“We are going to open a door to the future and walk into it.”
Kicking off an event that he’s now proclaiming to be the biggest technology conference in the industry, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff was never going to be low key in his stated ambitions for his keynote address.
(That was as unlikely as the chances of that self-same keynote running to its rehearsed two hours and ten minutes rather than the nearly three hours that it ended up stretching to!)
But then Benioff might well be entitled to be on a high. This is the tenth Dreamforce convention and while sceptics have raised a quizzical eye at some of the attendance claims being made for the conference it is undoubtedly a massive beast and the biggest and most ambitious to date.
The theme was social. Not Social Enterprise – a phrase that was only heard in pre-recorded customer videos and not used live following the recent decision to drop the term following the row over an attempt at trademarking the term.
The replacement mantra is Business is Social and it was the impact of the social media revolution that informed all of the content of the session.
Benioff opened by citing an IBM Institute for Business Value CEO study which reported that after their sales forces, social networking had become one of the top two ways to engage customers.
“We are changing how we are doing business – the interactions we are having with employees, customers, partners. It’s incredible what’s happening,” he declared. "We believe that Salesforce.com's mission is to help you, our customers, to connect with your customers in a whole new way.
“We have set this conference up so that you can ask questions of yourselves and your customers. Have you transformed the way you market to your customers? Have you transformed the way you collaborate with your customers? Have you transformed the way you work within your organisation? Have you transformed the way that you innovate?
“It's an incredible time, a spectacular time," he said. "It goes even deeper... it gets down into our core," he added. "The fundamental interaction between each one of us, because we are changing how we are doing business.”
With that in mind, companies need to be more "transparent" and empower their employees to interact more effectively via social networks and mobile. "The question that we see is a question we have asked before," he said. "Are you and your company going through a social revolution? It will denote who is successful and who will fail."
In fact it all adds up to a series of revolutions, he said. "It is a customer revolution, it is a partner revolution, it is an employee revolution,” proclaimed Benioff, adding that the most important aspect is: “The social revolution is a trust revolution and the new social front office is where the trust revolution lives.”
Salesforce.com itself has eaten its own dog food, he added. "We recognised that we ourselves had to change our core values," said Benioff. "We saw that to really be successful in this new time, we would have to become a company that customers could trust and we would need more openness and transparency than ever before."
The proof points
Back on the theme of Business is Social, Benioff highlighted a number of Salesforce.com customers who were putting this into practice, including General Electric whose CEO Jeff Immelt called him up to ask for pitch on what the future of GE would look like.
“That is quite an intimidating task,” said Benioff. “It’s not exactly my core competence, but I did it. We presented an idea called GE Share. So a GE employee would be able to share with a GE product like an aircraft engine. They could start to collaborate with those engines if they had a feed. “They could have a social network around an aircraft engine. It was an unusual idea.”
Charlene Begley, global CIO at GE, testified to the transformative nature of the enagement with Salesforce.com. “It changes the way we do business,” she said. “It’s about accelerating learning and communication. It’s about connecting people with the right information on the right devices anywhere in the world. Data on our equipment tell us enormous amounts of information that is huge value. This just unlocks that for us.
Long time Salesforce.com customer Activision Blizzard, the publisher of the Call of Duty games, highlighted its use of Salesforce.com Service Cloud to manage customer communications that come in via social networks. CIO Robert Schmid said: “We’re interacting with people the way they want to interact. It’s a faster, better way of doing things. “
Airline Virgin America is planning to rework its company culture using Salesforce.com's Chatter giving passengers a chance to interact with the carrier to deal with “real-time problems that need real-time answers”, according to CEO David Cush.
An example was given in which a Gold Elevate customer is concerned he about missing a flight connection. By knowing who he is and where he was sitting, Virgin America is then able to communicate with him and push a Chatter notification to his seatback screen in order to reassure him he will make that connecting flight and provide him with further instructions on what he needs to do.
Virgin America also plans to use Chatter to break down organisational structures internally. “"Traditionally, airlines have been egalitarian, chain-of-command [environments]," said Cush. “We have been through very rapid growth phase. Linear communication that you used to have no longer exists. Chatter was the solution. Ninety percent of our organisation never sit down at a PC or a laptop, they have a tablet or a smart phone.”
Overall it was a keynote that was neatly structured and expertly delivered – a clearly hugely well-briefed Benioff worked without recourse to either notes or teleprompter, walking among the audience rather than staying on the main stage.
And the firm worked on the sensible principle of using its customers as high level proof points to support its own product pitches, leaving the remaining 3 days of the conference as the time for the drill-down dirty product detail.
The biggest technology sector conference? Maybe. The most fired-up and enthused audience? Almost certainly. The snazziest sneakers on a CEO (startling 'geek chic' Laboutins)? Definitely - and just the thing to kick down doors to the future...