How Salesforce's global CMO is looking to give customers hope

In this exclusive Australian interview, we speak to Salesforce's global marketing chief, Sarah Franklin, about fostering trust with customers in a Covid-normal world

Sarah Franklin
Sarah Franklin

Brands need to be in the business of hope and community if they’re to truly foster trust with their customers in this new world of Covid-normal, says Salesforce’s global chief marketing officer.

Sarah Franklin was appointed president and CMO of Salesforce in January this year, bringing with her more than 13 years’ experience at the tech giant across product development, platforms, developer relationships and marketing. A chemical engineer by trade, Franklin switched to software development then pre-sales engineering and technical management for the likes of Peregrine Systems, Sterling Commerce and Coghead before taking her first steps into marketing with Salesforce.

Most recently, Franklin was EVP and general manager of platforms, including Salesforce AppExchange, along with the vendor’s Trailhead learning and training online offering. Now, as CMO, she says she’s working to not only bring a sense of safety and connection to customers through Salesforce marketing programs, content, platforms and events, but also empathy and vision to her teams.

In this exclusive Australian interview with CMO to coincide with the first hybrid global Salesforce Dreamforce event in September, Franklin shares her views on the state of marketing, and how an emphasis on mental and physical safety is helping her and her team to innovate.

How would you describe what you faced coming in as CMO in January in terms of opportunities and challenges, both expected and unexpected?

Sarah Franklin: I came into the CMO role with innovation mindset. Taking on a new role during the pandemic was a task like no other, where you’re working with a new team, bringing in a new vision, and working in a new world.

I believe it’s never been a more important time for this role of marketer and CMO. We are at the forefront of how our companies are responding to customers and employees. I wanted to lean into our resilience, inspiration from each other and our customer, and innovation mindset. That is how the team has bonded – be better together, stronger together and innovate together for our customers and employees.

What learnings from your background in emerging tech and engineering do you think put you in good stead for being Salesforce CMO?

Franklin: My experience running the platform has prepared me well to be a CMO because I have knowledge of the business from distribution to product and marketing. This makes you a more empathetic leader to the goals of the different groups across the organisation. I also have that familiarity with our products and customers and how they are using it, as well as connections into the groups. This enables me to share feedback on what’s working or not working with our products, go-to-market motions, packaging and pricing – these are the things that help me be a better marketing leader.

What are you prioritising as CMO to drive that big ‘M’ marketing forward?

Our top priorities and what’s important now are very different to 18 months ago. You saw this just recently with our big annual family reunion, Dreamforce. The number one priority has been health and safety. That’s an expansive thing – it’s your physical safety, biological health, mental health. That means we needed to put front and centre how we were all going to be able to come together safely, given the new world of Covid, as well as how we protect our mental wellness given the digital overload we have had and Zoom fatigue we have all been experiencing.

That leads to innovation, and how we innovate around and out of these situations. And it’s led to things like our Salesforce+ new free streaming service, as well as completely reimaging our events to be brand experiences.

How has what customers want and value from you as a brand changed over the course of the crisis and at this point, where we continue to be thrown about by the ongoing Covid crisis?

Franklin: Dreamforce has been an incredible way of understanding this. We put a lot of work into making this happen both in-persona and online. What it felt like was that we were giving people hope.

Everyone needs to feel hope in how we are going to get through this and what are we going to do. We realise we are going to be going through ebbs and flows and ever-changing guidelines, which are very different globally, for a while to come. Everyone is in a different situation right now – what we’re experiencing in the US is different to France, UK or Australia. We have a lot of empathy for each other. But we also need hope.

I’m so proud at Salesforce that we have had the courage to lead the industry. Every CMO is calling me, asking me right now how we did Dreamforce the way we did it, how did you bring that innovation to life, and how can they do it too. It’s incredible how relevant and transcendent this notion is across industry and geography about getting together safely.  

That’s where the marriage of technology with science can help us get through this together, along with a sprinkle of hope and courage. That is what Salesforce is doing. Look around the tech industry and you’ll see it’s all digital except for Salesforce, where we are embracing both.  

Salesforce is putting increased emphasis on trust and community in its messaging and approach. How does the brand gain the credibility to do this and orchestrate this kind of engagement?

Franklin: Trust is our most important value and we put that at centre of everything we do. Health and safety is a top priority because that’s how we build trust. It’s more expensive and operationally difficult to run events this way and there is no playbook for how to do it. We have had to invent technology to help us do things this way. But every time, we embrace that. That’s because we want to earn and build trust with our customers and communities.

Fostering trust is very much a part of our marketing strategy. Look at our data as well as what we’re doing with Salesforce+. That’s a very intentional step in how we are going to build this trust.

In the past, people registered for an event as a one-time activity. The future is subscribing and becoming a member of a community that has relevant information you can trust and where your data is safe. That is what Salesforce+ is. We have all the content to be a media streaming channel, but it’s also about trust. There is no misinformation and no misunderstanding in how we’re handling your data.

Would Salesforce+ would have eventuated if Covid hadn’t hit?

Franklin: It was definitely an innovation that came out of the pandemic. Salesforce+ is the invention that came out of the necessity to combat digital fatigue in a way that puts trusts at the centre.

Editor’s note: Salesforce+ debuted in August as a streaming service with live and on-demand content for the roles, industries and lines of business represented across the vendor’s product suite. Salesforce+ includes live experiences, original series, podcasts and other programming focused on thought leadership, customer stories and expert advice.

What does transparency mean? Is it content being reliable, personalisation, or how you demonstrate transparency of data use?

Franklin: It’s all of the above. It’s about ensuring content is reputable and trustworthy. The way you interact with the content and subscription also ensures data is trusted. We empower customers to control their data with proactive, managed consent. And it’s through to compliance.  

Another example for this year’s Dreamforce was creating the Dreampass for the in-person experience. The procotols we had in place included vaccine verification, pre-event and sequential testing, plus daily onsite testing. All of that’s highly sensitive information that needs to be compliant with Hippo regulations, plus local governments and how data is enforced including the EU and US. So trust is at the centre there and embedded in how we approached this.

The crisis has accelerated demand for brands to act with purpose and for social good, as well as drive diversity and inclusion. As this push to elevate environment, social and corporate governance (ESG) grows, what role do you have as a CMO and president to drive this forward within Salesforce?

Franklin: Business is the biggest platform for change, and it’s at the core of what Salesforce believes and advocates for. This could be Salesforce’s help during the pandemic by acquiring PPE and delivering that around the world or working with schools through grants. Ten years ago, we said we’d give US$100 million to San Francisco schools and have now reached that. We also offer local grants around the world and for local communities, and every employee adopts a school. From a sustainability perspective, the work we are doing with 1 to plant trees to help stop the warming of the planet is another example.

As a CMO, it’s important to share this, get people behind it and really rally behind it. Our role as marketers is so important. You can do the best work in the world, but if no one knows you’re doing it, no one is going to be aware and you won’t get more people behind it. We are essential for the awareness of all the good we are doing as a company.

Where are you personally championing ESG initiatives as a president and leader?

Franklin: I am a huge advocate for democratising education and making it accessible to people from all walks of life to pursue careers in technology. These careers can be life-changing and create generational wealth for people who didn’t think those opportunities were for them. You see people who were factory workers, cashiers, Uber drivers, hairdressers now becoming technologists, mobile app creators and process drivers. It’s incredible to see that opportunity.

In the US, we have a huge problem with education costs compared to the outcomes you receive for paying for a degree. That is something where everyone should have an opportunity to learn these in-demand skills needed to create jobs. Whether it’s lobbying for alternative pathways to accreditation, or building Trailhead, education is something that is very important to me. I’m also proud of the work we have done for equal pay and supporting the LGBTIQ+ communities. And as a mother, I want to see us building a better future for our children.

Then there’s women in tech. Marketing is becoming way more data-driven driven, technical, automated and integrated. To be a modern marketer, you need to understand technology. this is an incredible way for marketing, a more representative demographic, to be more outspoken in the tech area and more representative and help foster more diversity in this industry. At Salesforce, we have representative share of voice across the people building our products which is way more representative than the tech industry itself because we have created that sense of inclusion and belonging in the Salesforce ecosystem.

Read more: How these 4 CMOs are helping drive the sustainability agenda

Why sustainability and marketing are a match made in heaven

What lessons do you think the crisis has taught us as leaders as well as CMOs?  

Franklin: We need to always be learning. Something I have also learned is that connecting matters more than we thought. Whether it’s taking the moment to send someone a message to say great job, or I saw your work, or how’s it going, little things matter. These things we serendipitously do in-person have been removed in digital. It’s important to be intentional and make space for that.

It’s also important to be clear around your vision so people feel a sense of belong. We are in a time where people are questioning their lives, work, where they live and what they want to do. It’s so important as a leader to have a vision, to articulate it with your team and have that focus. When your team gets behind your vision, they are happy and willing to do the work – they will be productive. This time has reinforced how important vision and alignment is.

Vision of the brand is definitely important for the marketing organisation to be aligned on. Vision for the company is again very important for marketing to understand. It informs the markets we go into, products we build, what customer segments we prioritise. But vision as a team is one that’s so very important.

What I’ve done with our team is set our vision to be the most innovative marketing team in the world and a destination for marketers globally. It’s about setting our sights high by having the courage to set that bar. That’s where our in-person Dreamforce and Dreampass came from.


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