Benioff on giving back, women and the next 5 years of Salesforce

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright October 17, 2014
Summary:
Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff sounds off at Dreamforce on giving back, women in tech and what to expect in the next five years

marc benioff df14
Marc Benioff

The media didn't get to put questions to Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff at this year's annual Dreamforce conference. But customers and partners still got their chance yesterday in the traditional end-of-conference question-and-answer session with Benioff and his co-founder Parker Harris.

The freeform session gave Benioff a chance to sound off with characteristic passion on a selection of topics, including giving back, women in tech and the next five years of Salesforce.com.

Responding to a question asking what to expect at future Dreamforce events, Benioff's answer revealed ingredients of the company's five-year plan mapped out at an off-site meeting held during the summer.

We actually have a five-year plan out to 2020 where we want to take the company. A lot of what you saw at the conference is connected into that plan.

He noted the change to the company's strapline to emphasise the combination of sales, service, marketing, community, analytics and apps to create what the company calls a customer success platform, but added that there was more to do to fill out the messaging.

That bundled together is our vision for the next five years. We're really trying very hard to build that customer success platform.

We are not fully satiated with the quality of our delivery to you of that concept.

One ingredient that will be more visible in future years will be machine intelligence:

When you look at our technology, we built sales software that doesn't really sell, service software that doesn't deliver service, marketing software that doesn't market, an incredible new intelligent and analytic cloud that is not intelligent. That is one of the reasons we acquired that really cool company called RelateIQ. It's definitely a huge vision for the future of Salesforce. A lot of the things its two founders are thinking about are the things we want to do more with.

Benioff also highlighted the ExactTarget journeybuilder tool, which he said "needs to be integrated in all of our products." He predicted more advances on mobility, especially with the development of next-generation wearable devices. Industry verticals will also be important, he said, along with infrastructure that adapts to the needs of individual countries.

A lot of those countries now want their own cloud also ... They need it because this is the maturation of cloud computing. They want to have their own cloud and their own datacenter. Of course it's going to interoperate with everything else we're doing, but if you want your data in that datacenter in Germany, you should have it.

Women in tech and giving back

An earlier questioner referenced the discomfort of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella over his comments last week about women in tech. She asked what Salesforce.com's position was. Benioff spoke of wanting to "surge" more women through the company and through the industry but admitted more could be done.

We're just not doing enough and we have to do more. For whatever reason in our industry, we have to be more proactive with the issue.

I'm glad that the industry went through that over the last week because it amplified the issue. I think Nadella handled it really well, the way they went transparent straight away ...

I am glad it happened because it helped us remember this is something where we have to keep our eye on the ball.

Another questioner asked about how to get more Silicon Valley companies to adopt the 1-1-1 model of setting aside one percent of each of the company's equity, employee time and profits to fund philanthropic projects. Benioff took the opportunity to have a dig at Oracle for not giving back in the same way, while emphasizing how much the 1-1-1 model is "a part of our culture."

Some conferences, I'm not going to name names, maybe they would bring a yacht and put it in front of the Moscone center. That's not our message.

Dreamforce 2014 was the first time we put it out a little bit more further. It was a little bit more front and center and I think that's appropriate.

Some wealthy CEOs, he said, chose not to promote philanthropy because they felt that they were already contributing to society through their business achievements.

In their minds that's giving back. But it's actually somewhat connected to the comment about women. We have to be a little bit more integrated in our company into society.

Yes, you can build a great company, you can build a great product, but don't stop there.

Milton Friedman might have said, focus on your business, focus on making profits. That might have been fine in the twentieth century, but it's not in the twenty-first century.

Not entirely a one-man show

Although Benioff did most of the talking, it wasn't entirely a one-man show. As well as sharing the stage with his co-founder, he made a point of bringing in other executives to answer several questions. He also invited longstanding Salesforce user and community stalwart @crmsalesgem to tell her story, one of the most heartfelt and inspiring contributions of the entire session.

Continuing the theme of bringing company president Keith Block to the fore, Benioff invited him to answer the very first question, which related to industry verticals. A few moments later, Block was invited to answer another question on how to sell others within an organisation on using Salesforce. "I'm really enjoying all these softball questions you're giving me," said Block.

The next question was the one on women in tech. "Well Keith would you like to respond to that one?" said Benioff with flawless comic timing, before going on to answer the question himself.

The gloss started to come off the joke when Benioff then passed over the next question to Block. "Shall I just come up there?" joked Block, with a hint of petulance, before answering. From then on, Benioff brought in other lieutenants to add color to his answers.

My take

  1. While Benioff is still very much in charge, Block is being pushed forward as another voice for the company, working alongside a strong bench of talent.
  2. Dreamforce was much more about philanthropy this year. In previous years it's always felt like something added on. It's difficult to put your finger on why, but this year somehow it felt more like just a natural part of the whole event.
  3. The position of women in tech is now firmly on the agenda. But like many others, Salesforce.com will be judged on its performance, which so far is wanting (same goes for diginomica, for that matter).
  4. Salesforce.com is still thinking hard about the future and there's clearly a lot more to come down the road, in areas such as machine intelligence, mobility and regional and industry differentiation.
  5. I agree with Narinder Singh's verdict that platform is back. More on that when I've had a chance to gather my thoughts after a grueling 16-hour, fault-delayed direct flight from San Francisco back to London.

Disclosure: Salesforce.com is a diginomica premier partner, a recent consulting client of the writer and paid my travel expenses to attend Dreamforce.