Putting the customer at the heart of marketing - Salesforce CMO Stephanie Buscemi on how it's done

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan October 10, 2018
The recent Dreamforce conference was customer-rich; CMO Stephanie Buscemi explains how it's done.

Stephanie Buscemi COO Analytics Salesforce at Dreamforce 2015 © Jakub Mosur Photography
Stephanie Buscemi

At diginomica a mantra that’s always worth repeating to vendors is that customers are the single best proof points for your marketing. That’s one reason why we run so many end user profiles here and it’s why these are so often our most-read pieces of content each week.

It’s a message that finds resonance with Stephanie Buscemi, Chief Marketing Officer at Salesforce. I caught up with her halfway through the recent Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, the day after she’d participated in the keynote address that was built around three strong customer stories to demonstrate the various announcements.

Buscemi’s role had been to participate in a section of the keynote involving Unilever. It’s a good exemplar, she feels, of the engagement with customers that makes such sessions work:

I’ve spent a lot of time over the months with the Unilever team in particular. There are 36 of them here…I’ve worked for some companies before where I don’t know that I could get 36 people to come to one event, who were so ecstatic and so excited.

In a conversation with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff a couple of years ago, he’d signalled a change in the approach that the company was then taking to its advertising around the Dreamforce campus:

You see those banners? We take one person and a quote and a logo. Bad. Never again. We will never do that again. We are a community but we don’t market the community. We’re only marketing individuality, but we’re not about individuality. We are about family. We have the family spirit, like we’re all on a family camping trip. We need to bring it together.

That was something that was actioned after the 2016 conference and it’s a change that’s still in place today, although like all forms of effective marketing, there’s an evolution in play. Buscemi explains:

We’ve eradicated stock photography. In the marketing organization, using stock photography is one way not to have a job. We always use customers. We always try to make sure we're reflecting diversity, the diversity within our installed base and customers, in customers in things that we put out in market, whether that be age, gender, race, everything.

We are trying to balance the combination of account level success of the customer as an account with an individual's success, Trailblazer success.Trailblazer successes are the individual stories of successful people have transformed careers and done all kinds of amazing things .

But we still do what I'd call sort of ‘Big-M’ marketing, which is ‘BMW is using Salesforce’. At the time when you interviewed [Marc]. We were just cutting our teeth on those individual Trailblazer stories. We have now cleared the one million mark, one million people who identify that are in our Trailblazer community.

That’s an impressive tally.But other companies can also boast large installed bases but seem to struggle to surface the success stories en masse, which begs the question of what such firms might learn from Salesforce’s processes in this respect. Buscemi says:

I have a Trailblazer marketing team that does several things. One, they do the identification [of customers]. They're out there researching, talking to customers, uncovering stories. Then they do the capturing and curation of those stories for various channels. Then we also figure out how do we amplify those, get the help to them to be successful, telling those stories in other forums, not our events but at their own places. So an example was we had a Trailblazer story who then hosted their own event at a Microsoft store on the power of [Salesforce learning program] Trailhead. So we had nothing to do with that. We get this email and then we thought obviously that was a little bit funny because just happened..

I think we can't just do the individual stories. It's always going to be in and versus ore because what we also hear from the individuals is constantly have to be giving the ROI and value, because I have to go back and sell the line to make this investment in salesforce and so that has to get surfaced at the customer level. How are we driving cross-down, how are we increasing productivity, with those things that we're doing is conversion improving, those really core metrics.

What's in it for me?

The question that remains unanswered here - what’s in it for the CEO or CIO of the XYZ Very Very Big Company to take the time out to stand on a stage and talk up the work they’ve done with a vendor or put their face on an ad? Quite a bit if done properly, suggest Buscemi:

One, they know that we’re going to make sure that they are successful. We’re putting their face in the Wall Street Journal or all over our walls. there's an accountability on us to make sure they're very happy and very successful.

Two, I think most of the enterprise CIOs that I talk to, they all want to take a victory lap on digital transformation. And so they get an tremendous halo effect from this. It’s not intended, but it's almost like we've become a handler to them and that we're like, ‘Oh, we're going to put you in AdWeek, we’re going to put you here, we’re going to have you there, we’ve done a whole social campaign around what you're doing’. We hear from a lot of these people that it serves their company well in terms of business value, but it also serves their careers. They get promotions, they get visibility.

Another factor that comes into play in keeping customers open to stepping up is the work of Salesforce’s Ignite team and its Customer Success Group, she adds. The work of such teams can make customers happy to speak about their work even before the projects are safely completed and execs can point to tangible successes and benefits:

Even when there isn’t something fully productized [in terms of demonstrable ROI], we have already gone in to the customer, almost like a Bain or a McKinsey, and built a strategy map. Maybe the champion was a VP or a senior director, but [the project has] already been socialized and there’s sponsorship for it internally.

She points to the recently announced Customer 360 offering as a case in point the role of footwear firm as part of the pilot program:

It’s a big deal for Crocs right now if you read the news. I had someone ask, ‘Are they going out of business?’. They’re not going out of business, they’re actually increasing their profitability online. They over-rotated on brick-and-mortar. They have 400 stores. They’re going to take it down 150 stores rapidly. For them to put their neck on the line and say they’re going to do Customer 360, it’s part of a strategic change that they’re making in their business model. It started several levels down from the CEO and CFO, but now the CEO and CFO do know and know that we’re talking about them.

My take

The vast majority of our recent Dreamforce coverage was built around customer stories. And I’ll say it again and again and again - no-one is a more powerful advocate for your company and your products than your customers. End of story.

There are vendor events however that the diginomica team attends where getting at decent use case exemplars is akin to getting blood from a stone. A common complaint I hear when doing media consultancy work with vendors is how difficult it can be to get customers to talk. All I can say to such comments is to acknowledge that yes, it does take effort, but to advocate the value that it brings.

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