I don't know what you think when you hear the initials 'CES' – but any exposition that features a keynote by Marc Benioff has clearly gone far beyond any roots it might have in gadgets, appliances and their accessories.
Consumer? Electronics? I'm sorry, aren't those pretty much the polar opposites of the Enterprise Services that are salesforce.com's portfolio?
Early in his keynote conversation this Wednesday, Marc himself asked “What am I even doing here? I don’t even know.”
Fortunately, I was live-Tweeting the event, which means I already have the outline of how Marc answered his own question.
Marc began by observing that we've already moved to the next level of cloud connection for the physical products that packed the Las Vegas Convention Center. At last year's CES, David Linthicum asserted that the 'C' should stand for 'Cloud'; that "everything from DVD players to TVs, from car entertainment to alarm clocks, comes with some sort of cloud service to support that device." This year, Marc pointed out that "Every product is connected...not as an island, but as part of the ecosystem." If last year's CES was about adding value to individual products, this year's was about multiplying value – with interoperation of everything from smartphones to refrigerators to cars.
It's not enough, though, to think of this as connection across devices. Marc went on to challenge the audience by asking, "Is your company connected?" For example, it's one thing for your dishwasher to send your smartphone an alert when a load has finished running: that's just a matter of sensors and APIs. Connecting the company with the customer means that "If my dishwasher is connected, and it has a problem, someone should call *me* – *that's* your brand," Marc admonished.
Finally, Marc took head-on the challenge of assuring customers that they can trust these new facilities – not only in the sense of their being reliable and effective, but also in the sense of their respecting the border between increased customer convenience and intrusion on customer privacy. This is clearly a matter of creating a culture more than it is a task of engineering – but "If trust is not your no.1 value, it's over. If you're not connecting with trust, you're not competitive," said Marc near the conclusion of his keynote conversation. It means more than a little to notice that this comment got twice as many Retweets and Favorites as any other single item that I posted from that session.
As I walked the floor of CES, I saw remarkable things from familiar brands – and also some startling, elegant, interesting things under logos I had never seen before. As Tom Peters warned us 26 years ago in Thriving on Chaos, new competitors can increasingly enter markets at a level of capacity and refinement that used to require years to achieve. You no longer have that cushion of years to notice and respond.
You have to be so engaged with your customers that they'd rather see your response, even if it takes a little time, than simply switch to the new alternative. Whatever you're thinking of bringing to CES next year, think about the means by which your customers will be so engaged—not just connected to the product, but connected to your company—that those connections will be your product's most compelling feature.
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