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Stephanie Buscemi, CMO, Salesforce: Transforming a challenge into an opportunity

expert perspective

Stephanie Buscemi, Chief Marketing Officer, Salesforce

I don’t think any of us could have foreseen what 2020 had in store for us. This year has just been an amazing year to test human strength and our conviction as human beings and how we all come together. I’m sure people have seen moments that they didn’t admire in others, but I have seen so many moments of goodness, of people taking care of one another. 

This year is certainly forcing all of us to evolve and change the way we do everything. I actually hope it doesn’t go back to how it was before. I think the pandemic crisis is opportunity and I think it’s taught us a lot as humans about what we need to get back to. We’re moving so fast in our lives, but are we doing the basics well? Are we being kind to one another, are we taking care of one another’s health? Are we making those connections that we really need as human beings?

It definitely impacted our business and our customers’ businesses as well, literally almost overnight. At Salesforce it was a time that really tested the values of the company. We had to quickly come together as a leadership team and decide how we were going to manage through this. We really checked ourselves on that and said, let’s look at our portfolio, let’s talk to our customers and let’s find out what they need right now to stabilize their business and actually to be able to reopen safely. And that was job one. We had real clarity around that because one of the values of the company is also customer success. If they’re not successful, we’re not successful. So we went in and said, what do they need? Very shortly we got back from customers. “We need things to help us to reopen safely. We need ways to check on our employees.”

I think the pandemic crisis is opportunity and I think it’s taught us a lot as humans about what we need to get back to.

We’re the number one in customer relationship management. If you had told me at the beginning of the year that we would have had built and have generally available a contact tracing app, a shift management app, all of these things, no way did I see that coming. But that’s what we did. We pivoted hard as a company. We took engineers, product managers, marketers, and we said, we heard the customers and this is what they need. It was a very fast iteration cycle. I mean, I’m talking days. And within six weeks we had built a family of applications called to help them reopen safely. 

Without a doubt that need for speed has accelerated innovation, new ideas and new thinking.

In the first, early weeks the marketing organization, which I lead, were just trying to do a lot of our existing things faster, but with the same processes. And we do a lot of live events. That’s a big part of our marketing motion at Salesforce. We do hundreds of events around the globe face to face in person events, our biggest one being Dreamforce every year, 170,000 people in San Francisco. That all came to a screeching halt. And so I had hundreds of marketers who are experts in putting these live events together. And then all of a sudden we said, all right, we’ll go virtual – us and every other company out there. 

If I look back at what we did in March, I’m appreciative, but I do cringe a little bit because I look at some events that we did virtually and the first few events look like a retrofit. They look like a live event that we tried to shove into a digital format. And we did Herculean work in 10 days to stay connected with our customers. But I will say we are innovating our way through, out of this pandemic and that every single virtual event we do right now as a marketer is getting better and better. And if that’s designed digital-first, how do we optimize the whole engagement and experience? It’s so different. If you think about Dreamforce as one example, this culminating event of bringing, oh, you know, 150,000-plus people together, you have them captive. They bought a plane ticket, they bought a ticket to come to the event. They’re there for the week.

But digitally, we all have Zoom fatigue right now. And you may only have that person captive for what we’re seeing right now is around eight to 12 minutes. So we’ve had to completely refactor. To think about how we are building our content. How are we designing it? Is it more modular? Is it a little bit more snackable? How do we then make that bridge from that content into one to one? One-to-many virtually is great, thousands of people are on the line, but then how do you make that hand-to-hand connection that used to exist with your account executives and your salespeople? They’re not standing there next to the customer, like they were at a Dreamforce event or any other live event for that matter. So we’ve definitely innovated a lot in the area of virtual events as one example.

I see people reallocating a ton of their budget to brand marketing, around how the brand will show up through this pandemic, and much more focused on empathetic marketing, values-based marketing. What I mean by that is not just communicating what is your product and service, but really what is your company about? What are the values of your company? 

I can see why folks are doing that. We do an annual study and it’s becoming increasingly clear, especially with millennials. 92% of them say, we’re not just going to buy based on someone’s products and service. We want to know the values of that company. And I think that’s become heightened with everything going on right now. 

As I think about the remainder of 2020 and over the horizon into the next year, I think remaining agile and remaining flexible is going to be really important. Who knows what’s coming our way next? I think I said it earlier, that crisis is opportunity and we have to transform. We have to evolve. We have to rethink the way that we work. So you could call it a challenge. I call it an opportunity.

I think branding is going to look very different over the next one, three, five years and into the future. Gone are the days when the brand builds all their content and it has perfect fit and finish to it and polish. With the explosion of the internet, all the data that’s available to people now, and the way we engage with all of that, it’s now a 24/7 social world. And I think that’s going to require brands to put more power into the consumer and the customer’s hands. 

And I’ll give you example, tangible example of how we’re doing that. We call them our trailblazers. They’re the folks that are innovating with our products. They’re leading edge with AI, mobile, all of that – the content, the conversations, and the engagement they have out in the world and the community about what our products and services can do is a far better articulation than anything me or the marketing team can develop. As marketers, we have to get comfortable empowering them and thinking of them as the creators of your brand, or at least co-creators. And so we’ve been working a lot over the last two years to bring what we call our trailblazers under the tent and have them shape our content. We’re not within the four walls of Salesforce picking the topics, we’re tapping into the community. The community is shaping the agenda.

I look at our website today and know that it will look very different hopefully sooner, rather than later. Gone are the days of websites that look like product catalogs. My goal is that when you come to our site in the future, there is as much user-created content, conversation and community, if not more, as things that were created by a Salesforce employee. Brands are going to have to get comfortable with it. It’s a vulnerable space to be in; we tend to really want high production values. It often means lower production values – being OK that not everything is always going to be in the language you want – but I think particularly with this next generation of buyers, there’s zero tolerance to be pitched to.

We have to evolve. We have to rethink the way that we work. So you could call it a challenge. I call it an opportunity.