Salesforce Execs: Tech Companies Need to Adapt to Survive and Thrive

The journey that technology companies must make today is quite different than what they faced just a few years ago, and they must adapt to the changes and challenges around them to survive and thrive, according to Salesforce executives.

The landscape is even different from what it was just 3-4 years ago, Polly Sumner, the company’s chief adoption officer, said July 10 at the Salesforce Customer & Partner Perspectives Event, co-hosted by KeyBanc Capital Markets, in New York.

She started in the tech industry back in 1977, so “that mainframe client server cloud thing is the history of my career,” she told attendees, generating laughs. Noting that, as a woman, she’s been a “face of diversity” in Silicon Valley since 1981, she said diversity was “something, just looking at the demographics in this room, that we need to work on in New York City as well.”

When she started in the tech industry, mainframe companies were the major players, she pointed out. But several large technology companies, including Fujitsu and Hitachi, “kind of lost their way in the client server world” and they “disappeared” – at least from the U.S. market — because “they didn’t have a long-term, forward-looking outlook and they missed the technology turns that were coming very rapidly in the market,” she said.

The journey for tech companies is “extremely different” today that it was several years ago, she said. For one thing, “I never consulted with a board” in years past, but that’s something done routinely now, she noted.

It wasn’t part of a CEO’s job in the past to figure out what to do with technology to keep their companies thriving for the next 100 years — or even the next 10 years, she said. A few years back, the only tech questions that boards tended to ask were related to what their companies were doing about Y2K, she said.

Today, tech companies’ boards and companies’ leadership teams from all over the world often meet with Salesforce Ventures — and other venture firms, as well as Apple and Google in Silicon Valley — to learn what Salesforce and those other companies there are looking at and investing in, she told attendees.

So, “there’s a huge transformation of an education process around what [it takes] to build, to see the future or to bet on the future, and I believe that it’s also a big change in leadership because the way you lead one of these companies is not what we all learned in graduate school and the way that you run the business is not the way we learned in graduate school,” she said, adding: That, I think, is the fundamental kind of juxtaposition of the challenges that makes this cloud journey so different,” she said.

Also important to note: “It’s all about the user experience” today when it comes to how we use technology, she told attendees.

To understand what’s happening with tech today, just give your 8-13-year-old a smartphone and they can show you how to do something with it “eight times faster than you know how,” she went on to say.

Macroeconomic concerns are always a factor but they’re not typically the only factor, she also said. For example, when it comes to car manufacturers, “you could argue that there will never been more cars on the road…than there are right now,” she said, noting “we’re all sharing” cars now. As a result, it might make sense to change the nature of car insurance, she said.

That’s an example of “an entire industry that has to reassemble itself around an entirely different experience and usage concept than what that industry was founded on 300 years ago,” she said. But that same sort of thing is “occurring in every industry” today, and “understanding that is fundamental to the way you execute and operate your business” and also “creates this land of opportunity,” she said.

Noting that “we’re just at the beginning of this journey around transformation,” Kori O’Brien, SVP of alliances at Salesforce, called digital transformation “a heavy lift” for her company’s customers. But she said the good news is “there’s so many options” today for organizations that undergo a digital transformation.

At the same time, the “lines are blurring” at companies in terms of what kind of tech area they’re in, she said.

In general, the investments that Salesforce’s partners are “making in terms of building their practices are at an all-time high,” she said, adding: “We’re seeing double-digit growth across almost all of our practices with our partner community” – many members of whom are leveraging Salesforce’s free learning platform, Trailhead.

Meanwhile, “regulatory change and macroeconomic conditions are constantly a struggle” for organizations today, she said, pointing to Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as one obvious example of recent regulatory change. Salesforce helps partners keep up with GDPR and other regulatory changes, she noted.