For anyone who attended Dreamforce back in November, much of CEO Marc Benioff’s keynote presentation would ring familiar – the world of smart devices, the need to focus down on the connected customer and yes, another appearance by Benioff’s intelligent toothbrush and a glimpse into his dental hygiene routine.
It will be interesting to see how the presentation evolves as it tours the world over the coming months. One comment made back at Dreamforce was that the Salesforce1 messaging in particular left a number of questions if not unanswered, then certainly not entirely communicated with total clarity.
What came across as interesting to me from viewing the New York keynote online and then reading through the various write ups of the media roundtable that followed it, was the need to tackle the privacy implications of the Internet of Customers head on.
Benioff himself declares:
“The Internet of Customers is that who was anonymous is known, and where there wasn’t perhaps the greatest level of transparency now there is trust.”
Questioned about just how much customers are ready to buy into that idea – does everyone embrace the notion of a nosey toothbrush as enthusiastically as Benioff does? – he makes a point he’s made before – that the pace of change is unstoppable:
“Through human evolution, technology is not good or bad, it is what we do with it…You have to decide, are you going to participate in this new world or are you going to unplug?”
While he will concede that:
“not all customers are ready for this”
he adds that more are for than are against it.
His role, he argues, and that of Salesforce.com is to encourage the skeptics and the laggards to embrace the opportunities that a world of smart devices can offer:
“My job is to give customers clarity as we see it from our point of view on how they should run their business… We’re telling them to use a customer platform, in that we’re selling this product and this is what we believe also. So, we’re trying to couple our belief with our product.
“The question is not are we going to make that change, [but] are we ready now to make that change. How are we providing customer service in a world where everything is connected? How are we going to do sales in a world where everything is connected?
“My advice is that we are in a customer-centric economy where the customer is much more in charge than ever before and if the customer gets out of control… you’ll end up with a corporate version of Arab Spring, and the person who’s going to be on their way out is not a king or a dictator but the CEO.”
But the concern for some remains that when the ‘dictator’ tumbles, there are new fears to be faced. Michael Hickins in the Wall Street Journal accused Benioff of dodging the privacy issues created by the Internet of Customers vision:
The paradox for CIOs, however, is that while they’re being given tools that promise to supercharge the effectiveness of sales and marketing, the responsibility for ensuring that those tools don’t lead to a massive loss of privacy, and the concomitant reputational hit their companies could suffer, is almost entirely in their hands. For if Mr. Benioff believes that protecting consumer privacy is a “shared responsibility,” he also says he is at somewhat of a loss about how to help his customers protect themselves from the negative consequences of the tools he’s built.
Mr. Benioff says Salesforce.com donates 1% of its profits, its employees’ time, and its technology, to charity. Apparently, little of its profits or employees’ time is devoted to helping create a bulwark against loss of privacy. “There is less privacy every day,” he agreed.
While Hickins makes a an interesting point about the new challenges for CIOs, it’s a somewhat unfair interpretation of Benioff’s pitch I feel.
But it does perhaps indicate that the messaging still needs a bit more polishing to pre-empt such critiques in a world post-Snowden where privacy sits alongside that other p-word – paranoia.
“enterprise software company with 100 percent of my functionality on my mobile device.”
Brandishing his own phone, the Salesforce.com CEO told the New York audience:
“You’ve got to be ready to change how you govern your company or your country, because these technologies have changed us. How I work every day and how I communicate and how I entertain myself, has all changed because of this device. With 5 billion of these smartphones coming, everything is going to change. So this is a great opportunity for business to change.”
Clearly it’s early days for Salesforce1, but two months after the formal launch the official claim is that it’s driven a 96% increase in mobile app active users and a 46% increase in active users of custom mobile apps.
Other juicy stats bandied around:
- More than 250 partners have committed to delivering new Salesforce1 apps on the Salesforce1 AppExchange.
- The number of partner apps built and optimized for the Salesforce1 Customer Platform has doubled since November.
- The platform offers 10 times more application programming interfaces than the original Salesforce.com platform.
These numbers will – or should – grow as the roadshow touches down around the world.
The Oracle detente
Finally, there was a post-keynote update from Benioff on the current state of detente between him and Oracle. What he told reporters was:
“It’s multidimensional. I went to work for Oracle in 1986 when I graduated from USC, and I had a phenomenal experience there, and I was mentored by Larry Ellison, which was very powerful in my 20s and 30s.
“I’m still very good friends with him — he just came over to my house for lunch, and I just went over to his house. We have a very good personal relationship.
“We just signed a ten-year deal with Oracle and that cements that it’ll be part of our infrastructure — and it’s working really well for us. It’s very reliable, and I recommend the Oracle database to customers.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of choices today for data management that did not exist when we started our company 15 years ago, and a lot of companies creating their next-generation infrastructures may or may not be using Oracle.”
But there are still a few little pot shots to be taken in the direction of Redwood Shores, this time relating to Salesforce.com’s hiring of Keith Block, Oracle’s former VP of Oracle’s North America sales and consulting organization, who was fired after accusing Oracle President Mark Hurd of generating “lots of noise, not much results”.
As Benioff tells it, this was Oracle playing into his hands:
“I recruited Block for ten years and couldn’t get him till Mark Hurd relieved him of his duties. That’s the biggest mistake Hurd has ever made in my opinion.”
The first stop on a long global journey to evangelise the Internet of Customers vision didn’t offer up much that was new to the long-term Salesforce.com watcher, although clearly we’re not the primary audience the pitch was aimed at.
But there are already signs of refinement of the messaging from November as the emphasis continues to shift away from the social business focus of recent years.
As Alan Lepofsky over at Constellation Research pointed out:
Salesforce.com used to put a lot of emphasis on social business and specifically the Chatter brand, however now both terms have faded from Salesforce.com’s marketing. Case in point, out of 16 sessions on today’s agenda the word Chatter only appears once.
Rather than talk specifically about collaboration or “being social”, Salesforce is now focusing on their core business solutions of Sales, Marketing, Customer Service and HR. Chatter, and the collaboration features it provides, are integrated directly into those solutions. Those solutions, along with custom applications sit on top of Salesforce1, Salesforce.com’s platform as a service infrastructure.
With some critics still dissing Salesforce1 as a rebranding exercise more than anything else, it will be interesting to see how Salesforce.com counters such allegations, as well as tackles the wider privacy questions that frankly would have arisen from the mainstream media in a ‘talking toothbrush’ world even without the NSA bother to muddy the waters.
If you’re the Customer Company, then wheeling out the customers is the obvious way to do that and it’s not been something Salesforce.com has been slow to do in the past. That’s where the validation of Salesforce1 will come from. I’ll watch and listen with interest to hear those testimonials over the coming months.
Disclosure: at time of writing, Oracle and Salesforce.com are premium partners of diginomica.