Optimizing the Salesforce platform is a marathon, not a sprint - one of the top level conclusions from this year’s State of Salesforce study, released today by IBM to coincide with Day 1 of Dreamforce in San Francisco.
The report - here - is based on survey responses from over 500 C-Suite, Vice President and Director level executives from North America, Europe and Asia. It’s the latest in an annual series of such studies, first commissioned by Salesforce specialist consultancy Bluewolf, now part of IBM.
This year’s conclusions have produced four broad trends.
Harmonize operations with cross-cloud
Noting that businesses are realizing that they need to use the power of the Salesforce platform across their entire business, not only in discrete units or departments, the report finds:
A next wave of business value lies in using the Salesforce platform's cross-cloud capabilities to optimize digital operations. Enterprises need to allow the platform to empower human connection in every environment, whether virtual or in person.
To back this up, respondents say that Salesforce products are creating business value against a number of key strategic objectives, including business productivity and customer satisfaction (both cited by 81% of respondents) as well as employee satisfaction (76%).
AI gets a shout out here as the silver bullet many organizations are looking to to improve and automate business processes within the Salesforce platform. While most leaders understand AI’s ability to impact automation, productivity and employee satisfaction, the trick is to use intelligent workflows to accelerate productivity and eliminate data silos. Some 85% of respondents seem to get this, stating they are committed to pairing data with AI technologies.
The rewards for getting this right are pretty substantial. According to the study, respondents who use the Salesforce Platform to streamline workflows report lower costs (65%), increased employee satisfaction (60%) and more actionable business insights (52%).
All good. But here comes a ‘but’ - only 14% of respondents say they have an innovative data integration strategy, and only one-third have integrated all the data they need to deliver strategic outcomes into the Salesforce platform. That’s a problem when integration is crucial to delivering a genuine 360 degree customer experience.
Trust as the new currency
This has been a long-running Salesforce theme, with trust pitched by CEO Marc Benioff as the firm’s highest value. It’s a notion that resonates with respondents to this year’s IBM study more strongly than ever, with a number of factors coming to the fore, beginning with the need to safeguard data strategically. The report argues:
Organizations earn and maintain customers’ trust by managing their data securely, accurately and ethically. Despite the importance of these essential elements, data strategy and management are still major challenges for businesses. Up to 68% of data is not analyzed in most surveyed organizations and up to 82% of surveyed enterprises are inhibited by data silos. These issues are partly due to security and privacy concerns and partly to data architecture challenges.
AI integrity is also high on the corporate agenda, with a mighty 86% of respondents prioritizing the piloting and scaling of AI projects. But, here’s another troubling ‘but’ - 60% of respondents cite customer and employee trust concerns about AI, while 57% cite issues around transparency and the ethical use of data. What to do? The report argues:
Layering AI into existing systems and processes has the potential to impact revenue, productivity and efficiency. But AI can have broad ethical considerations that organizations should address to help design trustworthy, effective applications. Business leaders should embed ethical principles into their AI foundation to help build better, trusted practices.
Innovate smarter, not harder
The Salesforce platform wasn’t built to stand still.
That being the case, the challenge for successful enterprises is to build agile systems that can respond to fast-paced changes in the market. You snooze, you lose! Three pieces of advice from the report - keep things moving with configuration; leverage collective wisdom; embrace “infinite innovation”
That’s all fine in theory, but what’s the reality on the ground? Some 47% of customers surveyed say their businesses are accelerating the adoption of their innovation roadmap. Not keeping up with advances in the Platform is a false economy, leading to the need to allocate more time and resources to managing, fixing and maintaining out of date systems. The study declares:
The companies gaining incremental value typically don’t wait to see how others adopt improvements and applications — they pave the way forward.
And here’s the IBM sales pitch:
They work alongside a trusted partner to navigate, understand and apply the release cycles to their operations and strategic initiatives.
Turn sustainability ambition into action
Sustainability looms high on this week’s Dreamforce agenda. This reflects executive interest, notes the State of Salesforce, but here comes another ‘but’. While eager to act on sustainability, CEO respondents cite significant challenges due to unclear ROI 57% and economic benefits; lack of insights from data (44%); regulatory barriers (43%).
Data-driven environmentalism is one solution, argues the report:
Organizations need to know where they stand to design more sustainable solutions. Data-driven strategies must start with a measurement to establish a baseline - it’s where most companies are today. Platforms like Salesforce Net Zero Cloud enable enterprises to track and analyze their environmental impact on multiple levels across the front and back office.
And enterprises need to be thinking in terms of “transformational sustainability”. The study concludes that most CEO respondents have yet to align their organization’s sustainability efforts with their digital transformation strategies. Indeed, less than a third (30%) can boast they have explicitly aligned the two. Big mistake, says the study:
Merging sustainability with digital transformation can deliver high returns for productivity, efficiency and reduced environmental impact at scale. To realize those benefits, business leaders should approach the challenge holistically and in the right context. Getting that context requires overcoming traditional barriers between the C-Suite and carbon accounting.
The data that currently reaches them is often so massively aggregated that it’s unclear what levers to pull. Salesforce Net Zero Cloud can bring the immediacy and transparency of sales and service management to carbon accounting to inform and shape effective action.
As ever, an interesting insight into the Salesforce real world, based on the actual strategies and day-to-day challenges facing users. Worth half an hour of your time to read through in full.
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