Lessons from Dreamforce ’12

I recently spent a week attending Dreamforce – a large annual conference put on by Salesforce.com – in San Francisco. I went for two distinct reasons. One, to look at the product from a business perspective. And two, to look at the ecosystem the product has created, because we see it making its way further into the association and nonprofit community.

Last year, 45,000 folks registered for the conference. That number doubled this year. It’s quite an experience being among so many people. As you may imagine, I have attended a lot of conferences in the association and nonprofit space in the past 20+ years, so I couldn’t help but to compare my experience at Dreamforce with all my observations and experiences in our community. I’ve decided to break up my thoughts into the following categories:

  1. My attendee experience
  2. Thoughts from specific sessions and keynotes
  3. Things I saw that were interesting
  4. Food (as always…)

This post covers #1. Stay tuned for more later this week.

My attendee experience

For 90,000+ attendees, I have to give Salesforce a huge pat on the back. The event planners did an excellent job with just about every aspect of the event. I will start with all the things that seemed to go right and then zero in on the two things I found fell short.

The good stuff

  • Food: Those of you who know me know I love food and probably aren’t surprised it is the first thing on my mind. How often do you go to a conference and actually really like the food? Our lunches were tasty. The sandwich, the little salads, and the dessert – all tasty.
  • Keynote speakers: Sir Richard Branson, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff (of course), Gen. Colin Powell, GE CEO Jeff Immelt. Other keynote speakers from Salesforce and Facebook were also very good.
  • Entertainment: A concert at City Hall with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Plenty of very accessible food and drink. No lines. Live music all day every day on the main concourse. Local talent got the chance to play for about 45 minutes to an hour.
  • Crowd management: Well done.

Where Dreamforce fell short:

  • Scheduling: Using the app to create my schedule was not a blast. It was as if usability had been thrown out the window.
  • Expo hall: Worse than any corn maze cropping up this month, it was impossible to navigate or know what was where. With 350 vendors spread over a space the size of 6 football fields, the expo really could have been better arranged, or supported by the app so I could find my way in and out easily.

This is just skimming the surface, of course. I talked more about my observations from Dreamforce on the Sweet Spot Live last Friday.