Putting Customers at the Center and Giving Back: Dreamforce 2017 Wrap-Up

By Erika Malzberg November 10, 2017

Now that we’ve had a moment to collectively catch our breath, we’d like to take a look back at Dreamforce 2017.

The world’s largest software conference certainly didn’t rest on its laurels this year. Instead, Benioff and Co, wowed the estimated 170,000 attendees with celebrities galore (including Ashton Kutcher, will.i.am, Natalie Portman, Taraji P. Henson, and even the former first lady Michelle Obama), an exploration of “the 4th Industrial Revolution” and its impact on both businesses and individuals, open discussions around equality and diversity inclusion, and a look at AI and how it’s infiltrating our lives in powerful ways. Oh, and there were some Salesforce product announcements too! Most notably myEinstein, myLightning, myTrailhead, mySalesforce, myIOT, and Live Apps for Quip.

With literally thousands of sessions, spanning four full days, and cutting across all of downtown San Francisco, it was impossible to take in the entirety of Dreamforce, but here are just a few highlights and takeaways from our Zuora perspective of the epic event:

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Benioff’s Day 1 keynote was focused around the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). In short, the world is changing around us as a result of technology and innovation. Things like AI and IoT (the Internet of Things) are completely disrupting both customer expectations and the way that companies are digitally transforming to respond to these changing demands.

But the key point here is that it’s not about the tech; it’s about the customer experience.

According to Benioff in a Yahoo Finance interview: “There’s all these amazing new technologies, things like autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence and nanotechnology and mobile computing and all these things are really hitting at once. And companies are really transforming themselves and bringing all these new technologies in really to connect with their customers in new ways.” It’s the connections that matter most.

It’s All About the Data

The subject of data—its influx and its impact&mdashlwas a hot topic. Ginnie Rometty, Chairmain, President, and CEO of IBM, in a fireside chat with Benioff, captured both the opportunities and the challenges inherent in working with data: “Data will be one of the issues of our time. There are very simple decisions you make when you have values around this. Customers have trusted us with their most valued asset – data. Your data is yours, not mine to give away.”

There were also a lot of discussions around the problem of siloed data and how this leads to inefficiencies, divided departments, and, ultimately, a less than ideal customer experience.

According to Shelley Bransten, SVP of Retail for Salesforce, “We have to bridge the gap with intelligence — it’s about making sure things are personalized, connected, and fast.” It’s not about the data; it’s about how the data helps you get closer to your customers and improve the customer lifecycle journey.

Putting Customers at the Center

All this leads to what we saw as the main theme of Dreamforce — and a subject that is core to what we believe and at the heart of all that we do: putting customers at the center.

As Joseph Godsey, head of Digital Commerce at Adidas noted during the keynote, many businesses say: “‘Yes, yes, we design for the consumer,’ but how do you actually, fundamentally, put the consumer at the center of how you’re organized as a company so that the capabilities you design are based on their needs?”

This idea was reinforced in our own Zuora partner theater session #Subscribed: The Key to Growth Is Subscriber Freedom. Today’s consumers demand freedom: freedom from the tyranny of products, freedom from one size fits all, freedom to have the services and outcomes they want, when they want them, how they want them. But to meet these consumer demands, businesses also need freedom: freedom to iterate pricing and packaging to meet your customers’ needs, freedom to access all your customer and business data so you can truly understand and nurture your customers, the freedom to be agile and grow efficiently.

Giving Back

And underscoring the enter event was a theme that cut across keynotes and breakout sessions: giving back. From Benioff’s 1:1:1 business strategy (Salesforce’s pledge to devote 1% of equity, 1% of its products, and 1% of employees’ time to charitable causes) to Michelle Obama sharing her personal view on the responsibilities of the ones who “make it through,” to the amazing Dreamfest concert with Alicia Keys, Lenny Kravitz, and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real which raised $15 million for UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, Dreamforce made us all think about how we’re fulfilling our individual and collective responsibilities to give back.

Repeatedly over the course of the event, Benioff encouraged Dreamforce attendees to “adopt” their local public schools as an example of how philanthropic contributions are personal and can be as simple as just walking out of your house and knocking on the door of your closest public school. When individuals and organizations extend themselves so generously and selflessly, this is how social change happens.

We Are All Trailblazers

From the campground to the keynote stages, Trailblazers were everywhere. In the end, Dreamforce comes back to this idea of Trailblazers: their vision that everyone should be empowered to blaze their own trails, in their lives and in their work. And you know what happens when people are empowered and inspired to take control over their destinies? The world can become a better place.

Big ideas for a big event! And you thought this was just a software conference??

We’re already looking forward to next year. See you there?

Want to learn more about putting your customers at the center of your business? Check out Zuora Central, The Subscription Economy Platform® that’s built around the subscriber.