Partners say the return of Salesforce's Dreamforce conference is the perfect chance to reinvent how the mega-event can help them win more customer deals
- Dreamforce, Salesforce’s annual mega-conference, is going to be held in a hybrid format this year.
- Analysts and partners say the format gives Salesforce an opportunity to rethink its legendary events.
- The in-person gatherings will be important to help Salesforce maintain its partner ecosystem.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Dreamforce, Salesforce’s highly-anticipated annual user conference, is going to be held in a hybrid format this year — partially online and partially in person — the company announced at the time it released earnings on Thursday.
Pre-pandemic, Dreamforce was one of the biggest tech conferences of the year, and one of the biggest parties: The 2019 iteration of the event hosted 171,000 attendees at its usual location on Salesforce’s home turf of downtown San Francisco. The event has seen Salesforce execs like CEO Marc Benioff and cofounder Parker Harris share the stage with high-profile speakers like President Barack Obama, with afterparties featuring musical acts like Metallica or Green Day. In 2020, however, the pandemic forced Dreamforce into an online-only affair.
This year, however, Dreamforce will look a little different. This year’s event will take place from September 21 to 23 with an in-person gathering at Moscone Center in San Francisco, and in-person gatherings in places like New York, London, and Paris, combined with online-based programming. The gathering in San Francisco will be capped at 5,000 attendees, according to the SF Chronicle, with each location following local health guidelines.
While the in-person element will certainly smaller than in years past, those watching the company say that this is the perfect opportunity for Salesforce to rethink its legendarily massive events to make sure that more partners and customers can be included — which would, in turn, only boost its growth.
“Being able to do Dreamforce in person is going to enable them to take the momentum that’s been building and deploy it as acutely as only Salesforce can,” Alex Zukin, analyst with Wolfe Research. Dreamforce is an “incredibly powerful tool” for Salesforce to showcase itself and its top customers to clients past, present, and future, he said, and nailing this new format will likely drive growth in the second half of this year for the company.
Last year Salesforce held the conference virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Now industry watchers say Salesforce has an opportunity to reinvent how these customer conferences are held and that a hybrid Dreamforce event could ensure all attendees get the most value from the experience.
A hybrid Dreamforce might give partners more value
The hybrid element will help the company reach more people than it could have just virtually, said William Blair analyst Arjun Bhatia. “I think it gives them a little bit of the best of both worlds,” he said.
Several Salesforce partners agreed, saying that smaller in-person gatherings in multiple cities might make it possible for people attending physically to get more out of the event itself.
Ian Gotts, CEO at elements.cloud, a Salesforce partner, said this is an opportunity for Salesforce to reset and rethink what it wants events to look like. In past years, there was a big focus on how every Dreamforce was going to be bigger than the last, but that didn’t necessarily mean the event was getting better, he said.
With the amount of attendees pouring into San Francisco every fall, the talks and training sessions held at Dreamforce got filled up faster and became less accessible in some ways, he explained.
“We’ve proven that we can get all the content we need online,” Gotts said. “What we’re missing is the face connections. What we’re missing is the ability to have those serendipity type moments of, ‘oh, I got invited to talk to these five people, and there were three other people, really valuable.”
That type of in-person networking might actually be easier in smaller settings with a digital component, Gotts said. Even pre-pandemic, there was increasingly more networking and connection that happens before a physical event, rather than on the scene. Salesforce partners, in particular, spent a lot of time talking to potential customers and setting up meetings with them ahead of Dreamforce.
“The event isn’t the start of the discussion. It actually is the middle point of the discussion,” he said. “And if we do that right then, Dreamforce can be really valuable because no longer is 170,000 people who are being dragged in 52 directions, it’s a lot more focused.”
Max Rudman, CEO of Salesforce partner Prodly, also hailed the return of sponsorship opportunities, where outside parties can pay to sponsor parties, coffee breaks, and other aspects of Dreamforce — in exchange for their logo being clearly visibly to those who pass through. Rudman says that a sponsorship can bring a lot of visibility to companies like his own, and lead to new business. On its Dreamforce website, Salesforce said “Sponsorship opportunities are limited and will be available on an invite-only basis.”
Salesforce’s ecosystem will benefit from a hybrid event
While some analysts and partners were concerned last year about the company’s ability to maintain its momentum with a virtual event, the company’s strong quarterly results on Thursday assuaged any of those lingering concerns.
Salesforce and its ecosystem of partners and users were in a better spot than most to go a year without an in-person Dreamforce because its online learning platform Trailhead has created a large community around it that helped buffer the impact of not having in-person events, said Valoir analyst Rebecca Wettemann.
“You cannot underestimate the power of Trailhead in driving sales momentum for Salesforce,” she said. “It continues to build its ecosystem and help margins because customers learn from and support each other rather than depending on vendor support.”
However, one challenge that Salesforce will have is deciding who gets to attend in person versus online, analysts and partners said.
One thing Gotts foresees is that there will be fewer junior level people, like rank and file employees from customers and partners who typically attend for education and training, at the in-person gatherings. Its going to be harder to justify the need to travel if there is a virtual component to the event, Gotts said.
“I can see Dreamforce becoming an executive conference where people are getting center of excellence leaders, CIOs, head of sales, head of service, to be talking about the future, redesigning how their business works,” Gotts said. “And those admins, the more junior developers who are there for education and part of the community, they get that at local events.”
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