How a customer-first philosophy shapes marketing at Salesforce
During her more than six years at Salesforce, two-and-a-half as chief marketing officer, Stephanie Buscemi says the company's values helped shape its actions—and no more so than during the pandemic.
Those actions included “Leading Through Change,” a content series that focused on individuals confronting pandemic-related issues, and "B-Well Together," a multifaceted program focused on well-being. The notion of doing well by doing good is one that Buscemi—who announced her departure from Salesforce on Jan. 5, two weeks after this interview—will carry with her to what she calls “the next stage of her journey.”
How did [founder, chairman and CEO] Marc Benioff influence you over the last 6.5 years?
Marc is like no other CEO that I had ever worked for, and what really differentiates him are a couple of things. One, he believes deeply that business is a platform for change and has for 21 years. While I think there's a lot of executives talking about the role of businesses to give back and make the world around them better, Marc has believed in that since day one, so it's deeply rooted in the company.
Most companies have values; what’s different at Salesforce?
Yes, the company itself has a set of core values, but Marc does a phenomenal job of ensuring that those core values surface in every discussion. They're not a plaque on the wall; they're not an employee brochure. They’re something that gets surfaced in the smallest decisions and the biggest decisions, so they're truly living in everything we do. The year 2020 tested everyone's values and I love how grounded we are in ours, because it actually allowed us, I believe, to make decisions faster and continue to stay aligned as a team.
What do you tell a CEO who thinks brand purpose isn’t important?
One, there are numerous studies out there that say millennials are not going to work for, or are they going to buy from, companies that don't have a higher purpose. This next generation expects it, so it's not a luxury and it's not optional. I'd also say, you know, Salesforce didn't put the 1-1-1 model in place years into its success. It did it from day one when it was very, very small and it's grown with the company.
I would appeal to any CEO that says it's a luxury and say: To acquire and grow great talent as this next generation of workers, and to acquire and build lasting customer relationships, you're going to have to have this. It's not optional. It's not going to be enough just to have great products and services anymore.
What was your mandate when you became CMO?
Salesforce has a phenomenal base of customers and community, so it was to get closer and closer to the customer. We deeply believe that the best decisions are made with the customer, so how would I do that? Doing more, for example, within marketing, co-creation with our customers and our community.
How did you bring this to life?
Over this multi-year period, for example, we've continued to push more and more of the planning and execution of Dreamforce into the hands of our trailblazers in the community. They are running thousands of sessions at Dreamforce. They are defining the programs, the content, the activities. We're putting much more power in their hands, not only to help shape the products that we build and sell, but also our marketing.
I have a vision that, whether that's three years or five years over the horizon, there won't be these stale product websites that look like a catalog, but rather that company websites will be co-created together with their customers. The most authentic voice in the world is your customers. Do I believe that I have an amazing team of marketers? Yes, I do. But do I believe that anytime I can have the customers speak on our behalf versus a marketer writing positioning and messaging, I'm going to take the customer every single time.
What drives Salesforce’s decisions?
I always say to people, “There is a lot. We are growing very fast. But if you look at whether we build and launch a new product, that we're acquiring a product, that we're partnering with someone related to product, and you think, ‘Why is Salesforce doing that?’ very quickly look at what it is and realize what the benefit would be to a customer, because that is the sole reason we're doing it.”
We’re doing it in service to making a better customer experience, whether it's at one touchpoint in a customer journey or whether it's helping to orchestrate all the touchpoints, it is 100% in service of building a better customer relationship.
How did Salesforce initially respond to the COVID pandemic?
We quickly came back to the core values. We didn't know what two weeks, four weeks, four months would bring us, but we said, “Let's anchor back to our core values. We want to ensure that through this we build trust with customers. We want to make sure that we help them with their success, and success may take a different shape in the middle of a pandemic.” Some companies were just trying to survive versus grow and thrive, but we went back to the core values and then engaged with customers very quickly.
What are some examples?
The house was on fire. Our customers were talking about employee response management, how were they going to stabilize their business, how were they then going to reopen safely, and that is what we built. We built a family of applications for them. Then we also built out content and best practices.
We created a content franchise called "Leading Through Change," where we were bringing in anyone who was solving these issues through the pandemic. The other thing that we did was we created a "B-Well Together "series that originally was for our employees. We were at it only a few weeks and we said, “Why are we just making this available to our employees? Let's open this up and make it for all of our customers.”
We opened up the floodgates and said to our customers, “If you have any employees that are struggling with mental health and wellness through this pandemic, come join us. Come meditate with us. Come learn about sleep. Come learn about better eating.”
What metrics drove these marketing decisions?
One metric was relevance. Were we really being relevant to our customers and our prospects now? I remember very clearly saying to the marketing organization, “If we don't have something relevant for our customers right now, we owe it to them to get out of their way.” We went through and took a full inventory of everything we had planned and put it into buckets to say, “This is going to go on the shelf right now. It would be a bit tone-deaf. It wouldn't be relevant.”
What does “doing good” mean for Salesforce as a business?
We are highly relevant to what businesses need right now to digitally transform and create a work-from-anywhere world for their teams. It's an imperative. It's no longer an option or something; they have to do this to grow. But I would say we, throughout all of it, even before the pandemic, have always been focused on: How are we giving back? How are we helping in the communities that we serve?
We're using our technology for good and we're getting it out in ways, for example, with Trailhead, free, out to people to help them get the skills they need to skill up, to be relevant in a digital world, to be successful working in a digital world. For us, that's our way of we want all boats to rise in this. We know that us doing good only works if the community around us is doing good.
What was one of the biggest you learned as CMO in 2020?
I've always personally had a bias for action, but I would say this year, we did amazing things when we prioritized speed and we refined and tweaked as we went. I think sometimes, as marketers historically, we love beautiful things, we like high production fit and finish on things, and this year was the year of “good enough” and putting a high value on speed.
What is important for CMOs and marketers to remember in 2021?
Have your customers feel heard. People need to feel heard right now, and feeling heard means not just calling and asking them what they need. It means responding to what they told you. People have to have a very empathetic approach in the way that they go about this.
Sometimes, as marketers, we're so under the gun, too. Sometimes we lose sight of the importance of hearing out our customers, listening deeply so that we can give them what they need right now. I always say, metaphorically to my team: “Get out of the building. Get out of the building.” We're in a room or on a Zoom—a bunch of marketers debating what the next step is with the customer—let's just call the meeting because all the answers are with the customer.