Salesforce Innovation Secrets: How Marc Benioff’s Team Stays On Top

by | Aug 27, 2014

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.’”

Free-agent employees

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.’”

Complete article here.

Jeffrey Tobias

About Jeffrey Tobias

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well-known startups.

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Managing Director, The Strategy Group

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well known startups. Jeffrey’s corporate background includes leading global innovation strategy at Cisco, working with large corporates such as Adobe, Westpac, Telstra, Woolworths, and Perpetual.

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