When Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff took the stage at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech dinner in Las Vegas Monday night, he used the opportunity to profess his love for Fitbit, maker of wearable activity trackers.
Why? According to Benioff, the startup is an apt metaphor for what he calls a “one-to-one customer journey”—an intimate way companies can connect with their customers. (Fitbit, it should be noted, is a Salesforce customer.)
Watch the full interview with Marc Benioff from Fortune’s video team:
Just a few weeks ago, before taking off for a vacation at his Hawaii home, Benioff says he received a new Fitbit in the mail.
“I put it on right away and I started a journey with them,” Benioff told his interviewer, Fortune senior editor-at-large Adam Lashinsky, and the roomful of marketing executives in attendance. “As soon as I got the product I put the app on my phone. Then I had to sign up and I got an email from them [Fitbit]. “
Benioff said Fitbit tried to upsell him, asking if he’d also be interested in buying a “connected” scale. He also received an email asking if he would be interested in connecting with everyone else in his social media network that is also a Fitbit user.
“Suddenly I go from receiving a package in the mail to having multiple products and being connected to my friends and receiving multiple emails,” Benioff said. (Speaking of his friends, after signing up for the Fitbit “community” he received an email from Michael Dell—also a Fitbit user—asking if he was OK. It turned out Benioff hadn’t been very active that day.)
As companies pursue these kinds of new customer interactions online and offline, Benioff hopes his company will be the one to provide the software that enables them to do so. When he founded Salesforce CRM 15 years ago, the idea was to give the sales organizations of companies an easier way to connect with customers. That “way” was software delivered as a service via the cloud.
“Then this incredible shift happened which was our customers came to us and said, we want to connect with our customers in new ways,” Benioff said. “We call it marketing, but it’s not really marketing—it’s about customer management.“
The barrage of newly-possible customer interactions has led to an influx of data. Fitbit, for example, can know a user’s location, friends, physical activity, and heart rate. But even Benioff admits there’s a downside to all of that information.
“We’re all heading to creepy,” he told the roomful of marketers at the Fortune dinner. “We all know that.”
The data present another challenge: Even though companies can now collect mountains of data on their customers, it doesn’t mean they know what to do with it. For example, Benioff said he shared his heart rate data, collected through his Fitbit, with his doctor.
“I sent it to my cardiologist and you know what he said?” Benioff asked. “He said, ‘I have no idea.’”
Still, the outspoken CEO is convinced that this kind of intimate customer relationship is the future.
“This is a metaphor,” Benioff said. “The reason I’m telling this story is so that you can get an idea of where we are going in the world, with everything getting connected.”