I spent a couple of days attending Salesforce.com’s annual big event, Dreamforce in San Francisco. There were blue badges, t-shirts and signs all over downtown. By some estimates, the conference attracted almost 150,000 participants. Hillary Clinton was there, so were Bruno Mars, the Beach Boys and Neil Young. In the expo, there were monumental displays by Accenture and Deloitte. The media and analysts were in tow of special sign-toting assistants, parting the human seas, making sure they got to their special reserved seats for the keynote sessions. There were “exclusive” lounges sponsored by vendors like KnowledgeTree, InsideView and Marketo (thanks for the invite by the way). So with all this going on, what did I learn? Among other things, I learned why SFDC is so successful.
Salesforce.com claims to have virtually invented the Cloud. Their mantra of “No Software” has propelled them from being the upstart in an already mature CRM industry dominated by on-premise behemoths like Siebel, to themselves now being the 800 pound gorilla. What started out as sales force automation, expanded to marketing (especially with their recent purchase of ExactTarget), customer service and now analytics. But what is responsible for their success? Is there software really any better than anyone else? In my estimation, there are three reasons for Salesforce.com’s success; The Cloud, The AppExchange and their understanding of the value of Big Data when applied.
A lot has been written on the divide between CMOs and CIOs. I’d go one further and say there’s a significant divide between IT and almost every other part of the enterprise organization. Every group is dependent on IT. There’s not a facet of business that does not run using some form of technology. But whereas a decade ago, when IT was viewed as the source of innovation, today it’s primary role is risk mitigation. And on top of that, it’s expected to drive continual productivity, which in the eyes of the C-suite usually means cost savings.
This means that the CIO is rarely going out to sales and marketing, asking, “what can I do for you today, have you ever thought of trying this…?” And on the other side of the coin sales, service and marketing constantly feel stymied when they do want to try something new and innovative. IT usually comes back to them with something like, “It’s not on our roadmap, but we’ll add it to the list. Give us a set of requirements and budget and we’ll get back to you with a timeline. And by the way, we can probably only give you a tenth of what you’re asking for.”
The big promise of the “Cloud” isn’t operational efficiency, although it can deliver that. It isn’t cost savings, though it usually provides that as well. And it isn’t a better way for IT to manage technology, which it definitely is. No, the real promise of the “Cloud” is a means of bypassing IT altogether. It’s a way to make up for limited resources, a lack of specific skill sets and it’s the fast track to getting something launched. So its no wonder Salesforce.com has done so well touting its blue Cloud.
Salesforce prides itself on its partner network and its collective offering known as the AppExchange. In addition to its own developers and research teams, it has done an excellent job of creating a marketplace for smaller companies to design and build applications that extend what Salesforce.com does on its own. This partner echosystemhas become a breeding ground for innovation.. At last count, there are over 2,000 partner applications offered on the AppExchange (which might also account for the large numbers of blue conference badges swarming all over San Francisco this week). That has led to almost constant evolution of the software and innovation in almost every direction.
Now the reality is that Salesforce.com doesn’t have the best reputation as a partner. For example, at Dreamforce this week, they launched their new analytics package, which will compete directly with several of their best partners. But in any case, the end result is still innovation. People are constantly thinking of new ways to use technology to support sales, marketing and service. And that’s good for customers, partners and Salesforce.com.
The Value of Big Data
The final reason for Salesforce.com’s success isn’t paraded around as much, but I think it’s the most important one and something all of us as strategists, technologists and even consumers should care the most about.
Salesforce.com has found a way to make it so easy for users to enter customer/prospect data. This, along with being in the cloud and a low cost of entry, has made CRM accessible to, not only Fortune 500 companies, but small businesses alike. They have helped pioneer a shift from customers being “owned” by individual sales people or account managers to becoming part of the DNA of the entire company. The accessibility of this data has, in turn, led to many companies becoming more customer-centric. It is this connection of collecting customer data with the act of using that data to deliver more personalized and relevant customer experiences that to me is the greatest contribution they have made to the world of customer relationship management.
Too often, I see big brands conduct a lot of research, hire a herd of data scientists and produce reams of reports, agency briefs and position papers, most of which never is acted upon. Terrabytes of data is collected every day, yet very few companies leverage that data when they think about customer experience. They don’t leverage the data to understand what their customers are really interested in. They don’t use the data as triggers to serve up more relevant and contextual customer experiences and they don’t create close loop systems of measurement that really connect the data with the business outcomes they’re supposed to impact.
Does Salesforce.com have all the answers? No, I don’t think so. But what we can all learn from them is that if we use our data – be it in CRM, ERP, or other data warehouses, in innovative ways, you can create new and more engaging customer experiences. Basically, your brand…better. So thanks, Dreamforce, for sharing my thoughts on seeing customer experience as, not only technology, but as a new way to do business.