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Salesforce World Tour 2019 In Review: Tech And Culture On Display

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Attend any Salesforce event and you’ll know immediately that this is a software company like no other. The culture of inclusion, diversity, and being a good corporate citizen isn’t ancillary to the story: it’s central to it. So when I attended the World Tour event last week in Boston, I knew it would be different to the past few technology shows I’ve attended. But here’s the thing: until you step inside, it’s easy to forget just how different a Salesforce event really is. It really is a thing to behold.

The opening keynote came from Tony Prophet, the company’s Chief Equality Officer. You won’t get that at OpenWorld.

But within all the good-people-doing-good-things messaging are powerful business tools enabling compelling business stories. Ally Witherspoon, Senior Director of Product Marketing, delivered some of the most powerful demos of these both in a keynote session in the morning, and in a smaller, more-forward looking session later in the day.

The morning’s firepower came from Customer 360, Salesforce’s tool that seeks to give both B2B and B2C users the ability to have all the relevant data they’d need in one place. I tried to learn as much as I could about the B2C side of 360 throughout the day in big-tent demos, closed door sessions and expo floor presentations. But of all the examples I saw given, the one Witherspoon shared bright and early where a call center customer service rep was able to convert a customer case of buyer’s remorse into a product upsell rang far truer than any best-case-scenario chatbot demo ever could (for now, at least – until the machines take over, of course). Retail is still very much an industry of trying to smooth out pissed-off shoppers - especially before they can do real damage on social media - and the Customer 360 products seemed as real an example of doing that as any I’ve seen.

There were also plenty of examples of crowd sourcing new product and service ideas leveraging the company’s Heroku asset, Commerce Cloud demos walking through shopper experiences across channels, and Mulesoft-enabled personalization experiences - of which both Brian and I have been openly full of praise. Indeed, the Mulesoft acquisition ranks high among Salesforce’s best decisions, effectively serving as the integration cloud which holds the company’s entire offering together.

But this time around, it was two of the company’s newest products that – not shockingly – AI-related – grabbed my attention. Salesforce’s spring release includes Einstein Predictions and Einstein Next Best Action. Next Best Action, in particular, a workflow engine that analyzes customer sentiment to determine what would make a customer happiest, seems rife with potential – if the tech is, indeed, “there”. To illustrate, here’s an example Witherspoon’s team gave:

A worker at a hat retailer uses Einstein Voice (another new product – a natural language processor) to dictate his thoughts around customer analysis. In doing so, the Einstein Predictions tools automatically creates a list of people who are, based on the analytics at its disposal, predicted to be upset. This “likely to attrition” list is then input into the Next Best Action tool, which through its sorcery suggests an email with a promotion. The customer who was prepared to walk away is now happy and a lifelong customer once more, demo over.

You can see the potential here. But if you’re like me, you are also left with a lot of questions. Is it always a happy ending, or do some customers deserve to be cut off? Is a promotion the answer to every business challenge, or are have we already conditioned customers to wait these out? Worse yet, have we conditioned today’s consumers to act badly in expectation they will be rewarded for such behavior?

But I get it – it’s a demo. Of a brand new product. At a conference. So I’ll hold off on those questions, and wait to see what Next Best Action really is used to do once it’s been out in the wild for a while, and hopefully once some customers are able to talk about what true insights they’ve been able to get from it. Because the key here is the power: if the tech really is “there”, there is TREMENDOUS power in a tool like that. Could we start to get smarter about emails? About communications from retailer to consumer, in general? And could we actually be on the precipice of ending the age of endless promotions? Only time will tell, and I, for one, am eager to find out.

One last note as I think back on this particular event. Every tech company is different. And I love that as part of my job – and as a truly objective observer - I get to attend their events and see how the personalities of their founders and executives manifest themselves into the far wider culture. Everyday people going about their daily job - at every level – molded in ways large and small by what a small handful of people care about; it’s inevitable. And I’m there to see witness how that affects not only the products they make, but the relationships that come out of those products. It’s fascinating. And at a Salesforce event, it is apparent and beyond that they spend a lot of time thinking about that very thing. I look forward to seeing what they come up with next.

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Articles & Opinions April 9, 2019
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