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Pandemic helps Salesforce nudge digital transformation for businesses

Lim Hui Jie
Lim Hui Jie12/4/2020 07:00 AM GMT+08  • 8 min read
Pandemic helps Salesforce nudge digital transformation for businesses
Salesforce has enabled many companies to adapt to the pandemic and realise that digitalisation is a 'must have' in these times.
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The outbreak of Covid-19 has accelerated digital transformation. For businesses, undergoing digital transformation is now a “must have” and not merely a “good to have”.

The pandemic has also forced companies to rethink how they operate and engage with their customers. For salespeople, whether they are working individually or as part of a company’s sales team, lockdowns mean that they can no longer meet up with customers or conduct sales as usual. In other words, the traditional customer management process had been overturned in the space of a few months. Hence, as Cecily Ng, Singapore general manager of cloud-based software company Salesforce, says: “Now, digitalisation and innovation, and customer-centricity are imperative to the very survival of businesses.”

This theme of digital transformation is not new. However, it takes time, and not all companies are able to make much headway in this area. A McKinsey report in April 2019 observed that while many companies (83%) said that their organisations have begun digital transformations in recent years, just 14% said that their efforts have made and sustained performance improvements. What’s more, only 3% reported complete success at sustaining their change.

Ng believes this is because while companies are eager for digitalisation, they often do not have a clear picture of what their digitalisation journey should be. As the pandemic has also added a layer of uncertainty and significant changes, businesses could also feel like their complete digital solutions are no longer sustainable — “particularly because their customers and the world have also changed so much”, she says.

Salesforce, which is built on the cloud platform right at the start, believes that its set-up makes it more flexible for users to run customised marketing, sales and service applications on a single, unified platform. The cloud-based platform can also be expanded quickly when needed, says Ng.

Furthermore, unlike traditional IT infrastructure that may require huge capital outlay in terms of space and infrastructure from companies, cloud-based systems can be used by even SMEs, as these systems are highly scalable and agile, and can be adapted to different business needs at any given time. “For SMEs, it also means they get access to enterprise-grade technology and innovation, with none of the burden of maintaining that IT infrastructure,” says Ng.

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Buying Slack for US$27.7 bil

More than just the flexibility in computing ability, Salesforce’s customer relationship management (CRM) systems are able to give users insights-driven engagement and decision-making against a backdrop of ever-changing customer needs and expectations. “The companies that will emerge stronger from the pandemic are those that will leverage CRM systems to put their customers at the centre of their business transformation,” says Ng.

To this end, Salesforce recently took one big step towards making its offerings even more customer-focused. On Dec 1, it announced the US$27.7 billion ($37.1 billion) acquisition of Slack as it aims to expand its footprint more into collaboration and workflows. Slack, widely used by many big companies for internal communication and collaboration, has been described by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff as “a once-in-a-generation company platform”. “It’s the central nervous system of so many companies on this call and our company and so many of our great customers, connecting everyone and everything, and now we could go even bigger, better, more exciting. And it brings all the companies, people, the data, the tools together,” he adds.

Even before the Slack acquisition was announced, Salesforce’s offerings have already been used to good effect. For example, during the recent lockdown, dental cosmetics brand Zenyum was unable to book customers for offline consultations and treatments during the lockdown. The company, using Salesforce’s application, then created a “Covid-19” tag to monitor the customers whose experience of its products had been affected by restrictions. This allowed Zenyum to deliver comprehensive customer service and enabled its users to move onto the next step of treatment as quickly as possible when clinics reopened.

Another Salesforce customer is the Singapore Global Network (SGN), which is able to capture a 360-degree view of all their leads and contacts, including details such as what cities they are from and whether they are students or working professionals. This information helps SGN to better understand its community and make decisions like where to run events.

While these capabilities have been designed to meet the long-term needs of SGN, they were rolled out just in time to help the organisation support its community during Covid-19, says Ng.

During the early stages of the pandemic, SGN had a 30% increase in emails from Singaporeans overseas with questions about returning home and how to abide by quarantine measures. Given the fluid changes during the crisis, many needed quick answers to confirm travel bookings, so SGN had a schedule in place to respond to each query in 12 hours or earlier.

The organisation managed more than 1,000 cases during this time while also providing news and information to more than 80,000 people. This information was sent out through SGN’s daily email update and made available via a chatbot set up specifically to share Covid-19-related information.

Chief digital officers

Cloud-based platforms have been actively promoted for years and while users understand their advantages, a common worry is if it is safe to store and run data in the cloud, which is accessible by users from multiple locations.

According to Ng, an advantage of cloud-based platforms is that the cloud host can fully dedicate its attention to security for the client, “which is significantly more efficient than a conventional in-house system, where an organisation must divide its efforts between a myriad of IT concerns, with security being only one of them”, she explains.

“While most businesses don’t like to openly consider the possibility of internal data theft, the truth is that a staggeringly high percentage of data thefts occur internally and are perpetrated by employees,” she warns.

As such, it can be much safer to keep sensitive information offsite. She cited a survey from cloud company Rapidscale which found that 94% of businesses saw an improvement in security after switching to the cloud, and 91% said the cloud makes it easier to meet government compliance requirements. “The key to this amped-up security is the encryption of data being transmitted over networks and stored in databases,” she says.

US telecommunications company Verizon noted in its 2020 Data Breach Investigative Report that cloud assets were involved in about 24% of breaches this year, while on-premises assets still account for 70% of breaches in their reported breaches dataset.

At the end of the day, business leaders recognise the risk that their companies will be exposed to if they don’t have a digital strategy in place — and be cut-off from their customers as a result. “CEOs must also act as chief digital officers to lead the digitisation of their businesses. Digitisation is critical in catalysing a global recovery,” says Ng.

SEE:Salesforce to buy over Slack for US$27.7 bil

Joint grant with SBF

On Nov 19, Salesforce announced a partnership with the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), the apex body of business associations here, to introduce a relief grants programme for SMEs here. Together, some $960,000 worth of cash grants will be made available to help successful SME applicants work their way out of the crisis.

The grants are being offered to Singapore-registered SMEs with at least 30% local shareholding, an annual revenue of $150,000 to $2 million, and employment of between five and 50 workers.

Specifically, the grants are meant to help successful applicants address their immediate cash flow needs, so that jobs can be kept and that the companies can commit and invest in new technologies and business process and lay down a stronger base for future growth.

According to Salesforce and SBF, the companies can use the grant for rental and other operating costs, employee payroll, skills upgrading, technology adoption, digitalisation and business transformation. With a grant of $8,000 per company, the programme is expected to benefit 120 SMEs that have been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

SMEs are an integral and important part of Singapore’s economy, accounting for 99% of all Singapore-based companies, 72% of total employment, and 45% of Singapore’s GDP in 2019.

“The pandemic has hit small businesses especially hard, with the circuit breaker and safe management measures affecting their operational capacities and business demands. This grant will help provide much-needed relief and help to the more badly affected SMEs,” say Salesforce and SBF.

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