SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 03: Salesforce chairman and co-CEO Marc Benioff speaks during the TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019 conference at Moscone Center on October 03, 2019 in San Francisco, California. TechCrunch Disrupt puts the spotlight on
In 1996, Marc Benioff took a sabbatical from his executive post at Oracle and traveled to India and Nepal. Along the way, he thought about what a new kind of company would look like.
So a few years later he would apply these ideas to his own startup, Salesforce.com. Benioff’s bold vision was to upend the traditional enterprise software market. His solution would be easy to use like Amazon.com or eBay and accessible via any browser (saying good-bye to having to install CDs). There would also be an affordable pricing plan.
Yet something else was critical: a focus on values. They included trust, customer success and innovation (later on he would add equality). These would also be supported by a commitment to giving back (devoting 1% of profits, product and time to charitable efforts) and serving a higher purpose.
Of course, the result would be the creation of a massive company. Today Salesforce.com has a market cap of $129 billion, more than 35,000 employees and revenues of over $13 billion.
Benioff details this amazing journey in his new book, Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change. The message is very clear–that is, the values of a company represent the “most powerful engine” for success.
In the book, Benioff takes a look at each, with compelling stories to illustrate valuable lessons. Here’s just a sampling:
Trust: An obsession with growth can easily lead to taking short cuts. The ultimate result could be an erosion in trust that can weaken a company or even destroy it.
As for Salesforce.com, Benioff had to deal with the growth-trust dilemma often. One example is when the site went down, which was a total nightmare for the company. The temptation was to remain quiet or even to make up excuses.
But how would this help with the value of trust? It certainly wouldn’t. Benioff instinctively knew he had to be different. To this end, he led his team to create a dashboard that provided real-time metrics about the system performance, maintenance schedule and other key metrics of the platform. By promoting complete transparency, he was able to turn a crisis into a positive, engendering even more customer loyalty.
Customer Success: Benioff has always been relentlessly focused on the needs of the customer. This is why he was shocked when he learned that Merrill Lynch–the company’s largest customer–thought Salesforce.com’s product was too cumbersome and complicated (this was in 2013). There was even a freeze placed on the account!
It was a major wake-up call. But in the end, the experience made Salesforce.com stronger. What Benioff realized was that the company had fallen into the trap of “feature creep.” In other words, he had to refocus on understanding the pain points of the customer.
Benioff refers to this quote from Albert Einstein: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend fifty-five minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”
A New Era For Capitalism
Benioff’s book is optimistic. It’s about how companies–of any size–have the inherent power to make our world better. But again, it means going well beyond narrow interests like shareholder value and instead looking to stakeholders like employees, customers and communities. And it all begins with establishing clear-cut values to guide decisions.
As Benioff writes: “Today, it can no longer be about growing or giving back, making profit or promoting the public good, innovating or making the world a better place. Rather, it must be and. Doing well and doing good have become inextricably linked, all part of the same mission. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because employee and customers demand it.”
Tom (@ttaulli) is the author of the book, Artificial Intelligence Basics: A Non-Technical Introduction.
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