Dreamforce 2021 was one for the books! There are plenty of blogs that are going to list the “top highlights” and you should definitely check them out because there are some really great things to highlight. If you haven’t already started working from a Slack-first perspective, the keynote and product sessions showing great new integrations with Salesforce may encourage you to pick up the Slack and make it happen. And the product teams have been making great strides in delivering improvements for how teams use the platform. Dreamforce ‘21 introduced plenty of features to get you excited and planning your roadmap for the year ahead. But my take-aways from Dreamforce ‘21 are a bit more contemplative and are summed up in three words: crisis, change, connection.
Early in the opening keynote, Marc Benioff called out five crises that the world is facing right now: trust, workforce, inequality, climate, and the pandemic. I was honestly a little surprised that the beginning of Dreamforce would start on such a dire note, but in hindsight it makes sense. In different ways and to varying degrees, these five factors affect each and every one of us, from individuals to organizations. And because this was a Dreamforce like no other, to pretend it was business as usual would not have rang true to the on-site attendees, let alone the tens of thousands of online viewers. In opening with these crises, the stage was set to show how Salesforce, it’s partners, and the wider Trailblazer Community are positioned to rise up to the challenge of solving them.
Salesforce has always focused on being a platform for change. This was never as true as it is today. In past years, the cost of a conference pass, accommodations, and travel, as well as visa requirements, could be a barrier to attendance. And if you were fortunate enough to attend, the staggering number of sessions spread across several city blocks introduced other challenges to getting into the sessions you most wanted. By successfully executing virtual conferences for both TrailheaDX and Dreamforce 2020, Salesforce made content available to more people around the world. In reimagining what Dreamforce can be in a world in crisis, it feels like the event planning team asked “Instead of trying to get back to the old normal, how can we define a new, better normal?” The answer this year was a hybrid Dreamforce with the best of both virtual and in-person! With fewer live in-person sessions, but a ton of virtual content streaming both live and on-demand, Salesforce+ introduced a kind of knowledge equity that didn’t exist before. Our Trailblazers in India didn’t need to be up all night to catch the material being delivered in San Francisco’s morning. Nonprofits and small to medium sized businesses who couldn’t afford either the financial cost or reduced staffing hours can squeeze in sessions between service delivery.
Even the features being highlighted felt different this year. Instead of big sweeping announcements, we were treated to a lot of features that live behind the scenes but provide meaningful improvements to how teams work (things like Lightning Web Runtime and Slack Workflow Builder for developers, or LucidChart Salesforce Libraries and diagram frameworks for architects). Instead of renting Oracle Park for a huge Dreamfest concert, we were treated to a cozy block party where the mascots joined the Foo Fighters on stage. And like any good change agent, Salesforce knew better than to mess with the things that still work really well: the Gratitude Tree, mindfulness sessions, Marc’s shoes, and plenty of opportunities to connect with friends both new and old.
The last theme that was woven into every aspect of Dreamforce ‘21 is connection. With about 1,000 onsite attendees and a footprint covering Howard Street between 3rd and 4th, it was a more intimate in-person experience. There was time to move comfortably from one session to the next and connect with more people in deeper ways. The frantic pace was reset to one of thoughtful interaction. And as I mentioned above, the introduction of Salesforce+ for streaming content allowed more people than ever to connect to the Dreamforce experience. But beyond the personal connections, much of the technical content focused on the importance of connecting systems and partners in order to solve the pressing challenges of the crises we’re facing. Years ago there was a push to get all your data into, and have all your users working inside of, Salesforce directly. Today, we recognize that Salesforce is not a data lake and that some users don’t need to be logged in and updating record pages directly. There are many external systems and data sources that can be integrated to provide the Customer 360 experience while allowing teams to work from anywhere.
Many organizations had to adapt quickly to working from home because of the pandemic. The leaders of the future will continue to develop their digital headquarters to support a dispersed, agile and empowered workforce. They’ll leverage integration, AI and automation to support building customer trust and employee loyalty while also making progress on equality, social justice and environmental issues. But with ever more advanced systems, the need for a highly skilled workforce will become more pressing than ever. Here, the connections fostered within the Trailblazer Community for workforce development, training and mentoring will be critical. Any good sales team knows you need a healthy pipeline of Leads, and the Salesforce ecosystem needs a healthy pipeline of entry level and junior positions that can grow into the developers and architects of tomorrow.
Even from the early days of the COVID shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders, people have been wondering how we could get back to meeting again in person. With Dreamforce ‘21, Salesforce provided a model of how we can gather safely, connect deeply, and continue to learn from each other. Together, each of us as individuals and the Trailblazer Community as a whole, can innovate, adapt and succeed in the face of any challenge.