Inside the Values: Salesforce.

Posted: 25 November 2021

By Luke Upton

Salesforce is a huge company that most people have never heard of.  Every day their details might appear on Salesforce software whether it is receiving a marketing email, engaging with customer services or receiving a call from a salesperson but they are probably unaware of where their data has been sourced from. It’s a fascinating company, so let’s go inside the values with Salesforce!

The San Francisco based cloud-based software company, since its founding in 1999 has become a global juggernaut. It provides customer relationship management (CRM) services, enterprise applications, marketing automation, analytics to millions every day. And through acquisition has companies like Slack and Tableau within its umbrella.

It now has over 56,000 employees, went public in 2004 and in 2021 boasted revenue of $21.25 billion.

Salesforce’s President & Chief Marketing Officer Sarah Franklin poses with an attendee at Dreamforce, the company’s huge annual gathering of staff and clients. Previous years have hosted more than 170,000 attendees from all over the world. These sort of annual jamborees have become popular with software companies as a way of building community, offering rewards and launching products.

It’s a company that is very keen to share its company culture, which it defines as being: “… who you are, as well as what you stand for and value as a member of a community of people pursuing a shared mission. It’s a powerful force that guides how employees work together and treat each other, their customers, their partners, and their communities.”

“Think of it like a computer operating system — with culture being behind-the-scenes code driving the behaviours of everyone at the company”, they continue.

A purpose beyond profit.

We are told that when the business was founded in 1999, its first leaders wanted to “create a different kind of company — one with a purpose beyond profit. They founded the company on these core values.”

The values are trust, customer success, innovation and equality. They link them to their staff, as well as their customers, partners and their communities.

And then take this onto seeing these as having helped “inspire and enable us to achieve unprecedented levels of success.” They point towards having given more than $430 million in grants, enabling more than 5.7 million volunteering hours, and welcoming 51,000 non-profits to use their software for free.

Three main areas of focus

  • Being intentional. “We’ve been intentional about culture from day one, and it’s enabled us to “stay us,” even during periods of rapid growth.”
  • Shared responsibility. “We empower and enable all of our leaders, managers, and employees to play a role in protecting and evolving our culture.”
  • And Continuous improvement. “We don’t rest on our laurels—no company should! We’re always listening to employees and looking for opportunities to improve.”

The concept of Ohana is one part of the values that is less immediately obvious on their website copy.

It stems from CEO Marc Benioff, who came across it whilst in Hawaii. The local culture sees it as the idea that families — blood-related, adopted, or intentional — are bound together. And that family members are responsible for one another. This was pre-launch and by the time 1999 rolled around he ensured that Ohana was in the company foundations.

The growth of Salesforce has not been without times when it’s stated values have clashed with reality.

Earlier this year, Cynthia Perry, a Senior Manager, Research in Business, very publicly exited the company. She published a long letter on LinkedIn (which is still available to read here) in which she states: “I am leaving Salesforce because of countless microaggressions and inequity. I have been gaslit, manipulated, bullied, neglected, and mostly unsupported … the entire time I’ve been here. Salesforce, for me, is not a safe place to come to work. It’s not a place where I can be my full self.”

New challenges

There have also been controversies over some of the services that are offered by sites for who they provide CRM. Plus there was a slightly bizarre moment in 2012, when they tried to trademark the term “social enterprise”. But with it being already widely in use, they failed.

They make a point that unlike some other software companies that have emerged from California, they take a grown-up view of culture and values – “Perhaps you picture company culture as the presence of hip offices, free swag, and outrageous perks. While there’s nothing wrong with those things, great company culture is so much more than that.”

As the company and the sectors it serves continues to grow, the challenges to value shift and change too. In September of this year Marc Benioff (@Benioff)  tweeted that the company is prepared to help any employee who wishes to move out of Texas, following the state passing anti-abortion legislation – “Ohana if you want to move we’ll help you exit TX. Your choice.”

As a largely non-consumer facing software company, they need to be mature when it comes to their values and put an enormous emphasis on trust and confidence as they maintain personal and mission critical data. They also have a regular rhythm of acquisition, and so need to be able to fold in new companies to their values quickly and easily.

Going inside the values with Salesforce has shown that whilst they make lack the more hyperbolic and ambitious values that others in the software space boast, their solid and achievable set of goals match perfectly the business and its enormous and consistent growth.