A force to reckon with
Salesforce, an American cloud-based software company, is investing big in the UK. What does this scrappy California startup turned software giant hope to achieve on this side of the pond? Geoffrey Lyons sits down with Max Roberts, Area Vice President, Enterprise Business at Salesforce UK, to find out
When nearly 200 industry leaders and entrepreneurs gathered in Number 10 this June to celebrate London Tech Week, it had been just under two years since David Cameron capped off one of the most tumultuous weeks in modern British history by announcing his resignation. But Theresa May had a more hopeful message for her guests: £2.5bn in new funding for UK technology companies along with measures to make it easier for tech startups to operate in the UK. The news bolstered government’s ambition that the country will flourish as a global innovator after Brexit.
Another big announcement that day came from one of May’s guests. Salesforce, an American cloud-based software company, committed to invest $2.5bn in its UK business.
The investment, which will be made over the next five years, will capitalize on the company’s second biggest market behind the US. But does it also double as a gesture to back Britain after Brexit?
“Absolutely,” says Max Roberts, Area Vice President, Enterprise Business at Salesforce UK. “We’re looking to support our customers in the UK and develop our market here, just as we are in Europe.”
CSW meets Roberts on the 37th floor of Salesforce Tower, officially 110 Bishopsgate and formerly Heron Tower before Salesforce began occupying it in 2014. The building’s dizzying heights (the tallest in the City) and grand lobby, which holds Europe’s largest privately-held aquarium, is symbolic of the company’s extraordinary growth. This year Salesforce reported about £8.19billion in revenue, almost 60 times what it earned in 2005.
“We’ve grown,” Roberts says modestly. “We were very strong in the early years in the US, and now the UK has become a key market for us.”
Roberts thinks Salesforce has value beyond what its name suggests. “People see Salesforce and think of the sales CRM [customer-relationship management] software,” he says. “But the platform is much broader than that.” In fact, Salesforce’s CRM platform spans solutions for service, sales, marketing, commerce and across every customer touchpoint. With constant innovation, the software is also almost continually updating – a customer who has been on board with Salesforce for four years has seen at least 12 iterations of the same platform. The result, Roberts says, is that customers are getting access to IoT and AI functionalities that they wouldn’t have dreamed of just a few years ago. “I sat down with a manufacturing customer who started on a standard CRM platform many years ago,” he says. “Now he’s collecting data from sensors in his machines to deliver new services to his customers. He said he could’ve never envisaged getting to this point four or five years ago.”
When the company launched in 1999, its biggest challenge was to convince organisations that they needed what’s called “software as a service” (SaaS), where software is centrally hosted through a third party provider (think Netflix and Spotify). “Most companies liked having their own infrastructure and developing lots of things themselves,” Roberts says. “They weren’t used to the idea of having an agile platform that you can configure to your needs very quickly.” Now, however, the reverse is true. It’s more common, Roberts says, for people to question why an organization wouldn’t use a single platform.
The company now has its sights set on the UK’s public sector with a clear goal and vision to help departments - many of which are still plagued by legacy systems, duplication, and silos – to deliver a digital-first citizen service. One recent success story is the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), which came on board with Salesforce in 2016. “We essentially put a refresh on their contact centre there,” Roberts says. “They had lots of legacy systems before, and now they’re on a platform that they can administer and develop themselves.” By bringing telephone, email, web chat, and social media under one platform, Salesforce boosted DVLA’s engagement levels for contact centre staff, increased its first-contact resolution rate, and improved its customer satisfaction levels. “Now their employee satisfaction scores have risen to the highest in government,” says Roberts.
Asked whether Salesforce is looking to replicate this model across other departments, Roberts says “certainly.” “If you look at what the government does, effectively it manages people and interactions with people,” Roberts says. “And that’s what Salesforce does at a huge scale. This is technology that’s primarily being used to meet and exceed the expectations of today’s consumer, but we can drop that into the public sector very easily so departments can quickly see returns”
To find out more about Salesforce’s work within UK Government, please visit http://bit.ly/SalesforceforUKGovernment