Colin Fleming of Salesforce says Salesforce+ Will Make Dreamforce a Transformational Experience Compared to Previous Years


This week I’m headed off to Dreamforce, Salesforce’s huge annual user conference, for the first time in three years.  Before the pandemic shut everything down, 170,000 people attended Dreamforce in 2019.  And while the conference took a few baby steps the last couple of years with very limited amounts of people attending the event in San Francisco, many more people experienced it virtually on Salesforce+, the streaming platform Salesforce created when all their physical events had to be canceled.  But this week the conference is back with a significant number of folks expected to attend.  And even though estimates are floating around of at least 30,000 people will be at the physical event, there may be four times that number if not more who will attend virtually.

My CRM Playaz co-host Paul Greenberg and I had the opportunity to speak with Colin Fleming, Salesforce EVP of Global Brand Marketing, who is leading the Salesforce+ effort.  We spoke with him two days after the streaming service was announced last year, and we wanted to hear what role Salesforce+ was going to play in this year’s Dreamforce now that it’s opening back up with a big attendance number expected.  Colin also shares how the last year of Salesforce+ has led to a transformational change in how he sees events being designed, as well as the impact these changes will have of traditional B2B marketing initiatives.

Below is a portion of an edited transcription of our conversation.  Click on the embedded SoundCloud to hear the full conversation.

Salesforce+ Year in Review

Brent Leary: With Salesforce+ recently celebrating its first year in operation, can you give us a summary of what this first year has been like?

Colin Fleming: We’re an enterprise software company. This is not status quo for us. So, as with anything, we’re learning tons. We’ve seen big momentum on viewership. Just thrilled with the quality of the content. We’ve moved things into season two. In season three, we’ve cut bait on some things that didn’t quite work. Just recently, We’ve won content marketing program of the year for the second year in a row as a result of this effort.

It feels like it’s working. People are coming back to the product often.  It’s been a big kick in the pants inside Salesforce to just rethink the way that marketing works inside the company. Of course, we’re all planning for this cookie-less future. We’re all planning for first party data, we’re all planning for these things. And this has been great to take a tactic go out and try this, and turn it into a strategy.

I’m just thrilled with what we’ve been able to do. This past week, we introduced a new partnership with CNBC to launch a series with CNBC, which we’re thrilled about with called The Shift.  The level of ambition here, it’s just sort of unfathomable to a degree.

Data was the driving factor. Are people watching this and staying on and coming back to the platform and if they weren’t, then we decided to cancel it.  And it was kind of a black and white decision. Frankly, that’s a muscle that Salesforce has not had historically. It’s a lot of activity before achievement, like, “oh, we’re doing all these things and we do a status report of how are you marketing the sales cloud or whatever”. That’s not what we’re doing here. We look at achievement.  And so I think that’s been a mindset shift for all of us along the way.

When we were together a year ago, we started talking about persona driven content where we had an ambition to build a content series for each of our core personas in which Salesforce markets itself to. We are generally still on that strategy.  But what we found, and we did not expect this, is the softer and more altruistic side of the content has really performed better than expectations. Trailblazer has been an incredible series, the Ecopreneur Series, which we produced with the Fortune team has been just a runaway hit for us.

We signed a partnership with our friends Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway on the Pivot podcast as well to bring their podcast, which is runaway popular into a video setting.  We did a little 2 to 3, four minute snippets in a video setting, and that’s been by far the most popular part of Salesforce+.  Pivot is that big eyeballs number for us that drives interest to the platform that might not be in our core audience.

What I’m really energized by is they’re not just coming for that.  You see people come in for Pivot and they go to Ecopreneurs, they go to Trailblazer, or they go to something else. And that cross-pollination strategy has really worked for us. And then the one big thing that has been the biggest surprise of them all. I really resisted any level of heavy practitioner technical content. I wanted this to be an upper funnel like Emmy winning type of thing, right?

But we trialed this idea of a Salesforce on Salesforce series, which is really practitioner heavy. And I was worried about being myopic. But it has massive popularity with people wanting to know how Salesforce is overcoming problems. And we’ve tried to be hyper transparent, outlining our playbooks for how we do events and first party data and sales enablement and all these things that have been locked up in the four walls of Salesforce.

We’re totally opening it up. And I cannot produce those things fast enough right now.

Salesforce+ impact on Dreamforce

Brent Leary: How is Salesforce plus being integrated in supporting Dreamforce?

Colin Fleming: You’re going to see a pretty transformative experience. The media experience is going to be front and center. In fact. Hopefully not giving away too much here….

Brent Leary: Don’t worry about it, it’s just us…

Colin Fleming: Between the main keynote room and the campground is an entire Salesforce studio area. It’s like a hybrid theater, capturing content for Salesforce Plus in this really interesting way.

We have a Today Show, and we have a Tonight Show at Dreamforce. We’ve got professional hosts. We’ve got Saturday Night Live talent as well that’s going to help us host this content.

Dreamforce is too much for one person, anybody to absorb in the three days that we do it. And so this idea of highlights before the day and highlights after the day with really a media-inspired talk show-like environment is new for us. Tune into that on Salesforce+. Dreamforce Today, Dreamforce Tonight will happen there.

You’re going to see shorter content across the board because we know attention spans on Salesforce+ or any streaming platform are shorter than they were before all this pandemic thing happened.  So you’re going to see shorter series, shorter content. I think you’re going to see just more of a media inspiration across the board. We’ve brought in talent from the media landscape. We’ve brought in people that do this for a living.

Dreamforce is an ambitious exercise. We’ve got over 200 sessions on Salesforce+. Salesforce+ will not turn off for the next week.

We are we have an APAC picking it up, we have a EMEA picking it up and then the US takes over in the morning so it never turns off. I literally hand the keys to the Enterprise to Australia to run the show over the night for us. EMEA takes it from them until the early morning and then we take it back before the main keynotes, stuff like that.

We’re thoughtful about not only the volume of content on the platform, but our programing for the global audience. Dreamforce before the pandemic had roughly to 20 to 30 different countries represented at Dreamforce. There’s 117 different countries that watched on Salesforce+.

The game has changed materially in terms of the types of content we produce.  We have to produce a lot more one-on-one style content, as we’re introducing ourselves to new audiences and Dreamforce as a user conference… it’s more than that. But that’s where it originally started of course. So I think we just have to think through everything in a, in a bigger and more grand way.

Salesforce+ Lessons for Traditional Marketers

Brent Leary: With all the things you’re doing with Salesforce+, how do the lessons from all of this translate to your traditional marketing activities?

Colin Fleming: The center of gravity has pushed into high fidelity, impactful, thoughtful content that builds audiences instead of content that people fill out forms to download a white paper where you have to put in the name of your first-born child. That sentiment of B2B marketing is kind of gone. I was I was fortunate to attend the Cannes Creativity Festival this summer, and somebody said something and I remember who I should probably attribute to attribute this better.

But they said there’s no room for boring in B2B marketing. And, you know, we have to think like that. The bar for marketing inside a company like Salesforce can’t be set by B2B companies it has to be set by B2C companies; and we should operate at that level of quality.

If Salesforce is a top 40 brand in the world, and we have ambitious things we want to do, why shouldn’t we operate like that?  Let’s operate at that level and hold ourselves accountable to that. And hopefully you’re seeing it in the work that we’re putting forth. But, I think we’re still at the early stages of that journey as well.

Salesforce+ Built on Salesforce platform

Brent Leary: How easy was it for you to get buy-in to try some of these new things out?

Colin Fleming: We have an incredible CMO, Sarah Franklin, that understands the balance of building the brand with driving performance marketing. We know the Salesforce brand is now a top 40 brand in the world. We have to invest in the long term.  It’d be hard for us to talk about first party data strategies and cookie-less futures and CDP and the marketing lens if we weren’t doing it ourselves.

We took the narrative that we were projecting publicly and asked ourselves, okay, are we the model citizen here? And one of the things that I’m most excited about, behind the scenes, it’s a very Salesforce on Salesforce story. It’s all built on our core technology. It’s all running on our CDP. It’s a free service, but we are very thoughtful in how we’re using this as a first party data strategy for us to help build an audience, which is not something that B2B marketers like myself typically think about;  building an audience and keeping them entertained and keeping them energized and keep them coming back.

And that’s where our technology comes in. I am customer zero of the richest of the rich of Salesforce technology. I have a direct line to the product manager of all of our major marketing products. I have a direct line to our commerce leaders and just like, here’s what I’m learning, here’s what working, here’s what’s not. And some of the features you’re going to see.

Dreamforce has been inspired by some of the lessons we’ve learned on Salesforce+. And so I think that that’s what’s really exciting behind the scenes. And we’ll continue to do that and I’m really excited about Salesforce being a little bit more deliberate and clear about that. And walking the talk in a thoughtful way. So that’s what I’m perhaps most excited about.

At some point we’ll kind of open the doors and show everybody the platform because I think it’s pretty cool what we’ve done.

Thoughts about the future of events

Brent Leary: Any last thoughts going into the big week?

Colin Fleming: We built Salesforce+ because events didn’t exist for us for a good period of time. And now that events do, it’s interesting to see how these two things coexist now. And this year is the first time of true coexistence. I won’t call it a hybrid event because I hate that phrase, but these events are coming together in ways that we didn’t build. Salesforce+ for originally. So it’s fascinating to see the cross-pollination and how we’re going to balance the two, because last year we had a thousand people inside the center. It was awesome and we were thrilled we did it, but it was nowhere near the size and scope of what a historical event would have been.  So we’re happy to return back to that size this year and learn how these two things will play together. And hopefully, they play together nicely. That’s the intention.


This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.