Marc Benioff, the founder and chief executive of Salesforce.com, showed up onstage on Wednesday afternoon at his biggest customer event of the year to talk up his business technology company’s products and strategy.
But what was arguably the higher-stakes meeting was held later that day. At the plush St. Regis San Francisco Hotel, Mr. Benioff presided over a gathering with Wall Street analysts and investors. His aim: to assuage their concerns about his plan to buy Twitter, the struggling social media company.
“We look at a lot of things,” Mr. Benioff told the room, without directly mentioning Twitter. “The number we acquire is very few.” Still, he said, “it gives us ideas” to look at companies.
For weeks, the technology world has been buzzing about Mr. Benioff’s intentions, after it emerged last month that Salesforce was interested in bidding for Twitter.
At first glance, the two companies could not be more different. Twitter is where celebrities, politicians and countless other individuals broadcast their thoughts in 140-character messages. Salesforce, on the other hand, makes online software for salesmen and marketers.
Yet Twitter would fit into a vision that Mr. Benioff has had for Salesforce, which he founded in 1999, as a company that can help enterprises with all of their customer needs. Twitter, in Mr. Benioff’s eyes, is already a powerful customer service tool that airlines, restaurants, banks and many other companies use to field consumer complaints and requests. Companies can also use what people post on Twitter to glean consumer habits.
“This is a huge messaging and communications service,” Mr. Benioff, who turned 52 last month, said on Wednesday in an interview on his way to the St. Regis. He added, “I use mergers and acquisition activity to think about the market.”
Mr. Benioff faces a battery of challenges in buying Twitter. Skeptical investors have pushed Salesforce stock down by more than 8 percent since news broke that the company was considering bidding for the social media company. Any deal would likely be Salesforce’s largest, with Twitter valued at about $17 billion. Salesforce, which is unprofitable, has a market capitalization of about $46 billion.
“This would be a disaster,” said Joel Fishbein, managing director at BTIG, a financial services firm. “Benioff is a visionary, but this could blow up. Engineers could leave Salesforce, and it would send the stock down 30 or 40 percent.”
Mr. Benioff acknowledged that Salesforce would face difficulties in taking over Twitter, given that Salesforce sells software to businesses while Twitter is a consumer technology company. The chief executive, who is an activist in areas like gay rights and gender equality, also said he was troubled by the amount of hate speech on Twitter.
Eventually, though, Mr. Benioff could not resist a more direct reference to Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey. “I wish Jack well with his company,” Mr. Benioff said at the end of the investor meeting.