'Not much content' was the sentiment of some people who spoke with me after the main Dreamforce keynote.
In truth there was a spot near the end of the first half where Marc Benioff, CEO and co-founder of the company seemed to be parodying himself. It happened as he recited his oft-used phrase about the 1:1:1 program they’d initiated with one percent of equity, profits, and time being donated to the Salesforce charity. Of the company’s early days he said, “We didn’t have any equity or profits so it was easy.” For the first time the line didn’t get a big laugh which is a good indication it should be retired, but not the sentiment behind it.
Though he repeats the line often, no one should discount the good that Salesforce has done not simply because of the millions of dollars and hours of employee time they’ve donated but especially because of the example they’ve set for the rest of the world. Today there are more than 3,000 companies follow some version of the model and the world is a better place for it.
In a morning session for analysts dedicated to the company of the future, speakers discussed how employers need to better engage millennial employees who will make up the vast majority (75%) of workers by the middle of the next decade. These people are seeking ways to make a difference in a troubled world and see their places of employment as logical theaters of operation given the amount of time we all spend there. So the 1:1:1 model is spot on for achieving some of those ends.
But that innocuous slip might be a metaphor for what some people saw as a content-light keynote, although I think they’re wrong. It’s true - and I have written about it recently - that Salesforce didn’t do what it usually does at Dreamforce, which is to introduce lots of new products and a cloud or two. But that’s not the same as not having much to say. A lot was said about pivotal issues.
In the same speech Benioff covered several major customer stories including T-Mobile, Adidas and 21st Century Fox, all of which use the Salesforce platform to produce software increasingly remote from CRM’s original mandate but more important today. Their stories were remarkably similar. They were about using the Salesforce platform to know customers better. Examining customers’ wants and needs, who they are and what they like, vendors can deliver insightful recommendations in a customer’s moment of need.
All of the stories had elements of understanding specific things about hidden customer demand and leveraging technology such as Einstein analytics to provide offers, products, or simple assistance to help customers and in the process demonstrate the value of the relationship between a specific customer and a specific vendor. That’s far from content free.
Making all that happen requires more sophistication than simply adding another cloud, in fact it requires bringing clouds together in configurations not seen before. That looks to me like one of the reasons for the new branding, to demonstrate how Salesforce is enabling companies to adapt its platform to their specific businesses right down to the packaging or product dress—the unique logos and colors that define a brand.
All in all, the keynote fulfilled my expectation that the technology remains robust but that it is reaching its full articulation. As a metaphor, the first Conestoga wagons might have reached the Pacific but there’s still a lot of internal work to do to define the civilization.
As a vendor thinking about growth it’s natural to then think about other ways to deliver value in helping customers to learn and use a product most effectively. Note the word effectively and not efficiently. They might almost be interchangeable but they are not. Efficiency in this case simply means accomplishing some rote process but effectively has a hint of getting the right process done and business today is all about the right process.
Benioff announced his company’s financial guidance for the year ahead with revenue of $12.5 billion. Due to the nature of a subscription business, I’d say well over half of that revenue is already sitting in a bank or under contract waiting for the right time to be recognized so reaching the goal will be significant but not Herculean.
To reach that lofty goal, however, Salesforce will need help from its community of users and its ecosystem to move seats. To do that, some of the more prosaic announcements like the “my” prefix on the major components like myEinstein and myTrailhead will be essential. They represent a further effort in delivering whole product, and ways to get it into the hands of paying users. They are also the things beyond technology that bring significant value to users and that make a product line so attractive. More than this they are the things that make understanding customers so well even possible.
Sometime in the not too distant future this Dreamforce will be regarded as another Salesforce pivot. We’ve seen it before as the company went from emphasizing social networking to analytics, for instance. Today it is offering an increasing focus on people issues involving what customers and employees need to be successful and it makes a strong case that engaged employees drive development of happy customers.
The latest pivot appears to incorporate the founders’ philosophy of giving back in ways that also pay something forward. The extended focus on employees and customers has led to Salesforce being placed on numerous lists of best places to work and most innovative companies. Bringing those successes to its customers brings the company full circle but not to completion. It gives a new generation the ability to see the challenges again with fresh eyes.