Dreamforce 2018 - testing your liberal credentials

Denis Pombriant Profile picture for user denis_pombriant September 24, 2018
Dreamforce is threatened with protests related to a controversial contract with the US Government, but is it a flawed gambit? Denis Pombriant offers a personal view.

This Dreamforce may prove to be unlike all the others, but then again it could play to type. The new wrinkle will come from protests from non-technology companies.

In its early days Salesforce would picket its competition’s user group meetings by staging harmless pranks and other vendors got the idea of paying in-kind though their efforts often seemed heavy handed in comparison.

Salesforce staged pranks against Siebel Systems when it was an independent company. For instance, at one event for Siebel’s European customers held on the French Riviera, Salesforce had a small panel truck drive around Cannes with its trademark “No Software” sign.

Another time Salesforce picketed by serving Krispy Kreme donuts and coffee outside the venue in San Diego. The effort was so light-hearted that there is even video of Tom Siebel with a cup of coffee on the picket line.

But nothing like that has come over the transom from the competition. Famously, Microsoft once sponsored a poster campaign in the Moscone neighborhood outside Dreamforce with a photo purported to be of a CIO of a client company. The poster’s headline stated, “Don’t get Forced.” But the stunt backfired when Salesforce was able to hunt down the “CIO” and Marc Benioff invited him on stage to reveal that he was a paid model and not a CIO.

The turnabout this time could be more serious and depending on the efforts of its perpetrators, it could get ugly. A previously unheard-of group, FightForTheFuture.org has demanded that Salesforce break a contract with the US Border Patrol because of the government’s involvement in detaining immigrants and separating families.

The group is an amalgam of several smaller groups including Fight for the Future, Color Of Change, SumOfUs, Defending Rights and Dissent, Presente.org, RAICES, and Mijente, which says that it is planning “a high profile protest at Dreamforce" with organisers promising

If Salesforce continues to ignore the issue, these groups plan to escalate to high profile in person protests at Dreamforce and associated events. Advocates presence will be known through the week of Dreamforce.

And they’ve called on speakers such as Al Gore and Will.I.Am to drop out.

For its part, Salesforce and Benioff himself have explicitly stated that the firm is not working with CBP in anything to do with separating families at the border:


My take

There’s more but you get the idea. The issues here in my view are:

  • Salesforce has credible deniability from Benioff’s statement. Moreover, the work they do with the Federal Government is within the terms of service the company supports.
  • Salesforce is too big to cancel a contract for political reasons.
  • More importantly, Salesforce is, shall we say, too smart to take the bait. Its initiative for the Ethical and Humane Use of Technology will have more meat on its bones before long.
  • Perhaps most importantly, Salesforce.org, the philanthropic foundation, is poised to make several announcements of its own regarding its new Philanthropy Cloud. The new cloud was introduced last year and at Dreamforce 18 we can expect more functionality aimed at bringing together causes, funders and volunteers. That’s not the same as fixing the perceived problem of the border, but it’s directionally smart.

A protest like the one being threatened depends on gaining sympathy and enlisting people on site to support some kind of action against the target. But with Salesforce’s street cred in philanthropy, in my view  this movement stands to lose out to a well-positioned target.

In other words, it’s difficult to imagine any of this influencing the people headlining the event, many of whom have known Salesforce for years and who are sympathetic to its causes.

It appears that this effort is more of an attempt to garner free publicity for an admittedly good cause, but the organizers may have seriously miscalculated. Time will tell.

Image credit - Twitter

Disclosure - At time of writing Salesforce is a premier partner of diginomica and a consulting client of the author.

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