Salesforce declared an end to software 20 years ago, and with it grew the cloud. That bold statement from founder Marc Benioff announced a company that took a big first step into the unknown but now continues to innovate through the CRM tools it provides its many customers.
While Salesforce didn’t exactly end software, it did sweep in changes to many of the clunky, hard-to-manage tools that came before it. The company is now celebrating its 20 years of accomplishments by helping train a new wave of tech-savvy users with its Trailblazers and Vetforce programs and its popular Dreamforce events.
And while the focus is squarely on the future, 20 years after the company launched, the message behind the ‘End of Software’ is still relevant.
“The manifestation of it that you see today is Trailblazers,” Salesforce chief marketing officer Stephanie Buscemi told The Drum. “The premise behind the two are the same.”
Trailblazers are proud users of the Salesforce platform. They have personally and professionally changed their careers with it.
“They’re doing amazing things for their businesses. We have this amplifier effect happening. It’s not just myself and a marketing team. We have these... Trailblazers, who have leveraged our platform, leveraged our Trailhead for online learning, and they’re out there advocating for Salesforce and what it can do,” said Buscemi.
Trailhead is the Salesforce learning platform, and it’s helping the company retain new users by teaching them about its technologies and industry issues.
“Trailhead was the acknowledgement that we have an explosion of technology in front of us, and it’s creating a massive demand for new skills,” said Buscemi. “It’s a fun, easy way to learn these new technologies. I say it’s fun because it’s gamified."
The way it works is that people can sign on to the Trailhead site and earn badges through its many instructionals. There are tutorials on everything from how to build a mobile app to privacy laws to analytics.
“Many of the Trailblazers out there... are people who didn’t have an advanced degree. They went on Trailhead, got the badges and were able to get a six-figure job,” she said, adding that are roughly 300,000 open jobs for people to be developers on the Salesforce platform right now, so the demand is there.
To further its reach, the company is also training veterans through Vetforce, going out into veteran communities and helping give them the technological skills to get jobs in the mainstream workforce.
A history of ending software and climbing to the cloud
The big idea behind Salesforce was the ability to access business apps from the web browser versus having to install it on a server. Instead of launching as simply an online CRM solution, it aimed to be relevant to a larger audience. That’s how Benioff came up with the ‘End of Software’ campaign.
“It started with a vision to be a different kind of company,” said Buscemi. “Marc and our cofounder Parker (Harris) set out with ‘we want to change the way the world does business.’ Marc was provocative with the ‘End of Software’ campaign.... As marketers, you always want to keep it positive, and he declared the end of software. Really, what he was doing was pioneering cloud computing.... It was revolutionary.”
Buscemi, who has been with the company five years, went back in the archives and looked at a the enablement assets that were being used for the sales team. She found that they really weren’t about Salesforce automation feature functions, but more about targeting a mindshift for people to move to the cloud.
“It was pioneering trust in the cloud. I think we’ve continued with that playbook,” she said.
Training the next wave of users
Buscemi sees the Trailblazers as the best marketing asset for the company, since they are building their own communities and getting the word out about how easy it is to learn new skills through Trailhead.
“We believe in the importance of a community. These Trailblazers have formed into very rich communities around the globe. They come together, they’re customizing applications, so there’s a tremendous halo effect for Salesforce,” she said.
“When we did ‘End of Software’ we were democratizing the access of technology, making it more accessible to everyone with cloud computing. We’re doing that again with Trailhead. We’re democratizing technology education. Anyone can get technology skills in a way that doesn’t require them to be a data scientist or an engineer, and the jobs are out there. That’s the future of work,” she said.
Salesforce reaches beyond its Trailblazers community through its many events, from TrailheaDX, a developer conference open to everyone at every level, to its Dreamforce events, to providing learning to underserved areas. All these points will come up in Salesforce’s marketing efforts throughout the year.
“We’re going to be more bold and aggressive with our advertising and awareness this year through social, digital and traditional out-of-home. We’re going to a lot of unexpected places. We want to reach those folks who can’t afford a four-year education. This ties to another one of our core values, which is ‘equality for all’…making Trailhead available to diverse, underrepresented minorities, getting them to skill up and get a job.”
She said consumers will see it in the traditional advertising the company does, with large media placement and activations. The company will be targeting retirees who need to gain new skills to work a few more years, those who aren’t able to go to college, mothers trying to get back into the workforce, and the younger population.
The company will be doing local advertising aimed at getting people to learn how to work on Trailhead. Buscemi said that many Trailblazer communities in local markets are self-forming, noting that a woman in Austin spearheaded ‘Salesforce Saturdays’.
The company will also take TrailheaDX outside of the US this year, running one in India. All the efforts are to build up the Trailblazer base, which leads to greater product knowledge.
A 'fun and irreverent' brand
Salesforce has an in-house creative and brand team, but also works with an ecosystem of agencies and vendors to pull off its events, videos and digital efforts.
“We are always working with different agencies around the globe to bring cutting edge capabilities to the events,” she said.
As for its creative marketing efforts, “it’s very deliberate,” said Buscemi. “Our brand look and feel – we want it to be fun and irreverent. We do that because we want people to see tech as inviting; something they can have fun with that’s easy to use. We see that as a key differentiator... We continue to dial it up because of the feedback.”
The sense of fun with branding came from Benioff's ‘End of Software’ and the No Software character. “Having these animated, fun characters, it’s another provocative approach. It makes people intrigued and they want to learn more,” she said.
Buscemi is excited for the future of Salesforce and its Trailblazers, and she is happy to be a part of it. “It couldn’t be a better time to be a CMO. I think we’re rewriting the way we’re going to do marketing for the next decades to come.
"What we’re building with these Trailblazers is a whole new level of scale. It’s a new type of marketing. Seeing a hairdresser take over a hair salon to teach people how to build applications leveraging Trailhead, it’s unexpected. And it’s a sense of community being built. It’s something I haven’t seen over the last 20 years anywhere else.”
Salesforce celebrated 20 years with a six-minute birthday film.