Dreamforce, the annual Salesforce conference, took place in San Francisco last week. But if you were thinking it was another one of those boring user conferences, think again.

I couldn’t help but think of Yogurt. No not tasty-delight, Pinkberry or Fage -- but other Yogurt, the Star Wars Yoda parody from the classic 80s comedy Spaceballs.

And who reminds me of Yogurt? None other than Marc Benioff, CEO and Chairman of SAAS vendor Salesforce, who proved to be a savant marketer and salesman with this week’s Salesforce conference. Benioff has created an immersive product in the annual user conference Dreamforce that took place last week in San Francisco at Moscone Center, December 6-9. Dreamforce can be likened to what a more sophisticated burning man might be.

This week Moscone center featured a Salesforce store, celebrity guest appearances, and resident dj’s spinning throughout the day for foot traffic. Salesforce at times felt like a tailgate party -- but Benioff understands his attendees want to be surprised and delighted. Attendance was up 60 percent this year from 19,000 in 2009 to 30,000.

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Spaceballs is a parody of the film Star Wars which got a cameo at the event. Or at least character Darth Vader’s theme song 'Empire Strikes Back'.

Corporate Chutzpah

During the day two keynote Benioff presented examples of Microsoft's anti-salesforce.com advertising. The entire audience sat in shock as the actor "Bernard" -- featured in the anti-SFDC ads -- joined Benioff on stage to Darth Vader’s melody from Star Wars.

In front of 15,000 people Benioff asked Bernard to "come back" to Salesforce.com. And of course, he, Bernard the actor, said yes as the audience hooted & hollered.

Microsoft was present at Salesforce in spirit (or Segways). Microsoft had a cameo in Benioff’s keynote wherein he said, “there are forces out there trying to stop our fun.” Microsoft was possibly hanging around Salesforce competitors who were too busy fighting over stolen software to pay attention to Dreamforce.

It seems ironic that at a time when many marketing campaigns feature happy customers in their messaging campaigns, Microsoft hired an actor. Don’t they have any clients that exude Bernard’s sex appeal with salt and pepper hair and fit build to put on camera?


People Microsoft hired to ride around on segways outside the Salesforce.com conference, with signs reading, "I didn't get forced".


2nd photo features Bernard-- actor from Microsoft ads on-stage at Dreamforce where Benoiff persuades him to come to the cloud.

While every surprise at this event was planned months in advance -- Dreamforce truly felt like a happening; “a performance that happens without preparation.”

And the world is taking notice. Jim Cramer of “Mad Money” called Dreamforce a "festival" in his interview with Benioff last week. Cramer made up for a bad call on the recession by getting his SFDC predictions right. Its stocks continue to perform.

The Visionary Supersedes the CEO

Salesforce is making the cloud sexy, and well, normative. Salesforce is getting recognition by the business community at large for becoming a major player with staying power. While some naysayers argue that Salesforce is not handling a single critical process -- the market provides a different story.

Salesforce year over year growth has Benioff to thank. And it could partially be Benioff’s ability to market himself and his company. His leadership style provides a stark contrast to competitor and former colleague Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle.

Ellison’s keynote at Open World was not as well received. Tables fell asleep during his announcement of the “cloud in a box.” Godfather of CRM Paul Greenberg said in his review of the Ellison’s much anticipated keynote: