How Can You Not Feel Romantic About CRM?

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A Brand Creative Director’s View on Relationship Design.

Early in my career, a legendary Madison Avenue madman gave me some sage advice. “If you have to choose between your head and your heart, always go with the heart.”

So, when I was asked to write a few words on Salesforce’s Relationship Design practice, I jumped at the opportunity — because relationships are at the very heart of humanity. It’s in our DNA as pack animals to seek each other out and form connections based on teamwork, success, friendship and…love.

And because relationships are, quite literally, at the very heart of CRM, I’m inspired to come to work every day for a company whose brand truth, enabling relationships, also happens to be a human truth. Not many technology companies can claim that.

So, when we think about creating brands that inspire and facilitate customer relationships, we have to think about design in a whole new way as well. We have to redefine it.

I have to admit, it hurt my head a bit as I attempted to wrap my mind around the countless definitions of design. Historically, it’s always been about engineering or product design. Architectural or aesthetic design. Strategic or solution design. Function or form.

But what about feelings?

How do you design experiences for head and heart? How do you design brand relationships? Because unlike human beings who claim the existence of love at first sight, meaningful brand relationships don’t just happen. They’re designed.

I remember when I was interviewing for my position at Salesforce, my mom asked what Salesforce did, and I thought, ‘good question’. I knew enough about CRM to be dangerous. I was familiar with the logo and the woodland characters. Dreamforce was an obvious one because every year it would stop traffic in San Francisco. But it bugged me that I couldn’t tell her what Salesforce did!

So, when I took the position, I set out to tell the world what we do, in the simplest terms possible. But how do we do that? By making a human, heartfelt connection.

The Power of Compassion

A compassionate approach to forming a connection with customers makes it so much deeper than a narrative or marketing message. Understanding and empathy are everything.

You can’t understand what somebody is going through or what sets them up for success without becoming familiar with their experiences. This comes through consulting with customers and engaging in deep listening.

When our team designs campaigns, we don’t just put ads out there marketing products saying, “This is what we do and it’s going to lead to success for you.”

The first thing we do is work with creative strategy and conduct qualitative and quantitative research. We really dig into what people need to succeed on a personal and professional level.

Our Customer Marketing Insights team unearths different insights that allow us to design products, services and messaging that can actually improve people’s lives. We’re always seeking to focus on what’s in it for the customer.

Tech companies are so quick to market and beat their chest saying “look what we made!” Many don’t go to the next step to say, here’s what’s in it for you. Here’s how it’s going to make you successful at your job, with your work-life balance, or make you a hero at home by giving you some time back.

Compassion is a starting point. It helps us remember why we’re doing this work, and who we’re doing it for. And from this point, we can craft messages that will actually reach people, and authentically connect with them. Change not only the way they think — but how they feel.

Ask yourself these questions to inspire empathy in your work:

  • Do I understand the challenge my customers are facing and the way my product or service addresses it?
  • How would I feel if I were facing this challenge?
  • Is my customer’s voice and perspective represented in my process and strategy?
  • What’s the “what’s in it for me?”

Meaningful Messaging

Salesforce is a massive and complex organization, with an enormous range of product possibilities and services to help our customers do their best work. Breaking through the technical jargon to the meaningful kernel of “what we do” is no small feat. But telling a story that connects with people, in a language that can resonate on a human level, is what turns impressive products into great brands.

So, how does a company like Salesforce create meaningful and purposeful messages? We seek to tell stories like we’re telling them to my mom or your neighbor: opening with relevance and emotion, rather than technical specifications.

The fun spirit of our brand helps differentiate us in the sea of sameness. Our Trailhead characters make what could be an intimidating corporate giant, more human. More fun. Being accessible, empathetic, and listening to customers is how we make connections. Finding human touch points allows us to bring customers, companies, and communities together, changing the way people think.

It’s this approach that led to our campaign that tells the world what we do — bringing customers and companies together.

We tell stories of our products and our values that articulate and demonstrate not only what we do, but also who we are in the world.

To begin distilling your messaging to its core human truths, start by:

  • Identifying the problem your product or service solves for your customer.
  • Ask yourself, your team, and your partners why your customer wants to solve that problem, capture the answers in one place.
  • Look for patterns in their answers to surface a common thread.
  • Articulate that “why” in the simplest possible language. Like you’re talking to a friend. Or your mom. I like to call it, “human-speak.”

Designing Brand Love

Brand love is a very rich place to play if you can connect people’s hearts with their heads. It is a powerful thing, and we need to be designing strategies around that little “L” word.

People are very passionate about brands. Some camp out overnight and tattoo their bodies for brand love. But what’s most moving is how the love for a brand brings company, customers and communities together.

And it’s not always love at first sight. Designing your brand around your customers needs and wants means an open dialogue with them through feedback channels to build an authentic relationship. It means making them feel cared for and heard. All of the important things that make a healthy relationship and community grow over time.

In fact, 95% of purchasing decisions are subconscious, driven by our emotions.. How we make customers feel is key to making impactful connections and keeping that relationship ongoing.

Providing meaningful and memorable experiences is critical. When done right, it creates deeper customer connections and forms community around the brand.

I take pride in working for a company that is truly changing the way we work, how we think, and changing the planet at the same time. This is where brand love ignites!

Dreamforce is the ultimate manifestation of brand love. It’s a celebration of our Trailblazers. It’s our customers and companies coming together to connect around their common interests, goals and shared values. It almost feels like a family reunion, with networks of relationships taking on a life of their own. That’s the beauty of brand love.

Ways to create meaningful, open dialogue with your customers:

  • Find ways to talk with, and listen to your customers! Engage in qualitative research to learn about how your brand is perceived and ways your brand can improve on their experience.
  • Use social media as an opportunity for conversation, not just broadcast–ask questions to spur engagement, and take the input of your followers seriously.
  • Make them care. Intellectually, aesthetically, emotionally…whatever, just make them care.

So now when my mom asks me what my company does, I have a clear response, in language we all understand. I can tell her that we use our products to bring customers, companies, and communities together in a meaningful way to change their lives for the better.

For years B2B companies believed that a serious tone is required to be taken seriously, but at the end of the day those executives, IT managers, and marketing leaders are people who respond to a good story as much as any other consumer.

It’s not a question of being B2B or B2C, at the end of the day, we’re all B2P — Business to People.

Learn more about Salesforce’s Relationship Design practice by taking the Relationship Design Module on Trailhead.

Learn more about Salesforce Design at, follow @SalesforceUX on Twitter, or check out the Salesforce Lightning Design System.

Thank You

Thank you to Madeline Davis and Crystal Garrett for helping me get the right words out, and to Teddy Zmrhal, Lauren Peters Lague, Wendy Smith, Adam Doti and Justin Maguire for helping me understand that design is so much more than just pretty pictures. And to Terrence Williams for helping me make some of these pictures pretty.

How Can You Not Feel Romantic About CRM? was originally published in Salesforce Design on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.