What You Can Learn About Running a Successful Business from Salesforce

It’s no coincidence that Salesforce was named #7 in the Fortune 100 Best Places to Work, #1 in the Fortune Most Admired Companies in Computer Science and #5 in MIT Technology Review’s 50 Smartest Companies.

Salesforce is one of those businesses that’s trusted by its customers, valued by its employees and respected in its sector.

In 2000, the company began by reinventing CRM in the cloud and launching a new technology business model in the process.

Since then, Salesforce has gone from employing 500 people to 13,000. Its profits have grown dramatically too – from 50 million in annual revenue to $5 billion.

All of this success doesn’t come out of nothing. With inspirational leader, Marc Benioff, at the helm and an innovative company culture, Salesforce is a business that keeps on growing and leading the way in its sector.

Here are four secrets to the success of Salesforce:

1. Constant innovation

While Salesforce has always had its core product – the cloud CRM – the company is about so much more than that.

This core product may be what defines Salesforce, but it doesn’t constrict its ability to innovate. One of the keys to its success has been its ability to sell to bigger, enterprise-class customers who require a more customised approach.

Plus, there’s also the constant tinkering, experimenting and brainstorming that goes on behind the scenes. For instance, Salesforce often develops apps, which are extra to its core business.

The ‘Today’ app is a good example. It came about when sales cloud chief, Linda Crawford, took a team off-site for day and a half without phones and computers to develop an app idea to help sales reps on the move.

2. Give employees the freedom to move around

Too often, company structure is rigid and any movement between departments and teams is wrapped in layers of bureaucracy.

This is definitely not the case at Salesforce. The company realised that it needed to keep its team energised and excited by their job, otherwise it could lose talent as employees jumped ship.

The solution was to make it easy for employees to move around. From engineers to managers, Salesforce makes it easy for its team to move to projects or a department that they find interesting.

It recognises that any job can get boring after a while and encourages its employees to explore their interests. The company holds annual internal job fairs to facilitate this, where each unit chief is tasked with pitching and communicating their vision to potential team members.

3. Let employees figure it out

One of the main reasons Marc Benioff’s management style is so effective is because he lets his employees figure things out for themselves.

He encourages his team to come to him with their ideas. Quite often he’s the one that sets things in motion, but lets his team map out the details of how exactly it will work.

This is especially important when trying to lead a large business – as the bigger an organisation gets, the harder it is to navigate the ship.

4. Give back to society

As a successful business, Benioff recognises the importance of giving something back. The company is proud of the Salesforce Foundation, which employs 150 people and works with every team in the company, as part of the 1-1-1 approach – giving back 1% of its time, equity and product.

The philanthropic culture is so important that it’s also a key criterion when hiring new people. Will they fit into the Salesforce culture?

But even in the Foundation, employees develop useful technology relevant to the core business, such as the development of new apps.

When you really look at the company culture at Salesforce, it’s not surprising the business is so successful. In today’s age, providing an environment where people can experiment and be innovative is crucial – not only to staying ahead of the competition, but retaining your staff.

What have you learnt from Salesforce? Share your experiences below.
Tim Pickard
Tim Pickard

Tim joined NewVoiceMedia in July 2011 with over 20 years' experience as a leader in the IT industry. He served as VP and board member of RSA Security's international business for seven years where he ran marketing in EMEA, Asia Pacific and Japan. He spent two years as Chief Marketing Officer for SaaS/Cloud-based email management provider Mimecast.

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