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Three snippets from my year end conversations

As 2019 is heading to its last few weeks, I had a chance to catch up with a lot of friends, mentees and my own mentors and also take some time to reflect how things worked out for me this year . The consultant in me immediately started grouping and classifying the common themes, apply MECE , and map it all to a 2 X 2 . Don’t worry – I somehow resisted the temptation and stopped at just grouping 🙂

I thought three repeated themes were worth sharing here on my blog .

1. You need to tell some managers what they want to hear

So there is this guy who comes from a non tech background and does a good job managing a team of developers to hit milestones ahead of schedule (mostly by overworking them) . He is a flight risk, and the only way to keep him is to promote him to an executive rank . If he flees, his manager probably won’t earn his own promotion any time soon – so there is plenty of motivation to make this happen.

The only trouble is that this promotion needs the blessing of a very senior tech exec . There is no way this non tech dude is going to pass that level of tech scrutiny . That’s when the manager has a flash of brilliance in his thinking . The senior techie is somewhat of a philosopher and his current pet topic is “culture”. He coaches the up and comer to focus heavily of culture when the interview happens – which he masterfully does and gets promoted .

About half the people I caught up with had a similar story where promotions or raises were secured by telling their bosses what they wanted to hear .

2. Diversity seems to be a bit easier than inclusion

While it’s still a long ways to go, a lot of managers have been acting on improving diversity in their teams . There is a lot more awareness and training at all levels . In many cases there are top down directives like “by end of the year there needs to be X% women in your team , Y% URM in your team” etc . In a some of these cases, these are KPIs tied to the manager’s bonus too . All of these are great of course – and I hope it’s not just a one time exercise .

Then comes the question of inclusion . Are these “new” members of the team supported and set up for success ? Are their voices considered with the same importance as when your team was homogenous ? I was a bit surprised that even the people who actively champion the need for diverse teams haven’t done as much thinking on how to make inclusion happen in their day to day work.

That said – I was quite happy to hear that almost everyone I spoke to had done something good about making sure people doing similar roles are paid the same.

3. Being a newly promoted executive continues to be really hard

Before I made Partner , I had attended an exceptional internal training course in IBM called “Cornerstone”. And that’s where it was drilled into me that “what got you here won’t get you there”. Excellent advice which helped me and many others who attended that course . It is also very hard to put it into practice !

Everyone wants to make an immediate impact as an exec . Most have someone else they treat as their role model and want to be like him or her. Nothing wrong with any of it – just that what works for one exec in one context might not translate 1:1 to you in your context . Almost every single story I heard from the newly promoted folks made me say in my inner voice “oh no – I did that too” .

Here is one story I heard from someone who got promoted and took over a new team as its leader in January 2019. All six direct reports were asked to make 1 hr presentation to the new boss . The first one made a less than stellar presentation in the new manager’s opinion and the next day it was announced that this person will have a new role to be announced soon . Long story short – we are in December now and that position is still not filled , and two of the key next-in-line leaders quit because they couldn’t stand the ongoing chaos.

I asked them what were the words of wisdom they got from their leaders after their promotion and it was the usual list of “Have a bias to action”, “Lead with courage”, “Make your voice heard” etc . Those are all invaluable in their own rights – but perhaps we should add “slow down a bit now to speed up later” to the list .

(Cross-posted @ Vijay's thoughts on all things big and small)

Culture and customer loyalty: A Salesforce.com insider shares secrets to software success


Salesforce.com was co-founded by Marc Benioff in 1999. At that time, multi-tenant software as a service was a relatively new concept in business. Salesforce eventually adopted the slogan “no software,” to draw the distinction between their new SaaS method of delivering software and established, on-premise software vendors.

The SaaS approach to software distribution, coupled with a subscription business model, created a new paradigm for the relationship between an enterprise software company and its customers. Historically, on-premise enterprise software contracts required buyers to make large, upfront investments. The software vendors’ incentive to close these large deals sometimes resulted in failed projects and unhappy customers. The problem was so severe that I originally called this ZDNet blog “IT Project Failures,” back when I started writing in 2006.

The SaaS software subscription model pioneered by Benioff and Salesforce shifted the buying model from large, upfront payments to smaller, but ongoing, subscription fees. Because customers could cancel at any time (even, if it was not easy to move your data and processes to a new system), Salesforce had to prioritize customer success as a core company value. Creating a positive, inclusive culture was an existential decision for Salesforce because happy customers retained their subscriptions. High customer retention continues to fuel the company’s growth.

By aligning the interests of buyers with Salesforce’s revenue goals, the subscription model drove a corporate culture that embraced customers by making them happy. Given Salesforce’s current revenue run rate of almost $20 billion [PDF], the company’s strategy has obviously worked.

To learn about the role of culture and customer success in software, and to explore the history of Salesforce, I spoke with John Taschek, the company’s Senior Vice President of Market Strategy. The discussion took place at Dreamforce 2019, Salesforce’s annual conference, which had over 135,000 on-site attendees in San Francisco.

Watch the full video of our conversation embedded above and read the edited transcript:

When did you join Salesforce?

A little over 16 years now, in 2003. There were 300 people at the company when I joined.

What was the vision when Salesforce was a small company?

Marc [Benioff] used to say, “Why can’t enterprise technology be as easy to use as Amazon.com. That was the vision and it’s still true today. At that time, software was very complex. It took teams of people and months to install before the first person could use it. Amazon was very easy. You signed up and you bought a book. That’s how easy it was. And they handled everything else, including the e-commerce part. Everything. Enterprise offer wasn’t like that.

How does internal culture affect customer relationships at Salesforce?

The focus of always was on the customer, it wasn’t on sales. Since we were a subscription business, we had to work all the time to get renewed. In the early days, somebody could just turn off Salesforce right away and go to something else (even though it wasn’t practical to do that). So, the culture internally made us empathetic to the customers, the consumers.

We created programs for people who were heroes. At the first Dreamforce in 2003, you saw posters of people, people who actually did things and not just logos.

It really was an issue of trust. Definitely, trust was the key.

We sold to lines of business because that’s who bought and it was also easy. Small businesses could buy us with a credit card, and we made it very easy. We took away that friction point. They could also set it up themselves, they could become administrators themselves, they could do a lot of things themselves.

At some point, we were successful in those small businesses, medium-sized businesses, and lines of business within large companies. And it spread. In some of our first customers, like Cisco or ADP, it spread throughout the company.

Eventually, you became a major enterprise software company.

Definitely. The CEO’s became involved. The CMOs became involved after we got seriously into the marketing cloud business with the acquisition of Exact Target. Everybody’s kind of involved now. It’s a very C-level type of relationship now, especially with the larger companies, multinational companies.

And we still sell to small businesses too. We still have Salesforce Essentials. That’s huge. And still, a third of our business is small business. So, we don’t want to lose anything. But we do gain access to that C-level, helping people and companies transform.

Have the core values of Salesforce changed since the beginning?

No. Values are values. They stay the same. Our methods change and our goals change. Our measurements change, our obstacles change.

But we believe that our values are going to make us run for the next 21 years and beyond.

(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Beyond IT Failure)