As one of the largest and most successful companies in cloud computing, Salesforce helps businesses manage customer relationships and track sales processes. The company was founded in 1999 by Marc Benioff, who has a net worth of about $9 billion today.
Benioff didn't follow the typical path of a big tech CEO and actually got started in the industry during high school by creating an app of his own. He used the money from selling that app to buy a computer and start saving for college tuition. While attending the University of Southern California, Benioff landed an internship with Steve Jobs and ended up taking a job with Oracle after graduation. At Oracle, Benioff became very successful and worked with founder Larry Ellison before developing the idea for Salesforce. Mentor turned competitor when Ellison tried to develop a very similar company, but Benioff won out and Salesforce has grown wildly over the years. This success is largely credited to the company's ability to adapt to the ever-changing market. One recent example of "working at the speed of need" might be acquisition and purchase of Slack, a large communications platform and ecosystem.
Vala Afshar, the chief digital evangelist at Salesforce, has built an illustrious career for himself in a field that didn't even exist a few decades ago. As a first-generation Iranian refugee, Afshar grew up with two parents who worked two jobs each just to make ends meet. He studied hard and eventually earned a master's degree in electrical engineering.
For Afshar, getting a great job at a large, successful company like Salesforce took a few serendipitous steps. First, he was drawn to Salesforce as a customer because of its "blue collar mentality obsessed [with] learning more about [their] customers." He used its services and liked the company so much that he wrote a successful book about it. Then he was patient for about a decade until its leadership team offered him the job. If that seems like a lot of work, it's because it was, but it also paid off big-time.
Afshar said, "The decisions you made five to 10 years ago is why you are where you are now and the decisions you make now is where you'll be five to 10 years from now. I think the advice I could give to my younger self is that it's OK to look in the past, just don't stare. There's a lot to learn. Our best teachers are our last mistake. But be forward-looking and be patient. ... There's no silver plate with dream job opportunities ... so be patient and work hard."
Afshar's approach to business is centered on working at the "speed of need." This means that a business needs to be able to meet changing consumer needs as fast as those needs change. The Covid-19 pandemic has made this especially clear because consumers are now thinking about lots of new factors when making purchases. And when businesses don't meet these new needs, they begin to fail.
So how does one go about doing business at the "speed of need"? You'll have to watch my full episode Behind the Brand to get all the answers. But here are some helpful strategies to help you succeed:
1. Recognize and meet new consumer needs born of the pandemic.
Pre-pandemic, people mostly considered relevance when deciding to make a purchase. This includes criteria such as how much they'll use the product and whether it will improve their lives. Now though, people are also considering the safety and accessibility of making that purchase. And if a business doesn't deliver, they're going to lose customers.
- Safety refers to the Covid protocols in place, including things such as limiting crowds, mask requirements, options for contactless payment, curbside pickup, and so on.
- Accessibility is tied to safety but is more related to how easy it is for customers to use new safety features. If they're offered but difficult for customers to figure out or require a lot of extra steps, then it's not accessible.
Meeting these new demands is generally going to mean using more digital services and finding creative ways to offer your product.
2. Prioritize the movement of resources and information.
Afshar spoke about how he used to have a "silo mentality" of constantly protecting resources, but his mindset changed over time and he instead began focusing on the movement and sharing of resources and information. Having this healthy flow of knowledge and talent in a company is the best thing a business can do to succeed in the pandemic economy.
While some companies have adjusted relatively easily to this, others have struggled. This is mostly related to how quickly they got moving at the start of the crisis. Afshar put forth the metaphor of business development being the same as a 4x100 track relay race. The first leg of this relay is usually much slower than the other legs because the first runner starts from a static position, while the others are already in motion when they're handed the baton.
It works the same way for businesses: Those that aren't ready to make fast changes to their company and don't prioritize the movement of knowledge and resources are going to struggle to keep up. "It's the difference between first and dead last," as Afshar puts it.
For example, the ability to create a decentralized work environment has been important in the pandemic. Since many people now have to work from home, running a company that can function when its employees are spread out has been critical, and those that made a faster and smoother transition saw more success overall.
3. Take hiring seriously.
Hiring needs to be a personal process because an employee has more value than just a degree. The employee's so-called aptitude for a job won't necessarily add value to your business because success also depends on employees' attitudes. Afshar summed this up by saying that if a job provides the right kind of work environment and community, employees are happier because work feels like play. When an employee feels like this, they're probably going to be more innovative and produce higher quality work. For job-seeking individuals, finding a job that creates this kind of environment is also key to your success.
4. Focus on developing your company/personal brand
Lastly, if you can build a trustworthy and reputable brand, your company is much more likely to succeed. Afshar's favorite definition of trust comes from author Rachel Botsman, who says that "trust is competence plus character. And competence is capability plus reliability ... Character is integrity plus benevolence." If a business can develop each of these characteristics, it is likely to succeed, but when even one is lacking, the business may start to fall behind.
Afshar also emphasizes the importance of developing your personal brand. He says that individuals should always be mindful of their engagements with others. This means being appreciative of others when they help you out, maintaining relationships with others in your field, and being willing to chase opportunities without getting over-confident.
He goes on to explain that the fact of the matter is, in today's digital world, you are always being watched and potential employers can see what you do both retroactively and in real-time. This is why it's so important to maintain a positive "digital footprint" free of potentially regrettable content, a piece of advice Afshar wants to highlight for students and those new to the job market. It's also important to realize that you're being watched for the positive things you put out to the world. Even if a particular action or project doesn't have a specific goal, it might create new opportunities and contacts with employers and businesses. All of this affects your brand and it's important to keep in mind whenever you publicize something.
Although the current economy is not exactly the same as it was during the 2008 financial crisis, there are definite similarities. It may seem like the worst time to start a business, but in 2008, I successfully founded my own production company, the Goodbrain, by working hard to innovate and build a trusted brand throughout the crisis until the economy recovered. Business can flourish in this economy too, if done at the "speed of need."