Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff brilliantly turns dry earnings calls into funny sales pitches

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Most earnings calls tend to be very dry, with CEOs and CFOs often responding in long, jargon-filled answers.

But Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, a master salesman who's capable of turning any conversation into a selling opportunity, seems to have perfected the art of going into sales pitch mode even while talking about stodgy financial results.

Benioff put this on full display again during Salesforce's third quarter earnings call Thursday when he got into an almost comical, impromptu back-and-forth with CFO Mark Hawkins and COO/President Keith Block about Demandware, the e-commerce software maker Salesforce bought for $2.8 billion this year.

In just a few sentences, he turned what would have been a boring answer about the "synergy" between Salesforce and Demandware into a 30-second promotion covering the deal value, future potential, and celebrity endorsement (Kanye West). For context, Demandware powers online sites by Adidas, who recently sold Kanye West's Yeezy Boost line of shoes, and Block lives in Boston, where Demandware's HQ is located. Here's a transcript of the conversation:

Hawkins: We're so pleased with Demandware; we're so pleased to have this asset. It rounds us out, it's a unique asset...

Benioff: That was just good fortune.

Hawkins: Oh, my gosh Marc...

Benioff: I mean Keith you agree, don't you?

Block: Yes...absolutely agree.

Benioff: We can't believe it. First of all, Keith loves having a company in Boston.

Hawkins: He's got a big smile on his face, but I appreciate the question because...

Benioff: Are you wearing the Yeezy shoes today Keith?

Block: I'm going to go get them right now, Marc.

Moments later, when asked about competition and the slowing growth of its marketing cloud, Benioff went into sales mode again — only this time, playing down rival Oracle as a small player while touting Salesforce's strong overall growth, and how he's directly selling to the CEOs of some of the biggest companies in the world. Here's what they said:

Benioff: So, why is that Keith, why do we have so much CEO and board level attention compared to like when we sold it at Oracle, where I never made a call to a CEO or board member. I don't know how many of those you made; you were there probably longer than I was. But just put it in perspective.

Block: I think it's very simple, these companies, these CEOs have an agenda of growth. Our story is about growth, their imperative is about growth...

Benioff: Right, because we're a double digit grower and all these other software companies are just single digit growers, and they can't break out of that.

Block: Yes, it's really...

Benioff: And this is what these customers want; they want to be double growers.

Block: That's exactly right. And we have the product portfolio and the vision to help them do that.

This isn't anything new for those who've followed Salesforce in the past. Benioff is a gifted speaker who knows how to quickly take control of a conversation. By doing so, he can dodge difficult questions and put a positive light on any topic about the company.

Perhaps this tactic was most effective during the fourth quarter earnings call in February, when Benioff quickly turned a question about big enterprise contract lengths (a sensitive topic) into a 5 minute Q&A with Block by peppering him with the following questions:

  • I was at Oracle, 13 years. I never made a sales call on a CEO, while I was at Oracle. I mean, there were some business development things, but never CEO buying products and being that kind of Chief Digital Officer himself or herself. Was that your experience as well?
  • I think that's why we are really selling more enterprise software than Oracle or SAP in the applications area, wouldn't you say, Keith at this point?
  • And, Keith, wouldn't you say that that's really about our company being able to transform our role to becoming a trusted advisor especially in regards to these customer relationships with these companies?
  • How does it impact conversations?
  • Okay. Anyway, next question?

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