Salesforce’s Marc Benioff Doesn’t Know Why He’s At CES, But He Sure Loves Disruption

Making what he said was his first trip to the Consumer Electronics Show since he was a teenager, co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff took the stage today to talk about the big shifts in the technology industry.

Benioff, who was interviewed by MediaLink’s Michael Kassan, noted that CES is traditionally a show for things like health tech, automotive tech, and other consumer tech — and on that front, you can find “awesome” products by walking its halls. It’s not, however, a show for information technology, so he asked, jokingly, “What am I even doing here? I don’t even know.”

Michael Lazerow, founder of Salesforce-acquired Buddy Media, offered some thoughts about that yesterday, and Benioff suggested one possibility today: It’s because all of these industries are converging. To illustrate that point, Benioff recalled meeting with Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, who asked about the future of his company. In response, Benioff rattled off a long list of questions that Toyota should be asking itself, all involving the idea of connection: How are Toyota vehicles connecting with other devices? How is the company connecting with its customers? With its employees? With its dealers?

The way that brands are marketing themselves has to change, Benioff added. True, most brands now have a few employees “stalking” their customers on social media, looking for instances where they’re mentioned and replying, “Oh yeah, we love you, too.” But companies need to be more proactive. For example, he said that all the Internet-connected dishwashers and other smart devices at CES give brands the opportunity to send emails like, “We know that such-and-such is clogged” and offering to fix it. That’s the kind of outreach that prompts customers to rave on Facebook and Twitter about how much they love a brand.

Benioff closed off his speech with a paean to the virtues of disruption. Asked by Kassan how he looked at innovation versus disruption, Benioff declared, “We’re all in this industry because we love disruption.” In other jobs, people may need to do things like jump out of a plane in order to get excited, but in tech, we’re excited about “the constant and never-ending change”: “It’s what we live on, it’s what we thirst for.”

And you can see that at CES, he said — last year Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was a keynote speaker, whereas this year he was just “running on-stage and running off” at Qualcomm’s keynote. Benioff described the technology industry as a “continuum” where the old is continually replaced by the new. After all, in 10 years, all of the hot new gadgets at this year’s CES will be “in a landfill somewhere.”

“Who knows what’s coming next year at CES?” he said. “You can’t predict it.”