Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dreamforce 2012: Red Hot Chili Peppers were #Amazing

So last night was the Dreamforce gala event where they host a musical guest. This year they had the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and instead of playing in the echo-chamber nightmare of Moscone South, they closed off Civic Center Plaza and played there.

Using the Civic Center as a backdrop, the show featured an incredibly awesome display of lighting. While they flooded most of the surrounding buildings in blue, the played host to a series of visual effects ranging from video imagery and cartoon-like graphics to a deceptively simple illumination of the structure of the Civic Center building. Way cool.

The music was great too, but the bands that they choose for Dreamforce often seem like an contrast against the backdrop of an enterprise software demographic. So while the park was full, you had an odd assortment of experiencing the show -- everything from people singing along and dancing to guys standing around looking uncomfortable and trying to 'fit in'.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dreamforce 2012 - Networking Tangents & the Mysterious Account Manager

With Dreamforce fast approaching, schedules are getting filled and calendars are getting booked. After several years of using the platform and attending Dreamforce, one of the things that strikes me as quite funny is who uses the opportunity to meet with you and who does not. Sure, there's a long line of partners and other vendors who are anxious to meet you, but what about the account manager and the staff that you actually work with -- theoretically...

Over the past years, I've had three account managers try to make arrangements to meet with me. Or rather, I've had two account managers try to meet with me during the event and one arrange a meeting/presentation near the end. At the same time, the two account managers who I did meet with have since moved on to work with partners. Funny thing is, they continue to meet with me and probably will meet with me again this year.

Contrast that with some of the other account managers I've had to deal with over the years. These are the guys who consider sending a template bulk email as a customer touch. Some of these guys seem more focused on selling tickets to Dreamforce than to understanding our account. This is typically magnified by's insistence on shuffling account managers every year.

One year, I was invited to a group reception event by my account rep -- a guy who I never met in person. In addition to not meeting him at the reception, I also didn't meet the 'customer success manager' that I was previously introduced to by email. In fact, the only person from Salesforce that I did meet was a nice account rep handling very small accounts in the Southwest. And, even though it seemed like I was sort of 'in the way' of her gathering with her colleagues and friends, she was still thoughful enough to chat and discuss my account with me. I found it a bit ironic.

Sometimes it makes you want to send a note:
Dear Mr. Benioff,
Here's one big reason why your product isn't a success in our account -- for as much know-your-customer as I would expect from one of the most amazing software products that I've used, you guys really don't seem to understand us, to interact with us, to have a strategic plan for our account...
But perhaps this is the larger aspect of the SaaS pyramid. When you're down at the base, you look a lot like scraps.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Ramp up to Dreamforce2012

We're closing in on that time of year again. Time for the clouds to come out and take over the city. It's the time when the wind swirls with marketing hype, where we stare up into the sky and dream about the possibilities. Visions of globally connected enterprises. Social work environments. Happy customers. Sales. More sales. And growth -- oh, glorious growth.

I know what you're thinking, "the political conventions came and went." Sadly, politics these days seems rather devoid of hope and vision. Or the promise of real innovation -- sort of like Oracle OpenWorld. Kidding.

But seriously, we're about a week away from Dreamforce,'s annual festival of technology summit meets dog-and-pony on steroids. It's 'the world is flat' with some marketing hype, the leading edge of enterprise software with some marketing hype. It's also parties and crowds -- amazing, exciting crowds. The crowds are a living, breathing answer to all of those skeptics in IT who said things like, "but really, who is using it?"

This year looks to be even more amazing (as you can expect a week of Benioff repeating), with sessions spread out over Moscone and hotels from the Palace to Union Square, the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Civic Center Plaza, and two or three after-hours block parties. At this point, the hotels in the city are sold out and you're hard pressed to find anything closer than San Mateo. Expect traffic in San Francisco to suck next week.

Sadly, as someone who has been to a few of these, I also know about the hangover. I know about the return to the real world, full of skeptics and naysayers. The return to real world problems like web-to-lead spam and the never-ending 'we can monetize that' parsing of services you've been used to having free access to for a long time. The joys of trying to overcome the unengaged account manager. I know that when I go back to the office on Monday, it will be another Monday, not the day that everything changed.

In that way, the experience is kind of funny. Whenever you get such a large crowd together with everyone focused on the same core topic, it's hard not to be excited, to feel pulled in and part of something larger. But organizational change -- enterprise change -- is a massive effort. It's a religious conversion that requires a baptismal tsunami.

But maybe this is the year when the technology and the cloud have become so mainstream that the writing is on the wall. Maybe this is the year that the waters surge. I know what you're thinking, but I can't help it -- I'm getting kind of excited.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Right Product in a Copycat World

So have a ruling that Samsung copied Apple. And yet, if you went to your local wireless store today, there are still Samsung phones for sale. But even if there is an injunction, you'll still see a market for what are, essentially, iPhone knock-offs. Is this whole thing just another example of billionaire on billionaire crime? Should you care?

It's similar to when somebody comes back from a trip to China and says, "look at this amazing copy of an iPhone accessory that I found for less than a dollar." Typically, it only takes a couple of days for them to be reminded of the difference between their knock off and a full priced version. Caveat emptor, right?

Me, I try not to subsidize copycats. I always feel a twinge of disappointment when people talk about buying fake Rolex watches or other brand-based knock-offs. I mean, think about it -- here is something, a brand, that the buyer applies some level of value to. And yet, they would spend money on a copy, a mimic. It's like a discount against their own values. It's basically saying that the brand doesn't bring some sort of tangible, value add in terms of function or form -- they simply want the cosmetic benefit of being associated to that brand. It would be like me walking around with a cardboard cut-out of a supermodel and telling people that she is my mistress. Or, accounting for variations in quality and a really good knock-off, perhaps a celebrity impersonator. 

Seriously though. Imagine if someone made an exceptional watch with the quality of a Rolex at a fraction of the price, but it was called 'knock-off-ex' and it wasn't a copy? How many people do you think would jump at the chance to buy one in the back alleys and the night markets? There's an ironic twist in there somewhere.

The Hidden Cost of Creating Your Own Copycats
Some premium brands actually undercut their own value when they make their own knock-offs. Whether it's those low-cost, consumer-grade product lines or the products that they make specifically for their outlet stores, when premium brands dilute their line, they also dilute the real weight of their influence in selling the value proposition.

Remember in the months before Apple launched the iPad? At that time, all of the PC manufacturers were selling netbooks, those sub-$500 notebooks that could sort of run Windows. Everyone kept saying to Apple, "your products are too expensive, you'll never compete with netbooks. When are you going to offer a netbook?" Apple and Steve Jobs kept saying, "no, the netbook is a stupid idea -- it's a sucky product with no margin." And when they introduced the iPad, the initial reviews were basically, "it's not a netbook. It doesn't have any of the ports or expandability of a notebook. This thing sucks."

But what Apple essentially said with it's product line was, "when you're looking for something that does what a computer does, then you need this, this and this. We're not designing a luxury product, we're designing 'The Right' product."

The iPad is not differentiated on quality -- a low end computer with a cheap processor and low-end components -- it's a mobile device designed specifically for what it does. Features like integrated accelerometers are not something that you would find on a netbook or a notebook, but they were essential to making the iPhone and iPad successful as a gaming platform. Apple maintains a harmonious message about what you need because your experience with it tells you that the iPad is something completely different.