Dreamforce 2016: Seeking Optimus Prime - practical vision, practical reality

Dreamforce 2016 was pretty simple. It was a microcosm for Salesforce's activities and place in the larger maelstrom roiling in the tech world - and a likely indicator of why they will have continued real success in that marketplace. Dreamforce was simple but the context wasn't.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

I had an entirely different beginning to this post. It had to do with the confluence of organization and beauty, the self-organization of the universe, the desire and efforts by human beings for self-perfection and other themes along that line. But as much as I could link it up to the subject of this post - Dreamforce and the current technological ecology - it didn't exactly ring true. Sorta pretentious, really. Though interesting...and pretentious. Sigh.

After I did that I had this longwinded idea of what I was going to cover in this post given that my prior posts for Dreamforce have more times than not been book length. I thought I had to do that because that way people would think that I was providing a deep discussion into Salesforce - and that would make me look really smart. At least I'd think I was smart.

But then I realized something after about 5 more drafts of this post that I had to discard (including one that I had written 4000 words already). The lessons from Dreamforce 2016 are simple. The context is complex - so you aren't getting away from reading a complex post - again, but the lessons are easy to understand. Maybe I don't look so smart as a result. Hey, I'm 66 years old. At this point I don't care how smart I look (says a grouchy sounding old dude). Though to be entirely candid, I never cared about that.

So, to see what those simple lessons and moves were and are, I'm going to spend a lot of time setting the context - which has its complexities. But I'll make it easy to understand. Promise.

But before I get to it, though, you know that I have to do what I have to do - and that is my conference qua conference assessment. Thus, ladies and gents, I give you the Dreamforce 2016 Conference Scorecard (sponsored by CRM Watchlist)!! Yay!! Whoot!! Whoot!!

Category Grade Notes
Keynotes (Content) A- The keynote content this year was stronger than in the past because it did what it had to do, situate the new products and services in a context that was generally aligned with the broader global issues that they addressed. So for example, Einstein, Salesforce's artificial intelligence service (at the platform level) was discussed after the broader global issues set the context. There was a well-crafted table setting from Marc Benioff about family, trust, compassion etc. - emotional triggers that set a right brained context to what has been essentially a left-brained endeavor (producing enabling technologies). These were done superbly well. As someone at Forbes put it, "Marc Benioff could sell sawdust to the lumber mill." The only downside was the "banter" between Monsieur Benioff and Mr. Harris has become predictable shtick - even though the content is important, the rest needs a rest. Just make it a normal conversation between two founders. It takes away from what was otherwise a generally excellent content-solid keynote.
Keynotes (Presentation) A- The supporting stuff was very good but there were some small glitches. First, though, kudos to the team that built the customer videos. They were uniformly perfect. All, without a single exception, were built around a day in the life of the customer company and how Salesforce was simply inculcated into that life - rather than the "here's why Salesforce is great" videos that marred Connect 2015 (e.g. Mattel video). The interviews that Mark did with the management of the customer companies were impressive and well organized and supported the framework and tenor of the videos. As always, Peter Coffee did a great job with his interviews and with warming up the crowd pre-keynote. Peter is one of Salesforce's gems. The Einstein CGI thing was cute and it was well done but a bit too long and too cutesy. All in all, the keynote ran a little too long but it was well structured and well-constructed.
Tracks/General Sessions A What gets this a solid A is that there were 2700 of them that had an incredibly diverse range of topics - from meditation and emotional intelligence to smart cities to varying vertical industry topics to core technical and administration of a large variety of Salesforce applications to best practices in sales, marketing, customer service etc. All organized within the framework of Trailhead, Salesforce's truly brilliant training methodology and asset (see uber-influencer Josh Greenbaum's great piece on Trailhead - which says it better than I ever could have). But what was icing on the cake was that I didn't hear a SINGLE complaint about the content in any one of the random sessions that I was able to track with the help of my colleagues and my spies. J Incredibly well done.
Analyst/Press Relations A What truly makes the effort that the Market Strategy team at Salesforce so good it strains credulity is that they are dealing with roughly 175 analysts - and we are a prickly lot - and perhaps 300 plus press - meaning between 475-500 people who have some impact out in the market - and highly distinct personalities that are on occasion a bit too entitled. Yet they do. They satiate the 1 to 1 hunger which means meanings with the press and analysts and execs and customers. Sometimes to meet the demand, they have to double down and assign two analysts to the same meeting and they are smart enough to know which two are so compatible that it doesn't matter to either they are with another one. They have to maintain their schedules over 5-6 days in 30 minute intervals and escort the analysts and influencers. They have to have receptions, larger analyst group interactions with key execs and have a theme to govern those larger interactions (this year was the executive visionaries though a misspelling said "Visionaires" which sounds like a 50s doo-wop group. J) They have to provide food, power, WiFi. This year, they didn't miss a trick. All was nearly perfect. Perhaps the only thing that could have been done that wasn't - more tables with power at the keynote - and leaving the press/analyst center open for those who wanted to watch it streaming rather than closing it and effectively forcing press/media to go to the keynote or their hotel room to watch. But, all in all, magnifique.
Food (VIP) B Solid and tasty, some acknowledgement of special diets (e.g. gluten free would be an example). Food at the receptions, breakfasts was well prepared, somewhat interesting. Food in the press analyst room was as most places a solid "eh." At least there was a vegetarian alternative sandwich.
Food (General Session) B Pretty much okay was the report I got. Beverages, food were pick up your lunch in a box and eat outside. What gets this a B is not the food which was absolutely ordinary by anyone's standard, but the ability to eat it in many different places across the Moscone "campus."
Exhibition Hall B The exhibition hall was slightly improved over last year, but still nowhere near the standard set by SAP at Sapphire or Microsoft at Envision (no coincidence, done by the same person). What was better was less chaos, wider lanes to walk and better organization. What wasn't better was there didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to who was set up near who nor was there a lot of space "wasted" for people to rest. What was good were the water stations to fill your water bottle. Very good idea. But keep in mind the exhibition halls have gotten so crowded with vendors, that many of the partners don't bother to pay for them anymore because of diminishing returns. Instead they rent outside the Moscone Center in the surrounding restaurants etc and greet people there. Suffice to say, this is a change in how these things are done that is baked permanently into the landscape - and a reflection of the self-organization of Salesforce's organic ecosystem. The Exhibition Hall has expanded outside.
Crowd Energy A- One of the influencers that I spoke with found the ambient energy of the conference "weird" (to use his term). What he meant was it was lower key than in the past - but it wasn't because of the crowd being more sedate or less engaged. The engagement was still dynamic, the fanboys and fangirls were/are growing up into fanmen and fanwomen - mature Salesforce advocates/devotees. They are no less engaged and the energy in the "room" was a little lower in volume but there is no question that there was a true kinetic interaction going on that had the audiences fully engaged in the discussions and excitement of the event. But it wasn't dialed up to 11, it was at 10 - and that's a good thing.
Logistics B+ There were issues but what can you expect at the scale that this conference is? We are talking 170,000 registrants (I'm not sure how many showed up) and logistics that stretched deep into the downtown area of San Francisco, not just Moscone North, South and West. But Salesforce had a lot of the crowd control during the conference under control - meaning there were people on every street corner who were skilled in giving directions and proactive in asking if you needed help. Inside the conference center venues, there were similar guides - in the uniforms of TrailBlazers - young, friendly attractive intelligent people who were always happy to help with information or instructions. Where the problems came in were in three places. One, clogging the city to the point of paralysis during the drive time to the U2 concert - which is on Salesforce, not the city. The security procedure for the keynote which seemed (unless there was a true cause for it that I and everyone else is unaware of) a tad too much and a problem that has persisted for three years - you can't get in the building when the keynote is letting out. Literally. You aren't allowed in. One door needs to be made available to let people get to meetings etc. But given the scale, this was by no means a bad effort. It was well done, despite its glitches.
OVERALL A- Dreamforce 2016 is only the second conference all year to get anything resembling an A and at the scale it operates, that's not a great achievement, it's truly remarkable. The quality of the content during the tracks and some of the main stage was out of this world excellent, the tone and tenor that will leave the attendees with the impression of Salesforce they will have for the next 12 months was at the nearly precisely right level. The logistics were handled as well as something this big can be expected and as always the outreach was superb. This is no longer a conference or event, it's a destination now and that's a whole other level. Salesforce lives up to the effort and makes the impression it has to. Once again, Dreamforce was/is remarkable. Clap Clap Clap Clap Clap.

Okay, done with the conference (wipes his hands back and forth) on to the:

Simply Salesforce: The Overview

Oddly, but only at this juncture really, to understand Salesforce as it is proceeding into 2016, it is wise to know what their competition is also doing in the marketplace. Overall, with a little one by one. Because what they are doing is indicative of a significant shift going on in that marketplace as we get ready for the next phase of technological advance and utilization which will bring the Internet of Things (or business version: Industrial Internet), artificial intelligence, robotization of processes that are automated (this is NOT AI to be clear) to the mainstream. Additionally, we're already seeing:

  1. The need for and development of the technology to enable increased engagement through personalization at scale
  2. The operationalization of customer-centric technologies at the back and front end of businesses
  3. The larger technology companies moving toward the provision of platforms and ecosystems to businesses or if not that, providing the bastard children: end to end solutions and/or microservices.
  4. This is creating an active marketplace for niche players who are providing highly specific applications around the more advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (that would be companies like Conversica, Captora, Cogito, who, other than being AI companies starting with a C have little in common in what they do).
  5. OR that provide additional value to existing core operational solutions such as sales, marketing or customer service i.e. value adds for CRM. For example, the sales enablement/acceleration/optimization market (who knows what to call it? I know what I prefer, but no one really cares what I think. But for the record...sales optimization)
  6. It is transforming the customer facing technology market itself - some markets such as Enterprise Feedback Management or Gamification are going away as markets unto themselves because they have been a feature best served in a larger technology framework and now are becoming just that - rather than a competitive market. So, companies like Allegis and Badgeville get acquired by companies looking for a piece of an engagement solution. Their markets per se have withered away.
  7. We are seeing a protoplasm forming and evolving that will ultimately take the shape of a market for customer engagement of which CRM becomes an operational core, ecommerce becomes a transactional core and there are 19 other technologies that exist that can play a role in a broad customer engagement ecosystem. But it is protoplasm, not a fully formed creature yet.

Simply Salesforce: Seeking Optimus Prime

What all those things above leads to is a bit of a quake (not sure I'd call it major but maybe 5.5 on the Richter scale) among the biggest players in the enterprise tech industry. I call this group the Big 4.5. It includes the obvious 4 - Salesforce, Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, and the 0.5 goes to Adobe who is coming up fast but still not at the level of the other 4 when it comes to impact. Each of them is in the early stages, though varying somewhat in level, of a significant attempt to be the dominating force in this new world - though for the most part friendly to sentient beings, if not their competitors. Each of them is taking it in a different direction but one that will impact the others. Here's my take on the directions - as always in an alphabetical ordered list for your viewing ease.

Adobe - During the Adobe Digital Marketing summit, in an analyst briefing, Adobe's CTO, Abhay Parasnis - an industry veteran with Microsoft and Oracle history, told us of Adobe's go forward strategy which had two components - first, combine Digital Marketing Cloud, Creative Cloud and Document Cloud and evolve them to a single platform. Second, create an Open Ecosystem (his words) where they would assess what their customer would need end to end (not every customer) and see what they could provide, what they had to build, who they had to partner with - and that partnership could include a competitor who did something that they didn't or did something better than they did. Thus, the early sign - the strategic alliance with Microsoft announced at Microsoft's Ignite conference in September. Adobe works within the Azure IaaS (see #2), and uses Microsoft Dynamics 365 while Microsoft uses Adobe Digital Marketing for the Dynamics offering.

Microsoft - Satya Nadella, who has been the best thing for Microsoft since Bill Gates founded it, stood up and spoke at Microsoft Envision, implicit in what he said was that Microsoft intended to be the mission critical infrastructure for enabling 21st century business. I wrote extensively on this at the time. What that means is that Azure becomes the infrastructural framework, Office 365 becomes not just a productivity suite, but a unified communications hub, and Dynamics 365 becomes the business solutions layer, with the Xbox, Windows Mobile etc. taking care of the consumers. The dominant operating system currently and for the foreseeable future is Windows 10 which despite naysayers, has nearly 400 million installs in the last year plus. Years ago I said Microsoft was the only company on the planet that has the technology to enable peoples' lives from end to end (meaning business and consumer). They are now moving to prove that. Will they succeed. They have a lot they need to do for that to happen which is not the subject of this post. So, I'll leave you and them in suspense as to what that is. But it is their intent - whether they state it or not - and they should state it.

Oracle - At the last Oracle OpenWorld (which in the interests of full disclosure I didn't attend due to surgery - mine, not Oracle's) - Larry Ellison spent an inordinate amount of time on Amazon and AWS and competing with them. Peculiar, but in line with what Oracle is doing, saying (to their credit, they aren't hiding anything) and building. They are taking all their acquisitions, building them, integrating the companies and within limits the technologies, and rebranding to be able to take on the enterprise. They are moving to try to be what Microsoft wants to be which is to be the mission critical business infrastructure for 21st century business, but of course, with that particular Oracle tech weeds take on it. To that end they are claiming their own IaaS capability, they are building out their customer-facing portfolio around customer engagement with the announcement of the Oracle Engagement Cloud (the integration/unification of the Sales and Service clouds) they are releasing what they call adaptive intelligence solutions and they announced Cloud@Customer, a Platform as a Service offering (though I've found little real information on this); they have the hardware to support all this. That said, they are still geared both from a product and services portfolio standpoint and their messaging to the larger enterprises starting with the upper end of the midmarket to the biggest, not the smaller ones. They are taking on everyone - Salesforce, Amazon, SAP, Microsoft. But it is move that encroaches in areas especially IaaS and PaaS that they haven't ventured much before. When they've brought it up in the past, its been public, private cloud etc. But now they are going from tentative to all out.

SAP - This is the most enigmatic because they have the means to do as much or more than any of the other players, but they are not pushing it as aggressively as their competitors are. During the 2015 Dreamforce, SAP announced a huge initiative, turning the company almost literally on its head, changing their focus from what had historically been an enterprise back office company - though in real terms that outlook was an artifact by 2013 - to a customer-focused solutions company that integrated the larger customer engagement solutions with ecommerce and a customer-centered supply chain, financials etc. capability. They had their messaging close to right - smartest of the lot really. They had the tools and the solutions, they had the personnel in place. But it hasn't been an aggressive effort to own the market - at least, at the corporate level. Their divisions are aggressive but SAP who is still one of the most innovative companies, even though it does want to be optimus prime - hasn't been as overtly growling about it. But don't underestimate their potential if they do.

Salesforce - That leads me to the centerpiece of this post:

Simply Salesforce: The Specific Message of Dreamforce 2016

Probably the best and most important moment at Dreamforce this year was very undramatic and was short-lived. It was when the slide was shown that had Einstein as a part of the platform. Nothing was more important than that was said or done at the conference.

Why, for the love of Mike (a dated expression from the 1930's and 40s - and who's Mike?), would I say that.


From the year 2002, Salesforce has had one thing in mind - to be the platform upon which all business applications are run. All business applications. For the most part, from the standpoint of their native capabilities - native meaning the things born of them or conquered/acquired by them - they have focused on building out the technologies that one way or the other directly impact the customer. That means the Sales, Marketing and Service Clouds for customer facing operations and the Commerce Cloud for the customer transactions. From a vertical standpoint they have their Government Cloud, Health Services Cloud and Financial Services clouds so that vertically specific applications can be built on their platform. I would make the argument that the IoT Cloud, the Analytics Cloud, the Community Cloud for example are horizontal services that span all the other clouds and thus aren't true clouds unto themselves. They are layers that provide deeper capabilities for the other clouds - as Einstein does in the platform. They are using their Steelbrick acquisition to add a solution, not a cloud - a smart move. This is interesting for me as a slightly different format for Salesforce's thinking. A minor breakthrough in not making CPQ a cloud. To put it in context, Andres Reiner CEO of PROS said when he bought Cameleon, a CPQ provider in 2013, that CPQ is a feature. Rightfully so. It's not a cloud. It's part of a larger sales capability. Salesforce is seeing CPQ the right way, making it an add-on application - as is of course Andres Reiner. The good thing is that it is a marketable application in an important market with several players who make it work including - Oracle, Salesforce, PROS, Apptus, Infor, etc.

The importance to Salesforce in not in the market, it's in the thinking. By not reducing it to a cloud but seeing it as an add on application, this gives Salesforce a broader perspective that allows them to position things both vertically (clouds, applications) and horizontally (services, platform, applications) and cross functionally.

Now let's jump back to Einstein. The Einstein animation was cute, and it was kind of a fun thing but when it boils down to the real possibilities for the company it was the inclusion of Einstein into the platform with Lightning and Thunder that was the most important part of the company. Because it signaled the enrichment of the platform and the utilization of the platform to drive outcomes and use cases via each of the individual clouds - an example of horizontal thinking that has lacked in the past at Salesforce (especially around ecosystems).

Look, let's be clear on both artificial intelligence and Einstein. The fiction is still equal to or greater than the reality but the reality is there. In the case of artificial intelligence, what the promise you are hearing is versus what the promise actually is, are two different things - but the promise of it when it comes to practical reality is still great.

As an example, take this optimistic quote from Executive Office of the President's National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) study on AI (this link is straight to the PDF. Don't freak out):

One area of great optimism about AI and machine learning is their potential to improve people's lives by helping to solve some of the world's greatest challenges and inefficiencies. Many have compared the promise of AI to the transformative impacts of advancements in mobile computing. Public- and private-sector investments in basic and applied R&D on AI have already begun reaping major benefits to the public in fields as diverse as health care, transportation, the environment, criminal justice, and economic inclusion. The effectiveness of government itself is being increased as agencies build their capacity to use AI to carry out their missions more quickly, responsively, and efficiently.

Salesforce's leadership seems to be well grounded when it comes to what AI is and isn't. In an Industry Analyst Executive Interaction session during Dreamforce 2016 with Salesforce's futurists. Richard Socher, CEO of Metamind, a recent Salesforce acquisition made two salient points:

  • Artificial Intelligence isn't human intelligence. We tell it what we want it to learn and it then will learn.
  • AI doesn't want anything. At least yet. So humans still guide AI's "desires."

So, don't despair. We don't need John Conner yet.

We've seen a lot of what AI promises but a lot of the innovation that already is being developed is in the smaller use cases and applications. For example:

Larger players claim to be using it as a:

  1. Platform layer (Salesforce)
  2. large scale add-on/in for enterprise solutions with customization tools (Oracle)
  3. Fully integrated/interwoven part of their applications framework (Microsoft)

Smaller players are developing niche/specific applications:

  1. Customer service (agent.ai)
  2. Voice recognition (Cogito)
  3. Content ROI (Captora)
  4. Personalized responsiveness (Conversica)

So where does this leave Einstein? Let's just say prevailing theory and conversation among analysts is that the basic Einstein exists including a few use cases but there is a long way to go until its projected uses for each of the clouds are completed. There's enough there to take it seriously, regardless. Salesforce, with their sense of timing and dramatic flair, announced Einstein the day before Oracle Open World started. I have to assume that they knew that Oracle would announce their AI products at OOW and were trying to upstage them. Otherwise, they would have waited until Dreamforce. By the way, don't underestimate what Oracle has. Their AI products were built by people like Melissa Boxer and Tara Roberts who I know from the Oracle CRM practice days and they know how to build things - and build them the right way. So, we have the players coming together. But by the same token don't dismiss Einstein. Salesforce has 175 data scientists on the case and Bob Stutz, arguably the CRM industry's most iconic technology pioneer, in charge of the Analytics Cloud, Marketing Cloud and IoT Cloud - which a significant chunk of the clouds that AI is going to be playing in. One thing I've learned as an industry analyst is to recognize that you can trust the people doing things to continue to do things if that's the way they roll. We can often underestimate how important knowledge of who is doing something is when it comes to the actual output being claimed or the promises made. When I listen to financial analysts for example, I hear very little about anything but projected stock performance and investment return - and I have a HUGE respect for their ability to figure that out. I listen to industry analysts like me and we are talking market trends, product analysis and strategic competitive analysis of technology companies. But I've learned that while all of that is necessary, we can't forget that who is doing something or claiming something or doing something that is being claimed makes a huge difference. I know the three people I mentioned and they produce always - at different levels of the company - but can be counted on to make stuff happen.

Einstein's power right now is strategic and visionary - it's part of the platform and it has a significant future value in the uses for the various Salesforce clouds and as the tools evolve and the integration to the platform gets more substantial for customized outcomes.

One other significant marker in the evolution of Salesforce and a recognition that it is alert to the transformation of the market place was their recognition of the importance of the alignment of sales and marketing - at the divisional and corporate level and with technology. Their original insight and initial action was actually a couple of years ago with the release at Marketing Cloud's Connections Conference of the Pardot-enabled Salesforce Engage product, the first application that recognized that sales and marketing were being increasingly aligned and thus, the workflows and business rules built into the reflected that (e.g. for sales to change the content of marketing collateral, a workflow and business rule was built into the product to require someone in marketing to give permission to sales to make the changes).

Dreamforce 2016 presented a much more definitive though significantly underplayed case for it with sessions that covered the practical value of sales/marketing alignment, a session or two on the thought leadership around it - and several sessions that basically let Salesforce customers and others know that Pardot was going to be the tech engine for sales/marketing alignment. For a look at the broad spectrum of activity and some of the research related to it and released at Dreamforce, this article written by John Rampton of Due is a good starting point. But suffice to say, both technologically when it comes to the product road maps and strategically, Salesforce is making this cornerstone to the sales/marketing future of the company's products - and I presume its own. What I don't know but would be curious to find out is whether or not Salesforce is doing the same thing its products and messaging espouse - aligning their sales and marketing departments. Anyone know anything?

Simply Salesforce: The Concern

There is one thing that I noticed at some management levels at Dreamforce that was a bit disturbing though - there are signs of an arrogance building up that is unacceptable. The most egregious examples were three management level folks who told either told me (two) or I heard about from other analysts/influencers (one) that were talking about "crushing" small companies (in both cases partners) or demanding that other smaller companies not be in a specific market (again, a partner). In fact, the latter, is one that I've heard prior to Dreamforce in a couple of other instances over the last a bit more than a year. There are lesser examples - the prevailing idea that "we (Salesforce) can do it all" said with disdain about other companies. I have heard enough to make me sound an alarm to Salesforce. So consider the alarm tripped.

I want to make one thing clear though - it's not culturally encouraged. I don't see this as an endemic problem yet, but instead as a problem that highly successful companies with momentum often have - a sense of not empowerment, but entitlement among some of its individuals, who are interpreting the incredible Salesforce presence the wrong way. But what I would suggest that before it gets beyond aberrant individuals and gets to be endemic, it is culturally discouraged - and Salesforce is in a great position, given their culture, to do that. Thus, they should.

One more point and I'll shut up - but it's a big point - and Salesforce, don't worry, unlike the last one, it's a truly positive one.

Simply Salesforce: The Broad Brush Strokes

Salesforce is almost unique among companies in its understanding of the right brain when it comes to its public face and internal culture. Their emphasis is not just on the technology they provide, but the outcomes they produce; not just on the metrics that prove the point and the benchmarks that drive its existence, but on the benefits derived by those outcomes; not just its financials and shareholder value, but on the value to all stakeholders. That's just their offerings - and their approach to it. Importantly, as a hallmark of their culture, they also spend time in understanding the actual people who have connections to their company - be they employees, customers/prospects, analysts/press etc. What this leads to, for example is what is the best analyst relations team in the tech world, overseen by the absolutely amazing John Taschek, their SVP of Market Strategy. As I've stated before, what makes them so incredible isn't just that they are smart enough to satiate the analysts' appetite for information - which they do as consummate pros - but that I (and many others) would have no problem hanging out with them as friends - and we do just that. What they aren't is just AR people communicating with analysts and influencers. They have far more dimensional depth than that. They are human beings who are dealing with other human beings - each of whom has a job to do. Different thing.

That AR team and the hiring of the specific people on it including the hiring of John Taschek is indicative of how Salesforce works. They understand the impact of culture, the power of emotion and how the human thought processes work. I don't necessarily know if they hire folks who figure out emotional triggers but they certain know how to pull them. Marc's opening keynote was masterful - and seemingly heart felt. Just to be clear, it isn't manipulative to figure out how to get people to respond emotionally if you actually believe what you are saying and want others to believe it too. That's the power of guys like Marc Benioff. Despite the Salesforce haters who denigrate him, he is doing something that he truly believes not only pleases shareholders, but has the ability to provide some benefit to the world and is looking to convert to the cause. To me, this is a great strength and it makes him the greatest marketer on the planet - and that's a good thing. It starts with the fact his big philanthropic heart is in the right place and goes from there.

In fact, that ability to get others to believe you and believe in what you are doing is what makes a visionary a true visionary.

How does that work, you might ask? Or you might not.

Practical Vision or Science Fiction?

There are two facets that I can identify that indicate how visionary companies and people think.

First, they have to be able to paint a vivid picture of a future. But if that's all they do then it's really just either science fiction (if its grounded) or fantasy (if its flying). But it's the second part that makes vision...well, vision. It's when that picture of life as it could be or the future as we'd like to see - you say, "hmm. I can see that. I can see me as part of that." That's where true visionaries shine. They are able to get your buy in to their view of the world and its future. Here's a famous visionary and brilliant video that sets a video standard for visionary product marketing. It's called Corning: A Day Made of Glass and it was done in 2011. It gives you a great visual on vision. The near and achievable future and the "I can see that for me" pairing that leads to vintage vision. In fact, recently, an article appeared in Crave that took a look at the practical progress of the vision and where it stood as of early 2016 - which is the other side of a practical vision -at different points you are able to show verifiable progress. That means for example if Einstein is a visionary product that is, say 30% done (to be clear I'm making up the number here. I have no inside information on exactly how far along Einstein is) that's fine - but it needs to be 100% of what is being presented within a very reasonable time too. Vision is more than marketing. It requires execution to the plan for the realization of that vision. Something that often doesn't happen.

Salesforce is a profoundly visionary global company. In their eyes, they see the movement of the sum total of all actions on the planet (in a metaphorical way of course) including the social, technological, political, cultural, ecological, behaviors of individuals and institutions and the evolution of those individual and institutions and then they situate the company within that global flow. That sounds sort of mushy, and unmeasurable, but it is neither.

Think about how Dreamforce is conducted and you understand that Salesforce (and other companies but we are concerned with what Dreamforce tells us) sees that as a company, it, on the one hand, has a fiduciary responsibility but also a social responsibility and that means it has to, as a company, impact behaviors in some way that benefits the things the company does for its own business benefit and the things the company champions. So when you listen and look at Dreamforce, you see a unique emphasis on philanthropy, mindfulness, compassion, emotional intelligence, sprinkled with entertainment (mostly music, some sports) stars - all activities and personalities who appeal to the emotions and impact the behavior of any individual who might be attending or listening or one way or the other in Salesforce's orbit. The entire conference is organized around a practical vision. Salesforce is saying. "Here's the things that you can do along with us in the world as we grow as a company in lockstep with the era we live in" - give generously, learn how to think about your behavior and emotional responses, show love for others and be grateful you have what you have, get politically involved (Remember 2015 and Marc Benioff/Salesforce taking on at the time Indiana's Governor Mike Pence around what was an anti-LGBT bill and ultimately winning that one). But, lest we forget, Salesforce is a business and they are in the business of what all companies do - selling their stuff. Consequently, while they are taking a lot of accountability for larger issues, and are doing it to honor corporate social responsibility, they are doing it with an eye to their business opportunity - which can be affected by the level of trust that people have in Salesforce. Salesforce realizes that human beings are emotional creatures and this is taken into account when they launch initiatives that are not ROI driven. But they are impact driven. Having the measurable impact that they do, impresses people with an indelible or at least memorable idea of the culture of the company. The broad brushstrokes Salesforce tries to (pretty successfully) project, are "bold, defining, dramatic, thoughtful and concerned" all good for engendering trust. Which is what it ultimately is all about. If I trust the company I'm dealing with and I see them as a "company like me." (here's what I wrote about a "company like me" for CRM Magazine back in 2008. Still on point, I think.), then I am likely to continue to do business with them.

In Sum

I know this is a LONG post and covers a lot of ground but the essence goes like this:

  1. The technology world is rapidly evolving with new initiatives like AI coming to the constantly.
  2. The biggest players in that market are now engaged in efforts to become the dominant player in the market.
  3. That means that not only does the company that will more than likely win out have to have the technology, but they have to have the practical vision, the culture, and the buy in from the customers, prospects, partners, other stakeholders, etc not just into the tech, but the company itself.
  4. Their prospects, customers, partners, etc. have to feel that they are dealing with a "company like me" - a company they can trust.
  5. Salesforce is one of the few companies that not only has the technology, but spends a good deal of time on the culture, the emotional, the vision and the effort to impact the population in technology, social, political and philanthropic realms. Dreamforce is their microcosm - though a helluva big microcosm - for reflecting exactly that.
  6. They are uniquely situated to accomplish this - and, if they can overcome some of the creeping issues that come with growing big and being loud, they can succeed.

With that, I bid you adieu - until the next post.

BRIEF ANNOUNCEMENT: Registration for the CRM Watchlist closes at 6pm Pacific Time on Friday November 11 - without exception. So if you are still interested in participating, please email me at paul-greenberg3@the56group.com before that time - because the registrations have to be in my hands by the deadline. For more info, go to this blog post here on ZDNet earlier this year.

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