McKinsey leaders herald new horizon of customer experience at Dreamforce 2023

Dreamforce, the annual conference organized by Salesforce, is one of the biggest tech events of the year. With thousands of presentations, workshops and training sessions taking place in San Francisco over three days, the gathering sees leading thinkers and experts from across the Salesforce ecosystem offer their insights into the future of the tech industry.

In this era of tech-powered growth, business leaders are expected to harness the power of tech and analytics – all enabled by generative AI to realize the full impact. McKinsey colleagues led and participated in a range of sessions at the event that explored important topics, from creating hyper-personalized experiences for customers to leveraging technology to drive sales productivity and accelerating the adoption of generative AI to improve ways of working. Our global managing partner Bob Sternfels sat down with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff on day one to discuss the opportunities and challenges organizations face in this moment – including talent sourcing, the importance of personal renewal, and the future of AI.

We caught up with a few members of our delegation on their key takeaways from this year’s event.

Lareina Yee, Senior Partner

Lareina Yee headshot
Lareina Yee headshot

I spend a lot of time unpacking the future of tech-powered growth with my colleague Steve Reis. We also talk about generative AI and its benefits to business, but what is it in service of? At the heart of this technology, it is about making human lives better. That is the whole promise of generative AI.

On stage, I spoke with leaders of two very different businesses: Sarah Friar, CEO of Nextdoor, and Jean-André Rougeot, President and CEO of Sephora Americas. It was clear from them that if you’re thinking about this technology as an add-on, that’s not where you’re going to get value. The value is when you embed it into your strategy and leverage it to streamline operations, drive personalization, and more.

I also spent the day with 40 CEOs delving further into generative AI. They were interested in how companies are executing against the promise of AI and valued the ability to exchange learnings together in the small group. These experiences reinforced for me that the companies who get generative AI right will have the potential to outgrow their peers by double digits.

Jacky Wright, Senior Partner and Chief Technology Officer

Jacky Wright headshot
Jacky Wright headshot

Generative AI is emerging as a virtual knowledge worker. For example, it can synthesize insights out of customer data or write sales scripts based on next-product-to-buy probabilities. The time saved can be invested in higher-quality activities and customer interactions.

For most generative AI insights, a human must still interpret and oversee them, because the technology can fail at surprisingly simple tasks and invent convincing-sounding, but completely incorrect, responses. As Microsoft’s Peter Lee has said, “it is at once both smarter and dumber than any person you’ve ever met.”

This technology has the potential to change the anatomy of work and improve productivity, but it’s vital that a human is involved.

Jan-Christoph Köstring, Senior Partner

Jan Christoph Kostring headshot
Jan Christoph Kostring headshot

Driving above-market growth is on the minds of business leaders across all sectors and industries, yet achieving this has proven difficult for many (only one in four companies have succeeded). However, there is a group of companies that have realized ambitious growth targets year over year. We call them the Growth Champions. They have cracked the code, so we explored their secret sauce and identified the key traits that are shared by these companies.

One clear pattern across all of them is that they fully embraced the opportunity of tech-enabled growth. They make their marketing and sales tech stack (in 80 percent of cases this is Salesforce), the backbone of their growth activities. Building on this technology backbone, they innovate their marketing and sales approach: it starts with hyper-personalization, moving from outdated segmentation thinking to 1:1 relationships at scale. Consumers expect this and will go to another brand if they don’t get it. My colleagues Steve Reis and I recently shared insights on solutions that can deliver the hyper-personalization consumers are hungry for.

In order to make this happen, Growth Champions activate their analytics and move them from nice-to-have to center stage, integrating them into the daily doing of their sales organization and supporting the automatization of sales activities. Obviously, accelerating growth through technology and analytics also requires different capabilities. Growth Champions have started to unite their business and IT teams to jointly develop the tech-enabled growth strategy.

Tracy Francis, Senior Partner and Chief Marketing Officer

Tracy Francis headshot
Tracy Francis headshot

The retail sector has experienced as much disruption in the past five years as the previous 25. The environment is still challenging, as we experience global inflation at its highest since the 1970s, consumer sentiment at record lows, and ongoing supply chain issues and labor imbalances.

New trends have emerged. Consumers now use a spectrum of different channels to make purchases, have less brand loyalty, and higher expectations. The whole retail ecosystem is changing, including the relationship between retailers and suppliers. The workforce is also changing, with many planning to leave. This requires retailers to offer more flexibility, and to rethink their retention and promotion models.

What are the most pressing priorities for consumer leaders today? Businesses need to become omnipotent on omnichannel: consumers will choose retailers based on ease and richness of end-to-end experience. Consumers also expect personalized experiences and offers, as well as accelerated delivery times. Finally, on ESG, consumers are now voting with their wallets for sustainability and broader purpose.

Greg Kelly, Senior Partner

Greg Kelly headshot
Greg Kelly headshot

Only seven percent of companies are delivering on the growth triple play by unifying creativity, analytics, and purpose. My colleagues Peter Dahlstrom, Brian Gregg, and I had the opportunity to facilitate a session with a group of chief revenue officers while at Dreamforce that explored what that 7 percent is doing right. The chief revenue officer role goes beyond traditional sales and marketing. They play a critical role driving growth of their businesses across the entire market landscape, working to delight their customers with a full range of products and solutions.

These leaders were excited about the potential for built-for-growth technology, enabled by generative AI, to transform how they manage their sales and revenue streams. Salesforce’s own CRO Miguel Milano shared a behind-the-scenes look at how Salesforce uses its full range of solutions to drive and manage their revenue, and their own sales force. The CROs came away with a tangible understanding of how they can use technology to improve the effectiveness and efficiency in their sales teams and simultaneously manage their revenue line with greater confidence.

For more detail on our collaboration with Salesforce, visit our Growth Tech on Salesforce page.

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