Data Sheet—Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff Seeks More Approachable AI

October 19, 2017, 12:40 PM UTC

Last year Salesforce announced with much hoopla—which is how Salesforce announces things—a new artificial intelligence product called Einstein. For a feature story in the current issue of Fortune, Marc Benioff, the company’s CEO, told me how his intuition helped name the product. As I relate in my article, the name was serendipitous. It came to Benioff, he says, because the owner of the domain name approached him out of the blue to sell it. With his signature mix of technical vision and P.T. Barnum-worthy showmanship, Benioff recognized that “Einstein” would convey AI in a way that would have broad appeal.

But what he did next is the difference between people who peddle products and gifted marketers. Let’s let Benioff tell the story:

“When I told my product marketers [about the Einstein name], they said, ‘No, no, we want it to be a functional name. Salesforce Intelligence. Salesforce AI.’ At that point, I said to them, ‘No, no, I appreciate your feedback but in this case it’s not going to be called Salesforce Intelligence. It will be called Salesforce Einstein.’ And their first designs for Einstein were a graphic of a cloud with a little neutron going around in a circle, and I’m like, ‘No, no, that’s not Einstein to me. I want to have a funny, approachable Einstein, an Einstein that I can love.’ And today that’s what we have. We have a lovable Einstein who is about AI in Salesforce in a declarative way. [Salesforce’s marketing version of Einstein is a 3-D cartoon-character figure based on the famous physicist.] Their version kept going back to something more functional. I wanted something more human, more approachable, more affable. I wanted something that makes it clear that we’re more about humanity, not just about bits and bytes.”

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Benioff waxes romantic about enterprise software in the same way Steve Jobs talked about a telephone like a work of art. It is just one way Salesforce, through clever marketing as well as innovative product strategy, has been successful. It’s also an example of why the company ranks No. 1 on Fortune’s first ever “Future 50” list of innovative large companies, based on a data-driven analysis by consultants BCG.

The full list, which includes the likes of Facebook, Amazon, and Tesla, is here.

Have an innovative day.


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This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.
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