This year was my first year at Dreamforce. And wow, was it overwhelming…in the best way possible. If you want to see world class product marketing, go to Dreamforce. Seriously, go. It will knock your socks off so hard that they’ll give you new ones. Going to conferences is critical for a few things – competitor research (read: spying), networking and seeing how other companies approach and execute product marketing. For us, the last one was the largest benefit of us attending Dreamforce. Given product marketing is such a new field, it’s critical to go out into the market and see what’s working and what’s not. We can read books and study theory all day long, but that only gets us so far. It’s also why I started the Product Marketing Summit. So, let’s recap the exhilarating and exhausting week at Dreamforce 15!  
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Background on Salesforce and Dreamforce

For those of you who don’t know much about Salesforce, this Business Insider article does a good job of telling the story of the company’s genesis and journey into the top 5 software companies of all time. Salesforce was the pioneer of Software as a Service (SaaS). Before Salesforce, there were on-premise mainframes and client servers. Nowadays, that’s history. Nobody has their own on-premise servers anymore. This ‘cloud’ thing that the world now runs on was Benioff’s idea. Explains why he’s worth about $3 billion. Since 1999, Salesforce has grown to 17,000 employees and $5.37 (FY15) billion in revenues. They’ve been named to Fortune’s ‘Most Admired Companies’ and ‘Best Companies to Work For’ lists and identified by Forbes (multiple times) as one of the most innovative companies in the world. And their annual conference matches.  Every year since 2003, Dreamforce takes over San Francisco. This year, 175,000 people registered. One hundred. Seventy five. Thousand. There were no more hotel rooms left in the city. So, Salesforce called Celebrity Cruises and said “we need you to dock a cruise ship at Pier 39 so the rest of our conference attendees have a place to sleep.” Who does that?! Oh, Salesforce. Of course. Silly me.

From an event planner’s perspective…

General conference observations

Aside from the number of attendees, the conference and expo halls are incredible. The conference is so big that it takes up all four buildings at the Moscone Center, and overflows into all the surround hotel event space AND the movie theater at Westfield Mall. The whole city turns blue. Building signage? Check. Sidewalk stickers to help direct people? Check. Army of blue-shirt-clad helpers for any question imaginable? Check. Stage setups, parks and Airstream trailers? Check. Astroturf covering half a city block? Check. RFID badges? Check. Energy from the crowd? Electric.  Wifi? Didn’t skip a beat. (Remember…175k people!) It’s difficult to convey how impressed I was with the flow and space(s) given 175,000 attendees. It was kind of surreal. That’s it. Think of Picasso painting with butter. And I haven’t even gotten to the expo hall yet.

Expo halls

Booths with espresso bars. Live pine trees. Seamless TV screens the size of my house. All 700,000 square feet of exhibit space was decked to the nines. And it was beautiful. Carpets, colorful lights, things hanging from the ceiling, expensive booths… There were no cheesy black table curtains or cookie-cutter booth housing developments. Everyone brought their A-game, and I’m sure Salesforce required that. But most importantly? Salesforce products were front and center. The rest of the exhibits and sponsors took (a very far back) second stage. This is where I see a lot of companies go wrong. They put together a big user conference, and they sabotage their brand and product presence because they feel like they owe their sponsors something beyond access to their users. You don’t. It’s YOUR user conference. YOUR products and services should be center stage. This is their (and your) time to shine. Salesforce did an excellent job segmenting floorspace to different audiences. Admins, developers, small businesses, etc., each had their own area. And the signage could be seen from space. This made it easy for attendees to self-navigate.

Product marketing – Conference themes

Themes are helpful in that they make conferences a little less dry, prime your audience with context and tie everything together so that it resonates and leaves a lasting impression. This year, Benioff shared a vision for a new kind of customer success. This vision is built on Salesforce’s Customer Success Platform, which includes both technology and people to help customers be successful. Quite a few companies are moving towards this platform approach and positioning, and with good reason. As software becomes more powerful, it becomes more critical to equip users with the resources they need to be successful. Aside from this overarching theme, there were three sub themes. Cloud leadership, product innovation and customer success.   

Cloud leadership

This pillar served to re-establish Salesforce’s authority as the cloud leader, in case there was any doubt. It was an opportunity to reminisce on the past to illustrate progress, and also educate audience members not familiar with cloud computing so they would have context for all of the announcements at the conference.

During the product keynote, Benioff talked about:

  • How Salesforce was the original pioneer and evangelist for cloud computing
  • The technology model behind cloud computing
  • How Salesforce’s business model is actually centered around customer success (if we make our customers successful, we will be too)
  • Salesforce’s success in terms of revenue, awards, etc.
  • Salesforce’s 1:1:1 philanthropic model

Product Innovation

The primary purpose of this pillar was setting the stage for product announcements. Salesforce and Benioff used this opportunity to further educate and prime attendees on happenings in the space, industry trends, etc.:

  • Mobile, social, data science, and the Internet of Things are helping technologists build a connected world in the cloud like we’ve never seen
  • Despite all the 80 billion phones and devices that will be connected to the internet by 2020, there is still a customer behind each of those devices, necessitating customer-centric thinking and innovation
  • Customer-centric isn’t happening yet, since we’re only analyzing 1% of the world’s data (90% of which was created in the past year) and leaving 77% of customers disengaged with companies
  • Salesforce is positioning itself to be a Customer Success Platform by coordinating offerings across sales, service, marketing, community, analytics, and apps

As for the product announcements, I’ll circle back to the below in a moment:

  • Salesforce Lightning
  • Salesforce IQ
  • IoT Cloud powered by Thunder

Customer success

Salesforce used this pillar to reaffirm their commitment to customers, spotlight successful product usage and drive home the importance of platform. In the product keynote, each new product was announced using a customer story. Salesforce put customers into beta programs early enough that they were able to highlight and quantify their results in the product announcement to the mass public. Genius. (And difficult to do!)

The real genius was how they packaged this pillar up in the keynote. By showcasing product innovation and customer success across all the products, and in the context of the Customer Success Platform, it’s clear that a coordinated approach by a Salesforce customer (read: buying and using more of Salesforce’s products) equates to better success. This also served as the place for Salesforce to bucket and highlight non-headliner product advancements.

Product marketing – Product announcements

There were three major product announcements at Dreamforce 15. All were announced at Benioff’s product keynote. From a product marketing standpoint, each announcement was perfectly scripted and solidified through a customer story. Since Salesforce runs beta programs ahead of major announcements, it’s easy for them to weave these stories (and cold, hard results) into product releases; whereas, the rest of us usually feature customers in follow-up marketing after the release.

I should also mention that regardless of who spoke (It’s not just Benioff and Harris on stage- they bring up product marketers, developers, their CTO, etc.), it was perfectly scripted, rehearsed and 100% on message. In fact, I argue that product marketers should have a larger presence during on-stage product announcements. We craft the product messaging and stories. Out of anyone, it’s we who are guaranteed to not depart script.



Salesforce Lightning

Built on the Salesforce1 Platform, the new Lightning Experience combines the new Lightning Design System, Lightning App Builder and Lightning Components to enable anyone to quickly and easily create modern enterprise apps.

Read the full product messaging here. Here’s the skinny:

  • Lightning Platform – Build and customize with drag and drop
  • Lightning Exchange – 50+ all-new partner components
  • Lightning Experience – Meet the new Salesforce

From Salesforce: Lightning is a completely new Salesforce experience, from opening the Sales Cloud app to building on our platform. Lightning has three components to make it easier than ever to use Salesforce, benefit from our partner ecosystem, and build customized apps: the Lightning Experience, Lightning Exchange, and Lightning Platform. 

The Lightning Experience is what you’ll notice immediately when logging into Salesforce. The Lightning Exchange allows you to benefit from the next generation of enterprise apps through thousands of our partners. And the Lightning Platform empowers anyone to easily create modern, intelligent enterprise apps.

Salesforce also used this opportunity to showcase their new vertical apps, Salesforce Health Cloud and Salesforce Financial Services Cloud, and how each looks on Lightning.



This is the rebrand of RelateIQ, a recent acquisition. Salesforce has a tendency to retain existing executives and maintain autonomy after acquisitions. This was no exception, as founder Steve Loughlin was brought on stage to announce the re-skinned product.

Read the full product messaging here. Here’s the skinny:

SalesforceIQ for Small Business

Any company with customers can benefit from customer relationship management, and increasingly, small businesses are relying on the power of CRM platforms to grow. Small businesses have smaller team sizes to match — and no time to waste. Introducing SalesforceIQ for Small Business, which is an intelligent CRM soution right out of the box. That means small business owners can spend less time setting up and managing a CRM platform and more time driving leads and revenue.

SalesforceIQ for Sales Cloud

Sales Cloud is the go-to app for millions of sales reps around the world. Now with Salesforce IQ for Sales Cloud, the world’s top CRM is more intelligent and intuitive. SalesforceIQ for Sales Cloud works with every type of customer data — including calendar, email, social, transaction, and more — to provide a predictive and data-centric sales experience. Sales reps can move from logging to automating; reactive to proactive; and relationship management to true relationship intelligence.


IoT Cloud powered by Thunder

Thunder is Salesforce positioning itself ahead of the IoT curve. We all know the amount of devices connected to the internet is growing exponentially. As marketers, few of us have come to terms with the fact that coordinated, omni-channel strategies will be the new black in the near future; Salesforce has and is taking action. They’re connecting the internet of things with the internet of customers.

Read the full product messaging here. Here’s the skinny:

It’s time for a revolution in how we perceive and process data. If businesses want to translate trillions of data points into real human interactions, they must begin to see the Internet of Customers beyond the Internet of Things. Welcome to IoT Cloud, powered by Thunder.

IoT Cloud first uses real-time data processing at massive scale and speed. Then, the intelligent rules engine filters data through engagement rules to discern exactly what the next-step interaction with each single customer should be. The result is 1-to-1 customer engagement through Salesforce, all powered by Thunder. 

Product marketing – Customer centrism

We all know a huge part of product marketing is knowing your customer. Salesforce wins at this, and it shows. Everywhere you looked– in the expo hall, in product keynotes, in marketing collateral– products are showcased around customers.

It’s one thing to speak to benefits instead of features, but it’s an entirely different thing to go a step further and translate that into customer context. “My product can increase your sales” is great but less effective than saying “My product increased Loreal’s sales by 140% in emerging markets, deepened their share of wallet by 20% and cut customer response time in half” (not actual numbers).

This is especially true with new product releases. Too often, we fall into the trap of “Look at my shiny new product, now at me, now back at my shiny new product. Aren’t I cool?”

No, you’re not. And your customers are asking, “So? What can it do for me?”

Even if you speak to benefits, it’s not the same as throwing down “Here’s what it did for three of our beta customers.”

Closing thoughts

  1. If you want to know what stellar product marketing looks like, look at Salesforce
  2. Dreamforce is oodles of fun and learning, while also completely and utterly exhausting
  3. If you think your product marketing is already customer-centric, go a level deeper
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