be a huge business for them.
But if Microsoft nabs it? Or Google does? That's a lot more dangerous for Salesforce.
On the other hand, as much as Benioff wants Twitter, he may not be able to put together an attractive enough deal. Twitter's current market cap is over $17 billion. Any bidding war would require a premium on that. Salesforce has a bit over $1 billion in cash, which means any deal it puts together would likely be some combination of cash and stock, with a good chunk of the deal financed.
And that could make Twitter choose to go with a bidder offering better terms (especially a cash offer) just like LinkedIn did.