Interview with Simon Tate, Area Vice President, Commercial Business Unit, Asia, Salesforce
- Can you share a memorable moment of the company’s humble beginnings as a start-up back in 1999?
The moment that stands out for us is the moment our founders asked: “Why can’t enterprise software be as simple to use as buying a book on Amazon?” It was from that question that our company vision was born. Our CEO Marc built the company on three core tenets; a new technology model: cloud computing, a new business model: software-as-a-service, and a new corporate philanthropy model which we call the 1-1-1 model. This model means we give back 1% of resource, time and product to non-profits in the communities we live and work in.
Fast forward seventeen years, and that simple question has led us to be the leading enterprise cloud computing company, the #1 CRM globally and one of the world’s most innovative companies (as rated by Forbes for 5 years in a row). It also means we have delivered more than $120 million in grants, 1.4 million employee volunteer hours to the non-profit community and we have more than 28,000 non-profits using our technology for free or discounted rates.
Over our seventeen years of operating we have remained laser focused on one thing: customer success. And while technology has evolved and the world around us has changed, our focus on customer success has never wavered. Having a simple, consistent, clear vision is part of our ongoing success.
- What do you enjoy most about this business?
Our customers are at the very heart of everything we do at Salesforce. Being able to be a part of our customers’ journey to success is one of the most rewarding things you can experience. This involves understanding the world that your customers live in – their needs, challenges and business objectives.
What’s more, in the world we live in today technology is driving innovation so fast that no sooner has a notion been imagined, than it has become real. Ideas that seemed far-fetched last year are already this year’s mainstream. The business leaders of today, and our customers, are focused on how to keep pace with the change occurring all around us. Changes in the way we engage customers and changes in the way customers want to buy. Changes in the way customers engage with their devices and changes in how those devices can deliver information to businesses about their customers in real-time, in the palm of a hand.
While five years ago only 46 percent of businesses saw customer experience as a differentiator, today 89 percent see customer experience as the competitive battleground. The world’s leading brands are using data and insight to better understand how that battle should be won, and using the latest, cutting edge technology to engineer a victory.
This is what makes working at Salesforce and working with our customers so exciting for me; being able to show them the power of a platform for innovation where real-time insight can be linked directly to dynamic action and customer success.
- What’s the most important thing you’re working on right now?
Technology has greatly changed the way customers and brands engage. With the amount of content and conversations going back and forth, sometimes across multiple channels all at once, it can be easy to lose track of key pieces of information, even with CRM (customer relationship management) systems in place. In fact, research shows that 79 percent of opportunity data never makes it onto CRM systems, and 89 percent of managers believe representatives can’t keep up with the deluge of information.
Add to that the expectation from consumers today for brands to know and deliver exactly what they are looking for at the precise moment when it is needed, and it may seem nearly impossible. What businesses need today is what we call ‘relationship intelligence’ – a way in which we can track every single conversation, and transform that data into real-time insights. This needs to then translate into actionable intelligence that governs every piece of engagement the brand has with the customer henceforth. This will enable employees to capture all potential opportunities without needing to trawl through pages of emails, and also ensures the business do not lose key relationships with customers even if staff move on.
For us, one of the most exciting times of the year is our annual customer conference, Dreamforce. Dreamforce 2016 is taking place this year from October 4-7. Dreamforce is the largest software conference in the world, where we bring together the entire Salesforce community from customers to thought leaders and industry pioneers, for four amazing days of innovation, giving back, and fun.
Over the four days, we delve into the future of enterprise technology, exploring how the latest trends in cloud, social, mobile, data science, and IoT technologies are transforming the customer experience. The past Dreamforce conferences have always seen great success – in fact, our attendees have seen great improvements in terms of metrics like sales productivity (34%), customer retention (36%), and employee productivity (34%). This year we have thought leaders like our CEO Marc Benioff, Melinda Gates, Co-chair Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Deborah Dugan, CEO of Red and more. We also have the amazing U2 headlining our concert so it promises to be a week not to be missed.
- What is the biggest pain point that you have been dealing with in your business these days?
We tend to think of pain points from the perspective of our customers. We know our customers are keen to embrace cloud computing, but many are not sure where to start. We also know that cloud adoption has been on the rise, especially in Asia. Case in point, the 2016 Cloud Readiness Index (CRI) revealed Hong Kong had jumped four ranks, coming in with a CRI score (78.1, a score higher than Western markets like the United States.
As with all investments, SMEs may be somewhat concerned about implementing cloud either due to a lack of expertise or lack of resources. Although IT managers at SMEs acknowledge the benefits of the cloud, they occasionally struggle to explain to internal stakeholders the benefits of the cloud model. These include reduced barriers to bringing an idea to life, the ability to innovate faster than ever before and the opportunity to look beyond their local shores for more opportunities.
Cloud technology shrinks many business hurdles for startups and SMEs and allows them to scale operations up or down quickly according to their current size. Cloud services can be set up quickly, can be accessed from virtually anywhere in the world, and can also grow alongside the SME depending on operational needs without incurring additional costs. All these factors grant SMEs greater agility to respond to new market opportunities and customer demands.
- Looking at M&A: Salesforce recently bought Demandware. Do you have any advice on how to successfully integrate the cultures after the merger?
The key thing with any acquisition is coming together to extend the solutions we have, to build something that will empower our customers for greater success.
Demandware is the industry’s leading enterprise cloud commerce platform that enables leading brands to deliver unified, personalised experiences for consumers across every touchpoint. Salesforce’s acquisition of Demandware, a recognised leader in the digital commerce industry, will extend the company’s CRM leadership and position it to capture the multibillion dollar digital commerce market with what will be the new Salesforce Commerce Cloud.
The combination of Salesforce and Demandware will benefit customers of both companies: Salesforce customers will have access to the industry’s leading enterprise cloud commerce platform as an integral part of the Customer Success Platform. Demandware customers will be able to leverage Salesforce’s leading sales, service, marketing, communities, analytics, IoT and platform solutions to deliver a more comprehensive, personalised consumer experience.
Our culture at Salesforce is built around a simple concept, the concept of Ohana. Many years ago our CEO Marc Benioff discovered the concept of Ohana. In Hawaiian culture, Ohana represents the idea that families – blood-related, adopted, or intentional – are bound together, and that family members are responsible for one another.
Marc realised the true meaning of Ohana didn’t really exist in corporate culture, and that if companies put more emphasis on caring and cooperating, extraordinary things could happen in our workplaces, our communities, and our world.
Today, the Salesforce Ohana is a deep-seated support system we nurture inside our company that extends from our employees to our partners, customers, and members of our communities. We work collaboratively, take care of one another, have fun together, and relate to those around us on a fundamental, human level. We are each responsible for improving the world around us – whether that means helping a co-worker, delighting a customer, creating an incredible new product, or supporting those in need.
Our tight-knit ecosystem creates and transforms our culture, our customers, and our communities. It drives forth our values – innovation, customer success, giving back, equality and teamwork – the core missions that make us who we are. These missions are deeply embedded within all of us and will remain a focus and a driver as we grow and expand our product suite.
- What will the customer of the future look like?
Digital, social, and mobile trends have irrevocably changed the way customers today interact with companies. Customers today have ready access to a myriad of goods, services, and information at their fingertips.
This new era of customers are not only savvier about the things they buy, they are also empowered with better information, and they are able to get what they want from anywhere, and at any time. As a result, they expect companies to know who they are, where they are in their purchase journey, and what solution they are looking for.
This means companies need to find a way to deliver highly personalised and relevant information at the exact time and place they are needed. To enable that, businesses need to be able to leverage data across multiple sources to build a single view of every one of their customer, and create personalised customer journeys to map and measure the impact of every interaction their customer has with the business.
The customer of the future if hyper-connected, super-mobile and chooses brands based on customer experience. Companies of the future need to embrace technology today that will help them meet, engage and retain this new type of customer in the future.
- What can startups do to connect with their customers?
We are in the middle of a startup revolution today; it is easier now than ever before to start a business and take it global. With the funds, government-led programs, and the same access to technology to fuel growth, the true challenge for startups today is differentiating themselves, and in a way it resonates with your customers.
Consumers make decisions based on their experience with the brand, more than the product or service delivered. This means entrepreneurs today have to be very intentional about the way they engage with their customers, and they need to base all of these on insights derived through the data they have on their customers. All these critical data should not be sitting in an Excel sheet somewhere on the company’s network, or logged into software that exist in silos.
What startups need is a system where they can manage everything through a single platform, from data collection right through to customer management and engagement on all channels. This enables them to follow each of their customers throughout their entire journey, ensuring that they provide the necessary support and information when required for greater success. To make that possible, startups need to build a technology infrastructure that can scale with the company and its customers as it grows.
Ultimately, it is the customers that determines the future of startups. It is the experience customers get that fuels their loyalty to the brand, not the technology or funds they gain along the way.
- You have/had the chance to spend a few days in Hong Kong. What do you think of Hong Kong’s Startup Scene?
As one of the world’s top financial hubs, Hong Kong is certainly well-equipped to achieve its vision of becoming a centre for technology entrepreneurs and startups. With advancements in cloud, social, mobile, and data science technologies, new opportunities and new business models are popping up everywhere. GfK’s research listed Hong Kong as having the world’s most connected consumers for the second year running, and this has enabled startups like GoGoVan and FoodPanda to flourish.
However, startups also have to concern themselves with the same issues that enterprises do – customer success, customer-centricity, and the customer experience need to be at the core of any business. According to Compass’ Hong Kong Startup Ecosystem report, Hong Kong – while promising as a hub for startups – is still in its beginning stages of development, and will have to overcome challenges such as global competition and encouraging innovation amongst its firms before it can ensure long-term success in its goals.
For example, the cloud has enabled startups like Uber to become disruptive, innovative forces in their industries, setting a new standard for customer interaction in new spaces and sectors. To compete on an even level with international startups like Uber, startups in Hong Kong must make innovation a part of not just their corporate DNA, but also make it the responsibility of every employee.
One of the ways startups can do this is by creating a culture that encourages experimentation and open-mindedness. For example, when customers comment on something that does not seem to be directly relevant to the company’s products and services, choose to listen closely instead of brushing it off as unimportant. By doing so, the business stands to learn more about their customers’ journey, and thereby gain valuable insight that could lead them to unlocking greater potential in their processes, or products and services.
- What’s next for Salesforce?
Innovation is very much the spirit and lifeblood of Salesforce. We have numerous product releases a year which are made available to all of our customers at the same time – the cloud allows all customers, big and small, access to enterprise grade innovation. We regularly upgrade our solutions and are committed to helping our customers leverage the power of the cloud to connect with their customers in entirely new ways, to run their business from their phones, to build personalised, 1-to-1 customer journeys, and to use predictive technologies to offer smarter, better experiences to their customers. Any future developments would follow in the same vein.
Interview by Regina Larko