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What About the Workers?: Voices from Dreamforce #1

Simon Mulcahy is an Englishman with an English sense of humor. When I asked the Salesforce CMO if he could draw out the main theme or themes of Dreamforce 2017 for me, he said “Yes, I think I can do that.”  Then he leaned across the table, tapped my arm, and added: “It’s kind of my job.”

He had three key points to make. In each relevant product category (as Marc Benioff had said in his keynote) — sales, marketing, service — Salesforce was number one. Secondly, all these products were now integrated into one platform, and rightly so: “A service moment, done really well, is a sales or marketing moment,” he said. Thirdly, Salesforce is “all about building Trailblazers.”

But despite the emphasis on an integrated, holistic Customer Success platform, the Salesforce eco-system seems more open than ever to partner integrations and hosting third-party apps. Is there a tension there? “I think we’ve always been massively open to that,” Mulcahy said. “I think we’ve been open since the beginning.” Being cloud-based, “APIs are a natural part of our DNA.” And there are tens of thousands of apps now available on the App Exchange.

Winners and losers

Mulcahy put the significance of the Trailhead initiative into a broader context. “There’s decreasing trust in every institution,” he said. “The flames are being fanned by the fourth industrial revolution: Technology is provoking massive societal change. In a revolution, he said, “there are always winners and losers. How can it be shaped by us rather than happen to us?”

The Trailblazers, developing (Salesforce-focused) tech skills through the gamified modules on Trailhead will shape not only what the fourth industrial revolution means, Mulcahy explained; they’ll shape Salesforce too, through their questions, requests, and recommendations. Dreamforce is primarily a service, he said; a response to the question, “How do we serve the Trailblazer?”

Following Dreamforce, and around the year, Trailblazers will hold user group meetings “we don’t even know about.”

I asked him if there was a political analogy here: The sense that some people feel they’re being left behind by economic and social changes. “I’d rather say sociological. For every single person on the planet, their jobs will evolve. I’m not saying the jobs will go away.” There will be winners and losers, but Salesforce wants to close the gap between them. This might seem high-minded, but Mulcahy points to a recent Twitter chat which supports the suggestion that Salesforce is not just helping its customers’ bottom line, but is affecting people’s lives.

The technology isn’t the problem

The revolution Salesforce is talking about goes beyond technological innovation. That much is clear. I asked Mulcahy about the way brands are transitioning. “Every company and CEO,” he said, “is in the throes of digital transformation. The technology is not the problem: it’s changing the people.” Indeed, one theme I heard emphasized repeatedly by Dreamforce attendees is that digital innovation is not there just to serve the customer — it’s there to serve workers as well. Of course, if workers can use technology to free up more time to do the tasks which really make an impact, the customer benefits too. Mulcahy grabbed my notepad to explain.

There used to be general acceptance that things would be tough for customers, and tough for the worker serving them. The goal must be to reduce effort all round. As the diagram suggests, it’s all to easy to relieve the burden on the worker at the expense of the customer getting what he/she needs; or to make life great for customer while grinding employees into the ground. The box needs to move evenly.

But speaking of employees, isn’t one of the main drivers behind the My Salesforce initiative a recognition that users still aren’t living and working within the platform, but using it (in classic CRM style) for periodic data input?

An elephant in the room?

That was a possibility raised by Manny Medina, CEO of sales engagement platform Outreach. And it is important, for what follows, to remember that Outreach is primarily a sales, and not a marketing, solution (although it does, Medina said, give marketers visibility into sales). According to Medina, Salesforce stores data, but isn’t involved in the daily “back and forth” between sales and customers. Outreach is, he said, an orchestration layer which recommends the “next best action” for sales reps. “It’s a full communications suite,” he said. It prompts actual actions, “or does them for you.” Without Outreach, said Medina, Salesforce “depends on the good will of the rep to enter data.” And he portrays reps as still reluctant to enter all the data, or enter it promptly.

For Medina, the My Salesforce tag is an acknowledgement that the platform is “not winning the hearts and minds of the user. Nobody loves to enter information post facto.” This in turn presents a challenge to Einstein. Unless the data feedback is closed — in other words, unless Einstein clearly understands the outcome of the recommendations it surfaces — the machine can’t be trained. What’s more, “everyone’s sales process is a little different. How do you normalize this data [input by reps] into something meaningful.” 

Medina does see an opportunity here. “Readable data with a closed loop. Whoever gets there first will win.” And he sees the democratization of access to Salesforce solutions as a way of bringing users “inside Salesforce.” It’s not just Salesforce, he said. Microsoft Dynamics too: people need to live in it, but Microsoft “has the huge advantage of owning Outlook,” a familiar business suite which many workers use all the time.

“It’s the elephant in the room nobody talks about,” he said. Salesforce customers are employing consultancies to “make people” use Salesforce.

Operationalize it

Bonnie Crater, CEO of Full Circle Insights, while not dismissing the challenge, put a more positive spin on it. It should be said that Full Circle Insights, a sales and marketing performance accelerator, grew up in the Salesforce eco-system. The company builds all its apps on Salesforce, uses Salesforce for every operation, and has Salesforce as an investor. It’s a Salesforce customer, partner, and developer, and Crater herself was a very early adopter — within months, indeed, of Salesforce’s launch.

Trailhead “is a real thing,” she said. “It’s really big and really important.” There’s a high demand for Salesforce system admins, and Trailhead can help people with no tech education “get a job that’s a good paying job.” I asked whether the democratization of access — clearly a benefit — was also designed to encourage the full usage that’s needed if something like Einstein is going to work effectively.

“The people that get most out of a CRM go into it every day and use it to help them do their jobs.” They use it as an “operational system.” Open it up in the morning, and there’s a series of tasks.” The data storage part is important — after all, “We invented CRMs because when people left a company, they took business cards with them. But we also need CRMs to be operational. People need to go to work and [find that] their day is easier; rather than ‘I have to type this stuff in.'”

Crater tips her hat to the “fourth industrial revolution” message, but likes to talk about the “insights economy” which is developing all around us. “Data is the raw material. Apps and AI transform it into insights. It’s going to transform the whole economy.” But for it to succeed, “you have to have a robust set of data.” Crater believes — and she actually pauses and thinks before she claims this — that Full Circle Insights has the best set of data for marketers inside Salesforce.

Making life easier for workers. Salesforce may “hold the word ‘customer’ tight,” as Mulcahy says, but the worker side of the equation is becoming increasingly important. Mulcahy made the same point as Crater: “One of the biggest problems of [Salesforce] adoption,” he acknowledged, “is data ingestion. When you ask somebody to change, you’ve got to give them something significantly better.”

Diversity and consultancies — the conversation continues tomorrow.

Salesforce covered DMN’s expenses to attend Dreamforce.

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