Block, Keith Block - licensed to sell Salesforce (1/2)

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan May 21, 2015
The Salesforce World Tour hit London this week. diginomica sat down with President Keith Block to chew the fat, but not before he'd done a tuxedo-clad opening keynote.

Salesforce World Tour
Business as usual

23 months - can’t believe it!

It’s a realization of how long he’s been in situ as President at Salesforce that suddenly strikes Keith Block during a sit-down session with diginomica yesterday.

Block was in London for the UK leg of the Salesforce world tour. When we meet up, he’s dressed smartly in corporate suit and tie mode, a change of guise from his opening keynote outfit as 'Block, Keith Block', in a video introduction that involved elements from the London Olympics opening ceremony where David Beckham, carrying the Olympic flame, sailed up to the Docklands in a speed boat a la James Bond.

For Beckham, read Block, as he toured London landmarks in a Salesforce black cab - it’s to be hoped he didn’t discuss Uber-ization, a favorite theme, with his London cabbie! - before changing into a James Bond tuxedo in a red phone box (where did they find that?) and racing up the Thames in his own speed boat to join an electric string quartet on stage amid rockets of dry ice.

So far, so Salesforce.

In fact, for anyone who’s been to Dreamforce and had Huey Lewis and the News blasting out The Power of Love at 9am through the fog of last nite's party, it might even be considered a somewhat low key entrance by Salesforce standards!

For my part, I was interested to see what this London event would be like with Block center-stage.

Given that Dreamforce is presided over by CEO Marc Benioff in his role as a cloud-enabled P. T. Barnum, it must be a difficult job to have to fill  those cloud-adorned customized Christian Loubotin sneakers when Benioff’s not around to do the keynote. (He’s doing France and Germany this year, but not the UK for some reason.)

In the event, the keynote followed the tried-and-tested Dreamforce format, with Block delivering in confident mode, wandering among the audience in the way that Benioff pioneered back in the day, customer testimonials, corporate spokespeople doing demos and a bit of philanthropic goodwill thrown into the mix.

As someone who watches Salesforce very closely, there was little that leapt out as being actually new, other than an update to Community Cloud, but as ever on these occasions, I’m forced to remind myself that I am not the buy-side audience at which these keynotes are pitched.

The UK audience may have lacked the whooping and hollering spontaneous applause of its US-dominated counterpart at the main Dreamforce gig in San Francisco - that British reserve in action - but speaking later to some of those in attendance, there was, I found,  a generally high level of appreciation. (And some not-inconsiderable degree of curiosity as to how Dreamforce compared.)

Salesforce economics

One element that did jump out at me was the inclusion of a snippet from a forthcoming IDC report on the impact of what’s being called the Salesforce Economy.

According to the research firm, some 50,000 new jobs in the UK wiil be created from the Salesforce ecosystem in the next three years with a £5.6 billion impact on GDP. IDC also claims that Salesforce partners benefit from £2 to £3 of revenue for every £1 a customer spends on the company's technologies.

Frustratingly, the full IDC report is not available for public consumption until Dreamforce in September, although I’d imagine the forthcoming French and German World Tour events will see a couple more snippets emerge.

But, playing to the home crowd, Block told his London audience:

We are absolutely committed to the UK and Ireland and international growth is a huge part of our strategy. The UK is the hub of EMEA, the engine of growth for us.

With the Salesforce Economy, we all contribute collectively. It's not just about Salesforce, but about what we're all doing together – you, our customers, our partners, our employees.

We will create 50,000 new jobs because of your commitment and sponsorship, your trust, your collaboration.

We feel we've absolutely cemented and bonded our relationship here in UK. Last October, we opened a UK data center because we listened to you, we responded to your needs.

First principles

When diginomica sat down with Block a couple of hours later, I asked him about the one aspect of the opening keynote that never seems to change over the years - the timeline journey from mainframes through client server to the so-called perfect storm of cloud, social, mobile and data science.

Keith Block
Block, Keith Block

Is this ‘first principles’ element really still necessary after 16 years in the market and with cloud computing now in the mainstream of IT, I wondered? Block believes it is:

I think it varies by audience and it varies by geography. It’s an important message because it does give the historical compare and contrast from where we’ve come from and the impact of these various changes in computing.

What sort of level of disruption and innovation does it drive in the business world When you think about the first mainframes, how much impact did that have in changing business models? It was more computational and back office. Client-server a bit more impact.

But you get into this perfect storm of four technologies, it’s pretty eye opening. So I think it’s good to paint that picture of we came from here and we’ve gone here. But it does depend on the level of awareness you have in the audience.

The message also varies according to whether you sit in the IT or the business camp, he added:

In the audience, we have IT representation, we have business representation, both consumers of our technology. They have different pressure points. I think every IT person in that room could appreciate what I was talking about, about how there’s a technology gap and it creates friction and puts pressure on IT.

And every business person with demands to be customer-facing and who undertstands the needs of driving a business, they get the issue of having been dealing with these legacy systems for a long time.  They say, ‘I can’t be agile, I can’t be nimble, I can’t introduce new product to market'.

Which is where, in theory,  the Salesforce perfect storm starts to blow most fiercely.

In part two of this article, Block outlines the enterprise pitch to escape the legacy past and stands firm on some bold SAP boasts.

Disclosure - at time of writing, Salesforce is a premier partner of diginomica.