Dreamforce 2016: Seeking Optimus Prime – practical vision, practical reality

optimus prime Dreamforce 2016: Seeking Optimus Prime   practical vision, practical reality

I had an entirely different beginning to this post. It had to do with the confluence of organization and beauty, the self-organization of the universe, the desire and efforts by human beings for self-perfection and other themes along that line. But as much as I could link it up to the subject of this post – Dreamforce and the current technological ecology – it didn’t exactly ring true. Sorta pretentious, really. Though interesting…and pretentious. Sigh.

After I did that I had this longwinded idea of what I was going to cover in this post given that my prior posts for Dreamforce have more times than not been book length. I thought I had to do that because that way people would think that I was providing a deep discussion into Salesforce – and that would make me look really smart. At least I’d think I was smart.

But then I realized something after about 5 more drafts of this post that I had to discard (including one that I had written 4000 words already). The lessons from Dreamforce 2016 are simple. The context is complex – so you aren’t getting away from reading a complex post – again, but the lessons are easy to understand. Maybe I don’t look so smart as a result. Hey, I’m 66 years old. At this point I don’t care how smart I look (says a grouchy sounding old dude). Though to be entirely candid, I never cared about that.

So, to see what those simple lessons and moves were and are, I’m going to spend a lot of time setting the context – which has its complexities. But I’ll make it easy to understand. Promise.

But before I get to it, though, you know that I have to do what I have to do – and that is my conference qua conference assessment. Thus, ladies and gents, I give you the Dreamforce 2016 Conference Scorecard (sponsored by CRM Watchlist)!! Yay!! Whoot!! Whoot!!

Category Grade Notes
Keynotes (Content) A- The keynote content this year was stronger than in the past because it did what it had to do, situate the new products and services in a context that was generally aligned with the broader global issues that they addressed. So for example, Einstein, Salesforce’s artificial intelligence service (at the platform level) was discussed after the broader global issues set the context. There was a well-crafted table setting from Marc Benioff about family, trust, compassion etc. – emotional triggers that set a right brained context to what has been essentially a left-brained endeavor (producing enabling technologies). These were done superbly well. As someone at Forbes put it, “Marc Benioff could sell sawdust to the lumber mill.” The only downside was the “banter” between Monsieur Benioff and Mr. Harris has become predictable shtick – even though the content is important, the rest needs a rest. Just make it a normal conversation between two founders. It takes away from what was otherwise a generally excellent content-solid keynote.
Keynotes (Presentation) A- The supporting stuff was very good but there were some small glitches. First, though, kudos to the team that built the customer videos. They were uniformly perfect. All, without a single exception, were built around a day in the life of the customer company and how Salesforce was simply inculcated into that life – rather than the “here’s why Salesforce is great” videos that marred Connect 2015 (e.g. Mattel video). The interviews that Mark did with the management of the customer companies were impressive and well organized and supported the framework and tenor of the videos. As always, Peter Coffee did a great job with his interviews and with warming up the crowd pre-keynote. Peter is one of Salesforce’s gems. The Einstein CGI thing was cute and it was well done but a bit too long and too cutesy. All in all, the keynote ran a little too long but it was well structured and well-constructed.
Tracks/General Sessions A What gets this a solid A is that there were 2700 of them that had an incredibly diverse range of topics – from meditation and emotional intelligence to smart cities to varying vertical industry topics to core technical and administration of a large variety of Salesforce applications to best practices in sales, marketing, customer service etc. All organized within the framework of Trailhead, Salesforce’s truly brilliant training methodology and asset (see uber-influencer Josh Greenbaum’s great piece on Trailhead – which says it better than I ever could have). But what was icing on the cake was that I didn’t hear a SINGLE complaint about the content in any one of the random sessions that I was able to track with the help of my colleagues and my spies. J Incredibly well done.
Analyst/Press Relations A What truly makes the effort that the Market Strategy team at Salesforce so good it strains credulity is that they are dealing with roughly 175 analysts – and we are a prickly lot – and perhaps 300 plus press – meaning between 475-500 people who have some impact out in the market – and highly distinct personalities that are on occasion a bit too entitled. Yet they do. They satiate the 1 to 1 hunger which means meanings with the press and analysts and execs and customers. Sometimes to meet the demand, they have to double down and assign two analysts to the same meeting and they are smart enough to know which two are so compatible that it doesn’t matter to either they are with another one. They have to maintain their schedules over 5-6 days in 30 minute intervals and escort the analysts and influencers. They have to have receptions, larger analyst group interactions with key execs and have a theme to govern those larger interactions (this year was the executive visionaries though a misspelling said “Visionaires” which sounds like a 50s doo-wop group. J) They have to provide food, power, WiFi. This year, they didn’t miss a trick. All was nearly perfect. Perhaps the only thing that could have been done that wasn’t – more tables with power at the keynote – and leaving the press/analyst center open for those who wanted to watch it streaming rather than closing it and effectively forcing press/media to go to the keynote or their hotel room to watch. But, all in all, magnifique.
Food (VIP) B Solid and tasty, some acknowledgement of special diets (e.g. gluten free would be an example). Food at the receptions, breakfasts was well prepared, somewhat interesting. Food in the press analyst room was as most places a solid “eh.” At least there was a vegetarian alternative sandwich.
Food (General Session) B Pretty much okay was the report I got. Beverages, food were pick up your lunch in a box and eat outside. What gets this a B is not the food which was absolutely ordinary by anyone’s standard, but the ability to eat it in many different places across the Moscone “campus.”
Exhibition Hall B The exhibition hall was slightly improved over last year, but still nowhere near the standard set by SAP at Sapphire or Microsoft at Envision (no coincidence, done by the same person). What was better was less chaos, wider lanes to walk and better organization. What wasn’t better was there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to who was set up near who nor was there a lot of space “wasted” for people to rest. What was good were the water stations to fill your water bottle. Very good idea. But keep in mind the exhibition halls have gotten so crowded with vendors, that many of the partners don’t bother to pay for them anymore because of diminishing returns. Instead they rent outside the Moscone Center in the surrounding restaurants etc and greet people there. Suffice to say, this is a change in how these things are done that is baked permanently into the landscape – and a reflection of the self-organization of Salesforce’s organic ecosystem. The Exhibition Hall has expanded outside.
Crowd Energy A- One of the influencers that I spoke with found the ambient energy of the conference “weird” (to use his term). What he meant was it was lower key than in the past – but it wasn’t because of the crowd being more sedate or less engaged. The engagement was still dynamic, the fanboys and fangirls were/are growing up into fanmen and fanwomen – mature Salesforce advocates/devotees. They are no less engaged and the energy in the “room” was a little lower in volume but there is no question that there was a true kinetic interaction going on that had the audiences fully engaged in the discussions and excitement of the event. But it wasn’t dialed up to 11, it was at 10 – and that’s a good thing.
Logistics B+ There were issues but what can you expect at the scale that this conference is? We are talking 170,000 registrants (I’m not sure how many showed up) and logistics that stretched deep into the downtown area of San Francisco, not just Moscone North, South and West. But Salesforce had a lot of the crowd control during the conference under control – meaning there were people on every street corner who were skilled in giving directions and proactive in asking if you needed help. Inside the conference center venues, there were similar guides – in the uniforms of TrailBlazers – young, friendly attractive intelligent people who were always happy to help with information or instructions. Where the problems came in were in three places. One, clogging the city to the point of paralysis during the drive time to the U2 concert – which is on Salesforce, not the city. The security procedure for the keynote which seemed (unless there was a true cause for it that I and everyone else is unaware of) a tad too much and a problem that has persisted for three years – you can’t get in the building when the keynote is letting out. Literally. You aren’t allowed in. One door needs to be made available to let people get to meetings etc. But given the scale, this was by no means a bad effort. It was well done, despite its glitches.
OVERALL A- Dreamforce 2016 is only the second conference all year to get anything resembling an A and at the scale it operates, that’s not a great achievement, it’s truly remarkable. The quality of the content during the tracks and some of the main stage was out of this world excellent, the tone and tenor that will leave the attendees with the impression of Salesforce they will have for the next 12 months was at the nearly precisely right level. The logistics were handled as well as something this big can be expected and as always the outreach was superb. This is no longer a conference or event, it’s a destination now and that’s a whole other level. Salesforce lives up to the effort and makes the impression it has to. Once again, Dreamforce was/is remarkable. Clap Clap Clap Clap Clap.

Okay, done with the conference (wipes his hands back and forth) on to the: