Salesforce's Marc Benioff has a message for other CEOs
Salesforce's Marc Benioff has a message for other CEOs

Salesforce’s Marc Benioff Dishes Tough Love to Passive CEOs: ‘Get Out of Paralysis!’

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Raising the alarm that too many CEOs are sleep-walking their way through the massive disruptions rocking our world, Salesforce founder Marc Benioff yesterday warned top executives that today’s passivity will lead to tomorrow’s irrelevance.

(Salesforce is #3 on my Cloud Wars Top 10 weekly rankings of the largest and most-influential enterprise-tech companies in the world.)

It was a striking message from Benioff and follows closely the Aug. 25 Salesforce earnings call during which he laid out, in remarkable detail, the strategic overhaul that’s changed every facet of Salesforce’s operations since the COVID pandemic hit in full force six months ago. 

In that earnings call—unlike any I’ve ever listened to—Benioff passionately laid out Salesforce’s end-to-end initiative to revitalize the entire company to allow it to get closer to its customers and thereby become more relevant and valuable to them.

As noted in my Sept. 3 analysis of that event, called The Magic of Marc Benioff: 10 Key Drivers Behind Salesforce Q2 Surge, Benioff hammered home the message that while the world around us is riddled with uncertainty and doubt and fear, leaders must step forward and drive their companies in unprecedented ways. From that article, here’s Benioff on why those changes were so essential:

And it really was that as we piled in and doubled down on these core operational values, we got much closer to our customers. We understood that if we were going to succeed at a moment like this, we are going to have to be closer to our customer than ever before, that we’re going to have to change a lot of aspects of the company. And as we made those adjustments, we saw the speed increase right up to the end of the quarter. And that was just really powerful.

What I found particularly powerful about the high-level strategy seminar that Benioff delivered during the earnings call was his deep belief that the range of essential change must extend far beyond operational execution—an internal construct—to market relevance, which is the ultimate external construct.

“So we’re reimagining our business,” Benioff said on the earnings call, “and we’ve also had to reimagine our relevance.” 

I’ll come back to that point about relevance in a moment, but I feel compelled here to urge everyone to read first-hand Benioff’s rousing call to arms—personified by his belief that “business is the greatest platform for change”—because, as I noted earlier, it is far removed from the typical earnings-call Pablum-crammed snoozefest as you could possibly imagine. My analysis—The Magic of Marc Benioff: 10 Key Drivers Behind Salesforce Q2 Surge—is built around what I felt were his most-compelling and valuable insights.

In that call, Benioff declared emphatically that as a result of that bold and all-inclusive initiative, Salesforce became, in just six months, a company that is optimized for the market realities of today because of its heightened focus on 3 factors: participation, enablement, and relevance:

We are able to compete effectively, as evidenced by these numbers, with any enterprise software company that’s on the field today, and we’re able to manage our distribution organization and go to market in ways that have a level of acuity that we did not have before.

I mean, it’s powerful. When you add it all up, participation and enablement and relevance and the tactical plays and then the values that we apply, our core values, well, we’re a different company. This has changed us. The pandemic has changed us. We’re not the same that we were.

And in yesterday’s wake-up call to CEOs who are letting the future happen to them instead of creating their own high-potential futures, Benioff returned to those themes of relevance, participation and enablement.

In an interview with’s Jessica Bursztynsky about the Oracle-TikTok deal, Benioff shouted out that wake-up call in respectful but blunt terms. (And in the quotations below from Benioff, I’ve insterted italics in places to reflect the unusual passion and emphasis he employed in making his comments.)

“I’m mostly worried about the companies that aren’t making aggressive moves,” he told Bursztynsky. 

“I’m calling CEOs who are friends of mine who are in paralysis and who aren’t making moves and I’m saying, ‘Look, you’ve gotta get into participation! You’ve gotta get out of paralysis and into participation! You have to become relevant!’ ” 

Benioff flagged Oracle chairman Larry Ellison, his one-time boss and longtime friend, as pursuing new levels of relevance via the elaborate deal with TikTok and Walmart.

“This is a move to make [Oracle more] relevant!” Benioff said with vigor before shifting to enablement and participation.

“You have to enable your organization in new ways. Let me tell you, we’re having weekly all-hands calls with tens of thousands of employees every single week and we haven’t done that since we were a startup! Because we have to enable people in new ways,” Benioff told

“These ideas—participation, relevance, and this enablement—this is what we have to be focused on if we’re going to accelerate and go forward. And then we have to deliver the tactical plays and success stories to make it happen. 

“I think some companies are making that happen, and some companies are just sitting back and being too passive.”

I score this one as another major win in the Cloud Wars for Benioff, who’s making sure that what he’s asking of his customer CEOs and prospect CEOs is something that he’s already been fully willing to do himself.

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