Inside Marc Benioff's brain

October 12, 2009: 10:27 AM ET

In his new book the Salesforce.com CEO explains the methods behind his particular brand of madness.

Benioff's books offers 111 tips for business success. Photo: Salesforce.com

Benioff's books offers 111 tips for business success. Photo: Salesforce.com

I got played by Marc Benioff.

Salesforce.com (CRM) CEO Benioff calls his forthcoming book, Behind the Cloud, a "playbook" for would-be entrepreneurs and executives. Benioff, who co-authored the book with journalist Carlye Adler (a former colleague from Fortune's sister publication, FSB), offers 111 business tips, or "plays," based on his experiences launching and  running the Salesforce.

And there I was, in Play #23: Reporters are Writers; Tell Them a Story.

Okay, I wasn't mentioned by name, but he definitely was talking about me and my peers in the media world.  Benioff writes: "Salesforce.com...welcomed journalists, encouraged them to mix with customers at events, and eagerly introduced them to customers for interviews."

Call me exhibit A. After all, I procured my advance copy of the book (due out Oct. 19) at a dinner in Manhattan where other journalists and I mixed with customers to whom we were eagerly introduced.

Benioff goes on to explain in Play #24: Cultivate Relationships with Select Journalists and Play # 25: Make Your Own Metaphors that telling a company's story to journalists is far better public relations than an expensive ad campaign.  A story or even a pithy quote in a top business publication is far more effective and credible than a full-page advertisement in same newspaper or magazine. And Benioff played this strategy to his advantage, positioning his company in the media as an innovative David attacking old-school Golaiaths such as SAP (SAP), Microsoft (MSFT), IBM (IBM) and even Benioff's former employer, Oracle. (ORCL)

To be sure, Benoiff's advice, or plays, go well beyond tips for managing the media. He offers real insight into Salesforce.com's own experiences building the company. (A Salesforce executive I met at the company's New York customer dinner said he was surprised by Benioff's disclosure that half Saleforce's employees are in sales. The executive thought such information was part of the company's secret sauce.) Such tidbits at times help elevate Behind the Cloud from a platitude-filled business tome to an insider-y playbook -- surely the intent of Benioff and his co-author.

That's not to say there aren't cliches in the book. Benioff is generous in his praise of employees and friends - a good thing - but all too often drops the term "genius" to describe everyone from MC Hammer (seriously) to a direct-sales executive from Japan.

He is most passionate when describing Salesforce's approach to corporate philanthropy.  The company contributes 1% of profits, 1% of equity and 1% of employees hours to the communities it serves, and in the book, Benioff writes that the push to give employees time to volunteer came out of an effort to give them a sense of purpose he'd lacked at other employers. "Maybe the volunteer program would prevent them from feeling as rudderless as I had during my time at Oracle," he explains.  (Play #66: Make Your Foundation Part of Your Business Model.)

Benioff channeled that rudderless feeling, of course, into forming Salesforce.com.  And so by keeping employees motivated Benioff not only increases employee satisfaction, he also prevents some smart, disenchanted executive from running out and starting the next Salesforce.

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About This Author
Stephanie Mehta
Stephanie Mehta
Deputy Managing Editor , Fortune

Stephanie N. Mehta is the deputy managing editor at Fortune, overseeing technology coverage for Fortune. She also is a co-chair of the annual Brainstorm Tech conference, an annual gathering of tech and media thinkers. Previously, Mehta spent seven years as a tech writer at Fortune covering the telecom and media industries. She also has worked for the Wall Street Journal and the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va.

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