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9/21/2012
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Salesforce.com's Benioff Preaches To New Flock: CMOs

Marc Benioff wants marketing to be Salesforce's next $1 billion business. To get there, he's jumping right into the growing tension between IT and marketing execs.

Marc Benioff, the tech industry's most talented tent revival preacher, has focused his gospel for a new group: marketing executives. The CIO vs. CMO discussion has been increasing and Benioff, like all master salesmen, has been listening.

As I heard repeatedly at our recent InformationWeek 500 conference, a power struggle looms between IT and marketing organizations. As businesses seek new ways to interact with customers via social channels and demand decision-making information faster, cloud services also give marketing execs a way around IT. At the Dreamforce conference in San Francisco this week, Benioff told the faithful that he is concentrating on the marketing executives.

And when Benioff concentrates on CMOs, you'd better pay attention.

Benioff's Dreamforce showmanship, combined with an ability to speak language that riles up his believers, keeps improving year after year. Outfitted in a suit and colorful sneakers that caused a Twitter flutter, Benioff led a three-hour keynote Wednesday that used the word "inspirational" repeatedly.

Marc Benioff

In an IBM 2012 study, CEOs rated social as the No. 2 way to reach customers, he told the crowd, early on. (Sales teams ranked No. 1.)

"That for me was when a light came on," Benioff said. "We believe so strongly that Salesforce's core mission is to help you, our customers, to connect with your customers in a whole new way."

By 2017, CMOs will spend more on tech than CIOs, Benioff added, citing a Gartner study. Social represents the biggest change to marketing in 60 years, he said. He laid out these tenets before launching into his product announcements, which target the customer's marketing needs.

Not for the first time, Benioff expressed his belief that marketing will be Salesforce's next $1 billion business. Among other developments, his team showed off Marketing Cloud services, the fruit of the company's Radian6 and Buddy Media buys, and Chatter for Communities and for Services, designed to extend Salesforce's collaboration tools to partners and customers. His team also rolled out Chatterbox, the long rumored answer to Dropbox, and Work.com, an employee goal-setting, feedback, and performance review system. The presentation focused on customer problems, not software features.

Why Marketing

At a press and analyst Q&A later on Wednesday, Benioff is pressed on the genesis of his marketing ambitions, and whether they are realistic. He cited a trip to visit a casino customer in Las Vegas. "For the first time when I showed up for the meeting, the CMO is in the room," Benioff says. "They spend more than $1 billion in marketing. It dwarfs their IT spend. That's true for most organizations." Harkening back to the Gartner study that CMOs will outspend CIOs by 2017, Benioff went further. "I think maybe Gartner is underestimating what's happening," he said, suggesting it may flip faster than 2017.

That line of thinking is core to his plans for growing Salesforce.

"We're telling stories," Benioff said. "We're trying to talk to customers in their own language. That is very much a transformation that is paramount for us."

In fact, Benioff noted, his top 500 managers have each been assigned to work with five customers, to get more examples like General Electric, where his company's technology powers a new social effort called GE Share.

And, as he pledged to stand by these marketing execs as they wander into the promised land of happier customers and happier employees actually collaborating better, he told some amusing stories.

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