The Magic at DreamForce 2012

by Dave Michels

Dreamforce is an impressive conference, though I have never actually attended one. At least not in person, I always make it a point to watch the posted videos as the show has some truly impressive content. This year there was decidedly less video posted, I think the CMOs that get featured are increasingly restricting their presentations to the local audience. If I was a featured CMO, I would not want my social CRM tricks posted on YouTube.

Dreamforce is the annual bash. It is part vision, part celebration, and a big part sales pitch. Salesforce is a young nimble company and feels obligated to bulldoze its way to the future, because no one else will (at least that’s the impression). Dreamforce is a lot of hype and a bit condescending as Salesforce and its fans suggest they are the only ones that get CRM, cloud, and social.

It’s an impressive lovefest, but to be fair Benioff earned it. He founded Salesforce because he saw how CRM, the cloud, and specifically the Internet were going to change the game. The company has grown tremendously as his vision and the connected nature of computing have aligned. Fortune recently ranked as #27 in its 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2012.

I wrote about DreamForce last year in Hey, Benioff Get Off of My Cloud referring to how Salesforce has a slightly different view of customer interaction (contact center). The vision and demos from last year were surprisingly similar to this year’s event, though more bent toward social business this year. Salesforce isn’t just an application, but a platform and emerging ecosystem. This year Chatter got lots of attention, pushing Salesforce more into IBM’s face than Oracle’s.

Also this year the conference felt more pushy. Actually, more like a magic show – I know everything that I saw was real, but I also know there is some trickery going on backstage. There was also a little creepiness to Salesforce’s preview of the highly social view of business. I don’t like businesses leveraging so much information, partly because they get it wrong so often.

Everything in life relates back to a Seinfeld episode, in this case it’s the episode called The Package (1996). Elaine makes the mistake of arguing with a nurse and gets a note in her medical chart that she’s a “difficult” patient. As the doctor always consults the chart before treating her, she keeps getting the brush-off instead of quality medical treatment. She keeps trying different approaches, including changing doctors, but can’t get passed her past as new docs keep checking her medical record (and “reputation.”)  Salesforce is giving us a similar glimpse of the inevitable, and encourages the use of social factors to determine services. I am not sure it can be stopped, nor am I so sure it should be celebrated.

Consider the Virgin America demonstration (see Fear of Chatter by Dan Miller). In the staged reenactment, staff realize a delayed flight will cause some passengers to miss connections. They pull up the passenger manifest (using Salesforce) and immediately identify a very important client (VIC) in first class that will clearly miss his connection. They also see his pre-departure tweets where he publicly shared 1) that he’s excited about the trip 2) where he’s going and 3) which airline he is on. Yikes! A social VIC is about to get screwed; red alert! Airline staff collaborate on solutions to avert disaster. All that sounds great and they showed an impressive use of various Salesforce technologies. Far more personal than CRM 1.0. Of course our hero gets impressive service and there’s a happy ending to the tale (thanks to Salesforce and Chatter). .

What I fear they didn’t show was the scenario of me being on that same flight. The solution for the VIC above was to reroute him on a later flight. I don’t like tight connections, so  I booked the later flight on purpose. I am not a gold uber platinum elite brass premier red admiral customer so they promptly gave the VIC my seat. They notified the VIC by flashing a message on his seat back screen, but not mine. He was met at the gate to be escorted to his connection. In fact, they probably ask everyone to stay seated on the plane so he could exit first. I discover later that I am stuck in some connection city for the night. Since the delay was unquestionably weather related they won’t provide a hotel which is too bad because I’m also known to be “difficult,” thus unable to easily get a room.  What hath we wrought?

It isn’t about me, but realistically social business is an option. Last week I stayed in a Marriott. I didn’t bother with the points club because it’s too much trouble. I play points games only with a few brands and ignore the rest. I am not a heavy user of facebook, and I don’t ‘like’ brands. Even worse, at least most of the time when I want to interact with a business, I call them. Such a buffoon am I, Virgin America’s CEO David Cush said right on the Dreamforce stage that the best way to get a response is through social media, not through normal consumer relations (#VirginConsumerRelationsSucks) “Your call is not important to us, please hold.”

Dreamforce does a great job at showing what social business can do, but we need to proceed cautiously. In Facebook’s Generation Y nightmare,  Frédéric Filloux walks us through a hiring decision, they have a strong candidate but a research firm has uncovered some concerns:

“She’s afflicted with acute migraine. It occurs at least a couple of times a month. She’s good at concealing it, but our data shows it could be a problem,” Chen says.

“How the hell do you know that?”

“Well, she falls into this particular Health Cluster. In her Facebook babbling, she sometimes refers to a spike in her olfactory sensitivity – a known precursor to a migraine crisis. In addition, each time, for a period of several days, we see a slight drop in the number of words she uses in her posts, her vocabulary shrinks a bit, and her tweets, usually sharp, become less frequent and more nebulous. That’s an obvious pattern for people suffering from serious migraine. In addition, the Zeo Sleeping Manager website and the stress management site HeartMath – both now connected with Facebook – suggest she suffers from insomnia. In other words, Alan, we think you can’t take Ms Porter in the firm. Our Predictive Workforce Expenditure Model shows that she will cost you at least 15% more in lost productivity. Not to mention the patterns in her Facebook entries suggesting a 75% chance for her to become pregnant in the next 18 months, again according to our models.”

Yes, the above is fiction, but there are real firms doing real analysis just like it. Like Elaine, we are losing control of our image and reputation and subsequently our future opportunities. Some will view that facebook example as a positive thing, but the line we are crossing needs to be crossed with full awareness.

I don’t understand the motivation to “like”  brands on Facebook. It is a trade of demographic information for a coupon at best. George Zimmer of Men’s Warehouse was featured at Dreamforce. To demonstrate proof of how effective social  business can be, he offered Dreamforce attendees a special promotion on Facebook. It was 50% off selected items – almost the same deal they were running on their website a few days later without all the demographics.

Social business is still relatively young and either directly associated with Facebook and Twitter, or with similar enterprise technologies such as Chatter. However, everything we do is online – our bank balances, our travel, our medical records, our credit card transactions, our cell phone records (location, usage, contacts, appointments) –  combined with our rewards clubs miles and grocery cards; and the records our vendors keep such as electrical use, insurance claims, vehicle maintenance records – and so much more. Anonymity is rapidly disappearing – our cell phone pictures have geo location tags and our internet usage is tracked to create a better experience. Cash, the last great source of anonymity is rapidly becoming useless – you can’t buy an airplane ticket with cash without setting off alarms, good luck renting a car with cash, gas stations don’t take cash, you can’t even buy a beer on a plane with cash. Yes, these changes are creating business opportunities, so perhaps businesses have a shareholder obligation to exploit them.

Back to the magic show.

Dreamforce (and Salesforce) is attracting bigger firms. That’s important because Salesforce was largely associated with SMB just a few years ago. For example, the CEO and CMO of GE were featured in the opening video. That’s an impressive trick. But behind the scenes we also know that GE uses Oracle, SAP, and Cisco. Dayan Anandappa, a CIO at GE, explained at E2.0 that Cisco’s Webex Social is their key social networking solution.

Perhaps it’s just the CMO vs. CIO, but then Benioff did another trick. He put up a Gartner quote that said “by 2017, CMOs will spend more on IT than their counterpart CIOs.” My first reaction was wow, but behind the scenes the CIO is more secure than the quote suggests.  The M in CMO is marketing, and in most companies the marketing budget is already higher than the IT budget. What’s changing is marketing creation and delivery is now all about technology. Also, marketing is embracing big data and analytics.  The CMO isn’t changing as much as his/her tools are.

Magic shows are funner without scrutiny. Dreamforce is truly impressive. I am sure I will be at one soon because it increasingly clear that social, cloud, contact centers, UC, and collaboration are headed for collision.