Episode Fifty Eight: The Transformative Role of Data in A Digital World

How Data Can Fuel Innovation, Customer Satisfaction and Growth

Simon Mulcahy, Chief Innovation Officer at Salesforce, discusses the power of putting data and actionable insights at the fingertips of everyone in the organization to enhance collaboration, increase customer satisfaction, and supercharge growth.  Simon also discusses the importance of fostering a culture of learning at every level to drive innovation.

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The Power of Data Podcast

Episode 58: The Transformative Role of Data in a Digital World

Guest: Simon Mulcahy, Chief Innovation Officer, Salesforce
Interviewer: Sam Tidswell-Norrish, International CMO, Dun & Bradstreet

Sam 00:00
Welcome to The Power of Data Podcast. And welcome back. We are in the first episode of the New Year and I have to say I've been really looking forward to this one for quite some time. I'm delighted to introduce you all to our latest guest, Simon Mulcahy, the Chief Innovation Officer of our great partner Salesforce. Welcome, Simon.

Simon 00:18
Thank you very much, SamDelighted to be here with you.

Sam 00:20
Simon, we were on video a moment ago and you look like you're in the Swiss Alps. Where are you Zooming in from?

Simon 00:26
Well, it turns out that just three hours’ drive north east of San Francisco takes you to Tahoe and into the snow. So that's where I am right now. It's a very exciting place to be. Very Christmassy.

Sam 00:36
Awesome, I’m in - and about to be locked down in – London, so jealous at the same time. You've been at Salesforce for over a decade and everyone tuning in knows Salesforce is one of the largest technology companies globally, a huge innovator and one of the biggest partners to businesses of all sizes. You lead the company's innovation arm and you're building next generation solutions. You and I initially connected at the World Economic Forum many years ago where you used to run Financial Services. Could you start off by giving our listeners a little bit of an overview of your career history and how you became the CIO of one of the world's technology behemoths and your current role today?

Simon 01:12
Sure, it's all actually been quite accidental. There's no straight-line logic to any of my career choices or decisions or serendipitous things that have happened to me. I grew up in the Middle East, was in boarding school in England and then ended up - after university in Bath, where I read modern languages and politics and economics - I ended up going to Sandhurst and became an army officer. I did that for five years, and then from there, found my way into the world of consulting and then joined the World Economic Forum, where I led the World Economic Forum's relationships with technology companies. And through one of those was Salesforce and Marc Benioff recruited me out of the World Economic Forum into Salesforce, where I've done any number of different roles, mostly creating new things. So, our Chief Information Officer advisory - set that up, then set up our Financial Services industry group and built our Financial Services cloud, then became Chief Marketing Officer. And now here I am as Chief Innovation Officer.

Sam 02:04
Amazing. I mean, what a background - from the Middle East, through the Army, into consulting, WEF and Salesforce, you sound like Steve Daffron, our group president who's had more interesting experiences than anyone else I know. Let's tuck in straightaway. First question. I couldn't not. Marc Benioff recently said, this will shape the future of enterprise software and transform the way everyone works in the all-digital, work-from-anywhere world. And he was, of course, talking about your recent announcement of the acquisition of Slack. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?

Simon 02:34
Yeah, I mean, I'll start by saying that Slack is not acquired, so this is purely stuff that's available in the media now. But Slack for us is a logical organization to seek to acquire because we live in a world now, which is accelerated because of COVID. A work-from-anywhere world that's digital-first. And you need to make it as easy as possible for people to collaborate digitally, and that needs to happen more so now than ever before in the enterprise.

And Slack is an amazing organization. We had a strong connection with them before. They're locals to us in San Francisco, we do a lot of work with them. Amazing leadership teams, great salesforce, people have gone across there. And I think that the combination of Slack and Salesforce makes for an enhanced Salesforce, especially because I think Slack is also - what a lot of people don't know - is just incredibly well-integrated into enterprise applications. So, the ability for Slack to supercharge business experiences and the digital-first experiences is going to be amazing for us.

Sam 03:32
Speaking of partnerships with synergies and symbiotic relationships, at both Salesforce and Dun & Bradstreet, data is the bread and butter of our businesses. It’s what we breathe and think about all the time. And, as we look to empower other businesses through our platforms and the data they can derive from them, there's so much that a) we do together but b) more we can do. And as you know, data's got many benefits, and with so many data points constantly being collected, updated, and synthesized and insights drawn from them, businesses can have trouble managing it. And data is only useful when it's actionable, when there are real insights to be drawn from it. How are you in Salesforce leveraging actionable data and setting free your thinking to fuel innovation?

Simon 04:14
First of all, I want to just underline how exciting and powerful it is, the partnership with Salesforce and Dun & Bradstreet because data, to your point, really is the bread and butter of business. And if you think of Salesforce as business, yes, we've got these amazing capabilities to supercharge selling, servicing, marketing, ecommerce, etc. But ultimately, what we're aiming to do is create a single source of truth of the customer across every touchpoint and make it easy for anybody to access those insights and turn them into action. And by doing so, you end up building a much, much stronger relationship between your company and your customers. Data’s is at the heart of it.

Now, most people think that the best thing to do is to build a data lake and go and employ thousands of really, really expensive and very hard to find data scientists. The truth is, what you really need to do is just think about how do you create a mechanism for finding the right information, the right data; capturing it – be it from your customers or from partners; bringing it in; and then turning it into insights; and then turning those insights into action. And that's a flywheel. You bring the data in, turn it into insights, that enables action, that earns you more data, and you just have to spin that flywheel faster and faster.

And that effectively is all you need to do. Because in a world that's constantly changing - in fact, change is accelerating, and COVID has been a perfect example of this - you need that data, you need to go back out to your customers and say, “Hey, can you tell us what your new needs are?” And then you gather that information, bring that back into your organization, turn that into insights, and then use that to fuel new services, new experiences, new offers, and new ways of engaging your customer. And that for us is how we see how data effectively plays a fundamental role in the organization, and in Salesforce in particular.

Sam 06:00
So, let's talk about that for a moment. And I love the way you put it, you know, what's the mechanism for bringing in, and then taking it all the way through the value chain, turning it into insights and into action. I recently read - you did an interview with McKinsey, and it was a brilliant interview, where they asked you about what the salesperson of the future looks like. And you spoke in that interview about everybody being in sales today and ensuring that all employees have the right tools at their fingertip - that they're great listeners, they're great storytellers, and they move closer to the customer. So, can you tell us a little bit about how important it is creating a 360 degree view of the customer, both across departments and holistically, so that everyone is enabled to be a salesperson?

Simon 06:39
Your question also has the answer baked into it a little bit. I mean in summary, I think, the question is, how do you make it as easy as possible for your employees to make it as easy as possible for your customers to buy from you? And that requires data, it requires processes, automation, and it requires people and, in most cases, most businesses were kind of designed years ago in a world that was purely product-centric. And the whole idea was you built an amazing product, and you could just distribute it at scale, and your customers would go through walls to buy your product

We're now in a world where actually getting the customers attention is the hardest thing to do. And that's kind of what you've got to do, you've really got to deeply understand what your customers context is, what their needs are, and then make it as easy as possible for them to use you to satisfy those needs. And that does in many cases mean you've got to reinvent the buying process, you've got to look at it not from the lens of your organization, out - the selling process - but from the customer's perspective, in - the buying process - reinvent that and really use design thinking. Look at it through the lens of your customer.

But you've also got to look at your salespeople themselves. Your sales managers need to have much, much clearer understanding of the performance of that team, how that sales system is working, and then the sales people themselves need to be augmented. They need to have a clear and total view of the customer relationship. And that's where they need that single source of truth. They need to have powerful tools to enable them to be better salespeople. They need to have tools that enable them to have the right data at their fingertips so they can ask better questions, and that they can actually be more empathetic as a salesperson. And that the more that they can be that kind of augmented salesperson, the more high-performance they'll be.

And that means they need to have the right automation at their fingertips. They need to have AI tapping them on the shoulder, giving them recommendations of things that they should do. They need to have data visualized simply. And for us that's using Einstein to provide that AI; it’s Tableau to visualize the information at their fingertips; and then automation to make it really easy for the salespeople to get every step in the sales process done as quickly as possible. That automation comes through Sales Cloud.

So, technology can really supercharge the ability for a salesperson. But it's not just an individual selling. The salesperson now has really got to be almost a quarterback - almost an orchestrator - to bring the full power of the organization to bear on the customer's needs. And in many cases, the salesperson can do that, frankly, from their phone, lying down on a beach, so long as they can engage the rest of the organization and bring the right experts to bear, the right service people to bear, the right products people to bear, on those customer’s needs. And that means that everybody across the organization needs to be able to collaborate and be on the same page, have the same single source of truth around what they're trying to do with the customer.

Sam 09:29
You talked about design thinking. And it's easy to say, not so easy to do, particularly not for everyone. And that's where AI, I think, plays a really important role in visualization. It's something that Dun & Bradstreet, our technology and data science teams has spent a huge amount of time thinking about so that we can give the tools to help visualize and you mentioned Tableau and Einstein, key innovation areas at Salesforce. I want to talk about some of the stuff you've been doing over the last year with those tools.

And, you and I caught up a few weeks ago, you were telling me that as the COVID-19 situation evolved globally, you built the COVID-19 dashboard on Tableau, which has been used by the United Nations. It's been used to help visualize the data and the trends of the pandemic. So how do you turn data into the effective visualization, and what other COVID initiatives have Salesforce, and you particularly, been involved in?

Simon 10:18
Tableau is an incredibly powerful tool, and the power of Tableau is you can take that raw data and play within Tableau and turn it into really, really powerful visualizations that allow that data to be really easily understood and extrapolated into insights by, you know, the average person in your organization.

That's why Tableau goes viral so quickly in so, so many organizations, because the average business analyst can then play with data and really generate powerful insights.

And that same experience, then, it's been what's happened with hospitals and state governments, as they've been looking at all of the enormous amounts of data that they've been gathering, and trying to figure out how they actually get to just clear, common-sensical decisions. And so, the partnership with Johns Hopkins, for example, on really visualizing all of that COVID-19 data from around the world was a really, really powerful example of that. But that's enabled businesses at every level to then take that data internally, add it to their own, and leads to their own individual decision making.

We've also been leveraging it, interestingly, internally as we've been building scenarios, where we've been playing with what different types of future would happen if certain externalities changed, and what would that mean? But I think more and more organizations need to become much better at doing that. And what we found as we did that is just the sheer hunger at every level, for that data to be turned into insight, and then made available to people. Just think, for example, of corporate planners trying to figure out how they organize themselves for the big move back to work? how are they going to reorganize their real estate? How are we going to manage in a world that's very, very still marked by COVID, to bring back as many people as possible into a safe work environment. And again, that's just another great example of where Tableau proved itself to be incredibly powerful.

Sam 12:10
Speaking of partnerships, I recently saw a partnership between Alibaba and Salesforce. I think I saw it actually on John Kaplan from Alibaba, another partner of ours, LinkedIn page, and the partnership helped to bring PPE to the front lines and support healthcare workers. And there was an amazing short film about the process that you guys went through together. And frankly, it was awesome to see. It was very, very powerful and created a huge impact.

And this, for us at D&B, has really been the year of the partnership. We launched Dun and Bradstreet Accelerate, our partner program, and we've had a number of discussions on this podcast, in fact, about the power of partnerships, most recently with John Thompson, the chairman of Microsoft. The reason I bring this up is actually just earlier today, we had another partner of ours from Microsoft, the Chief Digital Officer, Andrew join our town hall. And he spoke about the power of partnerships playing a key role in transformation, including in our own respective partnerships and transformations.

And it got me thinking about transformation. In 2020, every company on the planet start to think about that word. And transformation has really started to mean continuous innovation. What's next for Salesforce in that area? Can you share some insights into future development efforts and what we can expect in the year ahead?

Simon 13:24
Yeah, so Salesforce, really, we see ourselves as a platform, and people use the word platform in funny different ways. But when we say the word platform, it's really the ability for another organization to come and build their business on top of Salesforce. And that was really how we created the app exchange. And now there are tens of thousands of businesses that have built their whole business on top of Salesforce. So that's one powerful area we really believe in. It's not just about creating Salesforce as growth, but it's about enabling the growth of many other businesses. And by doing that you really, truly create a business ecosystem.

And I think that's an incredibly important component of where the world is going in many industries, and something we've been focused on for quite some time. In fact, IDC did a survey of what they call the “Salesforce Economy”, and it turned out that by 2025, so not long away, the “Salesforce Economy”, the Salesforce business ecosystem, will have generated $2 trillion in global GDP. And the reason I say that is, that's kind of how you should think about business. Otherwise, what you do is you think about your business, your company is the manufacturer of a product or service, and then you sell it, and then you service your customers, and you make your revenue that way; versus creating this enablement of a much, much larger kind of economy. So that's kind of one way I would recommend you think about it.

Then, when you start to look at it like that, you start to look at “Well, what problem are we solving for our customers? What's the job to be done from our customers?” And you move away from this individual transaction, that thing that you're selling them, to the overarching problem that you're trying to solve. And in that case, you realize the problem is much, much larger . The customer wants, they don't just want, you know, a tire on a car, they actually want a car, actually, they don't want a car, they want a total mobility solution. So, there's always a bigger problem set.

And when you start to look at the larger problem set you're solving for your customer you realize you can't do it all on your own. And some of that you might have achieved through, perhaps, acquisition. But a lot of it is achieved through partnership, and by you partnering, you're then meaning that your customer doesn't have to go and do that project management behind the scenes. And that makes for a much, much stronger value proposition. And so, we look very, very, very energetically at as many partnerships as we can build as possible, because it makes it easier for our customers.

Sam 15:38
You've talked about enabling growth for businesses, and I want to talk for a moment about people, you know, 2020 was a challenging year for everyone. But in times of crisis, or even difficulty, it can be a catalyst for new solutions, new ideas, new ways of being. However, the group that is arguably suffering the most is the next generation. And this is a particular area of passion for mine, as we recently in the UK launched a new not-for-profit focused on next-generation leadership called 2040. So, I'm fascinated to get your thoughts on this area. What advice would you have for next-generation leaders to continue learning, developing, and connecting in the new working-from-anywhere world that we live in?

Simon 16:19
I think the first thing, just to put that group in context, we have now five generations in the workplace; four intergenerational gaps; and an ageing workforce. And so, we've got to be thoughtful about, frankly, every generation and how we optimally serve them. I think COVID really underlined for many companies just how much of a heavy lift they had to perform in order to optimally equip those workers as soon as they work from home, which just showed you the gap there. So, I think a lot of companies got a long way to go, to really step up and provide the optimal work environment for your talents to grow in.

And there is a burden on companies, back to your question, to help the Gen Z and millennials as they look to grow their careers. I think more and more organizations are putting in place more effective just-in-time training, and those capabilities, and if they exist in your company, you should very actively make the very best of those. I think that the key thing for anyone who's entering into the workforce and is looking to figure out where you go, my perspective is that, the world is changing so, so rapidly, that building a specialization is one thing, but I think the key skill you need to learn is the ability to keep learning. Really, really invest in that. And that means constantly position yourself and see yourself as a lifelong learner, and get a habit going about constantly looking to learn.

And that is not just the learning process and what you learn. But also put yourself into learning situations, don't just accept jobs that keep you in your comfort zone, put yourself outside of your comfort zone so you have to learn quickly. I took over Financial Services, for example, at Salesforce, that was not my background. And that was a really, really fast learning experience for me. Incredible hard work, but wow, that was very, very informative to my future. But it put me on a… then I just wanted to keep on learning after that. And I think that would be one big component.

Another thing I would point to is mentors. You should surround yourself with people who you can learn from, and that can be people who are peers, but equally, go and actively find people that who you respect and want to be more like. People who are old and have got high energy; people who make good decisions; people who are great communicators; people who've had really, really interesting careers. Don't just take one type of person, go and build your own portfolio of different types of mentors, and leverage them to help you become a better person.

Sam 18:46
You've already given me my next question, which is going to be on who some of your key mentors are. But before we go to that question, Dun & Bradstreet is an amazing organization at helping develop leaders and to try and create the sort of 360 skills because corporates tend to be guilty of teaching people in silos. Not giving them that rounded education. What learning and development opportunities exist at Salesforce? How are you guys approaching it to create fully rounded leaders?

Simon 19:12
So, we've got - on a number of levels - the opportunity, but the first one is that we're a growth company. When I joined 10 years ago, there were two and a half thousand people, and now we're over 55,000. So frankly, just standing still and keeping a job, you're going to be in a learning environment, because there's so much change happening around you and in order just to be able to do your job, you have to constantly change. I think that, more and more, we've been leveraging more technology inside our organization, we've been growing a lot. So there's just been a number of learnings that everybody has had just by being on that journey within Salesforce as we've acquired companies, as we've brought in new leaders that you can learn from, there’s just this the intrinsic learning experience of being on this incredible Salesforce rocket ship.

Over and above that, though, we put in place Trailhead, which is an online learning platform that's gamified on your mobile device or on your laptop. And we use that very, very aggressively to enable you to go in and be constantly learning new skills, and gathering, frankly, awards as you do so internally on the system. And the idea is, and I'm really, really close to now being a Salesforce Ranger, which is kind of the highest level. And then above that, another example of what happens in a growth company, there are just constantly new opportunities. And we really, really strongly believe in that career mobility, that within the organization that you can move from one team to another very, very seamlessly and easily. And by making that easy and making the job opportunities clearly available and visible for people, that enables that mobility to happen. And with that mobility comes, obviously, learning.

Sam 20:47
I love that - Salesforce Ranger - we don’t have anything quite like that. But back to the question before on the mentorship side, who have been some of those key people, key influences, in your life?

Simon 20:58
I've had lots of different mentors and influences. Marc Benioff has definitely been an incredible mentor. But equally, when I was working at the World Economic Forum, there were just some really powerful leaders: Klaus Schwab, the chairman and founder of the World Economic Forum, is an incredible person.

Then, there have been others who I’ve kept in touch with over years, people like Geoffrey Moore, who wrote Crossing the Chasm and has written a number of really, really great books. He's just an amazing general business mind. But I find myself just keeping long relationships with a lot of great people, including you – we have great conversations every time and I always learning something new from you. So, I think it's who can you learn from and they’re the people you should keep friends with. And if you keep friends with people who have high energy and you learn from, and you discard those people who are low energy and you don't learn from them, you'll probably end up spending your time more wisely.

Sam 21:49
I love that Simon, thank you. Spend your time with people you can learn from, and I think that's a great place to end. But I'll end with a thank you, a few thank you’s, in fact. Thank you to Salesforce for being a truly extraordinary partner and allowing us to grow with you. And a thank you to you for your friendship, and for being on the podcast with us.

Simon 22:07
Thank you, Sam.