Salesforce: Trust is the Key Value for Tech Companies

Salesforce: Trust is the Key Value for Tech Companies

Speaking to Jim Cramer on Mad Money, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff argued that for technology companies, the key value is no longer the great idea, but trust:

In technology over the last two decades, the most important thing has been the idea. That is, the best idea wins.   That has been what gets you funded, that’s how you grow your company, that’s been your highest value: the best idea wins. No longer true.

The current highest value is trust, and if trust is not your highest value, if the most important thing to you and your company is not trust, you need to look again, and that’s what’s happening with these companies today.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff

Benioff observed that a lack of trust is eroding Silicon Valley companies such as Facebook.  “Their executives are walking out, employees are walking out,and that happens with a lot of companies in tech right now. We’ve had a lot of walkouts this quarter.  And the reason why is because it’s kind of amessage to the executives: it’s time to transform.”

“Every company has to hold themselves to a new level of trust, and if your brand is not about trust, you’re going to have customer issues, and you can see that in that brand,” observed Benioff.

And trust has long been part of Salesforce’s value proposition.  The firm emphasizes it’s 1:1:1 philanthropy program (Donating 1% of technology, people, and resources) which has been adopted as a model by other companies.  Salesforce also promotes local nonprofits at Salesforce events, emphasizes Trailhead and meetups for skills advancement, embraced a San Francisco tech company tax to address homelessness, called for a US GDPR to protect privacy, raised womens’ wages to address a pay equity gap following a self-audit, and spoke out against anti-gay legislation.  Under a short-term profit-maximization model, these activities make little sense, but under a longer-term stakeholder’s approach, they make perfect sense.

Trust is based on a stakeholders approach to corporate governance.  It recognizes that Milton Friedman’s stance against social responsibility (“there is one and only one social responsibility of business to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays in the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition, without deception or fraud.”) is wrong.  A stakeholders approach recognizes that employees, customers, partners, investors, and the general public all place value on companies that take a long-term view of their role in society.  Simple profit maximization is a short-term approach which fails to recognize that you can’t attract the best employees or close multi-million dollar deals if you are not trusted.

And you can see this in the stock price growth of Facebook and Salesforce over the past five years.  Facebook’s stock price outpaced Salesforce for the past five years, but once Facebook lost trust, its stock price declined.

Salesforce and Facebook both had strong stock price growth over the past five years, but Facebook retreated this year after it lost trust amongst stakeholders.
Salesforce and Facebook both had strong stock price growth over the past five years, but Facebook retreated this year after it lost trust amongst stakeholders.

Benioff Dreamforce Keynote

Salesforce CEO Mark BenioffSalesforce CEO Mark Benioff has long taken a stakeholders’ approach to his business, understanding that technology firms can do both good and evil.  Unlike many of the social media companies which are now beginning to understand the dangers of taking a laissez-faire approach to how others use their technology, Benioff has ensured that his enterprise cloud company takes an affirmative action towards social justice, equality, and the ethical application of his firm’s technology.

Eighteen years ago, he started the 1:1:1 campaign (1% of product, time, and resources) to nonprofits and philanthropic purposes.  At Dreamforce and World Tour events, the firm regularly promotes local nonprofits and holds sessions for them.  The firm has also taken stands against discriminatory legislation and adjusted salaries to ensure gender pay equity.  Benioff is calling for “inclusive capitalism” which benefits all members of society and recently created an Office of Ethical and Humane Use of their technology.

Here is what Benioff had to say at this year’s Dreamforce (abridged):

What is really important to us? what is the most important thing what are our values? What are we going to stand for? What do we really want?…

We’re watching…for companies who are not listening to their key stakeholders, not listening to their customers, not listening to their employees, not listening to the kids…Then we watch the executives walk out. The employees walk out.  The customers walk out as a vote of no-confidence against their values and as a community we stand here and we say we are going to commit to a higher level.  We are going to a higher level together to express our values.  We know what the most important thing is to us and in this community and we’ve said it for years and we’ll say it again:  Our culture is built on trust – The fundamental trust that we have with you; the fundamental trust that we have with our key stakeholders, with our customers, with our employees, with our partners.

Our trust is with you and we take that very seriously.  It’s our highest value and we ask every company to ask what is your highest value and in the world when technology is taking us over and in a world where technology through the Fourth Industrial Revolution is grabbing us, realize that we all have a higher responsibility to ask that question especially you see the gambits that are unfolding really before us. Especially as artificial intelligence gets released into the whole world we must ask this question, “What is truly important to us?”…

We realize technology is not good or bad, it’s what you do with it that matters…We’ve restructured our company to have an Office of Ethical and Humane Use of the technology so that as our employees or our customers or our partners say “Are we doing this? Are we aligned with our values? Are we moving forward?”

We can have a structured conversation not just with our own employees myopically but by bringing in the key advisors and supporters and pundits and philosophers and everybody necessary…to ask the question, “Is what we are doing today ethical and humane?” and we’re all gonna have to ask that question in the technology industry and every company and every CEO better be ready to answer to that question through their values.

And we’re putting our values into action because our values create our behaviors…

We believe we have to bring everyone in.  Everyone has to come in to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It’s inclusive capitalism.  Inclusive capitalism means we’re all going together into the future.  We are leaving no one behind. Nobody will be left.

 

 

Facebook Reaps What It Sows

Facebook dropped 20% in one day as the ongoing news about their misuse of personal data began to hit their bottom line a few weeks ago.  Here is a guerilla protest campaign in London which encapsulates their issues:

The problem at Facebook is that they forgot that they were there for their members not their advertisers.  The idea was free content (news, fake news, and social), no editorial review, and monetization of the data exhaust from their platform.

When that happened, truth and privacy became irrelevant.  They can whitewash their actions and pretend that the problems are exogenous to their company, but hiring editors is only the beginning of excising the rot that rests at the center of Facebook’s business model.


Source: Instagram images from ProtestStencil

Don’t Disparage Your Competitors

I much prefer looking at competition as a set of parries and thrusts. Competitors are to be respected. Disparaging competitors only serves to undermine your case and is indicative of fear.
I much prefer looking at competition as a set of parries and thrusts. Competitors are to be respected. Disparaging competitors only serves to undermine your case and is indicative of fear.

I wanted to call attention to an excellent article written by Dave Kahle in Industrial Supply which aligns fully with my philosophy on B2B competitive strategy and sales training.  For nearly two decades I have emphasized the value of staying above the fray with a focus on a company’s unique value proposition and strengths.  While the easiest route is to disparage a competitor, it generally conveys fear and a lack of confidence in your own offering.  This tends to undermine trust in your company and its people.

“Disparaging the competition – speaking badly about the company or the individual salespeople, using little innuendos and side comments – all of this says more about us to our customers than it does about the competitors to whom we are referring. It reveals us as small-minded, petty, smug and far more interested in ourselves than we are in our customers.”

  • Dave Kahle, Author and Sales Trainer

Instead I have advocated only discussing competitors when directly questioned about them.  In that case, I have recommended a fast pivot where the rep recognizes a strength and then quickly segues back to their offering.  The strength should be real and non-trivial, but not applicable to your customer.  For example, if selling to an SMB, saying that the competitor offers highly customizable solutions for enterprises, but your offering is designed for small businesses with a straightforward user experience.  Such an approach is honest, differentiates yourself from the competitor, and avoids mudslinging.

Kahle offers several alternative, but equally valuable strategies for staying above the fray.  Instead of speaking directly about a specific company, generalize the competition.  Generalization “provides you a means of pointing out your distinctiveness without being negative about your specific competitors.”

Kahle also suggests posing statements in question form to help frame the prospect’s thinking;

Don’t say, “Y Company is a small local company that doesn’t have the systems or technology to support you in the long run.” Instead, say, “One of the questions you should ask of every vendor is this, ‘What technology and systems do you have in place to assure that you will be able to support us for the long run?’”

Another strategy is a feature list between companies, but I am not particularly fond of this approach for tech firms as the table needs to be assiduously maintained and it shifts the focus from value to features.   Furthermore, such lists aren’t tailored to the needs of individual prospects and prospects are likely to view such collateral as biased.  When I used to put together such tools, I avoided simple checklists and instead focused on workflow stages and framed the discussion as features and benefits in the context of each stage.  Each comparison was dated and I told sales reps that I would perform a just-in-time review of the tool if it was more than several months old.

“While we can’t change the competition, we certainly are responsible for our attitudes and behaviors toward the competition,” wrote Kahle.  “What we say and how we act about the competition can have a daily bearing on our bottom lines. An appropriate attitude and set of practices for dealing with the competition should be an essential part of every salesperson’s repertoire.”

It is easy to disdain the competition and crow about your product or service, but competitors should be respected.  They also have well qualified sales reps and some feature advantages.  “From the 10,000-foot-high perspective, if your competitors were as flawed as you think they are, they wouldn’t be in business, and your customers wouldn’t be buying from them,”  said Kahle.  “So, bury those attitudes of superiority, and cast off that disdain for the competition. If your customers didn’t think they presented a viable option, they wouldn’t be buying from them.”

Kahle suggests that if a company is truly focused on its customers’ needs, then competitive offers are irrelevant.  “Your mindset, from the beginning, is not a bit focused on the competition, but rather is 100 percent targeted to completely understanding the customer’s requirements. The conversation is not about how you compare to the competition, but rather how you meet the customer’s needs.”


DoD photo by Master Sgt. Lono Kollars, U.S. Air Force.  Public Domain.

Satya Nadella and “Trust in Technology”

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella digressed from standard earnings call topics two weeks ago to discuss the importance of ethics, privacy, and cybersecurity.  While he did not provide a specific reason for the digression, the Facebook hearings and impending GDPR implementation were likely motivators.

Nadella noted that the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge are “tremendous opportunities” for Microsoft customers, but that it is critical that both Microsoft and its customers “ensure trust in technology” across three dimensions: privacy, cybersecurity, and ethics. Nadella argued that “privacy is a fundamental human right” and that the firm has implemented an “end-to-end privacy architecture” which is GDPR compliant.

“For customers, we will provide robust tools backed by our contractual commitments to help them comply with GDPR,” said Nadella. “In fact, for most customers it will be more effective and less costly to host their data in Microsoft’s GDPR-compliant cloud than to develop and maintain GDPR compliance tools themselves.”

With respect to cybersecurity, the company spearheaded a coalition of 34 global tech and security companies for the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, “an important first step by the industry to help create a safer and more secure online environment for everyone.”

Nadella also announced the establishment of an AI and Ethics in Engineering and Research Committee at Microsoft “to ensure we always advance AI in an ethical and responsible way to benefit our customers and the broader society. This includes new investments in technology to detect and address bias in AI systems. Microsoft stands for trust, and this will continue to be a differentiating focus for us moving forward.”

Up until recently, information technology and social media have been viewed as social goods with few drawbacks, but now that we are all tied into the social communications fabric, we are beginning to worry about the dark side of such connectivity whether it be job losses through automation, the stripping away of privacy, the vulnerability of our networks to hacks, or the undermining of objective truth and democratic systems.

One step towards addressing these problems is the GDPR Chief Privacy Officer requirement with its focus on privacy and cybersecurity.  At most companies, this role is likely to be one of compliance, not ethics or broader social questions.  At a few, however, this role may grow beyond mere compliance and begin to address the broader social and economic issues posed by information technology.

 

Ethical Competitive Strategy

When training sales reps, I emphasize staying “above the fray.”  Besmirching a competitor’s product also sullies your reputation.  It shows a lack of class and a sense of desperation.  Oftentimes it can backfire.

“It is a mistake to believe that you can win hearts and minds by attacking your competitor. When you have no idea how strong the relationship is, you can make a complete fool of yourself, doing more harm than good, and doing nothing to create a real opportunity.

Speaking ill of your competitor is an indication of who you are, not who they are. There are better strategies available to you.”

It is much better to position the value of your offering and focus on areas of differentiation than it is to throw mud.  You should lay landmines for competitors, not besmirch their reputation.

A landmine is simply an emphasis upon those features and benefits where your product or service offering excels.  The goal is to frame the discussion around the dimensions in which your product provides superior value to the end user.  Keep in mind that value is dependent upon the customer in question, so you need to factor in job function, industry, company size, etc.  Also, be careful to select areas in which your firm excels overall, not dimensions in which you are superior to competitor X that is vying for the deal but inferior to competitor Y.  Otherwise, you may later find out you lost the deal to Y.

Likewise, you should expect your competitors to be laying landmines for your sales reps.  They need to understand where these mines are laid and how to diffuse them.

One tool I recommend is the quick parry.  This is a quick response to the question, “how are you better / different than company X?”  A quick parry is only three or four sentences and usually begins by saying something positive about the competitor before transitioning with a BUT or HOWEVER.  The positive item can be a recognition of some dimension in which they are the acknowledged leader or a dimension which is of limited importance to the customer in question.  Thus, if you are selling to an SMB, you might emphasize the breadth of their solution for enterprise customers vs. the ease of use, quick implementation, and pricing models you offer for smaller firms.  Such a tool differentiates your service from the competitor without throwing mud.

Of course, sales reps will only be able to deploy landmines and respond with quick parries if they understand both the value proposition of their offerings, the needs of their clients, and the strengths and weaknesses of their offerings vis-à-vis competitors.  This is where tools and training come into play.

 

Sales Lessons from My Mother

The Thonet Bentwood Rocking Chair has been in production for 150 years. It is a design classic.
The Thonet Bentwood Rocking Chair has been in production for 150 years. It is a design classic.

My mom had a varied business career from which her sons took lessons about hard work, business ethics, and perseverance.  After earning a Master’s in Design, she worked for the state of Connecticut designing educational facilities for the severely mentally challenged (at the time, mentally retarded was the proper term before the R word became an epithet).  After a few years, she entered capital equipment sales, first for Thonet, a famous furniture manufacturer, and later for Amedco, a hospital equipment company.  She was proud of the companies she worked for and it was pretty cool that we owned a Thonet bentwood rocker, a 19th century design classic.  She later managed sales, marketing, and HR at my parent’s clinical research company.  At all three companies, she excelled.

My mother was working her sales territory in the early seventies when companies were reluctant to hire saleswomen.  She was equally comfortable working with purchasing departments, nurses, doctors and engineers.  She would be out on the loading dock when the truck arrived with the equipment, toolbox in hand, assisting with the delivery.

She also went to every bid opening, using it as another opportunity to meet with government purchasing departments and research competitive bidding.  One time, her analysis of a low bid led her to realize the firm was passing off reconditioned equipment as new.  While she initially lost that bid, she protested that the competitor did not conform to the requirements of the RFP and wrestled the contract away from them.  That is perseverance and a judicious use of competitive intelligence.

She also made sure that my brothers and I had a chance to assist with her nursing home deliveries.  She’d hire us to help unload the equipment and push it on dollies to each of the rooms of a new nursing home.  It was good, honest work and gave us an opportunity to witness her sales victories.  We earned $10 an hour, and she expected us to work just as hard as the rest of the crew during the installation.

My mom also had a strong ethical perspective.  For her, sales was about developing relationships, meeting your promises, and never bad mouthing your competitors. When she began selling hospital beds, her territory was poorly developed.  It was basically controlled by the #1 company in the space and it took her years to build up her pipeline and develop the relationships to wrest away sales from the incumbent.  This meant she often delivered samples or sold a few birthing beds (a specialty product) years before the next capital investment cycle.  Birthing beds were her Trojan Horse.

Happy Mother’s Day