January 7, 2021

Salesforce CMO on Power of Purpose

After nearly 7 years with Salesforce, 2.5 of which she served as CMO, Stephanie Buscemi announced on Twitter that she’s saying goodbye. The 100+ (and counting) responses to her announcement have been overwhelmingly positive—a testament to her inspiring, compassionate leadership and her trailblazing, marketing-led initiatives for the cloud-based software powerhouse.

We had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie a few weeks ago, so this outpouring of admiration is no surprise to us. Her success epitomizes the core values that Salesforce has upheld from its start 21 years ago. In this episode, Stephanie shares just what it means for B2B brands that are committed to a capital-P Purpose, and why we truly believe that CMOs can change the world for the better. Tune in to hear how Salesforce has brought its values to life over the years, how said values informed their customer-first response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and more.

What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • Why Salesforce is dedicated to its values
  • Why CEOs need to take B2B brand purpose seriously
  • How B2B brands can make the world better

Renegade Thinkers Unite, Episode 222 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned

Time-Stamped Highlights

  • [0:27] The Role of Purpose for B2B Brands
  • [4:50] How Salesforce Brought its Values to Life
  • [8:51] Why B2B Brand Purpose Is Not Optional
  • [16:15] Salesforce’s Marketing Challenges
  • [24:13] How Salesforce Lived by Its Values During 2020
  • [32:48] The Business Value of Goodwill
  • [42:40] Stephanie Buscemi’s 2020 Lessons for 2021 Inspiration

Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Stephanie Buscemi

[0:27] The Role of Purpose for B2B Brands

Thoughts from @sbuscemi of @salesforce on #BrandPurpose: “They’re something that gets surfaced in the smallest decisions and the biggest decisions, so they're truly living in everything we do.” #RTU Share on X

Drew Neisser: Hello Renegade Thinkers! One of the reasons I’m obsessed with the role of CMO is that I truly believe CMOs can help make the world better. They can do that by helping their organizations be purposeful. It’s a lofty ambition, but the sequence often works like this: A CMO arrives at a B2B organization with a mandate to drive demand. Many are really good at this and they can quickly gain an understanding of the target, the product, and how—with a bit of tweaking or, in some cases, having to stand up a whole new function—that company can generate more high-quality leads for the sales team. Once the demand generation engine is working, they have earned enough credibility in the C-Suite to tackle brand.

That fuzzy word that encompasses even fuzzier concepts like mission and vision and values and purpose, and it is when the CMOs get to purpose that they can start helping make the world better. When that happens, it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

Now, I’m not suggesting that this sequence is the right course of action. In an ideal world, the CMO would work for an enlightened CEO who recognizes the power of purpose and if, for some reason, that organization’s purpose wasn’t clearly articulated, wasn’t fully felt by employees, customers, and stakeholders, then the CMOs first order of business would be and should be to fix that.

Here’s an irony: Brands with a clear purpose often find that it informs and multiplies the impact of their demand generation efforts, so brand drives demand. Yet, as I already said, most of the time you have to get the demand gen engine first. So, it should be purpose first, demand gen second—or better yet, you’re lucky enough to work for a CEO who not only talks the talk of purpose but also walks the walk of purpose, and that brings us to today’s guest, Stephanie Buscemi, the EVP and CMO of Salesforce. Stephanie, welcome to the show.

Stephanie Buscemi: Hi, how are you? Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.

Drew Neisser: Oh, it’s great to be with you and, for the audience, I owe Stephanie a debt of gratitude. We had a pre-session before and I just was not there, but I’m all here now and I’m excited to talk to you.

You’ve been at Salesforce for 6.5 years and CMO for the last 2.5 years, and no doubt have had a lot of interactions with your CEO, Marc Benioff. Can you talk a little bit about his influence on you?

Stephanie Buscemi: Yeah, absolutely. Marc is like no other CEO that I had ever worked for, and what really differentiates him are a couple things. One, he believes deeply that business is a platform for change and has for 21 years. While I think there’s a lot of executives talking about that—what’s the role of businesses to give back and make the world around them better? It has become, should I say, more in vogue now. Marc has believed in that since day one, so it’s deeply rooted in the company.

He also believes in a set of core values. And I think we all in the company itself have a set of core values, but he does a phenomenal job of ensuring that those core values surface in every discussion. They’re not a plaque on the wall, they’re not an employee brochure. They’re something that gets surfaced in the smallest decisions and the biggest decisions, so they’re truly living in everything we do. And I will tell you this year, I think, has tested everyone’s values as a company out there and I love how grounded we are in our values because it actually allowed us, I believe, to make decisions faster and continue to stay aligned as a team in a pretty crazy time.

[4:50] How Salesforce Brought its Values to Life

“The four core values are innovation, customer success, equality, and trust, and they've been the same for 21 years.” -@sbuscemi @salesforce #RTU Share on X

Drew Neisser: As you’re talking about values and purpose, I wonder if you could give an example of that, because I think a lot of companies struggle with how to define them and then how to live by them. If you could give one example of a value and how that ended up influencing a decision, that would be awesome.

Stephanie Buscemi: There’s a lot of them, but I’ll take some of the biggest ones. Equality is a core value of the company. A couple years ago, two trailblazing women in our organization went to Marc and said, “We have a gender pay gap.” And he said, “No, we don’t have a gender pay gap.” And they said, “Yes, we have a gender pay gap.”

He went and had the analysis and the research done and we had a gender pay gap, and we corrected that gap. I think at the initial time—I forget the exact number—but [we corrected] a multi-million-dollar gap to make sure that women and men were being paid equally, and we’ve continued to be committed to that.

We actually close that gap every year because as we bring in new employees, as we acquire companies, we see that that gender pay gap existed in some of these companies, so it wasn’t a one-time thing. It’s something that we are deeply committed to that we can now put our head on the pillow at night and know with certainty and transparency that we have closed the gender pay gap within our organization.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, you know, I happened to watch the 60 Minutes episode when he was on, and we’ll link to that segment on the show if we can find it. I seem to recall it was like $6 million just to correct the situation, and at the time that seemed like a big number. It certainly got a lot of folks thinking about it and it showed leadership. The other thing I wanted to—when you said the value I heard “quality,” and I thought, “Hmm…” but you said “equality,” didn’t you?

Stephanie Buscemi: Yeah, the four core values are innovation, customer success, equality, and trust, and they’ve been the same for 21 years.

Drew Neisser: And that’s an important point I just want to bring home. First of all, there are only four and they’re broad, but they encompass a lot. When you get these, if they’re really values, those things don’t change. I mean, if you think about what the company does versus what it did 20 years ago, it’s remarkable that the values are at the core of this. So, let’s repeat them again. It was equality, innovate…

Stephanie Buscemi: Customer success and trust. When you think about it—you’re right, they’re broad—each one though, when they started the company, had such a purpose and a place.

I’ll give you an example. Trust—if you really think about what Salesforce was doing, it was about being a cloud pioneer. Yes, it was initially a Salesforce automation solution, but really, in the early years, the conversations in those first 3, 4, or 5 years was really more so about building trust with customers to put their data in the cloud.

Now, trust goes beyond just the transparency of having and putting your data in the cloud. It’s from how we conduct ourselves in our every interaction with our customers and our ecosystem and our community, but trust was really core to starting the company’s success and taking off and convincing people that it would be okay to put your data in the cloud. And now look, fast forward.

[8:51] Why B2B Brand Purpose Is Not Optional

“It's not optional. It's not going to be enough just to have great products and services anymore.” -@sbuscemi @salesforce on #BrandPurpose #RTU Share on X

Drew Neisser: I’m curious, do you have a purpose statement?

Stephanie Buscemi: The purpose of the company is that business is a platform for change. Our purpose is that our success is only through our customer’s success and through our communities in which we serve success.

The overarching business as a platform for change and then how that gets expressed across [things like], how do we make our employees better? How do we make the communities in which we serve better? How do we provide innovative technologies that make the world a better place across every facet?

One of the things that we have as a program—again, it started 21 years ago—was the 1-1-1 model which is, 1% of our time, 1% of our equity, and 1% of our product every year we give back. That 1% of our product, we’re giving to nonprofits to companies to make their businesses successful. Those numbers were really small when we started; those numbers are really huge now.

When you think about 1% of our time—we have 54,000 employees today—everyone in the company gets one week off of what’s called VTO, volunteer time off. It’s not optional. It is your responsibility, and we have a huge ecosystem of things that people can do, and people can bring new things. We don’t prescribe. We want people to feel an affinity for the way they’re giving back, but we create that space. We can give 54,000 people times 7 business days a year—it adds up—of their hours back to volunteer work. That’s just one example of our commitment of giving back.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I remember 1-1-1, and thank you for reminding me of that.

I can hear a lot of CEOs, particularly at say, PE driven companies or VC backed companies saying, “Yeah, yeah, that’s a luxury that a #1 market share, market leader can afford.” How do we convince these CEOs or tell them that this isn’t a luxury, this in fact drives employee morale, customer loyalty, and pipeline all at the same time?

Stephanie Buscemi: One immediate thing that comes to mind is, I would start with saying, have they truly looked at the next generation of workers and do they deeply understand Millennials? Because I could bury them in numerous studies out there that say Millennials are not going to work for nor are they going to buy from companies that don’t have a higher purpose.

This next generation expects it, so it’s not a luxury and it’s not optional. I’d also say, you know, Salesforce didn’t put the 1-1-1 model in place years into its success. It did it from day one when it was very, very small and it’s grown with the company.

I would appeal to any CEO that says it’s a luxury and say, “To acquire and grow great talent as this next generation of workers and to acquire and build lasting customer relationships, you’re going to have to have this.” It’s not optional. It’s not going to be enough just to have great products and services anymore.

Drew Neisser: You heard that here, right here on Renegade Thinkers Unite. It’s not enough. Your brand needs to stand for something more than simply the products or services that you provide. Now, speaking of brand as we wrap up this segment, do you consider yourself a branded house or house of brands?

And by the way, just this month, you’ve acquired Slack, last year was Tableau, the year before… I mean, you’ve been acquiring a lot of strong standalone brands over the last few years. So now answer.

Stephanie Buscemi: I would categorize us as a branded house, not a house of brands. I will say after saying that we do have some key ingredient brands and the way I’ll qualify that is, while there are many, many products, there are a few things that we have that transcend all of our products. I’ll give you an example of an ingredient brand for Salesforce: Einstein AI.

We built Einstein AI capabilities directly into our core platform. We’ve built it into all of our applications. It’s persistent across all Salesforce products. We are building MuleSoft data integration capabilities throughout the platform, throughout all of our applications. Salesforce is the master brand and a branded house, and then there are a few key ingredient brands. To become an ingredient brand, it means all boats rise from it. It’s in all of the products.

You will see that with, to be a definitive agreement pending with Slack, you will see that. That will become the entry, the user experience, the UI of Salesforce.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. Okay, so it’s sort of a hybrid model. And look, there’s no right or wrong answer in this thing. And obviously, when you’re as big as a company as yours, having a single brand can be problematic and it leads to what we probably are going to talk about in the next segment.

[16:15] Salesforce’s Marketing Challenges

“At the end of the day, we all have to be deeply aligned and have one unified narrative that we get behind as a company.” -@sbuscemi @salesforce #RTU Share on X

Drew Neisser: We’ve set up the importance of brand purpose and having core values that everybody can articulate and live by. I’m curious, so 2.5 years ago when you took over as CMO, what was your mandate?

Stephanie Buscemi: The mandate was a couple things. One, continue to get closer to the customer. Salesforce has a phenomenal base of customers and community, so it was to get closer and closer to the customer. We deeply believe that the best decisions are made with the customer, so how would I do that?

Doing more, for example, within marketing, co-creation with our customers and our community. An example albeit tactical but important, you can think of Dreamforce, our annual event.

Over this multi-year period, we’ve continued to push more and more of the planning and execution of Dreamforce into the hands of our trailblazers in the community. They are running thousands of sessions at Dreamforce. They are defining: What are the programs? What is the content? What are the activities that we’re going to have at Dreamforce? We’re putting much more power in their hands, not only to help shape the products that we build and sell, but also in our marketing.

I have a vision that, whether that’s 3 years or 5 years over the horizon, that there won’t be these stale product websites from companies that look like a catalog, but rather that company websites will be something that are co-created together with their customers. The most authentic voice in the world is your customers. And so, yes, do I believe, for example, I have an amazing team of marketers? Yes, I do. But do I believe anytime I can have the customers speak on behalf versus a marketer writing positioning and messaging, I’m going to take the customer every single time.

One was that remit there to get closer to the customer and the community, to do more collaboration and co-creation around our marketing.

Drew Neisser: Very cool. I think as the CMOs who are listening to this show, they’re saying, “Yeah, Salesforce. I mean, everybody’s heard of it.” I mean, everybody’s probably touched your CRM tool. They’re not feeling particularly sympathetic to your individual challenges, but I’m curious, what challenges do you have as the CMO that they could relate to?

Stephanie Buscemi: I think one is that Salesforce is a double-edged sword in that Salesforce has had explosive growth. We’ve done very well and with that growth, we’ve had incredible product innovation and making sure that our customers, prospects, and the world at large really understand all that we have to offer.

I find that still, to this day, people either don’t know what CRM stands for, or if they do, frankly, they have a very limited definition or understanding. A lot of times, yes, aided, people will say, “Oh, yeah I know who Salesforce is,” but what we do, making sure people really understand what we do—we are so much more than just Salesforce automation.

The name Salesforce brings people to sales. Yes, that was the vision of the company 21 years ago. Very simply, it was to make it easier for salespeople to engage with their customers, to have more meaningful relationships.

That hasn’t changed. It’s about creating meaningful relationships with customers, but over 21 years, we’re now doing that, not just for sales, [but] across every single touchpoint in an organization so that you can have this holistic look and get to that single version of the truth of the customer.

I don’t think our work is done on people fully understanding that. I think people tend to go back to, “Oh, my sales organization uses you” and I think there is a much larger value proposition there that is not done, making sure that others fully understand.

Drew Neisser: It’s a nice problem to have. You have this umbrella of awareness. The bigger issue that I see, we used to call that salience, right? They don’t know all the things that you could do, but that creates another problem. You do so many things now. Your challenge is, it’s like all the planes want to land at the same time at the same airport, and you’ve got to be this traffic control person who guides the conversation.

That’s a really very interesting challenge because any given day, there are 30 different products, you could talk to 30 different people. make it 100 different products, whatever it is. That creates budgeting problems that creates all sorts of things, particularly when it is for the most part of branded house, right?

Stephanie Buscemi: Yeah, I think it starts with getting everyone aligned around an integrated narrative. While you’re correct, that we have product lines—we have different product lines for different industry lines of business, different industries. At the end of the day, we all have to be deeply aligned and have one unified narrative that we get behind as a company, and that is customer relationships. That is the biggest competitive differentiator.

I don’t know a company in any industry that doesn’t believe that they don’t need great customer relationships to drive growth in their business, whether they call the customer, a patient or a shopper or a client. Whatever the word is, it’s a customer. Getting the company, everyone to come together around a unified narrative of everything we’re doing is to drive customer relationships.

I always say to people, “There is a lot. We are growing very fast. But if you look at whether we build and launch a new product, whether you hear that we’re acquiring a product, whether you hear that we’re partnering with someone related to product, and you think, ‘Why is Salesforce doing that?’ very quickly look at what it is and realize what the benefit would be to a customer, because that is the sole reason we’re doing it.”

We’re doing it in service to making a better customer experience, whether it’s at one touchpoint in a customer journey or whether it’s helping to orchestrate all the touchpoints, it is 100% in service of building a better customer relationship.

[24:13] How Salesforce Lived by Its Values During 2020

“We want to make sure that we help our customers with their success, and success may take a different shape in the middle of a pandemic.” -@sbuscemi @salesforce #RTU Share on X

Drew Neisser: Let’s flip this around. I get that. Customer relationships. You have a lot of customers. It’s March 2020, and the world changes, everything changes. Take us back to that moment when you realized that your year was not going to rollout as you had expected.

Stephanie Buscemi: Yes. It was quite a time. What I would say to you was, one, we quickly came back to the core values. We didn’t know. It was our first pandemic, as was everyone’s, and we didn’t know what two weeks, four weeks, four months would bring us. But we said, “Let’s anchor back to our core values.”

We want to ensure that through this we build trust with customers. We want to make sure that we help them with their success, and success may take a different shape in the middle of a pandemic. Some companies were just trying to survive versus grow and thrive. But we went back to the core values and then we engaged with customers very quickly.

We did things that I would say were really playing the long game for the relationship of the customer. For example, we immediately came out with Salesforce Care. Salesforce Care was a 90 day, giving customers access to product and functionality to help them manage through the pandemic. People immediately first started at companies thinking about their employees. Are they safe? Where is everyone? Things related to shifts and more employee response management.

We gave 90 days free. It wasn’t appropriate to be calling and selling. All hands were on deck and customers just needed access to capabilities and we gave that to them.

Drew Neisser: Before you go on, how long before—March 17th seems to be a date that everybody remembers, but San Francisco is probably a little bit earlier—before you got to Salesforce Care?

Stephanie Buscemi: Within 30 days we were in Salesforce Care. And then on May 4th, we launched Work.com. Work.com, which you could go to now, was a destination hub for best practices, templates, tools, services, and products for managing through the pandemic.

I’m very proud that we put Salesforce Care out first, free, 90 days. We then went to customers in parallel and customers were like, “I need employee response management, I need a contact tracing app.” [These are] things that, if you had told me in January, Salesforce, a CRM company, would be building, I would have laughed. I think our engineers would have laughed.

They said, “This is what we need,” and we completely shifted resources. We took resources, people on a Friday in engineering and product management and every function and said, “You’re coming in Monday and you’re going to build a contact tracing app. You’re going to build a command center for customers to manage all things related to the pandemic.” We did that and went live with Work.com and the first application on May 4th.

Drew Neisser: Was work.com conceived after the pandemic struck? In between that May period and the March period, you actually developed this?

Stephanie Buscemi: 1000%. We said we need to create something—what we need right now to help our customers be successful, we need to be most relevant to them. What are they dealing with right now? They weren’t coming to us saying, “Oh, I’m most worried about my digital transformation and my three-year roadmap.”

The house was on fire. They were talking about employee response management, how were they going to stabilize their business, how were they then going to reopen safely, and that is what we built. We built a family of applications for them. Then we also built out content and best practices.

We created a content franchise called Leading Through Change, and Leading Through Change was running twice a week. It’s still running. It’s running once a week now, where we were bringing in anyone who was solving through the pandemic these issues.

We were bringing in CEOs who were figuring out ways to manage their employees and their teams in real-time to talk with other executives. We were bringing in members of the CDC. We were bringing in David Agus, a chief medical officer. We were bringing to our customers on a weekly basis a forum for information, learning, and connection for the issues that they were dealing with right there, right now. Leading Through Change was all about, in real-time, sharing best practices that everyone was learning on the fly across our install base.

The other thing that we did was we created a B-Well Together series and that originally was for our employees. Employees were shaken. People were nervous. What does this mean? We had to prioritize mental health and well-being for our employees, and we started doing weekly things on exercise, on sleep, on meditation.

We were at it only a few weeks and we said, “Why are we just making this available to our employees?” Let’s open this up and make it for all of our customers. The B-Well Together series has had over 100 episodes, all of them are recorded and out on YouTube, you can see.

But we opened up the floodgates and said to our customers, “If you have any employees that are struggling with mental health and wellness through this pandemic, come join us. Come meditate with us. Come learn about sleep. Come learn about better eating.” All these things. We made that available to our customers because, again, their success for the immediate was about taking care and making sure of the well-being of their employees.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, all of that is amazing. I think the key in that period was a recognition of either you were essential, and you can figure out how you were essential and could have a conversation about that, or you just had to go to the back seat for a bit.

[32:48] The Business Value of Goodwill

“We want all boats to rise in this. We know that us doing good only works if the community around us is doing good.” -@sbuscemi @salesforce #RTU Share on X

Drew Neisser: I think it’s really interesting on so many different levels the way your values drove the activities that you did. I wonder, again, I have the smaller CMOs that are listening, the ones that have smaller companies, and “Yeah, you have resources, and you have all the things that you can just shift people over to help address this, to develop the Leading Through Change series and the B-Well Together series and so forth.

I’m wondering if, as all of this was happening, if at any point in time, someone said “How is this affecting our business?” And what kind of metrics did you have that supported that all this goodness that we’re doing is actually good for the business?

Stephanie Buscemi: Yes. One metric was relevance. Were we really being relevant to our customers and our prospects now? You’re absolutely right. I remember very clearly saying to the marketing organization, “If we don’t have something relevant for our customers right now, we owe it to them to get out of their way.”

We went through and took a full inventory of everything we had planned—campaigns content, all of it—and sort of put it into buckets to say, “This is going to go on the shelf right now. It would be a bit tone-deaf. It wouldn’t be relevant”—to your point, put that to the wayside for now—some things that we thought need some fine-tuning, and then, what are the programs that we need to be providing to be most relevant?

I would say any size company can do this if they’re close with their customers because you don’t need to have talked to thousands of customers, you have to talk to a reasonable sample set to understand what the challenges are that they’re dealing with and quickly determine—can my company provide something to help them through this time or not? And if you can’t, the best thing you can do is get out of the way.

But if you can, what is that? I would argue that also, any size company right now can benefit now that we’ve pivoted to digital. I think digital helps to level the playing field and make it more accessible. I’ve actually noticed that even just in the way that we engage, C-Level access pre-pandemic was a lot harder.

You’re trying to orchestrate getting an executive to meet another executive in some major metropolitan city and calendars, and now we’re all just a video conference away and it’s a lower calorie ask if you have something relevant for them.

Drew Neisser: It’s true. And it’s funny—I’m thinking about some of the podcasts that I recorded in May and June of this year. Heather Zynczak of Pluralsight, they just decided to make all of their courses free for a month, #FreeApril, as a way of saying, “We know that you’re struggling. Here’s how we can help.” I thought that was inspired.

Other companies that developed a free something—what’s so interesting, at least in those cases is, they were planting a lot of seeds. They weren’t sure when those seeds would pay off. As it turned out, I’m thinking of also Talkdesk; I interviewed Kathie Johnson. They came out with a free product, but in both cases on the show, they talked about how those free initiatives ended up driving revenue. They didn’t just plant seeds for the future; they ended up driving revenue.

I’m curious—did you see some of these things that you were doing that you didn’t do to drive revenue, you did because they were the right thing, they were consistent with your values, that ended up paying out in ways that you didn’t expect?

Stephanie Buscemi: 1000%. By being relevant for what they needed to stabilize their business and figure out what their work-from-anywhere plan was. We were relevant and helpful, and then as they start to think of their businesses now in—pick your term, “the new normal”—we’re a partner to them on that. I would never have wished this on anyone, but the truth of the matter is, the pandemic has been such a massive accelerator of digital transformation and that is our value proposition.

It’s, how do you digitally transform your customer experiences? And that’s what we do. The outcome for us is, customers who had three-year roadmaps, they’ve collapsed to three-month roadmaps. I believe that our customers, everyone has surprised themselves in a good way. You realize all these artificial barriers we put in these timelines, and when it came to crunch time, people have accomplished more in their digital transformation 2020, like I said, than they had in a three-year plan.

Drew Neisser: Yeah. Early on in this thing I really saw that there are two economies out there. There’s any company that has anything to do with the cloud and then everybody else. Clearly, you guys were so integral to doing business in the cloud that the world just moved towards you in almost an embarrassing way. I mean, in some ways, because business was probably better. Meanwhile, you’ve got the travel industry, which, through no fault of their own, just hammered, or the restaurant industry.

I’m curious, as you saw all of this and you see this massive acceleration, what was your response to this other part of the world?

Stephanie Buscemi: This other part of the world?

Drew Neisser: I realize that it’s a poorly ended question. Part of this is, it’s not enough as part of your values that you guys do well, if the world is hurting. I’m just wondering—I did see some things out there that you were announced recently helping small businesses in San Francisco for example. I’m just curious if that is part of the thinking is, “Oh my gosh, the world moved to us. We had accelerated business plans, our roadmaps, and all this goodness happened in the middle of a terrible thing.

Stephanie Buscemi: I think it was that thinking of doing well and doing good existed long before the pandemic for Salesforce. There’s never been a time where I’ve been here in 6.5 years that that isn’t at the center of the conversation. And I think it was heightened in the midst of the pandemic.

You’re right. We are highly relevant to what businesses need right now to digitally transform and create a work-from-anywhere world for their teams. It’s an imperative. It’s no longer an option or something; they have to do this to grow. But I would say we, throughout all of it, even before the pandemic, have always been focused on how are we giving back? How are we helping in the communities that we serve?

That has been heightened right now. We look and go out and say, we have Trailhead, our free online learning platform. We’re focused right now on getting that out into different business communities to help them. It’s free to work with reskilling. A lot of people in right now need to reskill their workforce and retrain talent to be operating in a digital world.

What seems commonplace to me and you and the way we work all day, in certain industries, getting on a video conference and this way of work feels quite foreign. We’re using our technology for good and we’re getting it out in ways, for example, with Trailhead, free, out to people to help them get the skills they need to skill up, to be relevant in a digital world, to be successful working in a digital world. For us, that’s our way of we want all boats to rise in this. We know that us doing good only works if the community around us is doing good.

[42:40] Stephanie Buscemi’s 2020 Lessons for 2021 Inspiration

“Feeling heard means not just calling and asking customers what they need. It means responding to what they told you.” -@sbuscemi @salesforce #RTU Share on X

Drew Neisser: As you think back on 2020, what do you think the biggest lessons you learned as a CMO were?

Stephanie Buscemi: Speed and agility is one. I think sometimes we all can get in our own way and I think this year was an incredible forcing function to prioritize speed and agility because lots of ideas were discussed at the onset of the pandemic, but the reality was [that] it was about driving action fast. There were a lot of things that people came to me and said, “We should do this” or “We should do that,” and I was like, “Well, it’s interesting, but it isn’t going to have any impact now. We are in crisis.”

I’ve always personally had a bias for action, but I would say this year, we did amazing things when we prioritized speed and we refined and tweaked as we went. I think sometimes, as marketers, historically we love beautiful things, we like high production fit and finish on things, and this year was the year of “good enough” and putting a high value on speed. Even when we get through the vaccines and everything, I’m going to continue to drive with that level of speed because I think we live in a very dynamic world of things going on and I think that speed and time to value have been an incredible driver of growth and having that.

Drew Neisser: As I imagine, if any members of your team are listening to this, they’re going, “Oh my god, it’s like the Peloton class that never ends.” How are you managing? I totally get it, but at the same time, you have to take a breath, you have to remember to refresh. How are you thinking about that as a leader?

Stephanie Buscemi: A couple things. One, truly looking at the employee as a whole, being super conscious that this is maybe the role they have within the company. They have a much larger role in life, whether that’s mom, father, sister, parent, philanthropist. Helping them and having an open conversation to create space for those other things. Like I said to you, the B-Well series has been phenomenal in that, yes, there’s somebody who comes and speaks, but then we also create forums to have those conversations.

We do an incredible amount of work on employee pulse surveys to really understand what are the things that people are dealing with outside of the workplace and what are the tools and things that we can give them to help them manage through.

A very common one being childcare. If that is the most important thing right now, what can we be doing to help them manage it? Can we do flex hours? Yes, we have. Can we give them a stipend for support for more family care? We’ve revved up all of our family care programs and support, so I always am trying to look very holistically at the team and what they need. No two people are the same, so part of it too is creating a dialogue. We can put out a family of tools, but the employee has to communicate back what’s going to work for them and their household.

I’d also, you know, you asked about learnings from this year—the pandemic, the journey of the pandemic is not the same for any two people. I mean, we can see the stark contrasts by country, by social group, and that, but even within Salesforce. It’s very different from by age group, by country. We have to be really sensitive and create the flexibility.

I’d say flexibility, getting away from this rigid notion of 9 to 5. We have to be far more open to reinventing the ways people work and get their jobs done. We’ve done an incredible amount of experimentation this way this year, and they’re getting a lot of learning on it, and I just don’t think we’ll go back. We won’t go back to the way it was before. I think we’re onto something in giving these employees more flexibility on the way they get their work done.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I so agree with you. I mean, if I made a list of the big things that will carry over, I agree with you. Speed is one. They’re using terms like agility and pivoting and how we’ve gotten used to that. Flexibility as leaders. Oh my gosh, this was the year that really tested it and we all learned that we don’t have to be anything less than that. I think that third thing that I had to add that sort of informs the other two is empathy. I use the line in one of my shows that the era of the all-business business leader is really over. I think we left that behind in 2020 and as I hear you talk, I think about that.

I’m wondering—we’ve got a group of CMOs—if you have one parting thought of inspiration for them to think about in 2021.

Stephanie Buscemi: Have your customers feel heard. People need to feel heard right now, and feeling heard means not just calling and asking them what they need. It means responding to what they told you. I think right now, customers now more than ever need to feel heard and responded to. I think—to your earlier point—people have to have a very empathetic approach in the way that they go about this.

I think sometimes as marketers, we’re so under the gun, too. To your point when you started this on delivering demand generation and pipeline and all of that, sometimes we lose sight of the importance of hearing out our customers, listening deeply so that we can give them what they need right now.

I always say, metaphorically to my team: “Get out of the building. Get out of the building.” We’re in a room or on a Zoom—a bunch of marketers debating what the next step is with the customer—let’s just call the meeting because all the answers are with the customer.

Drew Neisser: There you go. I love it. First of all, Stephanie, thank you so much for spending time with us today. It’s really, really a treat to talk to you. Speaking of being heard, I want to hear from you, podcast listeners. You’ve got my cell phone. Or better yet, send me an email, you can find that on renegade.com or write a review. All those things are good ways for me to hear from you. All right. Again, Stephanie. Thank you.

Stephanie Buscemi: Thank you so much.

Show Credits

Renegade Thinkers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Audio production is by Sam Beck. The show notes are written by Melissa Caffrey. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro voiceover is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about quite possibly the best B2B marketing agency in New York City, visit renegade.com. And until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.