Each year, IBM puts together an independent, unbiased report on how the best companies are using Salesforce to drive their business outcomes. 

As we all know, 2020 wasn’t your average year, and this year’s 9th The State of Salesforce report is slightly different, too. As in previous years, it’s based on in-depth surveys that were conducted with more than 1300 Salesforce customers and draws insights from over 107,000 data points. 

For the 2020/21 report, IBM joined forces with Oxford Economics to source 15 hours of Executive-level interviews. These provide valuable background and nuance to the report’s quantitative findings. 


Highlights from The State of Salesforce 2020-21: Special Edition report

Traditionally, the report has been structured around the business functions that the Salesforce ecosystem serves. However, The State of Salesforce 2020/21 report includes another, broader perspective, with the addition of 5 industry deep-dives:

  • Financial Services

  • Comms/Telco/Media

  • HLS (Healthcare & Life Sciences)

  • CPG/Retail

  • Manufacturing

Each deep-dive will provide insights into how various sectors handled the changes and challenges of the past year.

Last, but certainly not least, this year’s report pays close attention to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. It explores how the pandemic has disrupted global industry, and it looks back on previous findings, trends, and predictions from a simpler, more innocent age — 2019 — to see how they have held up against the pressures of today’s rapidly evolving climate. 

Here's a sneak preview of the key trends we identified in this year’s report.

1. Trust is the new currency of customer engagement

When businesses had to shift their operations online in the first months of 2020, maintaining customer trust and loyalty emerged as a critical factor both in stabilising and in returning to growth. To achieve this, companies have had to build bridges between different lines of business. 

Sales, marketing and IT can no longer operate in separate siloes; they need to be in lockstep to deliver bespoke customer experiences that are both personal and secure. 2019’s top trend was around providing 360-degree customer experiences. But this year, 68% of companies told us that improving IT collaboration with other areas to improve customer loyalty and trust was their top priority.

2. Human-centred AI creates new business value

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, demand for immediate and responsive customer service soared, and AI investments ramped up to meet customer needs. Customers wanted rapid, helpful, and personalised answers to their queries and companies who couldn’t provide a high level of service risked being left behind. 

Businesses that had no AI assets — or who only used entry-level AI services such as chatbots — began to realise the benefits that AI could bring. Our research shows that, as a result, 2020 saw a 160% YoY increase in demand for AI systems, with 2.5 times as many organisations now using AI as in 2019. 

3. Employee safety and wellbeing build resilient business

Customers weren’t the only focus on 2020; companies also had to think about how to keep their employees safe, productive, and engaged. Many leveraged Salesforce resources such as Work.com to facilitate a safe return to the workplace or used tools such as IBM’s Digital Health Pass to meet contact-tracing requirements

If the past year has shown us anything, it’s that employees can be more flexible, resilient, and adaptable than anyone could have imagined. Supporting them to maintain and develop this resilience, while staying safe, can help an organisation to recover quickly from adversity — and to grow in the long term. 

With 70% of businesses still in the ‘Stabilisation’ phase of their workplace resilience journey, questions around how organisations provide their staff with the health, safety, and wellbeing resources they need have never been more pertinent.

4. Covid-19 widens the gap between the digital “haves” and “have-nots”

The upheaval of the past year has demonstrated that digital transformation has never been more critical. The pandemic has been, as the report puts it, a “litmus test” for the maturity of a company’s digital strategy. Salesforce has played a major role in allowing companies to build effective and resilient systems, and 57% of companies say that their Salesforce investment made it easier to pivot during the COVID-19 crisis

Indeed, businesses that had a mature Salesforce foundation before Covid-19 hit are 47% more likely to be further along in their recovery. 


What’s next?

I’m excited about the release of the first two State of Salesforce industry deep-dives – on the Consumer Packaged Goods & Retail and Media & Telco — which are coming in Q1 2021. These will provide more granular insights into how different segments of the global business community have been affected by the shifts and challenges of the past year. 

To see more about how today’s companies are succeeding with Salesforce, download IBMs 9th The State of Salesforce report.