How did Marc Benioff get first clients for salesforce.com?

In the beginning Salesforce didn’t have some structural sales approach. Founders motivated the team to approach anyone they knew in any industry. So first customers came through these personal connections. On Salesforce blog Marc Benioff confesses that it was more like asking for a favor — not pitching. (Remember, Salesforce was one of the first cloud-based services at the times when trust to such things was very low. Quite a challenge to ask people to move data from traditional Excel files to some “cloud”, isn’t it?)

Very first clients used Salesforce’s services for free. But they gave the company much more valuable benefit — feedback that Salesforce used to improve the solution and develop it further. Later on the company converted free users into paying ones, but it kept the free trial.

The company’s early sales strategy was rather aggressive — they directly went after potential users (sales people) who worked for small businesses (less than 30 employees) — not their executives. This was possible with the help of cold emailing so much praised by Aaron Ross. You can read more about cold emailing here.

You might ask — what’s crazy about that? Well, even these days avoiding decision-makers is pretty unusual. But back then it was something revolutionary. Salesforce got balls to bet on that tactic in the beginning. This allowed them to learn customers from inside, get closer to the pains they were facing. Moreover, those companies grew, and so did their needs for Salesforce solution. Those users changed their jobs, but took Salesforce with them wherever they go. This way Salesforce grew up their own loyal inexhaustible customers base.

Marc Benioff is also famous for his pranks that turn somebody’s else PR events into Salesforce free promotion.

It’s hilarious how he pulled attention from the Salesforce’s main competitor — Siebel Systems (bought by Oracle in 2005). In 2000, just after launching Salesforce, Benioff organized a fake protest of the Siebel annual conference. “Protesters” claimed: “The Internet is really neat … Software is obsolete!”. Meaning — it’s time to move to the cloud-based services, like Salesforce. The protest was so plausible, that was covered on the news and brought Salesforce hundreds of new customers.

Protester being interviewed at the fake protest

Later on, at another Siebel event in Nice, Benioff rented all the airport taxis and then used the 45-minute drive with attendees of Siebel event to pitch Salesforce.com. Most attendees of the conference flew into Nice and had no choice but to take those cabs.In 2011 Marc Benioff managed to drain away visitors from Oracle’s Openworld conference to his own speech in the restaurant nearby. Initially Benioff had been invited to be a speaker at Oracle’s conference. But after they postponed his speech time, Benioff said in a press release that Oracle had cancelled his keynote. So he invited to join him in the restaurant instead. “The cloud can’t be stopped,” — he said in that press release.

You can google more stories like that about Benioff. Hope you got inspired by the ones above!

This is a Quora answer by our Content Specialist — Dasha Oliinyk


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I’m a Founder & CEO of a Polish B2B sales startup RightHello. We help businesses to boost and scale up their B2B sales by delivering contacts to decision makers of companies they want to reach, then outreach each of them with custom pitch via email and social media.