TLDR: Salesforce markets its CRM platform by helping companies laser-focus on customer engagement. Here’s how they do it, and what you can learn.
So What? Even though Salesforce is a massive software product with tons of features, their focus on customer engagement — and prospective customer engagement! — makes Salesforce a great example for businesses with complex products.
Although Salesforce is one of the biggest tech firms in the world, not many people know exactly what it does. There is even a running joke that some of its employees don’t understand what Salesforce does.
Salesforce’s core product is CRM (customer relationship management) software, helping companies sell to prospective customers, and engage their current customers, more effectively. Salesforce helps companies with tasks like:
- managing data on customers and prospects
- connecting to the cloud
- finding leads
- closing deals
- delivering customer service
It’s more accurate to call Salesforce a platform, since it allows app developers to create and launch their own third-party apps — like the app store on your smartphone — which greatly extends the value of Salesforce for current customers. But this endless extensibility makes Salesforce difficult to explain.
If Salesforce’s product is so opaque, why does it sell so well? Having so many features is a feature. That means Salesforce’s communications just need to focus on explaining its model, the core value tying its many features together.
Sell the Model, Not the Feature
Salesforce founder Marc Benioff stated that one of Salesforce’s early guiding principles still guides it today: sell the model, not the feature.
At first, this might seem strange. Isn’t Salesforce’s main selling point the fact that it has so many features?
Salesforce’s main selling point is not any one of those features. Salesforce’s main selling point is that it offers a model that could potentially use any feature.
That model is simply a business-client relationship offering access to powerful data tools on the cloud. Although that kind of model is sold by practically every software company these days, it was revolutionary 20 years ago.
In selling the model, Salesforce focuses on the real core of its value to the customer. It’s not any particular feature; it’s the relationships and outcomes they offer to clients.
Salesforce’s platform is a CRM software Swiss army knife. The secret is its AppExchange platform, where third-party developers can develop and launch their own apps, making Salesforce’s functionality limitlessly expandable.
When analyzing your own business, think of a continuum with “ultra-niche” on one side, and “multi-functional” on the other. Where on this continuum does your business fall?
Ultra-niche products do just one thing, but they do it well (blue jeans, chocolate, sofa pillows). These products succeed because they dominate one hyper-specific market and consistently deliver.
Multi-functional products succeed by casting a wide net. Not one of Salesforce’s customers use all the functionality of the platform. Most use less than half, but since Salesforce can do so many things, customers with different sets of needs can find value in the platform.
Many tech companies get lost in the weeds. Their marketing tries to deep dive into individual features: a classic case of “losing the forest for the trees.”
Because it has so many features, Salesforce’s advertising and marketing focuses on the big picture explanation. Its video ads, for example, serve to show what its product does from the highest level.
Note how they name the problem and explain how their product solves it. Salesforce explains its model as a whole, rather than discussing particular features. That’s because it has so many features and the value of the whole platform is more than the sum of its parts.
This strategy works. In 2021, Salesforce revenues totaled more than $26 billion.
In 2006, two years before Apple’s App store was launched, Salesforce launched its own third-party application marketplace called AppExchange.
AppExchange outsources new and niche features to third parties to produce. This expands Salesforce’s functionality and cements the relationships between Salesforce, its customers, and third-party developers.
AppExchange was what transformed Salesforce from a single software product into a platform. Platforms delegate marketing to a decentralized network of companies.
Every contributing developer wants their app to succeed. This encourages them to do their own marketing. That marketing then benefits Salesforce by encouraging people to adopt its platform.
Marketing Your Brand Like Salesforce
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