Salesforce Innovation Secrets: How Marc Benioff’s Team Stays On Top
The bigger a company gets, the harder it is to innovate and move quickly. But don’t tell that to Marc Benioffand the team at Salesforce.com which continues its reign as Forbes’ Most Innovative Company for the fourth straight year.
By size, Salesforce barely resembles the company that went public a decade ago, swelling from 500 people to 13,000 and from $50 million in annual revenue to $5 billion. But its approach to innovation under Benioff has held firm.
Here are three ways the company stays on top in San Francisco, the city Benioff calls “the most innovative city in the world.”
The product line
Salesforce’s bread and butter is customer relationship management, and its CRM product remains the backbone of the business. But talk to key executives at the company, and you’ll hear a consistent theme: they don’t join the company because they love CRM–well maybe they do, but they join because of the broader vision of Benioff, the company’s co-founder and CEO.
A key to Salesforce’s success has been its ability to move into bigger companies, selling to enterprise-class large customers who require more modifications and attention than a small or medium business. Today, the company’s enterprise business is run by David Rudnitsky, a serial entrepreneur who took Benioff three meetings to hire 12 years ago. “We were having dinner at the Four Seasons and I mentioned the word CRM and how Siebel Systems [a competitor acquired by Oracle] had been over-sold and under-delivered. And Marc said to stop saying ‘CRM,’ that I wasn’t getting it,” Rudnitsky recalls. “He said look at the room, at the lights and the chandeliers. He said we were building a utility, a power plant like for those lights, or how I’d disrupted the browser at Netscape. Right then in 2002, I thought, ‘That’s a visionary.’”
Every product at Salesforce is mapped out for employees by a management tool developed by Benioff called a V2MOM, standing for “vision, values, methods, obstacles and measures.” Pronounced “Vee-two-moms,” the tools are a mix of philosophy and products. Benioff puts “trust” at the top of his methods, since, as he puts it, “That’s the product that we sell, trust. Customers work with us because they trust us, and employees work for us because they trust us.” But if a product isn’t on a V2MOM somewhere as well, Benioff says it may as well not be in the company.
Benioff lets you “figure it out”
It all starts and ends with Benioff, executives tell Forbes. And Benioff is famous within the company for telling his executives a broad vision, then asking them to map out exactly what they’ll make of it for themselves.
When Dayon launched service cloud, he asked what the product was and Benioff told him “I don’t know, you’ll figure it out!”. Salesforce Japan CTO Yoshi Oikawa tells a similar story. “I was in California, and one day Marc called me into his office and asked me, “What do you think about becoming the CTO of [Salesforce] Japan? And I said, ‘There is no team in Japan, so what do you want me to do there?’ And Marc simply replied, ‘You’ll figure it out.’”
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