CLOUD WARS: As Salesforce.com tops a $10-billion annualized-revenue run rate and aims for $20 billion by 2020, CEO Marc Benioff has become even more emphatic in stating that Salesforce's ongoing and often-breathtaking success is due primarily to the company-wide obsession with making its customers successful.
Of course, it's not all just a matter of having 27,000 fresh-faced employees flush with buoyant attitudes and charming personalities—Benioff also raves about the power of AI and of platforms and partners and the increasing impact of being a truly global brand.
So for any business person looking to create or advance a truly customer-obsessed behavior model and culture, here are my selections for the 10 most-powerful ways that Salesforce puts customers at the center of everything the company does—and in the tech industry, this is becoming the primary differentiator between the winners and the losers. (And to see first-hand the degree to which this thinking animates Benioff and Block, you can read the full earnings-call transcript from SeekingAlpha.com—I've used it in places to supplement my own notes from the call.)
"And that's why I believe being so committed to the customer is more important than it's ever been, and I think that's really why you're going to see extraordinary growth from us for years to come because it's really this culture that's driving us forward."
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Block put it this way: "Go back to our three growth levers: international strategy, speaking the language of the customer—which is the industry orientation—and our partner strategy. All three of those are executing just beautifully now, and we're very proud of the team. And as a result, we are in these very deep relationships with customers, very strategic relationships, multi-year relationships, and multi-cloud relationships across all these different verticals, and that's why you're seeing this bit of an uptick."
2) Digital Transformation. Block, after noting how several global retail powerhouses have signed on with Salesforce across Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Commerce Cloud and even others, said companies in every industry are realizing that to achieve their top-priority objective—growth—they have to transform how they do business in order to get closer to customers.
"It's not just retailers, either—every company is trying to go from B2B to B2B2C or even directly to B2C, and that's why they're coming to us: they're buying us for our vision and what our various clouds can bring to bear," Block said, which resonates with businesses "from a transformation perspective."
"So we're trying to help them get more insights around their customers and in connecting to their customers in ways they've never been able to do before."
3) AI and Einstein. Throughout the call, Benioff was effusive in his praise for Salesforce's AI product, called Einstein, and vowed it "is going to be one of the huge drivers of growth for us because you've already seen how the cloud is a huge driver of growth for Salesforce, then we saw how mobile's another huge driver, and now we're starting to see that AI is this next-generation driver," Benioff said.
"Einstein is a critical part of how we differentiate our product against every single one of our competitors because, quite simply, we're the first enterprise company to take AI's robust capabilities like machine learning and deep learning and then offer that to customers in a unified CRM platform across the board: our sales, service and marketing applications.
"That's really happened faster than we expected and much more deeply than we expected, and it's been more exciting for our customers than we expected," Benioff said.
4) Broader and more-strategic product lineup.Benioff noted that Block has been leading strategic initiatives across key vertical industries—retail, financial services and now healthcare—and that Salesforce continues to find that the combination of its integrated clouds has significant appeal across multiple industries, particularly when, as Block emphasized earlier, salespeople can speak the language of the customer.
"We had a great quarter with retail and we're very proud of those results, but we're also expanding our relationships in financial services with T. Rowe Price, New York Life and HSBC," Block said. "T. Rowe Price chose our Financial Services Cloud to deliver personalized and specifically relevant services across every channel it has. At New York Life, they've doubled down with our Sales Cloud and Service Cloud for another 6,000 agents and customer-service specialists. And HSBC is going to leverage our Marketing Cloud across the globe to its retail and wealth-management divisions to create personalized banking experiences, which is what their customers really want."
5) Global Expansion. Not so long ago, Salesforce had some significant holes in its ability to cover all regions of the world for global customers. Block has been closing those holes and said that through the first half of Salesforce's fiscal year, more than 40% of new hires have joined the company outside of the U.S. "We continue to make significant investments in our international go-to-market resources, our operations and our infrastructure to serve our global customers," Block said in his prepared remarks.
And on a couple of occasions, he cited global expansion as one of the company's three "growth levers" along with speaking the language of the customer, and partner strategy (cited in #1 above).
6) Platforms. From the SeekingAlpha.com transcript, Benioff said, "Platforms are incredibly important because they let customers enhance their system in a highly specialized way. Platforms are also extremely important because they drive down attrition. I think as we -- we just ran our numbers for this management conference that I mentioned, two weeks ago, if you look at our attrition rate over the last 10 years, one of the reasons we drive it down is because of our platform.
"I think one of the reasons we have been able to deliver so quickly this amazing work and financial services that Keith has led, which is the building of our Financial Services Cloud and our Financial Services business unit is -- and our success in financial services is because of our platform, rapidly. When we figure out a market or capability that we want to have or focus on, we can rapidly deliver that. That’s also true with Keith’s healthcare initiative as well. And that I think has been a very powerful part of our approach."
7) Partners and ISVs Are Scaling. Noting that its partnerships extend from ISVs to system integrators of various sizes, Block specifically called out the sweeping and strategic partnerships Salesforce has with IBM for AI and with AWS as its primary cloud-infrastructure partner. But he was equally excited about the new 3rd-party apps Salesforce customers can evaluate and deploy: "Look at the explosion in our ISV community: we're now in a situation where our ISVs are building mission-critical apps for our customers," Block said. "We recently announced that a customer's building a clinical-trial-management app on top of our application. And Unilever has announced that Accenture is building CPG-related applications on our platform. So this is a very robust partner community for us."
8) Mobile. Going into full stem-winding mode, Benioff said, "I don't think any enterprise software company has done as good a job with mobile as Salesforce. With Salesforce1, with MySalesforce1, and Salesforce Inbox and our many mobile offerings and mobile-platform capabilities, we've just got more than any other enterprise software company.
"And that has really allowed customers to access data and work with data and input data in lots of new ways," he said, which is particularly important to customers as mobile becomes the primary channel for "next-generation capabilities including many new systems with very deep AI."
9) Data Intimacy. Its unique position as the repository for vast quantities of data about business customers' customers gives Salesforce an opportunity to deepen and extend its strategic relationships with those business customers as they strive to connect more effectively and successfully with their customers, Benioff said.
"We process more than 5 billion transactions every single day, and more than half of those are API transactions already—so that's just other computers filling our databases with data," Benioff said. "And we've amassed a hugeamount of customer data based on that because we have so many integrations and so many customers are so deeply integrated with us.
"And then on top of that, there are so many ways that customers are getting that information into our systems, including the natural-language-type systems and voice-type systems like you've seen us do with Alexa from Amazon, and I think you'll continue to see an evolution of that."
10) Keep An Entrepreneurial Mindset!! Pulling a few of his core themes together, Benioff said, "One of the things we've done to focus on and make sure that we blast through $10 billion is to focus on customer success. I can think a lot of mistakes other entrepreneurs have made and I can go through each one but in enterprise software specifically, the big mistake is not to really double down on the customer."
As a result, you tend to "get absorbed in your own myopia, get absorbed in your corporate politics, get absorbed in your corporate bureaucracies and yourselves." And that inside-out mindset has to be obliterated: instead, you must "try to break out of yourself and recognize the most important thing continues to be the customer, and how do we enable that customer and empower that customer. Now, of course, to do that we have to hold ourselves accountable and so we've also really got to deliver lots of other capabilities along the way.
"That's really our focus: how do we make our customers more successful than ever," Benioff said. "And I think that’s the heart of our culture."