• November 6, 2009
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Required Reading: Cloud Formation

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Want to get to know Marc Benioff? Well, in addition to this issue’s exclusive question-and-answer interview (see “The Cloud Pleaser”), the cofounder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Salesforce.com has also now given us a look Behind the Cloud—his  third book, scheduled for publication around the same time as this issue.
Where Benioff’s first efforts, Compassionate Capitalism (2004) and The Business of Changing the World (2006), dealt almost entirely with corporate philanthropy, this new release is a chance to see the man getting, in the words of his coauthor Carlye Adler,“much more personal.”
Arranged as a kind of instructional playbook comprising 111 short “plays”—the number is significant—Behind the Cloud describes how Salesforce.com battled the traditional software giants en route to becoming a giant itself. 
Associate Editor Jessica Tsai spoke with Adler for her firsthand sense of the man—and company—credited with revolutionizing the software industry.
CRM magazine: Did the fact that this book was based largely on Benioff’s personal experience pose a challenge?
Carlye Adler: Each chapter [started] with an interview where Marc shared his experiences and thoughts. He felt strongly that this shouldn’t just be his story, [and] wanted to involve [others] involved in building Salesforce.com. He gave me a list of 12 to 20 people to interview—the people who started Salesforce[.com] 10 years ago in a rented apartment, friends, competitors, investors, even the [venture capitalists] who turned Salesforce.com down. Many of the same ideas popped up again and again during these conversations, which helped us identify the stories and lessons [that] were most influential or replicable and what would therefore be successful in a larger context.
CRM: And? How much of Salesforce.com’s success is replicable?
Adler: It was our goal to inspire entrepreneurs and provide them with real lessons. We believed there was value in helping established companies increase innovation and establish organizational alignment. Companies that have a vision—and stick to it—are the ones that will survive and thrive. Small companies can take on and ultimately replace very large competitors. We write that the lessons can help a company be the next Salesforce.com.We believe that.
CRM: What about Salesforce.com did you learn that you hadn’t known before?
Adler: I wrote a profile about Marc in 2003, [and] even though he likes to call me “the company historian,” I learned a ton during this project. I was most surprised to learn how Salesforce.com evolved—the strategies it used to maintain its fast growth from a start-up to a market leader and still retain its unique culture without compromis[ing] hires, services, or events. During the dot-com disaster, [Salesforce.com’s] bankruptcy was a possibility, but I didn’t know that it overcame that challenging time by reinventing its sales model.

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