DreamTX - this year’s Bluewolf State of Salesforce report tackles COVID-19 complexity

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez December 16, 2020 Audio version
The annual State of Salesforce report provides a helpful snapshot into how Salesforce customers are using the platform - identifying both the challenges and the opportunities.

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(Image sourced via Salesforce )

Salesforce users are shifting their priorities as a result of COVID-19 and there are two groups emerging - those that are proving resilient because of deep investments in the Salesforce platform, and those that still have work to do. Buyers are also broadening their focusing from customer experience to employee experience, whilst still struggling to get to grips with the benefits of Salesforce AI tools. 

These are just some of the findings within Bluewolf's latest State of Salesforce report, which can very much be described as ‘the COVID-19 edition'. The annual report, which is now in its ninth year and is based on +107,000 data points collected from +1,300 global respondents and +15 hours of interviews with global enterprise executives. 

As part of Salesforce's virtual DreamTX event this week, three IBM executives working within the Salesforce community (Bluewolf is owned by IBM) sat down to discuss the findings and detail some of the key things that customers should be thinking about as we approach 2021. 

It's becoming increasingly obvious that the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted business priorities significantly and will change the shape of work forever. What that looks like in the long term is anyone's guess, but that doesn't mean that enterprises can stand still to find out. They need to be thinking about how to remain agile in an increasingly uncertain environment, whilst putting employee and customer experience at the top of the agenda.

The latest State of Salesforce report opens by saying: 

The pandemic became an unexpected litmus test, exposing the maturity of every organization's digital transformation-or, in many cases, the lack thereof. Thankfully, Salesforce customers had an established advantage from the start, critical customer data already accessible in the cloud, and flexible business processes ready to handle the tectonic shift to remote work.

This cloud advantage has proven to be a powerful competitive edge. For those that are making the shift, it's clear that there's no going back. The only way forward is to accelerate innovation and build smarter, safer, more resilient businesses- the kind of businesses powered by Salesforce.

Building trust with business and IT 

The first learning from the report is that the top priority for Salesforce customers this year has shifted from building a 360-degree view of the customer by integrating data, to building trust with the customer in order to build loyalty and retention. With this in mind, Bluewolf found that due to COVID-19's impact, 68% of companies say their top Salesforce priority is improving IT collaboration with the business to build customer loyalty and trust. 

In short, customers believe that if they don't trust a company's ability to serve their evolving digital, physical, mental and emotional needs, they'll leave. And the key to avoiding this scenario is focusing on the age-old challenge of aligning business and IT. The report states: 

COVID-19 has reprioritized every organization's Salesforce roadmap. Companies who were slower to embrace digital transformation before the pandemic are exposed and vulnerable to continued disruption, but even the most advanced companies have discovered new digital-first needs and opportunities. To get ahead, IT and business leadership need to be in lockstep, balancing customer experience and business value creation with data privacy and security.

Corinne Sklar, Chief Marketing Officer at IBM iX, speaking at DreamTX this week, said that this is becoming increasingly important for Salesforce customers that have expanded their footprint in recent years - adopting multiple Salesforce clouds - and as such have more complexity to think about. She said: 

As Salesforce becomes more complex, the business needs the partnership with IT to be able to scale and drive a deeper sense of trust for their clients, but also their employees. So I do think we're going to see an increased focus around trusted platforms, whether it's from data privacy issues or even just from the employees themselves. You know I think it's really great this year in the State of Salesforce report to really see the shift happening around that collaboration and the need for the business and IT (to work together).

AI gets a boost

Last year the State of Salesforce report highlighted the continuing promise of AI and how organisations were moving from pilot projects to fully scaled solutions. However, as physical contact with customers and remote working becoming the norm, digital tools and use of data became far more pertinent in 2020. As such, AI has been brought to the fore and Salesforce customers are seeing how AI tools can help them grow and gain competitive advantage, according to Bluewolf. 

Last year just 19% of respondents were using enterprise AI. This year, the number has risen to 48% of respondents. However, Sklar noted that this is still far from the full potential, given the scale of investments that Salesforce has made in this area - including acquisitions like Datorama, Krux, and Tableau.

Matt Francis, Partner at IBM, noted that Salesforce still has some work to do on the education process with buyers. He explained: 

I think there's a couple of different key areas. I think one is the confusion, there's a lot of different products within Salesforce, there's a lot of name changing - you've got Einstein, Einstein Analytics, Tableau - there's different capabilities. I think it goes back to the data quality issue as well and making sure you have the right data in order to use AI. 

And then, what licences you have, and what AI capabilities are built into Salesforce that you may not be leveraging today. So I think understanding what's there, leveraging what you have and then just looking at the different options and experimenting - let's bring it to life. Let's use it, then let's monitor results and have transparency around what we're doing.

However, Silke Meixner, Digital Strategy Partner at IBM, commented that COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of the use of AI for many buyers in 2020, particularly for sectors such as retail. She said: 

I think it is important to say that it has been a very, very challenging time, but also one of great opportunity. Many of our companies and clients had to pivot during the pandemic and the requirements have shifted significantly, so using AI and cognitive enablement is something that has become more important than ever. To put out and really make strides and investments in AI, which immediately produce results. Examples that come to mind are when the lockdowns required retailers that are traditionally relying on foot traffic to close to shops entirely, or where 80 to 90% of retail outlets were non usable. 

So pivoting and using AI and cognitive abilities to, for example, even out demand and make sure that supply chain management is AI-enabled. To pivot and make decisions to quickly utilise and optimise those retail outlets that were still available was key to survival, quite frankly,

Raising the profile of employee experience

Unsurprisingly, given the mass shift to remote working during the pandemic, businesses are recognising the importance of employee experience as much as they are recognising customer experience, in the drive for better results, revenue and efficiency. The State of Salesforce report last year highlighted the need for mobile applications to work productively outside of the office - this is now clearly not going far enough. The report notes: 

Employees need more than mobile capabilities as COVID-19 has shifted the majority of the global workforce from the corporate office to the remote office. This switch has put pressure on every business function, but especially digital marketing, commerce, and customer service. Essential workers and field service employees also require unique support, protection, and data to safely do their jobs. The best companies use Salesforce to help protect and support employees and their business, advancing further along the path of stabilization, growth, and resilience.

Francis said that the topic of employee experience is now a top level priority for buyers, as enabling employees to get work done remotely - and feel good about that work - is essential to business success. He said: 

In my career we've always focused on the customer's experience. I think COVID has opened up the need to look at the employee experience. How does the employee go to work in this new environment and how do we communicate? What is that experience from beginning to end? And, you know, not swivelling between 15 different systems, for example. [There's a focus now on] having one experience, because we know that employee satisfaction equals customer satisfaction. Making sure employees are happy has a direct impact on our bottom line and our revenue. 

The haves and have nots

One of the most interesting aspects of the Bluewolf report - which rings true to what we are seeing in the market - is that those companies that were further along in their digital investments prior to COVID-19 have been able to adapt more quickly to changes in the market, and have accelerated their investments, compared to those that were just beginning to think about what digital meant for them. 

Bluewolf's research shows that companies are accelerating their investments in Salesforce to respond to current needs and gain a competitive advantage to emerge smarter from the crisis, integrating Salesforce with front- and back-end systems. However, those that already had mature Salesforce implementations are moving more quickly than those that did not. 

The State of Salesforce report states that 25% of respondents had a mature Salesforce foundation prior to COVID-19, whilst 29% of respondents increased their investment in Salesforce as a direct result of COVID-19. Some 12% of respondents had a mature Salesforce foundation prior to COVID-19 and increased their investment as a direct result of COVID-19. 

But the key takeaway - the 12% companies that increased both their Salesforce investments and had a mature Salesforce foundation are +47% more likely to be further along in their business recovery.

Commenting on the divide between the haves and the have nots, Silke said: 

The roadmap has accelerated across the board - and that's between the haves and the have nots. I would say though that those that were more prepared and planned forward, we see three different behaviours that are quite unique to the haves. It is the idea of simplification. The simplification of the processes and workflows and utilising the functionality of the tools to enable that. The other one is the consolidation. Many many clients are not only looking into simplifying the workflows, but also the use of the different tools - there's often a plethora of different tools that have grown organically. Now is the time to take a look at them. 

And then the third one is ultimately about rapid innovation. Rapid innovation becomes a calling card for those that are successfully applying the tool itself, but also the processes and the behaviours around it.