By Ralf Quellmalz

“Nothing is going to make you happier in your life than giving.”

Marc Benioff, co-founder and CEO of Salesforce

It’s often said that when you are good at something, you will make sure people know it. It’s also said that when you excel at something, others will make sure people know it. Products, people, and organizations worth talking about get talked about. And by doing so, they acquire free and powerful publicity – as there is no stronger and more persuasive form of marketing than that of word of mouth.

Salesforce, the world’s leading CRM cloud-based software company, is definitely one of those organizations worth talking about. Since its founding in 1999, Salesforce has achieved tremendous levels of success. Not only has their IPO been one of the most successful IPOs in business history, but its stock valuation has consistently been increasing year after year. At the same time, Salesforce has not only achieved superior levels of financial performance, but has also positively used its software, people, and resources to support the progress of the communities they operate in. Yet, Salesforce’s key to success has never relied upon its software, but rather in its ability to cultivate and foster a values-driven culture that permeated everything they did.

Marc Benioff founded Salesforce in 1999 after taking a sabbatical where he traveled the world. In his book TRAILBLAZER, he details how, soon after graduating from college, he had landed what most people would consider a ‘dream job’ – a software engineer at Oracle. At Oracle, Benioff thrived. He was an all-star performer whose work hasn’t gone unperceived, as he was quickly promoted and has become one of the youngest VPs of Oracle at the time. Yet, Benioff shares how he wasn’t truly finding meaning and purpose at work. He wasn’t feeling any sense of fulfillment and was losing interest in what he was doing. As a result, he decided to take a sabbatical and traveled the world. That year, during his sabbatical, the idea of Salesforce was born.

Benioff founded Salesforce with a strong idea in mind: to help small business owners like his father access the software needed to efficiently manage customer relationships and its business activities from the cloud through one simple and flat subscription fee. Yet, Benioff wanted its business to be driven by objectives way more impactful and meaningful than just profits. Through Salesforce, he envisioned a values-driven organization grounded in an authentic and genuine effort to lead positive change within its communities to, ultimately, uplift humanity.

Marc Benioff, Salesforce's founder and CEO, with a microphone giving a speech at one of Salesforce's corporate events
Marc Benioff, founder and CEO of Salesforce

Salesforce’s business model is grounded upon the imperative that organizations play a pivotal role in the ecosystem in which they operate. In other words, Salesforce’s business objectives do not solely focus on enriching its shareholders and investors, but also to positively impact each one of its stakeholders. As a result, business objectives established at Salesforce are aligned with the humanitarian and social issues surrounding their communities. Adhering to the philosophy of ‘doing well by doing good,’ Salesforce has acquired the support and admiration of investors, shareholders, customers, and employees while achieving superior levels of financial performance.

Yet, the question remains, how has Salesforce created a culture so powerfully driven by its values? To thoroughly answer this question, one must look at the different business strategies Salesforce has implemented within its culture of trust. At Salesforce, culture is all about staying true to its values – those of trust, customer success, innovation, and equality towards their shareholders, employees, customers, communities, and the planet.      

For starters, Salesforce’s organizational culture is characterized by a collaborative and empathetical environment in which employees are encouraged to bring their most authentic selves to work. At Salesforce, employees embody the company’s motto of “Ohana,” which means “family.” Employees at Salesforce work collectively with a shared feeling of responsibility, pride, and purpose towards both their organization and their stakeholders. Such culture has created a powerful competitive advantage for Salesforce. By embracing such culture, not only has Salesforce consistently been named as one of the best employers to work for globally, but has also fostered an environment where employees can work at their natural best. Such environment does not only uplift employees’ morale and devotion towards their organization, but also empowers Salesforce’s impressive financial results.

Salesforce measures success very differently than other organizations. While other organizations are driven by stock valuation, market share, and other metrics, at Salesforce success is measured by how successful its customers are. The philosophy behind Salesforce’s notion of success relies upon Salesforce’s value of customer success – they heartily believe that Salesforce cannot grow unless its customers are succeeding along with them. Salesforce works hard to provide its customers with the support and tools necessary for them to achieve their business objectives. Moreover, Salesforce works hard to partner with their customers through their CRM software. Salesforce makes sure that its customers’ needs are specifically addressed when customers decide to incorporate their software to their business. That’s why Salesforce’s software is specifically designed for each customer’s specific and individual needs. When partnering with its customers, Salesforce does not just provide all its customers with the same generic software. At the same time, Salesforce’s engineers do not focus on marginal software improvements – such as higher speed or new databases creation – but they rather empathize with the clients’ specific needs and make sure the bigger picture of what the customer is trying to accomplish is understood to ultimately provide them with the best possible CRM software. Salesforce has proven that organizations deeply embedded in its customers success reach far greater performance than those who fail to address customers’ specific needs.

Salesforce's ad on how they bring companies and customers together.

At the same time, founder and CEO Marc Benioff instilled within Salesforce what he came to call the ‘1-1-1 Model.’ This model involves donating 1% of Salesforce’s product, 1% of its profits, and 1% of its employee’s time to empower nonprofits organizations and other charities to accomplish their goals. To donate its employees time, all Salesforce’s employees are given 7-days paid time off a year to participate in the community service of their preference. Through the 1-1-1 Model, Benioff further incorporated within Salesforce the notion of positively integrating in society by giving back to its surrounding communities. The creation of the 1-1-1 Model enabled Salesforce to, rather than performing random charity acts annually, to genuinely immerse Salesforce’s resources, products, time, and energy into society consistently. Salesforce does not just donate its equity, products, people, and money, but also keeps track of the progress and impact generated through their donation. Such model brings to life the Salesforce’s commitment to uplift humanity by encouraging employees to step out of the sidelines and actively get onto the arena to get involved with society’s social, environmental, and humanitarian struggles.

The different ways in which Salesforce intertwine its values, corporate social responsibility program, measure of success, and add meaning and purpose to its employees’ daily work has not only increased the organization’s financial performance, but also positively impacted the organization deep within its core – from the inside. Salesforce’s employees want to integrate in their society and become active citizens within their communities, they want to give back, they want to become part of the “Ohana” culture within Salesforce, and employees want to be part of Salesforce’s impactful footprint in the world. Moreover, research has shown that empowering employees to give back has been linked with great benefits to organizations, as it increases employees’ productivity, creativity, and satisfaction while also empowers the organization’s capacity to recruit top talent. All of which intensifies Salesforce’s capacity to reach and sustain great organizational performance.   

Through its culture, Salesforce has created an integrated ecosystem of values within its organization that drives employees’ behavior, conduct, and workplace relationships. Its values are all intertwined and visible within every aspect of the organization. It’s no surprise that more than 80% of Salesforce’s employees give back. Salesforce’s employees are eager to devote their time and energy to others. They are committed to seeing their communities progress. And collectively, as a team and through their business, they are changing the world.  

Salesforce's 1-1-1 model displaying how they donate 1% of their time, people, and products to the communities in which they operate
Salesforce’s 1-1-1 Model – an exemplary CSR program

Organizations have the power to transform communities and lead them to prosperity. As a collective unit, organizations that fully integrate in the ecosystem in which they operate have the capacity to become agents of change and progress within them – improving the lives of countless individuals. Salesforce has proven it and year-after-year has demonstrated that becoming responsible citizens within their communities is synonym of a superior financial and social performance. Becoming active members of society is no longer something organizations are expected to do, but something they ought to. It’s not just good for society, it’s also good for business.

Businesses led with the highest degree of human values will be, as Salesforce’s business model has demonstrated, the ones pushing the world forward.    

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