Which is a better business model, being a single source of truth for customers or being the world's biggest source of lies for those who don't know better? Do you want to affiliate with a culture that is offering a product that makes customers trust your organization with all of their data? Or do you want to be the world's biggest propaganda machine for lies -- and believe that, somehow, by looking the other way, via convenient, albeit disingenuous alibis, you are doing the right thing for society, for your users themselves and most important, profits for shareholders.
No, this is not some righteous homily on business and ethics, something in the ether of a debate class. It's a real-life, titanic struggle playing out right now between two forces of business nature: Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook (FB) and Marc Benioff from Salesforce.com (CRM) -- and it's really about winning the hearts and minds of customers, shareholders and stakeholders.
Last night's Salesforce.com conference call was more than just the usual facts and figures about another blowout quarter, one of so many it becomes hard to count. It was a paean to truth, the need for companies to have a Customer 360 approach to it, bringing a single source of truth to marketers and their organizations. Anyone who listened to the call knows that the stand-out word was "truth" -- the need for the people in your organization and the customers outside of it to know that your entity stands for the truth and is trustworthy with data, with facts and with figures. The word truth surfaced dozens of times.
When I think of Customer 360 Truth as articulated by Benioff and co-CEO Keith Block in last night's call, I think about Salesforce standing for more than just sales, I think of it as an organization I can trust, a virtuous advisor to a vendor or supplier or insurer or retailer that I want to use or employ or shop at and I am not afraid to give them the personal information they need to serve me better.
But there's a critical subtext to Customer 360 Truth, and that's Benioff's desire to distinguish his company's modus operandi from one he thinks might have a far more insidious approach to business: Facebook. Marc earlier this year at the World Economic Forum famously described Facebook as akin to smoking, something that gives you cancer. He's been adamant that the government needs to regulate Facebook because of its unwillingness to distinguish between truth and lies in ads, not because of the need to have all sides presented, as Zuckerberg has argued, but because such an oblivious philosophy sacrifices truth on the altar of profits.
Benioff is not alone. I do not think that it's happenstance that Benioff's been talking to Sacha Baron Cohen, whose acceptance speech a week ago at the Antidefamation League's International Leadership Award was about separating truth from lies, pointing out that the web is the greatest propaganda machine for hatred and bigotry, with Mark Zuckerberg being the worst violator for his insistence that it isn't Facebook's job to police anything.. "They would have let Hitler buy ads," he said, a thirty second spot offering a solution for the Jewish problem. Goebbels, Hitler's minister of lies, would have loved Facebook.
All I can think about after watching that speech and listening to Benioff both at Dreamforce and last night's call is tht both companies are waging war for customers, one offering to support them in presenting a 360 degree truthful presence to all and the other offering lies to all who are willing to pay for them.
Until last night, I thought it was all philosophical. But now I know better. Benioff is staking out a strategy that says you can't trust Facebook because it offers not even a scintilla of truth. You can trust Salesforce because its ethos is truth.
I thought the marketplace would ultimately decide, which would let the freedom of reach, the Zuckerberg philosophy, either co-exist or triumph as a way of doing business with freedom of speech. But after listening to the tandem of Cohen and Benioff, I think that we're going to go toward a world where if you preach genocide through Facebook, then Facebook will be regulated and forced to take those ads down and give the money back, the simple solution that Sacha Baron Cohen is offering.
Either way, it's now plain as day that Benioff is declaring war on Zuckerberg and he's betting his customers and stakeholders won't be willing to surrender their data or their customer's data to Facebook -- it will go to Salesforce, and Facebook will be forced to police lies by the government or themselves, leaving shareholders poorer and the brand an extension of the most base of our negative instincts, pandering to useful idiots on behalf of the almighty dollar.
I think they can co-exist as stocks in your portfolio, but the riskier one is Facebook, because neither political party cares for Zuckerberg and nobody wants to see a 30-second spot by the next Hitler calling for the next genocide because Zuckerberg's free speech knows no bounds, including 360 degrees worth of truth. Zuckerberg is an ambassador without portfolio, Benioff is the truth's ambassador. Where will the dollars end up going? To Benioff, that's who; less reach at first, but trusted reach from the get-go.