Marketing strategy

Cloud CMOs Learned ‘Guerilla Marketing’ Tactics From Salesforce CEO

Cloud CMOs Learned 'Guerilla Marketing' Tactics From Salesforce CEO

  • Marc BenioffCEO of Salesforce, has made a name for himself in Silicon Valley for his marketing prowess.
  • His unconventional marketing tactics have been instructive lessons passed on to Salesforce leaders.
  • The CMOs of Twilio, Algolia, and ThoughtSpot, all Salesforce veterans, shared the lessons they learned.

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, has earned a reputation in Silicon Valley for his marketing prowess. He’s not afraid of pull stunts to sell a product or promote the business.

While Benioff’s recent marketing strategy has focused more on promote Salesforce values and sharing client stories, in the past he’s pulled off some really crazy PR antics that have proven successful and inspired newcomers to the field.

So-called “guerrilla marketing” tactics, new and unconventional ways to promote a business, have proven to be instructive lessons for some of Salesforce’s former marketing executives.

Salesforce’s marketing department has become a training ground for those looking to move into the world of software marketing inspired by Benioff’s methods. CMOs of ThoughtSpot, Algolia and Twilio — all former Salesforce executives — told Insider that Salesforce waterfalls have transformed their approach to marketing today. Benioff’s tactics taught them to resist competition, take risks and challenge the status quo, they said.

In a memorable example of guerrilla marketing 10 years ago, Benioff landed a Scheduled speech at Oracle’s annual conference, despite a rivalry between his company and Oracle. When Oracle attempted to move his keynote address to later in the week, Benioff issued a press release saying Oracle had canceled his keynote, and he announced he would be speaking at a nearby restaurant instead.

Going directly against former Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, Benioff written in the press release, “Sorry Larry, the cloud can’t be stopped.” Benioff’s speech ultimately resulted in higher than expected conference attendance and interest.

The biggest takeaway from Oracle’s stunt? “Don’t let greater competition push you around,” said Scott Holden, CMO of ThoughtSpot and former vice president of marketing for Salesforce Platform.

Scott Holden Thoughtspot CMO

Scott Holden, CMO of ThoughtSpot.


“When we were kicked out of the main room at Oracle OpenWorld, we didn’t go home with our tails between our legs,” he said in an email. Instead, Salesforce employees marked the event with signs reading “The cloud must go on,” garnering more attention on social media than Oracle did for its own conference, Holden said. .

He added that he then used a similar tactic against one of ThoughtSpot’s main legacy competitors, MicroStrategy. His team distributed casino chips to everyone who demonstrated ThoughtSpot’s products at a MicroStrategy conference in Las Vegas.

Another example of Salesforce’s field marketing occurred shortly after the company was founded. Benioff staged a “demonstration” outside of Siebel’s annual user conference in 2000, to oppose old ways of buying enterprise software. Siebel was Salesforce’s biggest rival until Oracle bought it in 2005.

This stunt proved there’s nothing wrong with taking risks, said Jason McClelland, chief marketing officer of Algolia and former chief marketing officer of Salesforce-owned Heroku.

Jason McClelland Algolia CMO

Jason McClelland, Marketing Director of Algolia.


“You can beat the ‘costumes’ by being a bit of an ‘irrational actor’ — outspending them, looking for opportunities to hijack their messages, go on the attack,” McClelland said. At the very least, this tactic is much more fun, he said.

Going against the existing way is something Salesforce excels at, said Sara Varni, CMO of Twilio. That’s the big lesson Varni learned from his 10 years at Salesforce in various product marketing roles.

Sara Varni Twilio CMO

Sara Varni, CMO of Twilio.


When releasing Twilio’s new Customer Engagement Center last month, Varni took inspiration from Salesforce’s book by pushing the team to innovate with events, content and campaigns that challenge the status quo, she said.

“Whether it’s staging a fake protest at Oracle OpenWorld or have Metallica play the national anthem at a client event,” Benioff pushed marketers to think differently and stand out from the crowd, Varni said.

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