Zendesk pushes into Salesforce's turf with new sales tool 

Key Points
  • Zendesk is announcing a new CRM tool, Sell, and a development platform, Sunshine.
  • Zendesk acquired Base parent FutureSimple in September.
  • Base has more than 5,000 customers.
Zendesk co-founder and CEO Mikkel Svane
Eric Piermont | AFP | Getty Images

Cloud customer-support software company Zendesk on Tuesday announced a new tool for salespeople and a compatible system for developing custom applications.

The moves could help Zendesk compete for important deals against archrival Salesforce, as well as Microsoft.

Salesforce tried and failed to buy Zendesk around 2011, CNBC previously reported. It bought another customer service company, Assistly, and in 2012 rebranded it to Desk.com, an oblique reference to Zendesk.

Now Zendesk is countering by introducing technology for sales, which is the core of Salesforce's business.

"We know from a lot of our customers that whatever they do in customer service, often a big part of that is actually related to their sales processes," Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane told CNBC in an interview.

The Zendesk Sell tool will cost $19 per user per month and could help Zendesk to draw more revenue from its existing customers. It's based on a product called Base, which Zendesk gained in the acquisition of FutureSimple in September.

With the development platform, called Sunshine, developers can build programs that work with a variety of data. It becomes easier to track customer-service conversations, purchases and shipments to specific customers from one place, for example.

Sunshine will be available free of charge as part of Zendesk's enterprise tier of service. It was built in-house, Svane said.

The new development platform runs atop Amazon's public cloud. The company isn't insisting that developers learn new languages for building applications with the Zendesk Sunshine system. "We are leveraging the best of breed — what most of the world's developers today are using to build applications," Svane said.

Base has more than 5,000 customers. Zendesk announced a partnership with the company last year.

"The majority of the Zendesk base is not using Salesforce.com today and instead are on a variety of disparate sales tools, suggesting ample cross-selling opportunities," Piper Jaffray analysts Alex Zukin, Scott Wilson and Taylor Reiners wrote in a note distributed to clients immediately following the acquisition announcement in September.

Zendesk went public in 2014. Today it generates about $550 million in annual revenue. Its stock is up 58 percent since the beginning of 2018, making the company worth about $5.7 billion.

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Zendesk CEO: Companies have a lot more choice for enterprise software
Zendesk CEO: Companies have a lot more choice for enterprise software