Dreamforce 2012 day 1 verdict: a humble Salesforce.com

Marc Benioff, CEO Salesforce.com did his usual Barnum & Bailey routine in the morning. But it was the late press/analyst session that revealed most of what we need to know. In doing so it reveals a humble company.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Dreamforce 2012 got off to its usual pedestrian start with Marc Benioff, CEO Salesforce.com arriving late and commanding the stage for close to three hours. 

Message to Marc: Some of us lose the will to live when you shut down the onsite bathrooms to ensure we remain cloistered in the keynnote. 

In my case I remained aloof of such problems, picking up the vibe from the UStream livestream plus participating in the jocular Twitter back channel

In truth, while many repeat attendees have become accustomed to the circus quality that pervades Dreamforce Day 1, it is becoming a tired and tedious format. However, you cannot fault Salesforce.com for not putting customers front and center. It is always a pleasure to hear about the value that real, live, walking and talking customers are getting out of their enterprise Salesforce.com implementations. The problem for Salesforce.com is that as it moves into gargantuan solution provider status, it inevitably falls into the trap of all vendors: customer script mania. The mid-day so-called customer Q&A was a train wreck. 

Softball, BS questions from the polished PR mistress of ceremonies made the potential to get any meaningful questions out of the investor banking packed crowd almost impossible. It was, as one person said: 'far too lovey-dovey.' The one customer who did step out of line: Andy Lark, CMO Commonwealth Bank of Australia made the telling point: "The role of the CMO is vastly over-stated." He then went on to say that Facebook advertising accounts for less than two percent of his company's ad spend. That runs counter to Salesforce.com's assertion that 'all business software of the future will need to be lie Facebook' - a statement that drew a loud raspberry from colleagues in the Twitter peanut gallery.  

Fortunatetly the mood changed later in the day as Benioff fielded real questions from inquiring minds with some exceptions by persons more interested in demonstrating their idiocy in speech making. You know who you are. 

Nonetheless, it was interesting to hear Benioff talking at length about the importance of putting customer stories at the center of market messaging. Many of my contemporaries have been saying much the same for years. Vinnie Mirchandani said many years ago that even though many of us us see ourselves as important influencers we are but one voice among many that feed into the decision making pipe. I take that one stage further. Customers may well run sense checks with analysts but at the end of the day, people make buying decisions based upon the value they place upon other customer experiences. 

I've always felt that Benioff does an excellent job of making sure that customer success is valued but then he is not alone in that thinking. TIBCO has been doing the same for years only better. Vivek Ranadivé, CEO TIBCO runs his pitch for as short a time as possible and then gives the stage over to customers who are clearly not scripted. Salesforce.com has much slicker customer presentations but they often lack a genuine sense of authenticity. 

I guess that Salesforce.com struggles to shake its Oracle controlling roots out of its system but in Benioff's performance it is clear they are trying hard to get rid of the legacy. For that alone, they deserve kudos.

Side note: Salesforce.com is coming to terms with itself as not only a market leader but also as a company that has to show vision anyone can 'get.' Dreamforce.com nails the fact that customers want to turn up in droves and laud the value it delivers. Given the sheer size of the event which certainly eclipses Oracle Open World, you have to ask: what's Saleforce.com's next trick? More of the same? I sincerely hope not. 

A final note: CEO's of public companies are expected to have pat answers to every question. It was refreshing to hear Benioff answer: "I don't know" to one question. It is not a sign of weakness - it is a sign of humility. I admire that quality. 

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