What is the head of a major enterprise software company doing in a keynote presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas? That's a question that Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff asked himself on Wednesday.
Benioff, who was interviewed on stage by MediaLink CEO and chairman Michael Kassan about Marketing in the Cloud, pointed out that the consumer technology industry is "not my industry per se," and rhetorically asked himself, "What am I doing here?" To which he answered: "I don't even know."
But then he went on to cite reasons why consumer technology interests Salesforce.com. To begin with, he noted that virtually every device in the big trade show this week seems to be connected to the cloud, echoing Salesforce's emphasis on the cloud since its founding.
Toyota as an App
Benioff went on to point out a variety of ways in which what used to be described as marketing, customer service and customer relationship management (CRM) are being driven by social media into new directions that blur the distinctions, as companies compete to keep their customers. As an example, he noted that he asked a Toyota executive why there isn't a "Toyota Friend" model that can connect to other cars, or why the car itself can't run as an app off of an iPhone. The iPhone, he noted, is already "more powerful" than the computer in the car.
He said that some companies conduct what amounts to "social media stalking," and, when their brand is mentioned in social media, they connect to say, in effect, "We love you, too." But, Benioff added, "they can't tell" where those social customers are physically or virtually, meaning that their customer understanding is very limited. Another example: If a Net-connected dishwasher develops a problem, someone from the brand should be calling the dishwasher owner to fix the problem, he said, pointing to what could become the next phase of increasingly pro-active customer service.
Customer service, he indicated, is "the new marketing," when problems about a brand could easily get solved by the brand -- and then the customer pays back that investment by demonstrating his enthusiasm to his friends via social media.
Trust = 'No. 1 Value'
Benioff also pointed to the many benefits of connecting either consumer or industrial technology to the cloud. He cited the examples of a Coca Cola Freestyle machine that allows a user to mix soft drinks or juices and then share a description of the mixture with friends, or a connected aircraft engine that could be diagnosed remotely.
A company's trust, he said, "has to be your No.1 value." Separately from the keynote discussion, the Salesforce CEO also told CNBC that his company has spent "a billion dollars acquiring companies just to be able to show our customers exactly how to connect with their customers," and CES is about the technologies that the end customers will be using.
Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, noted that Salesforce.com and every company represented at CES are being affected by the movement to the cloud and to "the new desktop -- your mobile device."
He said that Benioff "is trying to get across to his customers," including developers and the companies at CES, that an enterprise's technology no longer needs to end at the firewall, and they now must actively court, listen to and embrace their customers through the consumer technology their customers often use.