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Salesforce Xchange: Does Culture Matter?

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Last week, Nikki and I attended Salesforce’s Xchange event in Las Vegas. Is it the continuation of the of the old DemandWare Xchange show? Yes and no.

If you’d attended (or read about) those events, you’ll know they had a certain vibe – every show does. And while the Commerce Cloud (as SF calls its extension of the DemandWare asset) continues to gain momentum in both size and scope, the presentation of its efficacy is now being presented in a much, much different way.

Does the tech work? Absolutely. Do customers ranging from PetSmart to Vineyard Vines to Crocs to Ashley Stewart rave about the benefits they’ve seen? Certainly. But, and forgive me if this comes across a bit jaded, after several weeks of back-to-back user conferences, that’s every user conference these days. As analysts, it’s sort of up to us to sniff out the cases of which “happy customer presentations ” hold the most weight. And just as importantly, what’s behind that weight?

Well, in Salesforce’s case, they aren’t shy about it. A large part of what separates them isn’t just their tech, but their overall corporate vision – and it’s about a lot more than making money. Altruism is clearly a driver to founder Marc Benioff, and it’s become pervasive – almost inescapable – in every story the company (and its clients) tells today. From the woodlands motif complete with animated creatures making the world a better place for retail “trailblazers, ” to the downright candid conversation between Benioff and Sir Richard Branson about the importance of doing more than simply making money during our time here on earth, it’s not something you expect every day at a user conference. Some shows – sure, there’s a mention of what they’re doing beyond their tech roadmap in the community. But consider this quote from the CEO himself: “There’s not a lot of joy in just building and selling things. “

A few weeks ago I sat in a keynote by Mark Hurd. He didn’t say that.

Please don’t take this the wrong way: I’m not saying Salesforce isn’t a serious business, or that Benioff’s top-down vision excludes the competitive nature required to succeed. (If you doubt that specific type of competitive nature, just take a look at the tower he’s building in downtown San Francisco). Personally, I’m really glad they are continuing to host the Xchange conference, as it would be easy for retail to get a bit lost in the overall enormity of the company’s Dreamforce event later in the year. And indeed, I could rattle off all the things I heard and saw last week – a New Balance demonstration that brought a customer training for the NYC marathon across his journey from web, to store, to race day, to social media after the race, for example – that genuinely seemed pragmatic. And for the rare occurrence, that demo seemed like something that might not only work, but had real value to a consumer and would actually drive brand loyalty.

But that’s the thing: if I was a retailer today with some budget to tie my stores, customers, and online channels together, there’d be no shortage of believable tech solutions to get behind. Truth is the tech is well ahead of most retailers’ needs these days. So while selecting a technology partner has always been, in some ways, also about cultural fit, now that everyone’s technology is pretty damn good, does that mean a vendor’s culture matters more than ever?

I’d say yes. And from what I heard from SF customers last week, it sounds like a lot of companies are starting to agree: the vendor you choose says quite a bit about your company, as well.

Now if only they could scale back on the kitschy cartoon characters just a bit…


Newsletter Articles May 23, 2017
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