What Salesforce+ Means for Enterprise Customers

Salesforce recently announced Salesforce+, a groundbreaking extension of the Salesforce brand and overall marketing strategy.  As an on-demand video streaming platform meant to run as the Netflix of the business world, Salesforce+ will feature business content originally produced by Salesforce that “will bring the magic of Dreamforce to viewers across the globe with luminary speakers.”  Salesforce will unveil the totality of the platform during Dreamforce at the end of September.

To bring Salesforce+ to life, the company has hired 50 editorial leads, from script writers to editors, to help create content, as well as to construct Salesforce Studios as a hub of content production.  Recently promoted Chief Marketing Officer Sarah Franklin, taking over for former CMO Stephanie Buscemi, has noted that there are hundreds of employees dedicated solely to creating and maintaining the Salesforce+ platform.  While the platform will begin with content originally produced by Salesforce, Franklin sees an opportunity to allow customers to participate in content creation as well.  This isn’t surprising as I predict the platform will need customer content at some point.

Salesforce+ will feature four channels:

  • The Prime-Time channel for Salesforce news and announcements
  • The Trailblazer channel for Salesforce training and learning modules
  • The Customer 360 channel for client success stories
  • The Industries channel for industry specific content

The platform already has a starting line of programs hosted by Salesforce executives, reporters, and media personalities.  During its initial launch, Salesforce has no plans to monetize the service or include external advertisements.  But are we really to believe there are no plans to monetize downstream?

A business-focused streaming service is certainly an innovative and unique move in the enterprise cloud vendor industry.  Franklin stated, “We’re creating the future now.  Just as brands like Disney, Netflix and Peloton have done with streaming services for consumers, Salesforce+ is providing an always-on, business media platform that builds trusted relationships with customers and a sense of belonging for the business community.”  The hope is to keep the Salesforce customer community connected and create more loyalty and brand awareness for current customers.  Salesforce knows that with more loyalty and more brand awareness comes more revenue, even if they never monetize Salesforce+ itself.

With this substantial launch around the corner, you may be left wondering:  What about Salesforce’s customers?  Is this something they will use?  Is this something they have been waiting for Salesforce to provide them?  I guess we will have to wait and see.  In the meantime, enterprise customers spending significant dollars on their Salesforce subscriptions should start to think about a few things:

Customer-Centered Content

Salesforce has stated that Salesforce+ will be compelling live and on-demand content for every role, industry, and line-of-business through engaging stories, thought leadership, and expert advice.  This means that Salesforce+ will require customer input to their content by leveraging customer logos, success stories, and interviews.  This would require customers to participate in content creation.

I expect the Salesforce+ content to ultimately be centered around customer input.  What’s most valuable to Salesforce right now, as is the case with all streaming services, is the content itself.  Even though they are originally producing it, Salesforce is still going to be heavily relying on their customers to help them produce that content, especially when it comes to the Customer 360 channel.  An argument could be made, at least based on what we know so far, that each channel in varying degrees will have content that is in some way developed based on inputs from their customers .

This means that Salesforce is going to be asking for more from their customers, but at what cost and what benefit to those customers?  If customers contribute to this content (i.e., give something incredibly valuable to Salesforce), will it lead to better pricing/discounting in their contracts?  Will they gain more access to architects and consultants to help them roll out their Salesforce products better?  In other words, does Salesforce plan to give more to the customers that they will be relying on to produce the content?  And if so, in what form?

Salesforce customers should be scratching their heads wondering why they should contribute to a streaming platform that relies on their content without any additional benefit to them, even if they are agreeing to simply let Salesforce use their logo.  It’s one thing to ask your customers for a testimonial for the Salesforce website and another to ask your customers to help produce and contribute to the building and continued sustainment of an entire content platform.  If customers refused to let Salesforce use a logo, conduct an interview, take a quote, or participate in a video, how insightful or innovative would Salesforce+ be?

If you have a renewal coming up and Salesforce isn’t providing what your team is asking for at the negotiation table, and the Salesforce marketing team is tapping you for help in the development of Salesforce+ content, you should use their content reliance during your negotiation.  You need to know if your CIOs, line-of-business executives or other leaders are being asked to help Salesforce produce content so you can leverage that to get what you need in return.  Even if you don’t have a renewal coming up, you should certainly leverage Salesforce’s need to open things up and optimize ahead of your renewal.

Your Subscription Dollars Are Funding Salesforce+

Salesforce customers pay subscription fees to gain access to Salesforce’s cloud products. They pay these fees with a continued expectation that those subscription dollars are also funding innovations based on the customer through updates and enhancements.  Customers also know that their subscription dollars are going towards sales and marketing expenses.  This is standard across all cloud vendors, although some put more towards R&D than others.

But hiring outside editorial firms, having hundreds of employees dedicated to a streaming platform, and building out a studio to create content for businesses seems pretty extreme and more than standard or expected by cloud customers.  With Salesforce’s launch of Salesforce+, it is clear that more of Salesforce’s customers’ subscription dollars are going towards a significant marketing expense.  This money could be going towards something that will more directly benefit your organization.  With Salesforce+, the question becomes this:  What tangible additional value are you and your organization getting out of your subscription dollars going towards a streaming service?

If you’re a customer that’s already been struggling to unlock the expected value from the products you’ve been paying for, that is even more reason raise this as an issue.  This is not to say that Salesforce is going to stop innovating or investing in their products – they certainly will – but does this seem like the best use of your subscription dollars?  And shouldn’t Salesforce demonstrate why it is or offer concessions when they can’t?

Potential for External Advertisements

There may be no fees or advertisements tied to Salesforce+ at the offset that monetizes the platform, and that must sound refreshing.  However, Salesforce+ staying ad-free forever is not probable.  I am not a betting man, but I am willing to bet this will not be “free” long-term.

Most likely, there will be advertisements added to Salesforce+ in order to monetize the platform.  Ancillary vendors that are trying to sell your organization their product or services will gain access to you by way of Salesforce+ ads or product/service placements.  This means that your subscription dollars and your content inputs will also help Salesforce create another revenue stream through monetizing Salesforce+.  On top of that, you and your organization will have to deal with ads and/or getting pitched the “for fee” access rights.

Bottom Line

Salesforce spends a lot of your subscription dollars on sales and marketing, even before launching Salesforce+.  Having such a strong brand and loyal customer base takes more than a strong portfolio of products.  Salesforce is growing at an exceptional rate from a revenue standpoint and expecting even more growth moving forward, and a lot of that growth has to do with their sales and marketing efforts.

Salesforce is already rolling out Salesforce+ in a substantial way by making it the foundation to deliver Dreamforce to its customers this year.  They are also offering a free subscription to Salesforce+ as your ticket into this year’s virtual Dreamforce event.  This move is certainly a smart way to create a very fast spike in its number of subscriptions.

This marketing technique is similar to what happened during Dreamforce 2019 (when you could actually attend Dreamforce in person), when attendees  received a free copy of CEO Marc Benioff’s book, “Trailblazer.”  This certainly led to a big jump in book sales, even if Salesforce bought them to give out.  It also was a great way to ensure the book got into readers’ hands so it would, hopefully, be read.

Only time will tell if more people sign up for Salesforce+ after Dreamforce and whether people will actually tune back in to use the streaming service down the road.

For Salesforce+ to be successful, it is going to require content from its customer base, and it is and will be funded by customers’ subscription fees.  Given this, Salesforce needs to give more concessions to their customers.  How you position your “asks” (i.e., what you want in return) and the stagecraft around it will be critical for customers to understand.

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