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Marc Benioff: Make Every Employee a Key Player on the Marketing Team

Marc Benioff on MarketingFor all of you entrepreneurs out there, here is CEO Marc Benioff's account of how he got all employees to understand the salesforce.com marketing message and used guerilla marketing to make a real impact. This is an excerpt from Marc Benioff's book "Behind the Cloud."

One day, early in our occupancy at the Rincon Center, our marketing director, a developer, a quality assurance person, and an engineer were in the elevator when another tenant in the building asked, “What exactly does salesforce.com do?” To my surprise, everybody gave a different answer.

This was troublesome. Everyone at our company needed to understand who we were and what we did. More important, they needed to be able to effectively relay it in one simple sentence to anybody who asked and everybody who would listen. Because that consistent message clearly hadn’t made its way to our employees on its own, we had to educate them. This presented an amazing opportunity: if we succeeded, we could transform every employee into a marketing representative.

To ensure that everyone was on the same page (literally), our PR firm, OutCast Communications, produced a two-sided laminated card. It was a marketing cheat sheet that stated in one sentence what we did. It also provided information about the benefits of our service, our newest customers and partners, and our most recent awards. With this card, we leveraged everyone—from developers to engineers to quality assurance people—as integral parts of our marketing organization.

The card would have been of little use if we had simply distributed it. Instead, we offered training to make sure that everyone was crystal clear on the message that we wanted delivered to the world. In the early days, we met with the whole company for brown-bag lunch sessions to go over the latest marketing pitch for the company. Even though we were small, it was essential to ensure that our marketing was focused and first class.

Over time, as we grew, we required that all customer-facing employees become “certified” in how to position the service and how to deliver our messages. We taught everyone how to defend the messages against objections, which made them feel more prepared and confident. Some of this was “role based,” meaning that we would present a different problem-solving solution angle to a CIO than we would to a sales manager. The ultimate result of this meticulous coordination is that everyone is on message with the precision of a sophisticated political campaign.

Always, Always Go After Goliath
We routinely updated the card to reflect our current customers and partners, but there was always one item that stayed the same: our competitor. Salesforce.com only acknowledged one competitor—the market leader. After all, that was the only position for which we were vying. Furthermore, it cast us in the right role as the underdog and the visionary. It’s always wise to play the visionary card. Everyone roots for you. If there is no Goliath in your industry, go after the status quo.

Although we wanted to position ourselves against Goliath, we hadn’t always planned to attack our much larger competitor directly. In a way, that started by accident. February 22, 2000, the day of The End of Software salesforce.com launch party, was also the day of a giant Siebel User Group conference in downtown San Francisco. This coincidence was truly unplanned, but once we discovered it, we decided to use the flurry of activity around Siebel’s event to our advantage.

On the morning of the conference, we sent protesters (in reality, paid actors) to the Moscone Center to picket the conference. They waved mock protest signs—NO SOFTWARE posters—and shouted, “The Internet is really neat... Software is obsolete!” We also hired actors to pretend to be a TV crew from local station KNMS, who came on location to cover The End of Software movement. “ What do you think of the Internet?,” a fake TV reporter asked passersby, pointing a microphone toward them. I had originally planned to have a tank roll in with someone dressed as General Patton, but later decided that such a stunt might be too outlandish. Even without the General, we won the interest of conference attendees. We also captured the attention of the competition. Twenty Siebel executives called the police, who immediately arrived to protect the protesters!

The police presence only fanned the flames. The resulting hullabaloo helped attract an even larger audience, and the police couldn’t stop our mock protest because we were there legally. It was exciting to plan this attack, and the marketing team enjoyed watching the scene unfold from a stakeout car, but this effort had a higher purpose than having a good time at the competition’s expense. We approached every person who went into the Siebel conference and gave him or her an invitation to the salesforce.com launch party that night. (Many of them showed up!)

This marketing stunt worked across many fronts: we built salesforce.com morale, got great press coverage, and brought our competitor’s customers to our event to hear our message. Within two weeks, more than one thousand organizations signed up for our service; most were introduced to it through articles about the launch. Later, our End of Software campaign was recognized by PR Week as the “Hi-Tech Campaign of the Year.” We would use this type of creative approach to attack the competition many more times.

Tactics Dictate Strategy
One idea alone is a tactic, but if it can be executed a number of different ways, it becomes a great strategy. Because the guerilla tactic of directly leveraging the activities of our competition worked so well, we repeated it and made it one of our marketing strategies. I learned this idea from the marketing classic, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by AI Ries and Jack Trout. 

Everyone at salesforce.com constantly brainstormed about opportunities to levarage our competition’s activities for our own benefit. One of my favorite examples was when we found a way to use a Siebel conference in San Diego as a prime platform for our then-new “wake up and smell the saleforce.com coffee” success messaging.

On the day of the conference, right in time for the morning rush, Elizabeth Pinkham, Senior Vice President who runs our events, gathered a crew of temps on bicycle rickshaws outside the San Diego Convention Center. They offered rides to the two thousand conference attendees and handed out free Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Peet’s Coffee in mugs that cited a great analyst quote, “Wake up Siebel, salesforce.com is a disruptive technology and is slowly moving in on the CRM prize.” (US Bancorp, Piper Jaffray) That wasn’t all. We gave Siebel customers salesforce.com marketing materials with quotes from recent press articles, and during the rickshaw rides we had the chance to speak with them about the benefits of the salesforce.com service. The fun spirit we created sparked the interest of even the biggest Siebel devotees, and many brought salesforce.com-branded mugs (and talking points) into the conference. Even Tom Siebel graciously accepted a cup of coffee.

Later, we devised a way to transfer attention from the competition to our company at Siebel’s European User Week. The conference was in Cannes, France, which most visitors access by flying into Nice and taking an airport taxi to Cannes. We rented all the taxis and used the forty-five-minute drive, which we provided for free, as an opportunity to pitch our service. We decorated the vehicles with NO SOFTWARE logos and filled them with our marketing brochures. The executives, left with no other option than to take our rides, became irate and called the police (again).

We succeeded because we caught our competitor by complete surprise. (This was another tactic I learned from The Art of War, in which Sun Tzu advises, “appear at places where he must rush to defend, and rush to places where he least expects.”) Participating in our competitor’s events helped us weave our name into its stories, articles we knew would garner a lot of attention. To further leverage its announcements, we issued press releases about saleforce.com’s new features or new customers the same day its quarterly earnings releases went live. We meticulously planned so that anyone looking for Siebel always found salesforce.com. Eventually, when anyone thought about Siebel, he or she also thought about salesforce.com. The reality was that we were still the gnat on the back of an elephant, but our unusual tactics were making that elephant dance.

Is Everyone in Your Organization On Message?
First, take the time to answer the questions here. Your responses are what will determine how your company will be viewed by that outside world.

Invite your team to fill out the answers to these questions. If you see varied responses, it’s time to get everyone in alignment. Create your own “cheat sheet” card and distribute it throughout the organization.

What we are:

(What do we want?)

 

 ____________________________________________________

 


Benefits:

 

(What is important to customers about what we do?)

_____________________________________________________

Customers:

(What are our most successful customer stories?)

 

_____________________________________________________

 


Key partners:

 

(What makes them successful using our product?)

_______________________________________________________


Competitors:

 

 

(How are we different from our competitors?)

_____________________________________________________

This is an excerpt from Marc Benioff's book "Behind the Cloud."

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