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.

Movie Videos & Movie Scenes at MOVIECLIPS.com

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:

Learning Opportunities

…he [Ellison] is the leader of one of the most significant companies in the world -- in any industry, not just enterprise software -- and owes his company, his acolytes, his customers … and the business world a vision -- because that’s what leaders should do.And for better or worse, he is an iconoclastic internationally known figure.

Benioff’s freshness and dynamism makes Oracle look like yesterday’s news. Due to the global seachange unfolding, the world is looking for visionaries -- not just shrewd businesspeople. In addition, today’s c-level executive must be the face of the brand. They are the ultimate “community managers.” Also, the major purchaser is no longer just the CIO -- but all departments tangentially affected by the software purchase.

Benioff created a feeling of “openness” this year at Dreamforce leveraging crowdsourcing. Dreamforce gave off a zeitgeist that reflected the features of the SFDC cloud-based solution.

Dreamforce featured large monitors with live tweeting on TweetDeck in the press/analyst room. Benioff also highlighted his star customers including a guest appearance from Deanna Johnston, CIO of Belkin (and I noted female CIO).

Is That A Flip-Phone or A Cloud-Based Platform?

Having cloud-based platforms is similar to the Smartphone craze. Two years ago having a hot phone was akin to having a Louis Vuitton clutch or Manolo Blahnik high heels vs. Sears’ purses and Velcro shoes.

Having your data in the cloud says something about your company and its culture. The critical word being “culture,” something that was an obvious aspect of Dreamforce -- possibly even more memorable than the announcements of Database.com and Heroku, acquired by Salesforce for US $212 million dollars.

Benioff repeatedly said business and service should not be divorced. He created an event that captured the same essence of his book released earlier this year Behind the Cloud: An Entrepreneur’s Playbook.

At Dreamforce Benioff does not want to solely focus on software and partying like other events -- he’s smart enough to see what is going on right now and the demand for open forums to discuss things tangentially related to information sharing and communication.

What other software vendor would pay President Bill Clinton six figures to present at a conference?

It’s Official, Bill Clinton Lights Up a Room

Former President Bill Clinton was late to his keynote due to bad weather. He was 50 minutes late.

That’s a lot for an eager audience of 20,000. During the time Clinton was being rushed down the 101 with his entourage, Benioff calmly brought performer from the previous night, Stevie Wonder, to take the stage for a fireside chat. Wonder told stories of overcoming blindness and race and talked about other societal issues. Benioff -- in this environment -- has a lack of self-consciousness -- and obviously thumbs his nose at what others might term the tyranny of public opinion. He pushes the limits, evident with the nature of the content presented in this two-hour session.

Benioff’s ease with a “show must go on mentality” kept the audience patiently sitting as they saw their happy hour meetings and dinners pushed off their agenda for the evening. And we all waited.

Clinton worked in the topic of technology a little awkwardly, and mostly stuck to what he was good at. Articulately framing arguments around intricate statistics. He said, We live in a world where the way people get information is filtered through yesterday's categories, and that leads to partisanship," Clinton said. "We have got to be a tomorrow country."

Clinton talked about encouraging his wife, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, when times were difficult globally -- subtly alluding to Wiki Leaks.

Can I remind you this was a Salesforce conference?

Why does Benioff want to provide such an immersive experience to his attendees? So much so that he is compared to religious evangelist Billy Graham? Benioff is a genius marketer who knows how to create a movement. And if religion is the opiate of the masses, Dreamforce is a new religion and Benioff is its evangelical leader.