Salesforce came to New York this week for its annual winter meeting with customers intent on testing new ideas and capturing customer input. The event was held at the Waldorf Astoria for a relatively small group (under one thousand) rather than at the Javitz Center, which can accommodate the maintenance facilities for a squadron of F-18’s. Intimacy, it was hoped, would drive better discussion.
Salesforce has been beating the Social CRM drum pretty hard for the last two years and right on schedule Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff has decided to reshuffle the deck. On Tuesday, Benioff introduced new messaging and a new prescription for companies wanting to get social.
Two years is about the shelf life of an idea like social for Salesforce. You only need to do a little archaeology to recall the changes from hosted to on-demand to SaaS to cloud computing to social over the company’s short life to see what I mean. But the company is not changing the message for fun and games, there is a serious purpose behind it.
Social was a catch-all phrase designed to grab the attention of early adopters. By my research, that’s been very successful. Our data shows that executive decision makers in the enterprise and in smaller companies, all understand that social is the next big thing. It will definitely reduce costs and boost revenues by a few points and for enterprise class companies that means real money. That’s a message that early adopters have been comfortable with and Salesforce has some great names to prove its point such as General Electric, Toyota, Burberry’s and many others.
Ok, so the next step for a company in Salesforce’s position is to leverage the early success by now enlisting the early majority. That’s roughly the next level of big companies that want to adopt new technology to capture some of the cost abatement and profits signaled by the early adopters. The only hitch is that the early majority buyer typically wants more proof. Where the early adopter might have a C-level sponsor the early majority will have a vice president or other such title making the charge. These people need proof because they need to convince higher ups that they should get budget for the new gizmo.
Again, our research shows that the people in the early majority demographic are not sold yet. They might be leaning but they also have questions, like How do I do this? What are the security and legal ramifications? Which business processes are affected? And which ones should I start with. Questions like this don’t get answered with social pixie dust which is why the second iteration of the social message largely does away with social as a term replacing it with the more concrete How to Become a Customer Company.
Ok, so now we’re cooking with gas. Becoming a more customer-centric company is an idea that’s been around in various permutations and is readily digestible by the target audience because it proffers a more concrete deliverable. In discussing what it means to be a customer company you can’t pass go without checking in at better profits, lower costs and better customer retention.
So I think Salesforce’s effort in New York and for the remainder of the year through Dreamforce (in December this year) has been and will continue to be fleshing out the meaning of what it means to be a customer company.
One of the failures of most social messaging so far has been its uni-dimensional approach — buy our product and your problems are over! Few people buy into that idea but that’s where the market is at the moment. But to his credit, Benioff has compiled a hefty list of things you can do — with or without his products, though they do make life easier — to get to customer nirvana. In New York, Benioff unveiled a list of eight common sense things you need to do to get to the new goal including implementing technologies that enable a company to:
- Listen to every customer
- Engage on every channel
- Sell as a team
- Service customers everywhere
- Create communities
- Connect with partners
- Connect your products
- Deliver apps everywhere
Without going into elaborate detail on each, let me focus on number 7 which I believe will become the next big thing for social or customer companies — connecting your products. We have heard of this by various names like the Internet of Things and that’s apt. There is huge potential in providing a better over all customer experience by paying more attention to the things that customers buy than by bothering customers all the time with former NYC mayor Ed Koch’s uber question — How an I doing?
If devices have relatively inexpensive sensors built into them that connect them to the Internet to send a steady stream of performance data, then vendors suddenly will have the information they need and a legitimate reason for contacting customers. A message of, “We think your engine will fail in a month or two” might not be what you want to hear. But if this outreach keeps you from being stranded or missing an important event then with the message your vendor may successfully transition from an adversarial position of trying to sell you something else to a real partner in a relationship. Such is what CRM bliss is made of for all parties.
So that’s what happened in New York this week. New messaging, bigger ideas and pushing the ball forward to further improve the vendor-customer relationship while offering the potential to reduce business friction and boost profits.