Salesforce.com's Marc Benioff preaches the social enterprise gospel

Benioff: "Are you and your company going through a social revolution? It will denote who is successful and who will fail."

Dan Farber
4 min read

Marc Benioff: "This social revolution is unlike anything we have experienced before." James Martin/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO--When Salesforce.com CEO and co-founder Marc Benioff took the stage at the giant Moscone Center here today, 14,000 people, mostly customers, packed the auditorium to hear his two-hour keynote as he preached the social enterprise gospel and announced a bevy of new products and upgrades. He was speaking at the 13-year-old company's 10th Dreamforce conference, a four-day event that attracted an estimated 90,000 people.

Legendary rapper MC Hammer, who is also a tech angel investor, preceded Benioff on stage with a signature performance, surrounded by more than a dozen gyrating dancers. Benioff bounded on stage in a suit sans tie and red-soled sneakers, declaring in a booming voice that the audience was present at the largest technology vendor-led conference in the industry. "It's awesome!" he said. "We are here to open a door and look at the future."

An overflow crowd of thousands watched the keynote on screens throughout Moscone and outside the venue (dubbed Dreamforce Park) on a screen set up in the middle of the street, which was blocked off from traffic courtesy of the city of San Francisco, happy to have attendees spending their money in local hotels and restaurants. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee made an appearance at the keynote, along with California Lieutenant Governor and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Prior to getting into the product evangelism part of the show, Benioff announced $10 million in grants from the company's philanthropic arm to benefit various entities in San Francisco's District 10, including the The Exploratorium museum, the Campaign for Hope SF, San Francisco General Hospital Foundation, and the Southeast Health Center.

Marc Benioff takes his remarks offstage. James Martin/CNET

After some introductory remarks, Benioff strolled off the stage, walking through the crowd in a room the size of two football fields as he spoke about the power of social networks and Salesforce.com's mission to connect its customers in a whole new way. "This social revolution is unlike anything we have experienced before," he stated.

"It's an incredible time, a spectacular time," he said. "It goes even deeper... it gets down into our core," he added. "The fundamental interaction between each one of us, because we are changing how we are doing business."

Salesforce.com has focused its entire marketing message around social. An estimated 70 percent of corporations are already embracing social in some fashion, with 47 percent annual growth expected in those social networks, according to IDC.

While Facebook is the dominant social network, with nearly a billion members, Salesforce.com is baking social deeply into its platform with Chatter, a Facebook-like application designed for businesses. Benioff described how GE could operate more efficiently by building social networks around projects. "It's a revolution when your aircraft engine is on a social network," he said.

"The social revolution is a trust revolution," Benioff stated. If companies can be more "transparent" and employees can interact more effectively via social networks and mobile, they will be among the leaders in their field. "The question that we see is a question we have asked before," he said. "Are you and your company going through a social revolution? It will denote who is successful and who will fail." 

In a Q&A following the keynote, Benioff said that the pervasive Facebook user experience would become the model for all software, including enterprise software.

"All software is going to look like Facebook," Benioff claimed. "Everybody will have to rewrite to have a feed-based platform with likes. It's a logical extension for us to allow customers to log into heterogenous interfaces using a saleforce.com ID. We are not going to be the only ones. We have to be one of them, and being first is all the better."

Several customers, including executives from Coca Cola, Virgin Airlines, Activision, General Electric, Burberry, and Rossignol, were called upon to testify for Salesforce.com's social platform. As he walked among the crowd, Benioff chatted with customers and friends, including self-help guru and motivational speaker Tony Robbins. "The future is connect or die. Or connect, you win," Robbins told Benioff, reinforcing his social enterprise message. Robbins is holding a three-hour seminar, titled "The Power to Breakthrough: Your Ultimate Edge!," as part of the Dreamforce program on Friday.

For Salesforce.com, failure comes when it stops growing. The company expects to generate $3 billion in revenue for its fiscal year ending April 30, 2013. With Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, and others pursuing the same social enterprise vision originated by Salesforce.com, getting to $5 billion won't be as easy as the first $3 billion.

During a Q&A, Benioff gave his view on how salesforce.com would continue to grow. "Our ability to grow is not the percentage of investment in R&D. It's the amount we put into the sales organization. On-boarding new sales executives is the key to our growth," he said.

The company is hiring sales executives to go after different markets, such as automotive and the financial industry, in an effort "talk to customers in their own language" and tell compelling stories that convey real value for customers.

"We have been trying for more than a year to train execs to think this way. My top 600 managers are all assigned five customers to work with, and from that we get examples. This is really the key," Benioff concluded.

Last updated: 5:15 p.m. PT