Salesforce’s 6 Perspectives on Company Growth

Back to overview
Salesforce’s 6 Perspectives on Company Growth

Salesforce’s 6 Perspectives on Company Growth

Jan. 24th, 2024

Salesforce started as a disruptor in its market. Today, it still revolutionizes the way companies interact with their customers. Early days, it challenged traditional CRM systems with a SaaS solution. "We embraced the cloud at a time when it was still far from mainstream," said Bob Vanstraelen, EVP & CEO of Salesforce Northern Europe. How did he gain his customers' trust? And how is he replicating this success to introduce AI?

"When I joined Salesforce in 2009, companies questioned why they should entrust their data to Salesforce instead of keeping it on their own servers," Vanstraelen recalls. While the cloud is now widely accepted, skepticism surrounds AI where Salesforce is again at the forefront of a revolution.

Salesforce’s 6 Perspectives on Company Growth

"Sales isn't just about selling; it's equally about educating the customer. We had to teach companies what cloud business meant and why it was superior to on-premise models. We conveyed this narrative convincingly, sincerely, and transparently. We’re now doing the same with AI and trust at the center," shared Bob Vanstraelen during his keynote at the Fortino Capital CEO Summit.


Here are the six perspectives Vanstraelen shared with C-levels of start-ups and scale-ups within the Fortino portfolio:


1. Find the Optimal Course

In a scale-up, nothing remains static, especially not roles and organizational structures. As a leader in the cloud CRM market with a revenue of $34 billion and 72,000 employees globally, Salesforce knows tremendous growth can also lead to organizational challenges.

"Our growth often led to challenges. Initially a team of ten, like a family, evolving to 40, then 200, and eventually 1,600 in Northern Europe, demanded constant change of direction, focus and structure," stated Vanstraelen.

"You can be frustrated by changes or adapt. What's unique about our size is that we're a stable cruise ship that can alter course like a speedboat. Adapting to market trends is essential for success. Change, anticipate, embrace and enthusiastically adapt to changes. You can't win if the entire company doesn't adapt."


2. Forge Partnerships

Strong partnerships are crucial for growth. "Initially in Belgium, we were a minor player. We realized the necessity for partners. Our initial growth stemmed from partnerships; Deloitte, for instance, enabled us to engage in customer opportunities alongside SAP and Microsoft. Strong partnerships were indispensable. They represented us to clients where we had no seat at the table yet," Vanstraelen explained.


3. Invest in Early Customers

Vanstraelen vividly remembers his first Belgian client, Barry Callebaut. "When you win customers who trust your technology early on, invest in them. Today, when we meet or talk with Barry Callebaut, it’s still often me who answers their questions. I value our personal relationship extremely and set the highest standards for customer care... That's crucial."

"The result? They've referred many new clients to us. Stay alert: Who are your lighthouse customers? How can you serve them even better and leverage them as references?"


4. Create Value with AI

Salesforce utilizes AI extensively. "Technology evolves rapidly. Simultaneously, our clients generate copious amounts of data, tapping into AI's potential," shared Vanstraelen. While Salesforce doesn't aim to be the first in AI, they aim to be the best. AI was swiftly integrated into their products, enabling predictive - and now also generative - customer actions, data analysis, landing page design, customer acquisition, and much more.

Advice for startups and scale-ups:

  • Formulate a plan. It's okay to be skeptical but take the lead.
  • Identify areas where AI can generate revenue for you and your clients. Conduct pilots.
  • Find a trustworthy partner.
  • Prepare your employees for change and adapt the organizational structure.
  • Prioritize all necessary security measures and upcoming data regulations.


5. Enhance Trust in AI

As with all new technology disruptions, not all customers trust AI. Similar to the trust gap during the rise of the cloud, there's skepticism regarding AI's safety and security. "The significant issue? The trust gap. Although AI ranks as the number one priority for CEOs, many companies are concerned about its security. 52% doubt the safety and security of AI," acknowledged Vanstraelen.

He recognizes the issues raised by companies: "Our customers' privacy is paramount. Leakage of confidential information occurs easily through different public, conversational AI tools. Chatbot outputs can be highly convincing yet completely inaccurate or biased. Bias and toxicity can damage brands' reputations."

"The question we aim to solve for our customers is: How can we leverage the benefits of generative AI while protecting their company data and maintaining trust? This led to extensive transparency, five guidelines for responsible development, and a robust security layer. Data masking ensures personal data like contact names and companies remain masked. Once the AI response is obtained, data is reconstructed. Data does not leave Salesforce."


6. Offer Multiple Options

Allow customers to choose the AI tool that integrates with your product. What if your chosen AI tool isn't their preferred one? What if it fails? "Because numerous AI solutions exist and the winning solution remains uncertain, we employ an open and trusted architecture. Our clients choose their own AI model, which they integrate into Salesforce."


Who is Bob Vanstraelen?

With a background at SAS, Bob Vanstraelen joined Salesforce in November 2009. He was told, "If you genuinely want to learn sales, come to Salesforce." He embarked on a rocket ship without knowing its potential but with an ambition to sell something he believed in and was provided ample opportunities. Growing rapidly within the company, he became Country Manager of Belgium and later also the leader for Benelux Enterprise Sales and COO for Northern Europe. Today, he serves as EVP & CEO of Salesforce Northern Europe, recognized for driving growth with a value-driven, customer-centric approach.

Sign up for our Newsletter

Business insights, best practices, and more, all delivered to your inbox.

I have read and agree to the Privacy Policy.