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What happens at Dreamforce stays at Dreamforce

After Dreamforce last week, 95% of Dreamforce attendee’s blogged about Dreamforce in a “Top (fill in the blank)” take-a-ways format, with a statistic somewhere in the first paragraph – So there, I’ve done both, can we move on now?

We all know Dreamforce is a great event – and I say that because Salesforce.com spent millions of dollars to convince me of that. I respect Salesforce simply because they are after my heart in terms of marketing spending. With an annual marketing spend that consistently flirts with the 75% of annual run rate (approaching $2bn at this point – up 2x from 2009) Salesforce knows that a well told story is just as important as having a story to tell. And what better audience to market innovation to than an exponentially growing group of indoctrinated cloud junkies looking, for that next fix.

A Marketing Juggernaut

I remember I had a friend who worked at Sage in 2005 (I still have the friend, however she no longer has the job). I was looking at buying Salesforce.com for the first time. This was when cloud computing was under heavy attack from IT departments, traditionalists and basically anyone who hates change. I loved it, because I despise that group in its entirety. She was selling against Salesforce.com by touting their marketing spend in relation to revenues saying it was irresponsible and couldn’t sustain product innovation – 6 years later Saleslogix is dead (Sage’s largest CRM at the time) and Sage products aren’t even in the top 10 CRM’s any longer. I say I made a good decision.

One of the reasons I went with Salesforce was, in fact, their commitment to marketing. We are marketers, and it’s what we love. People like doing business with businesses they like – simple as that. I’m still surprised, even more so after seeing 45,000 strong at this years Dreamforce, that companies still think Salesforce.com is a fad. Salesforce.com is not the top CRM – but they certainly are the fastest growing. Much of that momentum (take note Marketing Automation) is driven by community and ecosystem. Salesforce.com has taken the partner space and re-invented it. App Exchange changed the way CRM was enhanced and their partner program changed the way partner’s marketed solutions. Want to grow a business – make other successful businesses depend on it. Salesforce.com did this not only from a customer perspective, but to a greater return built a co-dependent system of partnerships ranging from, consultants, to developers to VAR’s and ISV’s. It’s impressive.

Don’t Believe the Hype

The full Salesforce.com ecosystem was out in full force at Dreamforce 2011 – dressed to impress (thanks for all the swag, booth babes!). Beyond the slurry of pens and stress balls and gift cards and t-shirts, Salesforce vendors hand out ideas. They sell the ease of complete business redesign, they tout the ability to provide “kick in the pants” impact on the bottom line and they inebriate the more than willing with thoughts of NOW, MUST and CHANGE! It’s the land of the lotus-eaters with motivation. When an attendee leaves the exhibit hall or one of the carefully executed sales pitches (they call them “classes”), they are pumped. Dammit, it’s time to change the world. This is SPARTA!!!

Well, its two weeks later… has the world changed? Will the Radian 6 or Jigsaw acquisitions (which are both old news BTW) change your life? Is the ‘Social Enterprise’ something new in concept? Honestly, their impact will be a lot greater in 2 to 3 years when the data around both matures further, but the short answer is no. We have gotten no less than 20 calls and emails from clients saying that their workload for us is going to dramatically increase. That’s great news for a service based business – I love to hear that. However, a lot of that focus transitions to a glazed over look as the Dreamforce memories begin to gather a little dust, and the hearing returns to all of our ears after Metallica rocked it loose a couple weeks ago. Business as usual starts to take over, and many of the thoughts Dreamforce provoked are placed back on the shelf, simply because there are pressing issues to deal with.

We will come back to that thought. One of the things I’ve often thought about is the opportunity cost of Dreamforce. Anyone remember those fun little games that Google placed on their homepage a while back? If not you can see their effect here. That’s right, 4.8 Million hours lost because of a simple online distraction. The example is based around an average employee salary of 25/hr. So what happens when we take that same thinking and apply it to Dreamforce? To start, the average hourly salary is quite a bit higher! Most of us spent 4 days out of the office at not including travel time and expense. That’s a large amount of cost that demands ROI.

Focus on What’s Definable and Attainable

So, we return to how to keep that momentum going. The issue with Dreamforce is the same we see time and time again with Marketing Automation. It’s new, it’s glossy, but to really dig in you need a plan. The number one question we deal with is “Where do we start?” It’s a great question. My answer is, start where you can achieve the most impact.

Consider the problems you are facing. Make sure that each of the attendees at Dreamforce is focused on finding solutions to those specific challenges. Use the access you have to staff and developers at the show. Discuss the solutions you found and see if they have a better one. Dreamforce provides an opportunity to cut through organizational layers at get access to resources that would not normally be next door. The key, we have found is actually formulating and executing on some of the plan AT the conference. When we return, half of the battle is already complete. Have your CEO at the show? Bring him in too. Executives love to get access to what is happening in their organization and, trust me, they want to know about small problems that are costing them big money.

If you follow this one step in defining the problem you want to solve, I promise you the ROI for your next Dreamforce will be measurable – because you’ll know what success will mean before you ever go. This way instead of simply attending those sales sessions or getting some free grub in the expo hall you’ll retain the goal of what Dreamforce is actually supposed to be – a user conference, masked by a vast marketing ploy.

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