Salesforce Dreamforce is an industry megaconference that attracts more than 170,000 people, putting it on par with the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Yet unlike CES, where brands such as Sony, Ford and Google rub shoulders with makers of connected underwear, Dreamforce is only about everything Salesforce.
The larger-than-life spectacle, first held in 2003, begins Nov. 19 and runs for four days. And in some ways, the event could be compared to the company’s larger-than-life co-CEO, Marc Benioff, who’s drummed up excitement with a speaker lineup that includes former President Barack Obama, Olympic soccer champion Megan Rapinoe and (by invitation only) Apple CEO Tim Cook. There’s also free booze and a concert featuring Fleetwood Mac (last year was it Metallica and Janet Jackson).
Downtown San Francisco, meanwhile, will transform into “Dreamforce National Park,” featuring forest-themed installations, fake grass that spans entire city blocks, waterfalls and rock-climbing walls. “It’s a sight to behold,” says Joe Stanhope, an analyst with Forrester. “There is nothing like Dreamforce.”
“Salesforce has been doing this for a long time, and they have a lot of products used by many companies, especially their CRM [customer relationship management] products; they are the backbone of how these companies work,” Stanhope adds. “Those products have created cottage industries around implementing and using Salesforce, so there’s a whole universe of suppliers, vendors and consultants.”
Salesforce is the world’s largest provider of CRM services. As it has grown to dominate the segment, Salesforce has looked to new areas to increase revenue growth. The company now offers analytics through its $550 million purchase of Dataorama and its $16 billion acquisition of Tableau. It also purchased Krux, a data management platform, in 2016 for $700 million. The shopping spree was aimed at growing Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud, which mostly caters to brands operating in the business-to-consumer arena.
And that is luring brands from the b-to-c realm, expanding the makeup of Dreamforce attendees and drawing more attention from chief marketing officers and agencies. Salesforce Marketing Cloud, which mostly caters to CMOs and provides tools in the b-to-c arena, generated $1.8 billion in revenue for fiscal 2019, up 25 percent from the previous year and up 113 percent from when it was launched in 2015.
Helping companies integrate Salesforce is a good source of business for agencies, says Stanhope. “They have hundreds or thousands of people who work on Salesforce products.”
Agencies invade Dreamforce
Salesforce says agencies and holding companies are attending Dreamforce in record numbers this year. Although the company declined to share specifics, it says the number of agencies attending has doubled year-over-year. WPP, Dentsu, Publicis, IPG, Omnicom and S4 Capital are all attending.
The increased agency presence has also prompted a subtle but significant change from Salesforce. The company previously referred to consultancies such as Accenture or Deloitte as its global system integrators, or GSIs, while at the same time referring to holding companies such as Dentsu as its “agency partners.”
That’s now changed, as Salesforce has bundled both groups together under the “partners” banner.
“They this year dropped that distinction and now have global scaled partners like ourselves,” says Stephan Pretorius, chief technology officer at WPP. “They realized that their previous distinction between agencies and consultancies” no longer applies.
Consultancies such as Accenture and Deloitte have historically helped brands navigate the integration of Salesforce’s tech, but holding companies in recent years have caught wind of the practice and now see it as a tremendous area of growth. Pretorius, for example, says that for every dollar WPP makes for implementing Salesforce technology, it makes another $5 for running campaign services and an additional $10 in creative that it pushes through the platform.
“You would imagine the platform implementation is one of the key reasons we do this because it’s important to create that ability for clients,” says Pretorius. “But ultimately, it comes down to how you manage it and the content, communications that go through the pipes. That is where the value lies for us and the clients.”
In many cases, consultancies—and recently, agencies—act as a bridge between Salesforce and the brand, often implementing the cloud giant’s complex software to increase client sales or bolster consumer loyalty programs.
Pretorius, who previously helped spearhead Best Buy's epic turnaround using Salesforce tools during his tenure at Wunderman, says WPP approaches integrating Salesforce technologies from a different angle when compared to the consultancies.
“We come at the problem at the customer-experience level, or what is the new journey or core experience we want to deliver,” he says. “Very often, the [consultancy] projects are IT-based projects versus customer experience based.”
Brands turn to ‘best of breed’
Still, not all brands are turning to agencies or consultancies to implement Salesforce’s complex tech.
E.l.f. Cosmetics, a 15-year-old beauty brand that captures 90 percent of its sales in stores, went all-in on Salesforce in 2017 after adopting its Connected Cloud. The costly offering encompasses a variety of different tools aimed at tackling areas such as e-commerce, order management and consumer loyalty. Given all the consumer touch points—in store, online, over the phone, social media, apps—Salesforce’s pitch is that its tools can tie everything together while also providing a single view of a brand’s customers.
Ekta Chopra, VP of digital at e.l.f. Cosmetics, says the company opted to hire individuals she described as “rock stars” who specialize in different areas of Salesforce implementation. “We knew integration would be tough,” says Chopra. “So we hired best-of-breed partners and created a SWAT team that helped us implement the system.”
Although Salesforce tries to make adopting its systems easy, that’s almost never the case: It took e.l.f. nine months to get Connected Cloud up and running in the U.S. and U.K.
“It is not an easy journey,” says Chopra, who is attending Dreamforce for the sixth time this year. “But if you take the right approach and know it is not going to be perfect day one, you will have a much easier time getting it up and running.”
The hard work was likely worth the wait: Chopra says the company’s Black Friday sales increased from selling roughly 2,600 cosmetic products to 26,000 year-over-year. The increase is especially impressive, says Chopra, because 90 percent of its business is done in brick-and-mortar stores.
Beyond sales, there are other benefits, too. “If we wanted to change our checkout experience, it would take us six months,” Chopra says. “Now, it takes two weeks. I can test and learn so many new things and I can’t tell you how many times that has helped.”
She adds that e.l.f. Cosmetics has also seen a reduction in calls to customer service. “They are now resolved so much faster,” she says. “All of our reporting is also now in place. Overall, it’s a very solid foundation that allows us to scale and grow.”