The $13 Billion Lesson from Salesforce That Any Business Can Apply

Chris Monk
Apr 4 · 5 min read

Salesforce has just turned 20.

Today, Salesforce boasts over $13 billion in annual revenue and is the biggest name in CRM.

Hell, its 2017 increase in market share was more than the top 20 other CRM providers combined!

Startup advisor and investor Tom Taulli interviewed several early Salesforce hires for his Forbes article.

Tom asked them what they thought had made Salesforce so successful.

There are many great quotes in the article, but one, in particular, stands out.

Salesforce’s 11th employee, Tien Tzuo, worked closely with founder and CEO Marc Benioff for 9 years before leaving to start the ultra-successful Zuora.

Tien says:

After a month of working for Marc, I quickly realized that he has a relentless consistency with his storytelling….Marc taught me the discipline of giving the same message day after day, month after month, year after year. I’m not talking about rote recitation. The trick is delivering the same message in a thousand different ways. That’s how you change the world.

In other words, Tien says that Salesforce’s success came down to repeating the same message over and over again.

What Makes Repetition So Effective?

In 1977 researchers ran a study on the campuses of two universities in Philadelphia.

They presented students with a list of 60 statements, some true and some false, on three separate occasions.

Each time, the participants had to rate the truthfulness of the 60 statements they saw.

Each list contained 20 statements that were on the other two lists — meaning that the participants saw these 20 statements a total of 3 times.

The remaining 40 statements per list were unique to that list — meaning they only saw those statements once.

Could simply repeating a statement actually make it seem more truthful? Even if it wasn’t.

Seemingly yes.

The results of the study showed that the participant’s belief in the truthfulness of the unique statements remained stable. But their belief in the truthfulness of the repeated statements actually increased.

In other words, repeating the same message again and again increases the acceptance of that message.

Salesforce was selling a completely innovative (and therefore risky) new solution.

Their solution was a massive improvement on what was already in the market, but it took a large leap of faith for businesses to ditch what they were already doing and try this new product.

Salesforce harnessed the power of repetition to increase trust and faith in their solution and convince businesses that they had to buy what they were selling.

What Message?

But repeating any old message wouldn’t have helped Salesforce.

Salesforce’s CRM had unique and innovative features & benefits, but repeating those features and benefits would not have worked.

Why?

First — they would have soon run out of things to say. There are only so many ways to talk about features & benefits.

Second — features and benefits are only of interest to those who want to buy what is being sold.

Salesforce was selling innovation — no-one knew that they wanted what they were selling.

So, instead of pitching their features and benefits, Salesforce took a very different approach. They branded their business with an ideology and sold that instead of their solution.

This is called Ideological Branding.

An ideology formed of the following 5 elements:

  1. Heaven - this is a desirable outcome that the target market wants
  2. Hell - this is an undesirable outcome that the target market wants to avoid
  3. Sin - actions that take the target market away from heaven (desirable outcome) and towards hell (undesirable outcome)
  4. Right Action - actions that take the target market to heaven (desirable outcome)
  5. Name - naming the ideology enables businesses to brand themselves with it. No name = no brand.

Salesforce’s ideology looked like this:

— — — — — — — — -

Heaven — Efficient and effective business operations & infrastructure

Hell — Inefficient business operations & infrastructure

Sin — Buying software from companies like Oracle & Siebel: very expensive and inefficient.

Right Action — Renting software and letting service provider host it for you

Name — NO SOFTWARE (also known as The End of Software).

— — — — — — — — — -

Every single marketing, PR, sales or brand message sold this ideology — not their CRM.

Salesforce was not a CRM company with better benefits — they were the NO SOFTWARE company.

And their message reflected this.

Why Is This Better Than A Features & Benefits Message?

The five elements of an ideology make up a story — the most persuasive story ever told.

It’s much more effective to repeat a story than it is a features and benefits message.

Why?

Because it’s more interesting for people to hear — a straight-up sales pitch gets ignored, but a story doesn’t.

To quote Marc Benioff himself:

The reality was that in terms of revenue and customers, we were still just a tiny little start-up. No-one at the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times or BusinessWeek really cared about a small start-up…That’s where The End of Software story came in…reporters loved building drama around this story. That makes sense. After all, reporters like to tell a story with a protagonist and a villain.

Aside from capturing attention, a story can be repeated without getting stale.

As mentioned, Salesforce needed to convince businesses to take a risk. And the most effective way to persuade people of something is to repeat the same message over and over again.

By telling a story they were able to repeat their message so many times that businesses accepted that NO SOFTWARE was true. That they really did need to stop buying software and start renting it.

Once businesses accepted this, then buying Salesforce’s solution was the logical next step — as Salesforce’s CRM embodied the ideology of NO SOFTWARE (it was a SaaS solution with cloud distribution).

Zuora Has Copied These Lessons To The Tune Of $1.4 Billion

Tien might have left Salesforce behind, but he didn’t leave the lessons he learnt.

Zuora has branded themselves with an ideology (the Subscription Economy).

And they have been repeating that exact same message for the last decade — every single piece of marketing, PR and sales communication sells this ideology.

In 2018, Zuora IPO’d with a valuation on $1.4 billion.

Repeating yourself might be boring, but it pays.

Want To Apply This To Your Own Business?

Use the USPNR framework to create the right ideology for your business.

About Chris Monk

Former Global Marketing Director with over 12 years experience in marketing and sales, including work with Fortune 500 companies such as Microsoft, Oracle, Google and SAP.

I help businesses do Ideological Branding — a strategy that some of the world’s most successful businesses use to create massive growth and dominate their markets.

Learn more at www.ideologicalbranding.com

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +439,678 people.

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Chris Monk

Written by

Helping businesses create massive growth with Ideological Branding. Contributing Author at The Startup. http://www.ideologicalbranding.com

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