It was very lonely.
So said Marc Benioff of finding himself back as sole CEO of Salesforce following the departure of his co-CEO Keith Block back in February 2020. But the lonely days are set to be behind him with the promotion of Chief Operating Officer Bret Taylor to fill the co-CEO role.
It’s a move that’s long been expected and the latest in a series of senior management changes that have bolstered the executive clout at the firm, including the appointment of Amy Weaver as CFO and Gavin Patterson as Chief Revenue Officer (CRO).
As Benioff noted:
Salesforce has had an evolving leadership structure several time and we have also had tremendous success previously with the co-CEO structure…As we've seen as we've changed these structures, it's actually been an acceleration on the company, so I'm very excited about the co-CEO structure. These jobs are big jobs, and being able to have a partner that you can share with makes it a lot easier. And when Keith decided to retire, I was back in this job. It was very lonely.
Benioff also pointed to a “new model” and “new structure” within the company. A large part of the operational element of that is down to Patterson as CRO. He explained some of the changes that he’s made:
I truly believe that we can continue to drive growth, and that will continue to be our #1 priority. But we [can] do so at the same time as driving efficiencies through the business through disciplined decision-making.
Patterson’s emphasis is on providing a tighter grip across the business and deploying best practice across operating units:
When we've got a successful model, how do we replicate it across operating units around the world? I've put a lot more focus on things like participation and driving productivity, so ensuring that we're getting the most value out of our 10,000-person sales force, which is one of our sources of competitive advantage. But how do we make sure everybody is contributing every quarter and that we're looking to eke out both small deals and big deals throughout the year?
And then finally how do we open up new channels? The direct model continues to be our strongest muscle - there’s no question about that - but we're finding that customers, and not just small customers, are keen to purchase more and more through digital and online. That's an area that we're revamping and it's going to be a bigger part of our overall delivery of new bookings going forward. So the focus for me has been about driving best practice across the Salesforce ecosystem and having a flatter organization that allows for faster decision-making and stronger leadership within the units themselves.
Taylor’s promotion coincided with the release of the firm’s Q3 numbers which saw total revenue of $6.86 billion, an increase of 27% year-on-year, with earnings per share of $1.27.
Some other stats of note:
- Growth rate by region - 23% in the Americas, 38% in EMEA, and 26% in APAC.
- Sales Cloud grew 17%; Service Cloud 21%; Platform/Other (including Slack) 51%; Marketing/Commerce Cloud 25%; and a new Data category (including Tableau and Mulesoft) grew 20%.
- Sales Cloud is now a $6 billion business, just as Service Cloud became in Q2.
- Slack grew to $280 million of revenue, $30 million ahead of guidance.
- The number of customers on Slack who spent over $100,000 was up 44% year-on-year.
- Adoption of Slack Connect was up 176% year-on-year.
Slack is undoubtedly the favorite child at present, as well it might be given the hefty price tag that had a number of investors questioning the wisdom of the firm’s $27.7 billion acquisition. Taylor is in no doubt that it was worth the money, particularly given the wider context of the COVID crisis and the shift in organizational ways of working:
Slack is really special…It’s just a moment in time where the way we've worked, it's not what we all planned. We just showed up at work one day and that's the way work was done. The whole world is reimagined at the same time. And we have this incredible opportunity to partner with our customers help them with this transformation. No-one knows where the world is going. We know we're not going back to the office five days a week. Slack has become such a strategic part of every single customer conversation.
On the other hand an earlier acquisition seems to have hit some bumps in the road as it was conceded that Mulesoft hasn’t performed as well of late. Patterson said:
We've gone through a little bit of, I would say, growing pains this quarter with Mulesoft. There are operational challenges, but the actions that need to be taken are very clear. But it does not change in any way our belief that MuleSoft is fundamental to our ability to deliver our Customer 360. So I see its role in solving customer problems and creating value for customers as absolutely fundamental. And I'm confident we'll be able to work through these over the next quarter.
It’s been a busy old week for Bret Taylor. As well as his well-deserved Salesforce promotion, he was announced as Chairman of Twitter as part of the wider management shake-up triggered by Jack Dorsey’s departure. Given that Salesforce famously once wanted to acquire Twitter, that’s raised an eyebrow or two, but that’s scuttlebutt for another day.
For now, the question is going to be how Benioff and Taylor will divide up their roles? When Keith Block was in co-CEO seat, I regularly asked him how the formal allocation of responsibilities went. I’m not sure I ever got a definitive answer in retrospect, but Block was the supreme enterprise sales guy. I recall Benioff telling me once that the biggest mistake the late Mark Hurd made as Oracle’s co-CEO was letting Block get away from that company.
Taylor comes across as a different kettle of fish. He’s an entrepreneur and a product /platform guy. That’s a critically important skill set at a time when Salesforce’s product footprint has expanded so widely and with the Slack acquisition still to be fully integrated into the overall proposition. With Patterson now pushing the sales operation worldwide and Weaver driving operational efficiencies, this looks like a formidable executive line-up.
As for Benioff, he’s always kept his powder dry when asked about his longer term ambitions. Yesterday he told CNBC’s Jim Cramer that he is “never leaving” the firm he co-founded back in 1999:
I love Salesforce. You see me with our customers and how much fun I have with all of our stakeholders. I'm never leaving Salesforce. This is my life's pursuit.
But there are other pursuits as well and his philanthropic, educational and sustainability interests have become ever more prominent in recent years. I imagine we’ll still see Benioff front and center at the likes of Dreamforce and working the crowds at customer events as before, but Taylor’s taken an increasingly prominent ‘co-star’ role over the past couple of years. He’s absolutely the right person for this role at this point in time.
As was noted several times in yesterday’s post-results analyst call, it’s a changed world and everyone has had to adapt to an operating environment where unpredictability is the order of the day. Salesforce has ‘had a good war’ during the COVID crisis. What 2022 has to hold remains to be seen for all of us, but there’s every reason to assume that, even though greedy Wall Street inevitably wanted more from forward guidance yesterday, that Salesforce remains entirely well-positioned for growth.