Dreamforce: the customer quotient

Salesforce.com is taking the unfiltered conversation route with customers. That's refreshing.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

As I completed the last of my customer conversations at Dreamforce 2012 I was struck by something that had not occurred to me beforehand. Looking back it is obvious. Salesforce.com is able to get customers to talk in unfiltered fashion where others struggle. I need to explain this because when I drew the comparison with SAP events, my Tweetstream went bonkers. 

At the initial media/analyst Q&A, I was critical of the contrived manner of the conversation. However, as we moved from staged events to personal meetings, there was an altogether different tone. For example, at a session I had with DocuSign and Ingram Micro, the enthusiasm for a different way of doing things at fractional cost using a combination of Salesforce.com and CloudSpokes was genuine. How do I know?

Long years spent tracking customer responses has given me the kind of BS detector required to ensure that when I listen to customers I recognise the real deal and not the voice of someone who has just come off a golf course or just had a great lunch. In any event, if you are on the record and talking facts then unless you're totally nuts there is no point in being anything other than frank. 

Speaking of Frank, I picked up on something analyst and researcher Frank Scavo said. Rather than interpret, I asked him to give me his impressions. This is what he said on email:

I attended a session late this afternoon, where Salesforce.com arranged for three current customers to answer questions from about 30 individuals representing prospect organizations. What impressed me was that the hour was entirely unscripted. The Salesforce.com moderator simply introduced the three customer representatives, then said to the audience, “Go ahead and ask your questions.” These were large companies, both on the prospect side and the customer side. This format is quite effective, as the customers were not giving the Salesforce “party line,” but actually talking about their experiences both positive and challenging. The challenges identified were mostly relating to the implementation or integration approach, not the product itself. Being large companies, none of the customers were 100% implemented, but in various stages of roll out in one form or another.

It takes a lot of confidence in your product and in your customers to go out on a limb with this format. But when it works, like I think it did today, it is quite effective.

I cannot add to Frank's impression other than to say: yeah - me too. 

The cynic in me wants to find fault but it is hard to do when customers are providing fine grained detail on what works and what doesn't. Now compare this with others and specifically SAP. 

To those from SAP who will read this: please do one thing: read ALL my words at least twice and don't try see something that isn't there.

For more years than I care to remember, the company has not given the kind of emphasis on customers I'd like to see at its conferences. More often than not we are told that customers can talk but it has to be under NDA or that they are really early in the implementation. We are often presented with video only and/or scripted conversations. In the past, the rationale has always been that SAP is providing software that runs the business in differentiated manner and therefore customers need to be somewhat careful in what they say. That is not always the case but it is the majority by some distance. 

That used to make sense in an age of process re-engineering where the idea was to carve out cost.

Salesforce.com is pitching a bold vision supported by customers who are willing to take the associated risks. It still leaves open the question as to why Saleforce.com customers speak so frankly yet with enthusiasm. Posing that question to Brian Sommer he said: "All these customers are doing something quite different to what we usually see. They're all looking to Salesforce.com to help them transform their businesses in some way." Salesforce.com likes to promote this as 'the social revolution.' That's marketing speak. Customers present a different picture. They see transformation as something that speaks to the top and bottom lines of their business in real and tangible ways they can readily express. 

SAP will argue that what Salesforce.com does cannot be executed upon without the use of its technology. I don't doubt that is true. I will go further and say that Vishal Sikka, executive board member SAP has frequently said that he wants SAP products to contribute towards changing the world. They have examples some of which are truly mind blowing. That's not my complaint.

When Coca Cola can demonstrate in front of thousands of attendees how a consumer can 'gift' a drink to a friend and then have that 'gift' turn into live product delivered from a vending machine that 'knows' about that gift then I want to see the SAP customers of this world show something better. When an Ingram Micro can talk to having got eye catching design out of the Salesforce.com/Cloudspokes community then I want to hear SAP customers say something better. When a DocuSign geek talks enthusiastically about bug bash at $60 an instance then I want to hear SAP customers talk $40.

You get the picture. 

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