Struck by Lightning from Salesforce.com

Once again, I didn’t go to Dreamforce. It is just too hard. They had over 150,000 registered attendees this year which means getting a hotel room is either expensive or impossible. Everything is difficult when you have a convention that size in any city. While not quite up to late 90’s COMDEX standards (where attendance peaked around 250,000), Dreamforce still pushes San Francisco to the limits. Luckily, Salesforce.com thoughtfully streams the keynotes which is mostly what I care about anyway.

The problem was that it was actually hard to care. The majority of the first day’s keynotes were these feel good, hand waving, chanting, socially conscience speeches and interviews that are fun but have almost nothing to do with Salesforce.com technology and how a customer uses it. The second day was much better because it focused on the products. Even so, I was mostly sleeping through presentations that were much too similar to last year. That is until I was struck by Lightning.

Lightning is the name of the latest iteration of the Sales Cloud Platform. It is, in many ways, a radical departure from traditional CRM. Instead of being a pumped up customer database like most CRM software, Lightning reimagines CRM as salesperson centered. For the first time, CRM is more about selling than record keeping and reporting. I don’t even think it’s fair to call it CRM anymore. Here are some additional thoughts on Lightning:

  • The sales pipeline is now center stage. It becomes a primary tool for the salesperson, not just the sales manager, to manage deal flows.
  • Everything is more analytics driven. Once again, analytics is being moved from a management tool to a way for sales people to meet their targets.
  • SalesforceIQ is a full featured email client baked right into Sales Cloud. This has two advantages to the average sales professional: One, tight integration with their sales tools and two, the ability to capture information from emails into lead and contact fields. The second advantage is the huge one. It drastically helps to automate the most onerous part of selling – record keeping for the boss. Most email clients that are part of CRM apps are pretty basic and clunky. SalesforceIQ is a modern ready-for-mobile application that many sales pros will want as their primary client.
  • Data entry automation, in general, is a big deal in Lightning. Lots of small companies have provided tools to help reduce the typing that sales pros so despise but this is now a core function.
  • The Pipeline Board is a Kanban style display that organizes opportunities as cards associated with various stages in the sales process. It’s like Trello for selling. This makes it easy for sales people to see what is stuck and create actions to unstick opportunities. It also allows the overall management of individual pipelines much easier. This is a killer feature.

One new feature that I’m not a fan of is Sales Engage. It allows sales professionals to create their own email campaigns using Pardot, Salesforce.com’s email marketing platform. I can only imagine the overeager, young, salesperson spamming their prospects. I can’t imagine Marketing will be too fond of having their precious branding efforts undermined by terrible salesperson driven email campaigns either. There is a separation of marketing and sales for a reason folks.

Here’s a few other high and lowlights:

  • Marketing cloud is finally well integrated. Since the majority of the Marketing Cloud came via acquisitions, the pieces were always a bit uncoordinated. Salesforce.com has finally knitted them all together into a more coherent marketing toolbox.
  • Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, showed a lot of class when his demo bombed on him. He persevered without even a hint of annoyance. Many of his peers would have been more obviously irritated. While he was asked a lot of silly questions (“What is the soul of Microsoft?” Really? It’s to make money through technology. Duh!) Mr. Nadella said a couple of things that I thought were noteworthy. I especially liked his idea of the mobility of experience, the idea that your personal experience should follow you from device to device. He also said that revenue and profits are lagging indicators of success. How true. Money only measures, after the fact, your ability to execute. Nice focus.
  • Stevie Wonder was sad. First off, that an artist of his stature should be playing a few songs to warm up the crowd for a tech CEO is painful. Equally painful was his performance. He was often off key and his voice just sounds shot. To make matters worse, some roadie kept fiddling with his gear and interfering with his performance. I don’t know if it was intentional or not but it certainly seemed like Marc Benioff cut off his last song. If so it was a mercy.
  • There is way too much social justice, holding hands, Kumbaya stuff. It’s great that Salesforce.com tries to do good for society and not just institutional investors but really, this is a convention about using Salesforce.com to do business better not church. A little bit is fine. Too much is a waste of time.
  • I predict that Dreamforce can’t go on like this. Sooner or later it will collapse under its own weight and form a black hole. It’s too big to be useful. I worry that most people go for the parties. When I heard Foo Fighters, The Killer, and Gary Clark Jr. were performing, I had a moment of weakness and almost called my travel agent. That’s not a good reason to spend corporate education and travel dollars.

Lightning makes Saleforce.com a company to watch again. It’s what next generation sales tools are about. It should worry both the host of sales automation startups buzzing around Salesforce.com like blowflies and the giant CRM vendors who are still lumbering around like dinosaurs. In some ways, Lightning proves that Salesforce.com can still be a scrappy and disruptive company.

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