Marc Benioff on How and Why Salesforce.com Succeeded– My Favorite Plays!

Posted taken from Scott Maxwell, May 01, 2011 , businessinsider.com

Salesforce.com is one of the great company builds over the last decade.  Their strategies include the best current practices and creative new ideas to test out and their execution is among the best (if not the best).

I have been closely following Salesforce.com for about 10 years and I have used many of their practices as a model and example for our portfolio companies, as the Salesforce.com practices for company building offer great models for our portfolio companies (the Salesforce.com management team was even kind enough to deliver a full-day event with our portfolio companies a couple of years back).

Luckily for all emerging growth technology companies, Marc Benioff and Carlye Adler have now written the Salesforce.com playbook, which describes Salesforce.com’s history in 111 plays.

My strong recommendation is to buy the book for your team and read through the plays a couple of times a year.  It contains much of the advice that we give our portfolio companies and the advice has a great proof point given the amazing company that Marc and his team have created.

My Favorite Plays

While all of the 111 plays are highly relevant to all emerging growth technology companies, I pulled my favorite plays out of Marc’s book and organized them into several themes:
1. Get Your Aspirations Right

2. Field Your Best Possible Team

3. Focus on Your Best Customer Segments

4. Create Your Competitive Advantage

5. Build Your Sales and Marketing Factory
The plays for each of these themes are highlighted below along with some additional resources and initiatives that OpenView has created to help our portfolio companies:

Get Your Aspirations Right

Play #2: Have a Big Dream
Play #14: Think bigger

Companies generally don’t get bigger than their vision.  I have an example that I use in one of our workshops for portfolio companies where I ask the participants to list all the ways they can make $10 by the end of the day.  Once they do that, I ask them which of the ideas can make $100 million.  The answer is always “none of them”.  My point is that you can’t make $100 million with a $10 vision.  While you don’t need to think as big as Marc did to have a big vision, have a big dream and think bigger!

Play #7: Define your Culture and values up front– Marc had a clear idea on the culture and values that he wanted at Salesforce.com and built it from the beginning (an idea shared by Tony Hsieh, founder and CEO of Zappos, that he writes about in his book Delivering Happiness).

Marc wanted the team who built Salesforce.com to be inspired and feel valued and built a culture “simply by doing what we enjoyed.”  He writes, for example, that “We wore Hawaiian shirts to instill the aloha spirit in the company” and they brought their dogs to work. 

I have found that because there are so many sloppy implementations of this idea that many management teams don’t recognize the importance of vision, culture and values so they don’t create them or they don’t bake them into their companies.

You shouldn’t match the same culture and values of another company, but you should determine what is right for you and go about building it.

OpenView felt the topic was so important that we put together an “Extraordinary Execution Workshop” which helped our portfolio companies put together their aspirations (mission, vision, values) and also establish their management rhythm and we eventually wrote a case study on the workshop.  I distilled the ideas from the workshop into a series of articles on the “how to” for building company aspirations and hope to turn it into a free e-book later this year.

What are your aspirations?

Field Your Best Possible Team

Play #5- Pursue Top Talent as If Your Success Depended on It
Play #12- Hire the Best Players You Know
Play #102- Build a Recruiting Culture
Play #103- Recruiting is Sales
Play #105- How to Retain top Talent
Play #106-
 The Importance of Mahalo
Play #107- Foster Loyalty by Doing the Right Thing
Play #108- Challenge your Best People with New Opportunities
Play #109- Solicit Employee Feedback — and Act on It

Marc points out through the book that hiring, retaining, and inspiring the absolutely best people is a major factor in building successful companies.  I find that everyone agrees with this point, but very few companies execute it in practice.  Salesforce.com did, and the results are evident.

At OpenView, we spend much of our time trying to help build management teams and boards and we even have two recruiters on staff in OpenView Labs to help our portfolio companies build their teams.  Even though great people and teams is obvious advice, in a lot of ways it is great advice and all companies have obstacles that keep them from implementing it (I identified 6 people related blindspots that the CEO has in a recent post that identifies some of the reasons that companies don’t improve in this area).

Where should you improve your team and/or board?

Focus on Your Best Customer Segment(s)