Salesforce's Benioff: Yes, your toothbrush will be a marketing tool

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff's Dreamforce keynote aimed to fill in blanks between a broad strategy where the Internet of things meets marketing and branding everywhere.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff outlined the company's latest platform and evangelized a day where customers would have a relationship with mundane items like toothbrushes and the vendors behind them. It remains to be seen how this strategy will play out and how long it'll take.

Benioff's biggest challenge in his Tuesday keynote at Dreamforce 2013 was to highlight the connective tissue between its Internet of things meets customer strategy and how the Salesforce1 platform is necessary. Most of the news from Dreamforce already landed.

The Benioff keynote came with the usual pyrotechnics---as well as house band Huey Lewis & the News---and a Back To The Future theme with Salesforce co-founder Parker Harris. Was it gimmicky? You bet, but the substance was Salesforce wants to be an ecosystem for developers and a must have enterprise platform.

Note that the substance was a bit tricky to find. The shtick between Benioff and Harris was at times confusing. The point: Everything will be marketing and everything will be branded.

"Everything is on the Net. And we will be connected in phenomenal new ways," said Benioff. Benioff highlighted how his toothbrush of the future will be connected. The new Philips toothbrush is Wi-Fi based and have GPS. "When I go into the dentist he won't ask if I brushed. He will say what's your login to your Philips account. There will be a whole new level of transparency with my dentist," gushed Benioff.

benioff harris
Marc Benioff and Parker Harris play Back to the Future with Salesforce1.


Benioff's argument is that consumer relationships with all of their vendors will change. "I want to connect not just with the product, but the company. I want to be connected. I want all the vendors of everything to be customer companies," said Benioff.

benioff toothbrush

In Benioff's world, a pro baseball team should connect with customers in the pro store, the stadium and even when a favorite player is chosen on the PlayStation 4. Universities will connect with alumni in new ways. The aim: A 1:1 relationship between brands and companies.

Benioff said the next generation will be all about creating a "customer journey."

Go forth and sell

The punch line to Dreamforce, Benioff's pitch and the company's strategy is fairly clear: Sell enterprises more stuff and become a go-to platform. As more businesses depend on Salesforce's platform and cloud, the company can build a revenue stream far into the future.

A handful of customers in current negotiations with Salesforce have noted that the decision is a big one. Why? Once a large enterprise is on Salesforce and buys into the ecosystem, there's no easy way to turn back.

CRM strategy 1


Sure, the lock-in with the cloud is less than on-premise software, but once you pick a partner you're in.

On Salesforce's third quarter earnings conference call, Benioff called out Keith Block, a former Oracle executive who now leads the company's sales efforts. Benioff said:

(Block) has hired several dozen executives now to come along with him and to reconceptualize and rebuild our customer-facing organization.

If successful, Block will be pitching Salesforce1 and more of an entire suite sale. A deal with HP to create a Salesforce Superpod also broadens the market for the company.

In the end, Salesforce will be increasingly successful at selling the bundle. Benioff highlights Salesforce customers probably better than any other tech CEO. Benioff couldn't help but name drop GE CEO Jeff Immelt.

I was just with Jeff Immelt a couple of weeks ago, and he took out his iPhone and he said, you know, Marc, there's only two apps that I use every single day to run General Electric, and one of them is Salesforce. And he showed me exactly how he uses what is now Salesforce1. And I'll just tell you, it just completely blew me away that I can use it to run my Company; he can use it to run his company. We're customer-focused executives. And when we get that kind of environment where it's a company that has a culture so focused on their customers, we know we're going to have phenomenal cross-sell opportunities.

The underlying theme of Dreamforce is that the company is hoping to get that GE vibe with a bevy of other large enterprises.

And now the reality check

Benioff acknowledged that not all companies will be ready for this big shift. It's worth keeping that in mind since Benioff has already acknowledged that his social enterprise pitch didn't quite fly.

To Salesforce, Salesforce1 is a way to future proof the company and enable things that'll take time to develop in the enterprise. "The platform needs to be build for the developers, ISVs, end users and customers," said Benioff, who noted that Salesforce has essentially carpet bombed the ecosystem with APIs.

Give Salesforce credit for thinking big, but I have to question whether customers are really going to want to connect with every vendor and product. Do we really want a world where everything is brand and marketing?

For instance, I'm all for commodity goods that remain dumb. I don't want my toothbrush monitoring me. Benioff obviously does.

As for enterprises, the missing piece in Salesforce's stack is analytics. Is there a big data play in this big Salesforce1 driven model? Benioff didn't talk big data and it's a safe bet he would have if there was some fodder.

Add it up and Salesforce's vision is interesting, but may be a few years ahead of its time.

Editorial standards