Image by Frank Veeva for the NewYorker

Image by Frank Veeva for the NewYorker

Salesforce is one of a handful of companies in the world seriously helping to shape our future. Hence a group dedicated to future tech and Salesforce is long overdue. Welcome to the the Salesforce Evolution group.

“Life is an Uber ride, you have to decide what your destination is. Predict what’s next and then have the flexibility to evolve.” Marc Benioff

A few days ago I started to transform the former Salesforce Professional Network group. This was once the biggest Salesforce group in the world (by a huge margin) but has been treading water now for a little while. I renamed it Salesforce Evolution. I’ll come back to the reasoning behind that later. I grew the group to 222% of its membership when I took that one over exactly 28 months ago. It now has almost 56K members (from 25K and shrinking). Its growth rate accelerates every month and it is the fastest growing LinkedIn SaaS group (of significant size) in the world currently.

Deserted HK scene, source unknown

Deserted HK scene, source unknown

The Huff post writes about LinkedIn groups becoming ghost towns. One way to avoid that scenario is to put 99.9% of the group first i.e. members who just want to read quality, relevant articles. It is not quite that simple, but that’s a key part. The temptation is to focus on the tiny percentage of people who submit content — because they are the people you’ll see (and sometimes interact with). Most are just posting promos. Some are posting reworked ‘content’. Good for their business (some of the time), but a definite fast track to ghost town status for a group. A tiny minority will post value. That 99.9% who primarily read will appreciate it if we limit publications to those of high quality and relevance. Here’s the philosophy that underpins both groups in more detail.

Why drop the Salesforce Professional Network name? One reason is that pretty much every group on LinkedIn is a professional network. Hence a long winded name like that serves no function. In a world of diminishing attention spans, we need to drop trying to make things sound official and communicate descriptive value. Another reason was to differentiate the group from the group. What’s the difference between a group and a Salesforce Professional Network group? If we only look at the names, absolutely nothing.

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” Albert Einstein

Salesforce is a company with one eye alway directed pragmatically at the present and the other fixed very sagely on the near to mid-term future. Salesforce executes with one hand and innovates with the other. Marc Benioff is a proven grandmaster at balancing the ‘now’ with the ‘next’. Getting that balance right is the key to sterling growth. Salesforce continuously executes in the here and now but it keeps its innovation pipeline balanced, healthy and exciting.

Salesforce is a company that has always thought about the future, but in a very pragmatic way. When Salesforce decides to focus on a major tech wave like AI or IoT, Benioff lets you know miles in advance. He deliberately and very skilfully points to where the company is going. One individual (claiming to be an expert in Salesforce strategies) recently tried to imply that Benioff would be launching a Salesforce led cryptocurrency in 2017. He implied that a Blockchain product would be launched by Salesforce at the next Dreamforce in the same way Einstein was launched in 2016. This showed a poor understanding of how Salesforce works. Marc doesn’t focus on the Blockchain. He very probably will do in the not too distant future …. when more of Blockchain’s problems are ironed out. He loves tech and understanding future innovation patterns. Hence he predictably has a quiet interest e.g. the small investment in Hedgy (smart contract-powered Bitcoin derivatives). Effective innovation and pragmatism are not mutually incompatible. As a matter of fact, they are best friends.

Marc Benioff always leaves clues to the next couple of steps in his words and in his personal (and in Salesforce Ventures’) investments. I predicted Salesforce’s rapid and deep movement into AI on March 5th, 2015 in fixes an Eye firmly on DataScience. That correctly heralded everything that led to Einstein. There’s no way I could have predicted that if I had not been listening — really listening — to Marc’s words. It is in Salesforce’s interests to point us to where they are going. The initial pronouncements are always subtle because the company itself is feeling its way. Cultural change, business plans, associated products and investment decisions etc are not created and locked-on to overnight. Everyone knows Blockchain has the potential to change the world. Anyone pretending to understand exactly how that will pan-out is either naive or has a penchant for spin. Who could have  predicted how the internet would change our lives before it actually did?

illustration by Tomi Um for the NewYorker

Illustration by Tomi Um for the NewYorker

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” Albert Einstein

Fundamental research that can lead to unexpected insights that sometimes influence a more distant future is more often the domain of companies IBM or Google. Some people might refer to beating chess and go grandmasters as tech for tech sake.  I think that’s unfair. Fundamental research is crucial for the evolution of humans and they are 2 of the companies making the strongest inroads there.

“By far the greatest danger of Artificial Intelligence is that people conclude too early that they understand it.” Eliezer Yudkowsky

Go. source unknown

source unknown

However, it is probably accurate to say that Salesforce is the most pragmatic of all today’s software giants. That is one reason investors love them. Salesforce always seems to focus on how the world will be in 4 to 8 years. It’s a company that listens to trends (productive ones that are proven or others that are on the cusp of being proven). It then builds product and market strategies around that. And Benioff, a master of communication, gradually turns up the volume as a product gets closer to market. These strategic developments involve a healthy mix of product development, investments in cutting-edge startups and acquisitions — often of apps built on its own platform.

“The only constant in the technology industry is change.” Marc Benioff

There’s a fair stretch of road yet, but Salesforce is one of very few companies with a shot at becoming the biggest software company in history. Let’s remember that Salesforce is already well on the way to having the largest software ecosystem in history. If a company can catalyse an ecosystem like that, as well as the world’s largest software event (revolving around a single company) in Dreamforce, who can sensibly predict the ceiling of their destiny?

Bue Sky, source unknown

Bue Sky, source unknown

The Salesforce Evolution group has just under 54K members right now. Immediate changes include making it searchable and using code to rapidly take control of the feed. Say goodbye to the noisy chaos that LinkedIn wires its groups to suffer. Say goodnight to contributors posting promos into the feed. Say hello to one of the 2 most carefully curated groups on LinkedIn.

“It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure.” Clay Shirkey

Like a lot of people in the software industry, I get a genuine kick out of helping things scale. And these 2 groups will be the fastest growing ones in SaaS. Guaranteed. If not already a member of either, I’d love you to join both of course. However, if you join just one, it’s important to know the differences.

Both groups will scale to more than 100K members each by the end of 2018. Ambitious at a time when many LinkedIn groups are shrinking, but this will be achieved. There are so many amazing things happening in the Salesforce Ecosystem. It’s just a matter of creating groups that do justice to the various incredible waves of innovation that have been built (and in some cases seeded) by this phenomenal company. Neither group will be customer support groups or be weighted heavily towards code and smart workarounds etc. There are plenty of other groups and forums (inside and outside of LinkedIn) covering that stuff. These groups will essentially function as well curated digital publications.

The differences between the 2 groups:

The group will continue to focus on Salesforce itself, the Salesforce App Ecosystem, Customer Success, CRM, SaaS startups and Philanthropy. The Salesforce Evolution group will focus more on all of the cutting edge areas where and its vast Ecosystem are pushing the envelope e.g. Data Science, Artificial Intelligence and IoT. It also focuses on future trends in general.

In essence group will focus on present and near future. The Salesforce Evolution will focus on the brave new future that Salesforce very definitely contributes to building. And we’ll throw in a smattering of philosophy applied to science and future tech too. Predictably there will be a little cross-over between the 2 groups. Some articles are relevant to both.

Please feel free to join both LinkedIn groups: the group and the Salesforce Evolution group

Stephen Cummins