The Spectacle that is Dreamforce

My condolences to anyone in the Bay Area next week as Dreamforce descends like a khaki-clad, expense account-fuelled barbarian horde upon ancient Rome.

Salesforce may feel compelled this year to surpass its own superlative standards of spectacle to compensate for a mounting set of inadequacies, including slowing growth at a company (and stock) sustained by growth, confronting real competition that can actually write code, being reduced to enlisting the EU as a strategic partner and an increasingly Oracle-esque purchase experience (and pricing). In a cosmic twist of irony, Salesforce has become the Siebel of its generation, focused on defending its multiple at all costs to keep it out of Oracle’s clutches.

For your own safety, do not stand between Salesforce and trendy topics, due to the risk of extreme and hyperbolic buzzword triangulation. They will no doubt put the A and I into “marketing” and serve as the definitive example of the saying “AI is whatever hasn’t been done yet.”

If you’re going to miss this rapturous occasion, here are some excerpts to tide you over from the funniest chapter in Dan Lyons’ book Disrupted (my review), about HubSpot’s visit to Dreamforce:

“Imagine Joel Osteen pumped up on human growth hormone. Imagine there’s a secret government lab where scientists have blended the DNA of Tony Robbins with the DNA of Harold Hill, the aw-shucks shifty salesman from The Music Man. Imagine a grizzly bear in a pinstriped suit, standing on his hind legs and talking about changing the world through disruptive innovation and transformation. If you can imagine those things then you can almost imagine the horror of seeing Marc Benioff, the billionaire founder and CEO of Salesforce.com, on stage at his company’s annual conference, Dreamforce.”

“The whole thing makes me depressed, in part because Benioff is a buffoon, a bullshit artist, and such an out-of-control egomaniac that it is painful to listen to him talk. He lives in Hawaii and signs his emails “Aloha.” He’s a Buddhist and hangs out with Zen monks from Japan, and he gave his golden retriever the title “chief love officer” at his company. He is the Ron Burgundy of tech. He and this conference are the essence of everything that has gone wrong in the industry.”

“There’s an art to this kind of horseshit, and Benioff is its Michelangelo.”

“Sure, Benioff is full of shit, but so are we, and Benioff is way better at being full of shit than we are.”

“Now, here in the Moscone Center, the P. T. Barnum of the tech industry is giving a master class in how the game is played.”

“The truth is that Salesforce.com has little new to introduce. All of the stuff about hospitals and Haitians and Huey Lewis is meant to distract us from noticing that Benioff doesn’t really have much to talk about other than warmed-over versions of old products.”

“The final day features a speech by Deepak Chopra, noted charlatan and quack. He and Benioff are friends. Chopra rambles on about joy and meaning and interconnectedness and the importance of loving yourself. The old W. C. Fields line “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit” seems like the motto not just for Chopra but for the entire conference. Benioff and his philanthropy, the dry ice and fog machines, the concerts and comedians: None of this has anything to do with software or technology. It’s a show, created to entertain people, boost sales, and fluff a stock price.”