Marketer A-List

Marketer A-List 2018: Salesforce

A b-to-b giant markets its way into consumer consciousness

By Published on .

Salesforce drew an astounding 170,000 people to Dreamforce in May, nearly on par with the crowds drawn to the spectacle that is CES.
Salesforce drew an astounding 170,000 people to Dreamforce in May, nearly on par with the crowds drawn to the spectacle that is CES. Credit: Bloomberg

Salesforce isn't known for big, splashy brand campaigns that tackle social issues or for celebrity-laden spots. It hasn't run a single TV commercial in two years.

Yet it's an $80 billion company with a rabid fan base and fantastic revenue. In the last three years, the world's leading customer relationship management (CRM) platform has more than doubled its stock price while showing growth each quarter. In its third quarter, revenue grew 26 percent to $3.5 billion, and the company says it's on pace to hit $23 billion for full-year 2022. Although it's historically operated as a b-to-b behemoth, Salesforce is aiming to grow by appealing to marketers who operate in the business-to-consumer landscape, an area that rival Adobe has long dominated.

Founded in 1999 by former Oracle executive Marc Benioff, now Salesforce's CEO, the company has long tapped into its user base to create both buzz and revenue. Not exactly a sexy business, Salesforce can on the surface seem confusing: The company has 12 cloud businesses—Marketing Cloud, Sales Cloud, Service Cloud and so on—all in the business of centralizing customer data. It uses consumer marketing techniques to mobilize its b-to-b audience and is a master of earned media, whether through its annual Dreamforce extravaganza or opening its latest office, Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, which it marked with a full day of celebrations in May.

"At the end of the day, we're different," says Stephanie Buscemi, chief marketing officer at Salesforce. "What you're seeing, hearing and feeling is an entire community that talks about Salesforce. We're not pitching at you, but instead people are telling stories both with head and heart about the power of Salesforce."

Dreamforce draws some 170,000 people, putting it on a par with larger-than-life spectacles such as the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. This year, 10 million people tuned into the company's livestream during Benioff's keynote presentation. Metallica and Janet Jackson treated attendees to free performances.The event completely overtakes downtown San Francisco with forest-themed installations, rock climbing walls and hackathons.

At Dreamforce, Salesforce customers stand in long lines, often stretching several blocks, in an effort to purchase stuffed dolls depicting the company's cartoon-like mascots, which include Einstein, Astro and Codey, a bear who plays banjo.

Eventually, "all [tech] brands begin to sound and look the same," says Buscemi. "You come to Dreamforce and you see something bigger. You see you are part of a community."

Salesforce's developer network has also helped spur Trailhead, an interactive online community that teaches people all things Salesforce. Those who participate are called Trailblazers, and those who truly excel are given a shimmering gold hoodie; only 26 of these have been handed out so far, and those who wear them are given celebrity status at Salesforce events.

Salesforce preaches about using technology for the greater good. "Is everything we are doing with technology ethical and humane?" Benioff asked during his keynote speech at the company's most recent Dreamforce. "It's a question every company CEO will have to answer."

Most Popular