All of this year's Influential Leaders are at big, multibillion-dollar companies so, naturally, big things are expected of them. And this year they delivered. They made headlines over the past 12 months for pursuing their vision by making strategic acquisitions and/or driving innovation in ways that improve customer experiences. Many people, including competitors, customers, and prospects, have been affected to varying degrees by their leadership and influence, which is why we are honoring them with our esteemed Influential Leader awards.
Marc Benioff, CEO, Salesforce.com
The Generous Innovator
Already an entrepreneur by age 15, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff has never been someone who likes to waste time. When he founded Salesforce.com in 1999, the company was just an innovative idea, but has quickly transformed into a publicly traded, multibillion-dollar corporation, constantly topping the list of industry leaders. Within the past year, the company and its founder have taken strides to harness the power of social media in business, and used it to transform the CRM field.
At Salesforce.com's annual Dreamforce conference in September, Benioff unveiled a slew of products, including Marketing Cloud—a platform that makes use of Salesforce.com's acquisitions of social marketing companies such as Buddy Media to unify social listening, engagement, advertising, work flow automation, and measurement.
Less than a month later, Salesforce.com announced it was expanding its marketing solution and partnering with 20 social analytics vendors, including Caterva, Kred, and PeekAnalytics, to provide its customers with even more connectivity and insight. Looking to bring together its recent innovations, acquisitions, and partnerships, Salesforce.com then launched Social.com—an application designed to intertwine social listening with CRM contact data to give clients a better, more targeted way to deliver ads. In June, the company announced its plan to acquire cloud-based digital marketing platform provider ExactTarget for $2.5 billion, its biggest acquisition to date.
"We believe so strongly at Salesforce.com that our mission is to help our customers connect with their customers. It's a product revolution, an employee revolution, a partner revolution...this nature of connecting with our customers in a whole new way gets down into our core," Benioff said at Dreamforce.
To Benioff, customers are everything, and in seeking to transform their individual experiences, he has managed to transform the CRM world. "The man has been a disrupter and visionary with flair unlike any other corporate leader regardless of industry," Paul Greenberg, president of The 56 Group, says. "He has presented a vision of how technology benefits the customers and companies that it enables and has done it in a way that people can see themselves buying into, thus pushing forward the whole CRM industry. He's built an industry-dominant company that has been seen as the standard for CRM technology, and spreads it beyond any limited industry borders."
What makes Benioff a truly influential leader, however, is his dedication to social change. The founder of the Salesforce.com Foundation, a multimillion-dollar global charity organization, Benioff embodies his vision for more compassionate business leaders. In honor of the 10th anniversary of the Dreamforce conference in 2012, the foundation donated $10 million to San Francisco's District 10, providing funding for Year Up, the University of California at San Francisco, San Francisco General Hospital Foundation, the Southeast Health Center, the Exploratorium, and The Campaign for Hope SF.
"[Benioff's] philanthropy isn't a corporate marketing ploy," Greenberg says. "He gives straight from his heart because he knows that the less fortunate can benefit from his ability to do so, and he does it freely and without needing PR at his side. The combination of vision and heart are why he deserves to be named as a CRM market influencer."—Maria Minsker
Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO, Amazon.com
A Customer-Centric CEO
As the founder and CEO of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos has played a key role in the growth of e-commerce. Under his guidance, Amazon.com has become the world's premier online retailer, accounting for nearly a quarter of all Internet sales worldwide and reporting more than $61 billion in 2012 sales, up $13 billion from the previous year. The company has more than 180 million active accounts and more than 2 million merchants selling on its Web platforms. What's more, 86 percent of all Americans who have bought something online have purchased from Amazon, and 30 percent of all online shoppers start at Amazon to research products. Clearly, Bezos' influence among consumers is far reaching, but it's his recent influence over other businesses that has earned him an Influential Leader award this year.
In November, the company launched Amazon Marketing Services, which includes several free services—Brand Pages, Brand Posts, Analytics, and eCommerce Ads—to help businesses sell more via the online portal.
Brand Pages is a service that lets companies create their own microsites on the larger Amazon Web site. Companies also get the benefits of Amazon's scale when it comes to search engine optimization for their sites.
Brand Posts lets companies engage audiences on Facebook and other social media sites and enhance their sites with social content.
Analytics ties it all together, providing companies with insights into their pages and posts, including views, reach, purchase lift, and the online shopping behavior of customers.
Finally, eCommerce Ads helps companies promote their products on Amazon.
Amazon also empowers companies in more than 190 countries around the world through its Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing infrastructure offering.
Amazon has invested heavily in cloud computing since launching AWS in late 2006, but this year several large CRM vendors—most notable among them SAP and Sage—signed on to make their solutions available for deployment on the platform.
In 2012, Amazon supplemented its cloud platform with 159 new features and services. Included among them was AWS Trusted Advisor, which monitors customer configurations, compares them to known best practices, and then notifies customers where opportunities exist to improve performance, enhance security, or save money.
These offerings certainly bolster the Amazon cloud, which Morgan Stanley researchers recently projected would hit $24 billion in revenue by 2022. Though Amazon doesn't list its AWS revenue separately, many analysts have estimated it at $2 billion a year, strongly positioning Amazon to take on the likes of IBM, Microsoft, HP, Oracle, and other long-standing tech incumbents. And that's just the way Bezos likes it.
"He was and continues to be an innovative and disruptive leader when it comes to both how he conducts Amazon’'s business and the commitment to personalization of the customer's experience with Amazon," says Paul Greenberg, president of CRM consultancy The 56 Group. "He is also a strong visionary who has a visionary perspective that defines not just Amazon, but what other industries and businesses need to emulate."—Leonard Klie