SF.com back on track after "nebulous" social enterprise vision

4th Jun 2013
At Dreamforce 2012, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff spoke eloquently and with passion about what he called the “social enterprise”. However, unless you were there to hear him explain what he meant by that, this vision could seem a little opaque.
In March 2013, Benioff set off on a tour to evangelise and test his new vision, the “customer company”, and to solicit feedback. This was echoed by COO George Hu at the recent Salesforce Customer Company Tour event in London, says Jeremy Cox of research house Ovum
Salesforce.com’s new vision is close to Ovum’s customer-adaptive enterprise, whereby an organisation is closely connected to its customers and able to orchestrate value with its ecosystem of partners and suppliers, and adapt at the right frequency to remain relevant to its customers now and in the future.
As Benioff said repeatedly, we are in the midst of a trust revolution, by which he meant that power has permanently shifted to the customer, and the customer will only bond in the long term with organisations they trust. Values matter.
What’s in a vision?
A clear and compelling vision provides purpose and inspires a workforce to become energised and engaged. It also inspires product development choices, and Benioff revealed that the new vision of the customer company would drive product development at Salesforce.com. The social business rhetoric lacked this clarity of purpose. Creating a customer company, on the other hand, has a strong implication of a universally desirable outcome: enduring relationships, the real source of long-term shareholder value.
Leadership sets the tone and creates the climate within the customer-adaptive enterprise. Two leadership attributes are essential. The first concerns the values by which the organisation lives and makes decisions. Benioff stressed this very clearly, in both the Dreamforce keynote and in his Boston speech in March this year, when referring to the trust revolution. He also reinforced this by talking about the philanthropic activity of Salesforce.com since its inception.
The second element of leadership is to provide the vision and purpose of the organisation. The customer company is a customer-centric vision, putting the customer at the heart of the organisation’s purpose.
An empowered and engaged workforce
Good leadership also provides the environment within which the workforce can flourish and add greater value. This provides the context for Salesforce.com’s ESN platform to foster greater collaboration with the workforce, and the extended ecosystem of customers, communities, partners, and suppliers.
For an organisation to succeed in a rapidly changing environment it needs the ability to “swarm” round new opportunities as well as handle business as usual. To act quickly in the interests of the customer, decision-making needs to be pushed down to the front line, and where uncertainty exists individuals must be able to collaborate quickly with colleagues to meet the customer’s needs. The social revolution that Benioff talked about reflects this capability.
Salesforce announces “company communities” to enhance workforce collaboration
On May 30, 2013 Saleforce.com announced a further extension to Chatter, “company communities”, which will offer a more dynamic and personalized intranet experience than the traditional static company intranet. Company communities will connect the workforce in real time to the content, people, and applications they need, and from any device. Virgin America already leverages company communities to deliver critical business information, team updates, and performance statistics to mobile teammates in a simple app.
Organizations that host and manage communities successfully are also able to gain early insight into product or service improvements that can be made to enhance the overall customer experience. By harvesting these insights proactively through co-innovation or open innovation practices, organizations can evolve their value in line with emerging customer demands.
Customers’ wants, needs, and behaviors are constantly shifting, and to remain relevant to customers, value needs to be created and renewed continuously. While the ability to recognise and understand the customer at the individual level was explicitly mentioned and reinforced by the accompanying video in Boston, the means to generate innovation faster was only implied. The same was true at the May Customer Company tour event.
Ovum research into innovation management finds that an ESN platform, even one that extends through to customer communities, is not sufficient to support rapid and continuous value creation. In larger enterprises in particular, where potentially thousands of knowledge workers can be involved, innovation needs to be managed, and we recommend augmenting the ESN platform with applications that are designed for innovation management.
To deliver business as usual with speed, consistency, and efficiency, an organiaation must ensure that its mission-critical processes are optimised and connected. Benioff referred to ERP in passing, but understandably focused more on the customer-facing side of the business equation.
Hu, however, offered insights into a number of UK companies that have used the Salesforce.com platform to create a company that is connected throughout its value chain. These included mobile operator O2 with its slogan “joined up business”, and the Burberry fashion company, with its entire value chain connected and integrated with mission-critical processes in a hybrid environment.
Wim Van Gils, vice president, global commercial excellence leader and group business process owner M&S at Royal Philips, also gave a compelling talk on the progress being made at his company in connecting with customers. He said this is having a profound impact on Royal Philips’ ability to co-innovate with customers and deliver a meaningful experience at every interaction.
Benioff spoke about the part that Big Data would continue to play. He spoke of a “plethora of startups” enriching this space to help organizations recognize and make sense of customer data and activities. With the exception of its Radian6 acquisition, Salesforce.com is currently relying on partners to beef up its analytics capabilities.
No further announcements were made on analytics at the UK Customer Company Tour, but we can expect Salesforce.com to address this and make good Benioff’s assertion that this vision of the customer company will drive product developments.
Salesforce.com is on the right path and building momentum
The clear focus on the customer is without doubt a big step forward from the more nebulous social enterprise vision. The real story is about connecting more closely and deeply with customers by earning their trust and adopting technology that supports this relationship-building environment. The announcements of customer and company communities builds momentum for this vision of the customer company.
Which vision should be adopted?
Whether you prefer the customer company or the customer-adaptive enterprise, it doesn’t matter because they are both attempts to articulate the same thing. Organisations across all sectors need to make the vision their own and recognize that it’s a perpetual journey to ensure continuous customer relevance by being able to sense, respond, and adapt at speed. Darwinian perhaps, but with a human and aspirational face.

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