Most of us have heard of Salesforce.com. Salesforce rents software for managing customer relationships and delivers their product exclusively over the Internet through what is now known as cloud computing.
The Associated Press documented that Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce.com, saw the opportunity of saving customers significant amounts of money. Prior to his starting Salesforce, most companies, in order to build their customer databases, would buy prepackaged software, pay huge fees for installation and maintenance, and then have to worry about ongoing upgrades.
Now all of that can be done through Salesforce at significantly lower costs and with fewer headaches for a company. At this point, Salesforce has 77,000 customers and nearly 5,000 employees, with revenues expected to hit 1.5 billion.
How did Mark come up with this new approach? Was he just a natural born genius?
Allowing for some of the genius, there are techniques he uses that you can use in your own business.
They apply whether you’re part of a task force at a large company, a small business or even a one-person business.
Marc Benioff regularly swims with dolphins at his home in Hawaii. That’s probably not on your radar right now!
Marc may be a genius, but for the rest of us mortals, there are some proven methods that will pay great dividends. It’s up to you to figure out what works best for you by experimenting:
- Movement. It increases the flow and endorphins, as well as supplying more blood to your brain. Put simply, activity helps people think. You can go for walks, swim, work out on a trampoline in your office, climb stairs or do anything that gets the blood moving. Keep a notepad handy as your brain will think of new and creative approaches to running your business. (Your cell phone likely has an option that allows you to dictate messages to yourself.)
- Reach out. This can be a friend, a colleague, or even a stranger, and let them know your idea. They will bring a different perspective. We all know the old saying: “You can’t see the forest through the trees.” Getting other people’s perspective will provide a sense of reality and an important feedback loop. And then once you have a definite idea of a new product or service, test it on key customers. It is we call in early-stage investing: “proof of concept.”
- Sleep on it. Science has clearly proven using CAT scans and MRIs that our minds are highly active when we’re sleeping. Very few of us can say that we haven’t woken up with some new idea that we hadn’t thought of before. So before you go to bed ask yourself what new widget you need or what problem you need to solve. Tell yourself to come up with a solution while you sleep. Keep Post-it notes by your bed because sometimes you may wake up in the middle of the night and you don’t want to miss those insights. Some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs have come while sleeping.
There’s no magic bullet point here. Mark Benioff was just able to think of a creative way to solve customers’ problems. Had he been your friend and you invested $10,000 in Salesforce in June of 2004 at the IPO, it would be now worth roughly $90,000.
There’s a secret personal dividend if you pursue this approach. Barbara Strauch, a science reporter for the New York Times, in her recent book “The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain,” documented the fact that we can grow new brain cells as we age. This happens when we start to think in a different way than we’ve done in the past, and we learn new and interesting approaches. So look at this as an exercise in warding off Alzheimer’s as well.
So there’s a lesson here. But remember if you do decide to swim with dolphins make sure they are dolphins and not sharks!