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Six simple, yet powerful Benioff-isms.

20 September 2011

What business leaders can learn from this often controversial, industry-changing man.

As Marc Benioff’s first manager at Oracle (more years ago than I care to mention), I was like a proud Mom watching him dazzle the crowd at Dreamforce this year. Once teacher, now eager student, I filled my MacBook Air and Twitter stream with inspiring ideas, but what stuck with me were not his words as much as what he does. Benioff-isms, I coined them, six simple, yet powerful practices that I have observed over years of working with and admiring him. I believe they are keys to his success. Let’s learn from the man…

1. Thank (and promote) your customers.

One of the first things Marc does every year at Dreamforce is to thank his customers. It’s a simple thing, yet often overlooked as we rush on to the next pressing deal. Marc is quick to say, “We couldn’t do it without you.” And we saw evidence of his gratitude throughout the conference halls in the form of huge hero banners recognizing Salesforce customers.

2. Share your own best practices.

Some of my favorite sessions at Dreamforce are those presented by the company’s own employees. Opening the kimono to how Salesforce manages leads, uses Chatter, or (my pick this year) manages its explosive growth show a generosity to share. While other companies jealously guard internal practices, Salesforce understands that being open and giving customers this information can help improve their businesses, which in turn leads to good things for Salesforce.

3. Give back.

Did you know that Marc started the Salesforce.com Foundation just one year after founding the company? Since then the Foundation has launched the 1-1-1 program donating 1% of profits, 1% of equity and 1% of employee hours, and has made a major donation to fund the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital (which will be a showcase for improving patient care via technology, by the way). And that just begins to describe the contributions they’ve made. At Dreamforce, “Green Angels” were on hand to reduce our carbon footprint by helping attendees decipher garbage vs. recycling vs. compost. (It’s harder than you might think!)

Social responsibility is in Marc’s DNA and it just so happens that it’s also good for business. Studies show that customers want to do business with companies that are not only “social enterprises” but also have a social conscience.

4. Broaden the Conversation.

Perhaps my very favorite part of Dreamforce is the “Unusual Thinkers” track, which features some of the best medical minds from UCSF. No doubt that’s partly because I have a degree in Human Biology and innovation in healthcare interests me. But it’s more than that. It’s generally agreed that breakthroughs in any field come from interdisciplinary, cross-pollination of ideas. By introducing an audience of technologists and business leaders to the latest in medicine, couldn’t we accomplish something “#awesome” together? Kudos to Marc for recognizing that his customers have a wide range of interests, and for providing them the opportunity to think and learn “outside the box.”

5. Walk the talk.

Marc talks about the new social enterprise and guess what? He is authentically social. He actively uses Twitter (@benioff) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/benioff) as well as his own product, Chatter. You can tell your staff that social initiatives are a top priority, but if you aren’t taking part, you send a message… not the one you want.

6. Lead a movement…or two

Salesforce.com is credited with popularizing Software as a Service (SaaS) and is considered today to be the leading force in enterprise cloud computing. Against this backdrop, in front of a packed house, Marc set down the cloud banner and declared the company reborn “social.” As if one industry-changing movement was not enough, Benioff is calling for an uprising reflective of the current “Arab Spring.” He challenged corporations to lay down their closed, controlling ways in favor of a world where communication and business are social, mobile, open and collaborative – a world that recognizes customers and employees are already communicating, sharing, and living online, in real-time.

Benioff can do for the social business movement something that all the authors, thought leaders, individual contributors and small companies in the Sales 2.0 and Social Selling communities have not been able to accomplish. He can take the message to the CEOs of the largest global corporations. Driving home the point, he shared the stage and the story of working personally with Angela Ahrendts, CEO of Burberry, to collaboratively develop her social business strategy, displaying a diagram-covered napkin as evidence. Angela is now a highly-visible, articulate, impressive (and beautifully-dressed!) spokesperson for “social” and also salesforce.com.

OK, so maybe we can’t all start a worldwide movement, but the lesson here for leaders is be leaders – think big, be revolutionary and lead boldly, whatever your sphere of influence. And maybe, just maybe, the reason Benioff has been able to change the world is that he faithfully follows the first five practices.

Interested in learning more about Salesforce best practices – about their sales growth strategy, including how they map sales resources to markets, how they balance and define territories and what metrics they track? Contact me. I took lots of notes and I’ll happily share what I learned.