Dreamforce 2013: Benioff and Mayer Talk Mobile

At Salesforce’s 2013 Dreamforce conference, held this week in San Francisco, the company rolled out an entirely new platform, Salesforce1, designed to be “mobile first.” To wrap up Tuesday night’s conference, Salesforce chief executive (CEO) Marc Benioff sat down with Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, another company that says it’s now mobile first.

Mayer told Benioff that she identified mobile as the prime opportunity for Yahoo when she was in talks about taking over as head of the beleaguered company, before she became CEO in July 2012.

Once on the ground, Mayer had to do reconnaissance to determine exactly how many staffers were dedicated to mobile. She determined there were approximately 60 people working on mobile initiatives, she told Benioff. Now, there are close to 400.

Getting there wasn’t simply a question of hiring more people, she said. The larger question was, should mobile developers be embedded among the different business units, or should there be a separate mobile business unit? She ultimately decided to create a separate mobile initiative, whose developers would work closely with product managers in the various lines of business.

Mayer also made it easier for staff to transfer into the mobile division, as well as to transfer around the company in general. “I believe you can let people work on what they’re passionate about, or else they’ll find a way to work around you,” she said.

The tangible results of Yahoo’s mobile-first strategy include redesigned mobile apps for Yahoo Finance and Yahoo Weather, as well as an updated interface for Yahoo Mail.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Yahoo has made a big push in to mobile. It was among the first internet company to see opportunity there in 2006, when it announced Yahoo Go Mobile, a downloadable application that included Yahoo Messenger, photos, address book and email. Yahoo Go only worked on some Nokia phones.

With mobile penetration in the U.S. set to exceed 100 percent, and smartphone penetration expected to increase to 72 percent in the top 19 digital markets around the world, according to ZenithOptimedia, the time would seem to be ripe. Indeed Yahoo’s mobile audience, at more than 340 million users each month is almost double the size of its online audience.

Also at Dreamforce, ExactTarget staffers demonstrated the ability to create personalized marketing messages tailored to different devices. Salesforce1 includes 10 times more APIs than the previous platform, and executives promised that companies could soon use the platform to easily brand readymade apps, create their own or port existing apps onto the Salesforce1 platform.

All Salesforce custom apps now appear automatically in mobile, and Benioff claimed he only uses his mobile phone to run the entire company. For Salesforce, he added, “Mobile is a bet-your-company decision.”

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