Jim Steele Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2007

Jim Steele doesn’t want any of the lip service employees often give bosses. Steele wants to know exactly what’s going on, and he

finds that out by regularly getting on the front line with his team at salesforce.com inc. To Steele, president of worldwide sales and

distribution, the only way for a leader to really know the company is to see the trends up close and listen to the people who are fighting

the battles every day. That’s why he spends a big portion of his time at the on-demand customer relationship management services

company speaking to customers and getting feedback from its 2,000 employees. So far, the results are solid: Company revenue grew

nearly 60 percent to $497 million for fiscal year 2007. Smart Business spoke with Steele about getting in the trenches with his team

and what you can learn from your employees.

Go to battle with your team to get better answers.

My style is to be down in the trenches and

side by side with the sales team. I always

tell them, ‘I’m down here to help you guys

communicate to the customer and to negotiate deals.’ That means considering myself

the face of the company and being side by

side with my team and not making them

feel like, ‘Oh, jeez, the boss is coming, so

we have to put on our best face,’ then giving me a lot of lip service on everything.

I would rather hear what’s really going

on, and I don’t want them to think the boss

isn’t listening or doesn’t care. From my perspective, if I can show good listening skills

and really understand the issues, then the

team feels better for getting those issues

teed up and feels better about their

chances of success because someone at

the top cares.

Learn from your employees. All the things that I do with them as far as coaching, I also ask

from them. I ask them, ‘What could I have

done better to help you make this sale,

what would you like to see me do to help

you with this customer, what can I do to

make you, the company and the team more


I don’t stand on protocol because of my

position in the company. I’ve got to earn

people’s respect every day. I don’t put

myself above anybody and say, ‘Well, I’m

the president, so you have to listen to me.’

I want to truly understand what the issues

are; I have to make sure that I’m always

open to new ideas so that I’m not stuck in

my old ways.

Don’t brag. You have to be unselfish and

modest and not do all the talking. I can’t tell

you how many times I’ve seen executives

just spending time talking about all the

things they’ve done and how great they are.

Nobody really cares. When I’m out with my

team or customers, I want to know about

their families and their kids and just kind of

break down those barriers.

People want to know that you care about

them as people and don’t just see them as some part of the system that is there to generate revenue for you. I think employees

are a lot more loyal when they feel a connection to their leader. I know I am. That’s

the key thing, be unpretentious.

Inspire confidence. People want to deal with people that are stable and can inspire confidence. Show them that you’re not frantic

— it’s good to have a high sense of urgency,

but you don’t want to be frenetic about it

and make everyone think that you’re in crisis mode.

You have to present yourself as someone

who is calm and cool and collected under

fire because if you can alleviate some of

that pressure from your team, it really

makes them feel like you’re taking some of

the load off of them.

Focus on the victories. When anybody does

anything that either helps drive additional

revenue, helps drive better customer success or somehow enables better teamwork

or morale, I want to make sure that they get

credit for it.

People need a lot of positive reinforcement, they’re putting their necks on the line

every day, and the positive reinforcement

from their peers and management is what keeps them going. When we get praise from

our customer, it’s like we’ve been given a

million dollars; there’s just nothing better.

Promoting any praise we get is a great

way to boost morale and commitment and

loyalty. It’s one of the things that we do all

the time because it’s cheap to do; it doesn’t

cost you anything. It takes a little bit of

time, but the return is so high that it just

amazes me when people don’t do that on a

regular basis.

Be an evangelist for the company. We’re like evangelists. We continually tell people who

we are and what our vision is and what our

values are. We’re the face to the customer,

and if they look at us and they don’t think

that we’re inspired and excited about this

model, then they’re going to question, ‘Is

this really the right way to go?’ The way

that we beat the other guy is we become an

army of evangelists that are so excited

about selling and using our own products.

Make sure you’re getting there with metrics.

There are a lot of people who say they care

about their customers and their people, but

we track it religiously. We always look for

proof points on that, and we communicate

that to everybody.

The metrics are the validation points. You

can have all these great values and visions

and methods, but unless you can actually

track the progress of it, you’re not putting

the points on the board.

We have a site where you can look at any

of our systems on any given day and see

how many transactions are going through,

and you can see the response time. These

are important metrics that anyone can see.

It’s like the power plant; if your lights are

out, you can’t fake it. Before, we’d always

take things anecdotally and say, ‘I’ve heard

this 25 times,’ but now we have this site

where it’s all right in front of you accurately. If you’re not close to the customer, if you

don’t work to get feedback and do something with it, that’s death.

HOW TO REACH: salesforce.com inc., (800) 667-6389 or