It’s About Community: Reflections on Dreamforce ’15
It’s easy to misunderstand Dreamforce. You get caught up in the swirling carnival of advertising, keynotes, lunches, product announcements, breakout sessions, booths, DJ’s, gimmicks, parties, after-parties, breakfasts, swag, Foo Fighters, and cruise ships. It’s easy to forget what it’s all about.
Last week was my second Dreamforce, and I finally get it.
Behind all the hooplah, Dreamforce is a celebration of community.
By “community”, I mean community on multiple levels. Let me explain.
First, there’s personal community. My first time at the event, I couldn’t get over how big Dreamforce was. This time around, I was surprised at how small it felt. Good friends, some new and some not-so-new, popped up at every turn: Brian Bailard, Mark Waxman, Jon Cifuentes, Matt Androski, Marty Graffi, Rob Wright, Scott Schnaars, David Somers, David Cheifetz, Andrew McAfee, Phil Horn, Andy Hoar, Charlene Li, Srin Tangirala, Alan Lepofsky, Jacob Morgan, Jill Rowley, Gerhard Gschwandtner, Kurt Shaver, TJ Keitt, Michael Knight. Some of us had coordinated in advance, but it was even more fun when we hadn’t. Chance meetups with good friends have a joy all their own.
Second, there’s community as a product/platform. Community Cloud is one of Salesforce’s flagship cloud areas (along with Sales, Marketing, Service, Analytics, Platform and Internet of Things), and there was plenty of talk about community in that context, too. (Check out Perficient’s detailed writeup of the Community Cloud Keynote by Nasi Jaszyeri.)
Third, there’s community as an innovation strategy. This to me is where Salesforce the company rises above Salesforce the product. If you spent any time on the expo floor (and I spent a LOT of time there), and you quickly realize the power of their open system. The range of companies who have found ways to add value to the Salesforce platform is truly staggering. Our booth neighbors Printing For Less from Montana demo’d their Salesforce app which allows marketers to ship physical gifts to customers right from Salesforce. (Great idea!) An appropriately burly fellow at ServiceMax showed me how they integrate with Salesforce to improve in-home service quality and eliminate unnecessary truck rolls. (Sears, are you reading this? Don’t even get me started…) Showpad from Belgium demo’d the most elegant, beautiful sales presentation tool you’ve ever seen. The Expo floor was a carnival of innovation, with people coming from all sorts of places you might not have expected to deliver amazing solutions you probably never thought of.
Finally, and most importantly, there’s community as…well…community. All attendees were encouraged to bring a book to donate for children’s literacy. There were sessions on early childhood development, on Teach for America, on girls in tech, on veterans’ associations. While these initiatives could be dismissed is “feel-good” marketing gestures, I think there’s something deeper going on.
Salesforce.com started its life as CRM with a twist: instead of running inside the customer’s firewall, the software was hosted remotely by the service provider. Back in the early- to mid-2000s, Salesforce.com promoted the ability of its hosted model (later dubbed “Software as a Service” and “the cloud”) to deliver major improvements in the velocity, efficiency, and reliability of software delivery.
Cloud delivery has indeed delivered those benefits, and it’s also enabled a far deeper benefit which was less obvious when Salesforce started: the ability to unlock community-based collaboration. Putting everyone on the same network enables community interactions in a way that’s radically different from targeted 1-1 communications with the usual suspects.
The day before Dreamforce started, USA Today ran a story quoting Marc Benioff on why he keeps Dreamforce in San Francisco despite the event’s unwieldy size.
“I’d rather use the sharing economy more to keep it here, because if we leave (and move Dreamforce to Las Vegas) we lose far more than we gain.” –Marc Benioff
That says it all. Dreamforce isn’t just another trade show. It’s a community. It has roots, so you can’t just pick it up and move it. And if people have to use crowdsource their accommodations through services like Airbnb, Lyft, Uber, etc., to keep the event in the community, well…isn’t that the whole point?