Purpose Over Product at Dreamforce 2018

As tech companies grapple with crises of confidence and ethics, enterprise software leader, Salesforce didn’t just push products at its annual Dreamforce conference, it’s pushing purpose.

It’s not every day that one finds a dedicated track on “personal empowerment and mindfulness” at a large tech conference. It’s also not every day techy conference attendees encounter monastics mindfully milling about the expo floor. Nor is it common for big tech conferences to kick-off affairs with an opening keynote entitled How to Prevent Technology from De-stabilizing Humanity– an express nod to the existential crises big tech and their business models face.

These were all features of Salesforce’s annual Dreamforce event, one of the largest tech conferences in the world touting some 2,700 sessions, more than 170,000 registrants and another 10 million online viewers. Dreamforces past are famous for wrapping product (cloud) announcements in a celebration of the latest shiny technology– social, mobile, IoT.

But this year was distinct.

It wasn’t just the long view–the 4th industrial revolution. It was CEO Marc Benioff challenging businesses to ask what is your purpose and your highest value in the 4th industrial revolution.

It wasn’t just acknowledging the eroding trust among big tech, its employees, and consumers. It was taking a stance. “We’re watching for companies that are not listening,” Benioff said in the context of tech’s mounting and myriad criticisms, such as public and children’s health, education, diversity, environmentalism, and digital ethics. It was admitting its own struggle and vulnerability– “we’re not perfect, we’re not always going to get it right.”

It was framing the business opportunity of the 4th industrial revolution through the lens of “Inclusive Capitalism,” in which Benioff demanded all must be brought into the age of automation, not just a few.

Of course there was no shortage of customer success stories– “Trailblazers” in Salesforce parlance. But these stories were not characterized by ROI and increased engagement metrics alone, they were simultaneously serving as case examples in the company’s mission: Doing well by doing good.

Source: Dreamforce 2018 Opening Keynote

The keynote’s first example showcased United Way’s integration with Philanthropy Cloud, the company’s platform for offering any business a way for employees to scroll, select, and give back through hundreds of community service opportunities. Then there was CPG-giant Unilever, who is using Salesforce tools to drive sustainable business practices at enormous scale, from tracking reduced environmental impacts by product line, to predicting impacts for new products based on materials and integrated supply chain, to messaging tools for franchisees.

Even the Customer 360 product it debuted, an integrated, de-duplicated and aggregate dashboard of a customer across a business’s ecosystem (thanks, Mulesoft!), was framed as a tool to drive more holistic, mindful, and trustworthy customer experiences.

For all the societal reflection and introspection, there was no shortage of excitement–from Macklemore to Metallica to a drone-powered balloon carrying Einstein. The final day of the four-day event was all about personal empowerment, mindfulness, and meditation. This not the first year Salesforce has incorporated mindfulness or monastics into its events. The company has also offered a robust employee wellness program for years, although this September marked formally offering Camp Pono,” a virtual series of modules on health eating, sleeping, mindfulness, and happiness, to its customers via the Trailhead portal.

While Dreamforce manifested a more ‘mindful’ approach than the average tech conference, the broader shift towards greater wellness and purpose is beginning to pervade industries. The rise in Corporate Wellness Programs (and an industry of tools to support them) is one signal; increased scrutiny, hiring, and tools to address digital ethics is yet another. From Weight Watchers announcing its “wellness-inspired” rebrand to “WW” to Google’s Digital Wellbeing campaign, to a 170% YOY growth in mindfulness apps, companies across industries are awakening to an imperative.

As the world grows more automated, as humans’ roles, values, and trust itself are called into question, focusing on our mental, physical, environmental, and social wellbeing becomes strategic. Or as Salesforce might say, doing good becomes an enabler for doing well.

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