News, Insights and Stories from the Australian and New Zealand tech ecosystem.

Salesforce’s World Tour stops in Melbourne to highlight the importance of listening to customers

It may not have shut the city down like its big brother Dreamforce does San Francisco, but the Salesforce World Tour saw thousands flock to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre to learn how leading businesses are using Salesforce to better serve their customers, and hear what’s coming next.

The morning’s keynote saw Polly Sumner, Chief Adoption Officer at Salesforce, highlight the company’s core values of trust, growth, innovation, and equality and emphasise the fact that customers are placed at the centre of each.

“We ask ourselves every day, are our customers successful? Our product people pay attention to what’s being adopted. We have crazy people like me, with a title of Chief Adoption Officer, who think about nothing but making sure that everywhere in the world, every customer large or small is successful with Salesforce, that their dreams come true, and their business grows,” Sumner said.

Thanks to the sheer amount of data consumers generate each day – 90 percent of the world’s data has been created in the last 12 months alone – Sumner said the opportunities for companies to work better with customers are endless. Less than one percent of consumer data has been analysed, while 77 percent of customers are not engaged with companies.

Customers were the focus of the afternoon’s panels on innovation, where attendees were urged to build around what customers actually want and are asking for.

Led by Peter Coffee, vice president for strategic research at Salesforce, the first panel on increasing innovation fitness saw Jonathan Davey, executive general manager of NAB Labs joke that the biggest change the financial services sector has seen over the last few years is that “the customer has suddenly become important.”

Davey said NAB’s approach to innovation is focused on the needs and demands of its customers, with the benchmark not necessarily what other financial services providers are doing but rather the level of customer service that consumers are getting used to in other sectors, which have always done better than banks in this regard.

Fellow panellist Shelley Laslett, general manager of innovation at Melbourne coworking space York Butter Factory, added that innovation is not merely coming up with an idea, but the process of also implementing that idea, ideally to achieve an outcome. What’s more, she said, the best innovations are co-created with the customer.

“If you have a great idea, there needs to be some way of harnessing that idea, in terms of going through the design phase, the development phase, but most importantly, you need to overlay where the customer sits in the idea, and what the customer is telling you about this process,” she said.

The focus on the customer, agreed Laslett, Davey, and Tien-Ti Mak, chief technology officer at Australia Post, is highlighting the fact that innovation does not mean new technology but rather new business models.

As such, Mak rejects the commonly held belief that Australia Post has been slow to adapt to change. Instead, he said the company has been contending with new technologies since it first began.

“Change isn’t new, what’s new is how fast it’s happening, the pace of change,” said Mak. “You don’t have to convince anyone at Australia Post that letters are dying – we got that.”

As CTO, Mak has implemented Australia Post’s intrapreneurship program, through which employees participate in hack days. He said much of his time is also spent listening to pitches from startups. A major red flag, Mak said, is hearing from a startup that they have not actually spoken to their market – yes, it happens.

The idea that startups must be open to external feedback rather than taking a ‘my way or the highway’ approach was also discussed at the afternoon’s second panel, on secrets from the startup ecosystem.

The panel saw Melbourne Accelerator Program’s Rohan Workman, Matt Fairhurst of Skedulo, and Ludo Ulrich, global head of startup relations at Salesforce, discuss how startups should look to approach corporate customers.

Workman said that the acceptance of external feedback must extend beyond just feedback from customers on product, with startups needing to be aware of the image they project to business. The stereotypical startup founder and startup culture, for example, won’t fly with corporates, he said.

“Business is professional, and the best startups are professional,” he said. Soft skills are critical “when you’re a startup with nothing to offer but your manners.”

Fairhurst added that startups must accept their limitations and focus on just a couple of key features rather than spreading themselves thin.

“Accept you don’t know everything, and in fact know very little…it’s about the questions you ask of your customers along the way,” he said.

Startups also need to appreciate the risk that their customers are taking on them and their new products, Fairhurst said.

All in all, however, the consensus seems to be that Australian startups are on the right track, with the panellists at the afternoon’s last session on building Australia’s knowledge economy agreeing that there has never been a better time for the local ecosystem.

While we’ve got a long way to go, with CEO of Data61 Adrian Turner saying that a big part of Australia’s economy doesn’t have a global context – “we’re playing checkers while the world is playing chess,” he said – he believes the government’s attention on the space means there is a huge opportunity over the next three to five years to make up lost ground.

While Turner said much of the infrastructure required to succeed is yet to be created, Martin Hoffman of the NSW Department of Finance, Services, and Innovation said that the tech space can still learn much from what Australia is already good at, particularly mining.

“Our extractive industries are strong precisely because of the application of science and technology,” he said.

Elena Douglas, founder of the Knowledge Society, then pointed out that Australia in fact has one of the largest robotics fleets in the world thanks to the mining industry.

The idea of appreciating Australia for what it is and what it has done was a common theme throughout the afternoon as the panellists at each session discussed whether Australia should try to emulate Silicon Valley.

The answer was a resounding no, with moderator Peter Coffee saying “even Silicon Valley doesn’t want to be Silicon Valley” and Workman comparing the situation to the Jamaican bobsled team of the movie Cool Runnings: the team accepted the fact they had grown up on the beach rather than on ice, he said, and that acceptance went on to make them stronger.

After a day of thought-provoking panels, the only drawback of the afternoon’s innovation track was the lack of diversity among the panellists, with just two of the 11 speakers women. Stats like that have become a no-no at industry events but they are particularly disappointing given that the first conference-wide panel of the morning had been a discussion on encouraging gender diversity across the business landscape.

Note: Startup Daily travelled to Melbourne courtesy of Salesforce.

Image: Rohan Workman, Matt Fairhurst, Ludo Ulrich, Peter Coffee.

Startup Daily