Salesforce's President of EMEA talks about the “customer gap” facing enterprises

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez May 28, 2015
Miguel Milano explains how the Salesforce platform can help companies transform their relationship with their customers.


Dreamforce 2013
Last week at Salesforce's World Tour event in London, diginomica secured interviews with some of the cloud company's top execs. Take a look at Stuart's great write up from his chat with President Keith Block, our analysis of Vivek Kundra's take on Government-as-a-Platform and my profile of Suzanne DiBianca and the company's philanthropic ambitions.

I also got the chance to sit down with Salesforce's President of EMEA, Miguel Milano, who took the opportunity to highlight some of the key trends he is seeing in the region. One of the conversations Milano is having with enterprises at the moment, he said, is about how they can use the Salesforce platform to address their “customer gap”.

Milano describes this as the gap between the capabilities of a company and the customer's expectation of their relationship with their company – this gap is being greatly increased by the rapid development of social, mobile, cloud and data technologies.

He said that in terms of cloud adoption, he doesn't now see much disparity between the early adopters in the US and those looking for cloud platforms in Europe. What Milano did highlight was that the conversations aren't typically IT-based. He said:

I don't see different challenges or different approaches by geography, not even Europe versus US. Within Europe the kind of projects that we do and the kind of conversations that we have are pretty much the same across the board. First of all, they are not IT conversations, they are business driven conversations. I would say that transformation and innovation are a big part of the discussion.

I was with a customer this morning, a pan-EMEA telcom company. They have several subsidiaries. I was talking to the EVP of transformation, reporting to the CEO, again no IT. And she was telling me that her three main challenges were to integrate the commercial operations of the different B2B subsidiaries, provide an omni-channel customer experience for the B2C part of the business and then provide a platform for the business to understand, analyse and react to data in real-time.

miguel milano
Miguel Milano

If these are the sorts of conversations that are 'typical' for Milano when selling Salesforce, it's understandable why he doesn't view them as IT conversations. These aren't discussions about how a company can use technology to become more efficient or to save X amount of Euros over a ten year period. These are conversations about integrating processes to establish a company platform, becoming data driven and creating a better relationship with the customer across all channels.

Milano added that customers now don't want to interact with companies that have siloes across their organisations, because they are impatient to wait times and expect a business to know who they are across all channels, at all times, depending on when and how they choose to interact. He said:

So if you have the same discussion with a  telco in the US, they would probably tell you the same thing. I think that what is happening in the market is that these mega-trends (social, mobile, cloud and big data) are opening totally different ways for end-customers to relate to companies. Before it was website or the phone. Now you can talk to your company through a connected device, or an app, or through your car.

You can have a social conversation – if I now tweet and I mention somebody, I'm expecting that the brand listen to me and they answer me. I'm expecting that. So the expectations of the customers have totally transformed. The way the customers want to interact has totally transformed.

For every single provider of a service to me, I want to have a mobile interface with them. I've got my phone all the time, so I want an app to connect to my favourite retail store, or my telco provider. And if I go home and I've got a letter - the old way of interacting - I want that letter to reflect the conversation I've had on my phone. If I tweet I want them to know who I am and then give me an answer that caters to who I am. If I call the call centre, I want them to know everything about me.

That enhanced customer expectation has created a customer gap between what the companies can

Businessman magnifying glass Individual customer service and CRM concept © Jakub Jirsák -
provide and what the customer wants. And by the way, the customer gap is a big gap because of the technology gap, because all these technologies exist.

Transforming the relationship

Milano said that there “is not a single conversation” with customers in Europe where there is not a clear need to transform their relationship with their customers – and he believes that this is why Salesforce has a great opportunity in the region, as Salesforce is a platform, rather then a disparate set of applications.

He added that for the most part, customers don't have a lack of ideas about how to go through this transformation and minimise the 'customer gap'. However, once Salesforce has been selected as the platform of choice, the approaches to getting there do vary.  Milano said:

You find everything. There are moments where a customer has a platform that they bought, a legacy tool, maybe it's end of support, so at that point they do an RFP, they select a solution, normally they select a cloud solution, normally it's us if it's related to CRM. Then for six months we do an implementation, something that would have normally taken them two to three years, then they decommission the other system and replace. That happens around half the time, it's common.

The other scenario that's very common is that they realise that they have invested very heavily in their legacy technology, have everything wired, got all the integration points already built, it's very costly to rip everything off. But guess what? They can't use this system, it's old, it's not agile. Every time they need to change something they call IT and then three months later the change comes if they're lucky. It's costly. So what those companies say is that they will deal with that problem at some point in the future, they don't have the bandwidth or budget, but what they do is put Salesforce on top. And then we become the agility layer. The transformation layer. And then they start doing the new things with Salesforce, all the interactions are with the customers.

Milano said, however, that there is consistently one common element across all 'happy' Salesforce customers – they all customise. He said:

For me one of the main components to know how happy a customer is with us, I always ask how many custom objects or custom fields has this customer developed on this application. Because the more custom applications and custom fields that the customer develops, the stickier the relationship is. And you find that they are blown away. You find that they create hundreds because it's so easy to do.

Or instead of building themselves they go to our app exchange. 3 million downloads of applications, 2,700 partners have developed on it.

Finally, despite all of Milano's optimism and enthusiasm for Salesforce in Europe, I wanted to find out what challenges he anticipates over the next 12 to 24 months for the company. And although I ask most people I interview this question, I don't often get a reasonable answer. However, Milano's was probably the most honest I could expect from a senior executive. He is worried about making sure Salesforce stays the same sort of company it is now, despite its incredible growth (which is undeniable, considering the latest results). Milano said:

What keeps me up at night is to make sure that we are able to hire at the speed we need to hire. It's also the ecosystem, it's not just the people that we hire, it's the people that we hire or bring into the ecosystem. There are three main stakeholders in the ecosystem – our employees, we need to be able to hire whilst still preserving the culture. Now we are 16,000 people worldwide, so finding the right quality and build the right team. To do that at scale is always a challenge.

The other stakeholders are developers. And then the partners, one of the most important parts of our strategy. Partners help us implement, reach farther and deeper into geographies and into the boardroom, they translate our horizontal messages into industry messages, develop new solutions. To grow an IT ecosystem at the speed we are growing our company, it's unheard of. We are going to be the fastest company to reach $10 billion run rate, I think that's a challenge for everybody.

Disclosure - Salesforce is a diginomica premier partner at time of writing.