Monica Langley co-wrote Marc Benioff's new book, Trailblazer, and she recalls his process that asked for feedback from 450 trusted colleagues.
Writing a book can be a solitary process (at least that’s how it was when I wrote my last book) but not when your co-author brings in 450 editors! Yes, 450!
For many months, Marc Benioff and I spent hours discussing the stories from his life and career that would become Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change (available for purchase here). As founder, chairman and co-CEO of Salesforce, Marc wanted to share his journey evolving the company, as well as himself, and offer his vision for the future of business.
After nearly a year of writing and rewriting, we completed the first draft of the book. Being so deep in the process, we didn’t know if we hit the mark, if what we had written did the best job of telling his story and bringing readers along for a compelling ride.
I expected we would enlist a few of Marc’s trusted friends and advisors to read the book and give us their honest feedback. As a former senior writer at The Wall Street Journal, I was accustomed to having a few editors review my work and comment on it. But Marc had a different approach in mind.
He said if this book was about being a Trailblazer and how Salesforce’s values create value, we needed to expand the feedback loop to those who are most familiar with Salesforce culture and values: the 450 Salesforce executives who would be attending an upcoming annual planning offsite.
I had suggested his handful of direct reports, but Marc is always thinking “bigger.” He told me, “This book isn’t just about my journey as a CEO, it’s about our journey as a company.”
I countered that it would be risky to have hundreds of draft copies of the book in circulation. The book could leak out and our publisher would not be happy (to put it mildly), because why would anyone buy the book if a copy, even a draft copy, was already in circulation? Marc responded, “Remember, trust is our number one value.” He was living his value of trust, just as he writes about it in the book.
We handed out 450 bound copies of the latest draft of Trailblazer. Marc and I asked those who received copies to write their comments at the end of chapters and send us the book back within the next 30 days. This process was repeated two more times, as we completed new drafts of the book over the next several months.
A manuscript with markups for Monica and Dan
As the book drafts were returned, my colleague Dan Farber and I compiled the feedback. Much of it was instructive and ended up influencing the direction of the book as we headed to the finish line.
Some of the feedback urged us to “go deeper into Marc’s personal story,” or to highlight more employees who “led with their values” or prompted Salesforce “to become a platform for change.” Occasionally comments pointed out when parts of the book seemed out of place and tacked on.
In addition, some found factual errors based on their knowledge and experience as Salesforce employees. And much to my horror, a few keen English eagles nailed me on grammar mistakes — anathema to this once-proud grammar queen!
It was all valuable input that might have been missed if we hadn’t crowd-sourced feedback from the individuals who are living the story of this company every day. I wasn’t prepared for the entirely novel way Marc wanted to be a Trailblazer in finishing the book — and I admit I didn’t like it one bit at first.
But I surprised myself that after the discomfort and occasional tough love from myriad editors, I came around to Marc’s position. As a former writer of page-one profiles and narratives for The Wall Street Journal for 27 years and a bestselling author, I am driven to deliver an engaging and memorable read. And thanks to our 450 editors, Trailblazer was made stronger and richer from the additional input.
Needless to say, there were no leaks, and the unorthodox process provided a great example of trust and transparency in action at Salesforce. Ultimately, 450 editors embodied the very heart of what Marc wanted to say in this book — that Salesforce is living proof that you can bring your values, such as trust, to work in order to succeed at business and change the world.
To read more about Marc’s experience founding Salesforce and our innovative approach to embody our values at work, order your copy of Trailblazer here.