Microsoft is an obvious candidate to buy Salesforce, analysts say. The company has the cash and the two companies’ strategies line up. But talk of Microsoft’s potential interest in a deal might be a tactic designed to spur a bidding war, one analyst says.

Share story

As speculation mounts that software maker Salesforce.com might be the object of an acquisition, the name Microsoft pops up.

Bloomberg news, citing sources familiar with the situation, reported last week that Salesforce had hired bankers to help field offers. On Tuesday, Bloomberg said Microsoft was discussing internally its own bid for the San Francisco company.

Salesforce is working with two investment banks to determine a response to approaches, two people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. Microsoft isn’t in talks with Salesforce, and no deal is imminent, the people said.

Still, Microsoft has long expected it might compete for Salesforce if it was for sale, one of the people said. Another company was in talks with Salesforce as recently as April, spurring Microsoft’s actions, two people said.

Salesforce is the biggest player in the market for software to help salespeople and marketers track and improve interactions with customers. So-called customer relationship management (CRM) tools are part of a $24 billion-a-year market, researcher Gartner estimates.

Microsoft is an obvious candidate to buy Salesforce, analysts say. The company has the cash, and then some.

Microsoft had $95 billion in the bank at the end of March. The stock market values Salesforce at about $45 billion. Microsoft is a major competitor to Salesforce in the CRM software arena with its Dynamics line acquired in a 2000 deal to buy Great Plains Software.

The strategies also line up. Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella has championed a push to revamp the company’s software for a world in which most people access programs on the Web, rather than via programs installed on nearby hard drives or servers. That’s always been the business model of Salesforce, a company founded in 1999 by Oracle veteran Marc Benioff.

Nadella and Benioff last year signed off on a deal making it easier for the two companies’ programs to work together, a break from years in which leaders of the companies occasionally sparred publicly.

Oracle, the Redwood City, Calif., maker of database software and other business tools, is among other companies analysts indicate is likely taking a look at Salesforce.

“If there’s going to be an acquisition of Salesforce, there are high odds it’s Oracle or Microsoft,” said Daniel Ives, a software analyst with FBR Capital Markets. “Let’s say Oracle approached [Salesforce]. Nadella cannot sit by and not do something.”

Representatives of Microsoft, Salesforce and Oracle declined to comment.

As with most corporate deal making news, there’s no guarantee a deal will get done, or even that Salesforce is actually in serious discussions. It’s also common for companies like Microsoft to evaluate a range of potential deals, even before companies are said to be on the block.

The public unveiling of deal chatter can stir the pot, spurring interested rivals to cook up a bid. Such leaks can be explicitly designed to push the price of a deal higher or lower, or to force the hand of management teams, analysts say.

Salesforce’s stock price is up 7.3 percent in the past five days, as investors try to account for the chance that the company will be bought for a higher price.

Rick Sherlund, a Nomura Securities analyst who’s followed Microsoft for decades, said talk of Microsoft’s discussions might be a tactic to spur a bidding war and draw a higher offer from other potential buyers.

The integration of Salesforce into another organization could prove difficult, analysts say. The company, which has 16,000 employees and touts a more relaxed but customer-obsessed attitude than some of its buttoned-up rivals, is the anchor tenant of a San Francisco skyscraper, to be the tallest west of the Mississippi River when completed. Salesforce’s Dreamforce customer conference each year draws tens of thousands.

“The challenges probably outweigh the pros” for a Microsoft-Salesforce deal, UBS analyst Brent Thill said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “We’ve never seen a deal this large, ever [in software]. I think it’s going to be culturally challenging. I think the integration would be difficult.”