'Who trusts the salesperson?' Salesforce CMO on the trust conundrum

By Published on .

Credit: istock

Fourteen years ago, Simon Mulcahy startled his boss by turning down a promotion. He then proceeded to a pub ("This is what you do in England," he said) and was later joined by his wife to ponder their future. Together they reviewed an issue of The Economist that listed the best places to work and live in the world and, remarkably, they then flipped a coin to decide between Switzerland and Canada.

Switzerland won. A few months later, Mulcahy was working for the World Economic Forum, his "home" until 2009, when he joined Salesforce.

Clearly an adventurous spirit, Mulcahy became the CMO of Salesforce in 2016. He sees his role on a grand scale. He has no concerns that a machine will ever be able to do his job because "there is so much creativity and so much humanness that has to happen for marketing to be successful." But perhaps most profoundly, Mulcahy believes that a "trust revolution" is upon us and that marketers must lead the way, building—or in some cases rebuilding—trust through every action they take. In our conversation below, Mulcahy offers numerous examples of trust-building opportunities, especially when it comes to data handling and the advent of GDPR.

You've mentioned trust as an issue in some of your other interviews. What do you mean?

One of the challenges that we find universally across every marketing organization, no matter what organization you're in, is trust. Who trusts the salesperson and the marketer? When you draw a list of people from different types of job descriptions, sales and salespeople and marketers are generally very low down on the list of people you trust. That's because people assume that some sort of intent behind what a salesperson or a marketer is trying to tell you; they're trying to sell you something. So, the more that you can speak with an authentic voice, the more your customers are evangelizing you in their own authentic voice. The more likely that there's a trusted voice around your brand out in the markets.

So how does marketing fit into this trust situation?

It's all about trust. And that might seem like highfalutin' language, but it really is. If your brand, and your marketing is all about generating trust in the community that you're trying to serve, then they're more likely to keep coming back to you. And that's been our No 1 value since we were founded. That shapes every single interaction we have with our customers. It's not just marketing. The whole organization has to make trust a reality. It's got to be felt in your sales experiences, in your product. Marketing can happen at every single touch point. Every single experience the customer has with your brand has got to be communicating trust.

What are the things that brands can do to build trust?

Number one: To be a successful company today, you can't just have a marketing department do the marketing. Every single touch point is marketing, every single touch point is communicating your brand. This actually starts with the CEO. And the CEO has got to be saying "gaining the trust of our customer is more important than our growth." That starts a cascade of decision making and we've seen organizations that may have grown quickly, but at some point, they hit a "trust crisis." And then we see that the brands in the marketplace—I won't mention them but, you know, flames coming out of every window. They're just getting this trust crisis. And that's the world we live in. So, every single touchpoint with marketing needs to kind of reinforce that.

How are you, as a brand, approaching GDPR?

We're living in a trust revolution. And it's all about trust. Now a lot of people parcel off GDPR as a compliance issue, a regulatory box they have to tick. This is much bigger. This is a real opportunity because it's delivering to customers what they want most, which is the confidence that you're taking their data out and you're leveraging it and using it as they would hope you would. And GDPR is not a switch you can flick. It's a journey that we all have to go on. Salesforce invested a significant amount of effort and resources to make our platform massively helpful for any customer being on that journey. But ultimately, every organization has to decide what they want to do. When you look at all of the best, most admired brands in the world, they're all built on trust. So, this is really important if you're going to be a brand that plans on staying around for the future.

Do you see GDPR changing the fundamentals of marketing?

This is really going to force people to become better marketers. The days of spray and pray are gone. Marketing is more than ever about delivering personalized and contextually relevant experiences. This is a new world. This is really about putting your customer in the middle of your business.

How has Salesforce put customers at the middle?

Well, first of all, just as an organization that's plugged in to our customers, we spend more time than ever listening to our customers and taking feedback from them and internalizing it. Really putting them at the center. I spend a massive amount of time with customers and just hearing from them. What have they been trying to do? What challenges are they trying to address? That's kind of the lifeblood of everything. And then second of all, exploring the technology options that we have in the world. Part of that is through organically building them, but also, we're talking to a lot of companies that we end up acquiring and there is massive amounts of learning happening there.

Do you have any other advice for your fellow marketers?

Build a culture of trust. Read Rachel Botsman's great book, "Who Can You Trust?" Focus on building really great teams full of amazing talent because these are the people who are going to have to make sense of this new and crazy world. This is really important. Make sure you've got the best technology at your fingertips, but don't run into the trap of cherry picking technology tactically. Many marketers think they can be the most amazing marketer by perfecting their art. This is a world of science, now. At Salesforce, certainly, my journey in the marketing organization, which is now nearly two-and-a-half years as CMO, has been really to move from the art of marketing to the science of marketing—and that's allowed us to be much more thoughtful about how and where we invest.

Most Popular
In this article: