When one thinks of CRM in the cloud, it's only natural to think of Salesforce.com. In just 10 years, the company has grown from a money-losing startup that at one point seemed headed for bankruptcy to a robust and expanding market leader generating more than $1 billion in annual revenue. That figure makes Salesforce.com the largest CRM cloud-computing company in the world and the third-largest CRM vendor overall. Throughout its entire history, one man has been steering the ship: Marc Benioff, the company’s cofounder, chairman, and (since 2001) its chief executive officer. This summer, CRM magazine’s Editorial Director David Myron and Managing Editor Joshua Weinberger flew to Salesforce.com’s headquarters in San Francisco for an exclusive interview with Benioff, excerpts of which appear here, in which he spoke at length about his climb to the top; current strategies; the state of the market; his latest book, Behind the Cloud; and his thoughts on the future.
Weinberger: How has it changed in 10 years—the challenges, the different aspects of what you’re going after?
Benioff: I would say it surprisingly hasn’t changed that much. It’s still very much a lot of brute force, a lot of heavy lifting, a lot of hard work every day, and a lot of demonstrating this is a better model, and making customers successful. We have this process called “V2MOM” [Editors’ Note:“V2MOM” is an acronym of Benioff’s own creation, and stands for “vision, values, methods, obstacles, and measures.” For more on the role the V2MOM has played in his company’s success over the years, see the sidebar, “Salesforce.com’s SecretWeapon”], and we went back and looked at a lot of the V2MOMs over the last 10 years and a lot of them are very similar, but the number-one value has always been customer success. Are we doing the right things to make that happen? That’s what it’s all about.
Myron: In your book, you mention that the V2MOM is something that you like to revisit every six months. When was the last time you revisited it and what changes did you make to it?
Benioff: Well, I rewrote it in February and then I presented it to my top 25 or 30 officers. After that I rewrote it again, because it was pretty clear that the world was really changing fast, especially in the first calendar quarter of this year. Then we presented it to our top 250 officers in March. At that point, it was pretty solid and they responded pretty well to it. But it was surprising to me that I had to [re]write it twice in February, because what had happened with the economy had really impacted a lot of the customers much more than I [had first] realized. I hadn’t taken that enough into consideration in the V2MOM, so I rebuilt it a second time. And it’s been very good for guiding us through these first two fiscal quarters.
Myron: What were some of the changes/additions when you rewrote it?
Benioff: The big change in February was really that we needed to focus much more on the existing customers and their success and who they are and how they’re using the service even more than growing [our] business. While growing the business is important—and we certainly are growing the business—we’re putting a lot of energy back into the customers…. I get messages from customers every day asking us to help them understand how to be more competitive and work well in this environment. And I’m spending a lot of time on that, staffing that, focusing on that. That was not as high a priority, honestly, in January. The shift had not really hit us that way.