Q&A: Salesforce’s CMO on Why Now Is the Best Time to Be a Chief Marketing Officer

Stephanie Buscemi says it’s an opportunity to get everyone to digitize

Stephanie Buscemi was named CMO of Salesforce in August. - Credit by Getty Images
Headshot of Ann-Marie Alcántara

Three months into her new job as Salesforce’s chief marketing officer, and Stephanie Buscemi is ready to amp up the company’s brand awareness. Though that may be easier said than done.

Adweek spoke with Buscemi at Dreamforce, Salesforce’s annual conference that brings more than 170,000 people to San Francisco to learn more about the company and what it offers, as well as to hear notable musical performances.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Adweek: There’s a running joke among journalists and people in this industry that no one knows what Salesforce does. What is Salesforce and in your role, how do you navigate answering this question?

Stephanie Buscemi: That statement tells me I have a big opportunity on my job—it’s job preservation, that statement right there. 

Salesforce has had such exponential growth over the last decade that it’s hard to keep pace sometimes with that conversation in the market. If you look back five, 10 years, it was purely Salesforce Automation. Flash forward a decade and now we have something for salespeople, for service people. We have something for the social media person, something for the email marketer, commerce. At the end of the day, ask yourself—will this make it easy for our customers to connect to their customers in a whole new way? If that’s the answer, you can stress test it against everything we build and everything that we’ve acquired.

We have to make sure it’s easily accessible for our customers to reach their customers’ every single touchpoint. And not just reach them at all those touchpoints, but give them a single view of all those interactions. We always keep [the] customer at the center. Some people will say they’re marketing, some people will say they’re sales, some people will say they’re service. Every decision we make is rationalized, and [based on] if it’s going to help our customers create a better customer experience.

It sounds like you’re a lot of things to a lot of people. Do you have plans to talk with more marketers, letting them know Salesforce isn’t just for salespeople?

Yes, absolutely. A particular area of product innovation for us has been around the marketing cloud and commerce. If you look at marketing cloud over the last five years it started with primarily messaging, email. We’re catching up as marketers get that message out into market. We have a reasonably good footprint with B2C leaders and B2B, [but] we’re trying to grow perception of who we are. I always have to explain that it’s more than just sales.

What is one of the biggest challenges Salesforce faces? 

I have been at companies that are larger than Salesforce and I’ve seen when companies get really large, it’s hard to remain nimble. So I’m acutely aware of that and sensitive to that. How do we keep speed and agility? How do we continue to have a beginner’s mind and an entrepreneurial spirit? When I came to the company it was 14,000 people four years ago. Now it’s 33,000 people. When you do that, how do you preserve the culture and then how do you cascade communication across the company to keep everyone on the same page?

With this kind of growth, that has to be at the forefront of our mind every single day, in everything we do, to challenge ourselves. Legacy companies have lost sight of that and they lost touch with their customers. We have to always be vigilant that we’re really challenging ourselves to remain an entrepreneurship mind-set and remain a beginner’s mind-set, and challenge processes and one another.

What is it like being a CMO today, where you can’t plan every campaign in advance because something could happen tomorrow and the brand needs to be reactive?

So much of our marketing goes beyond those traditional channels; so much of it is happening actually in our communities. The community is an ongoing conversation every single day. We are part of that conversation, together with customers and prospects. When we start to see consistent threads of change, we can then inject them into what I call “big M” Marketing.

I think it’s a pretty amazing time to be a CMO. It’s a privileged time and I’m not just saying it because I am one. And I look at it right now, if you go talk to most CEOs their conversation is around how they’re going to do digital transformation in their company and how they’re going to connect with their consumers, customers, in a new way. If you look across a CXO leadership team, the CMO is very well poised to be the person to advocate and lead on that charge in an organization. I think it means really looking beyond the four walls of marketing. I think it’s probably the most exciting time to try to get everyone to move digitally and not just take legacy processes and digitize them, but to reimagine how you do it.

What’s the story or question people aren’t asking about you and your role as a woman in the C-suite?

Yes, I would say how am I helping other women because I think it’s probably the area that needs to be tapped into and it’s sort of like, think about, it’s like a pay it forward. And I don’t think, believe it or not, that women do that enough for each other. Marketing in particular is 50 percent women at Salesforce and I feel responsible to model what’s good for them, for what’s great for them, and then help them and challenge them. And it doesn’t always mean being nice.  Sometimes it means giving really pointed feedback. 

@itstheannmarie annmarie.alcantara@adweek.com Ann-Marie Alcántara is a tech reporter for Adweek, focusing on direct-to-consumer brands and ecommerce.