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Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff: This Is How We're Going To Win

Salesforce (CRM) Co-Founder and CEO Marc Benioff joins Yahoo Finance’s Brian Sozzi to discuss the company's latest earnings, succession plans, activist investors targeting Salesforce, the AI phenomenon, and much more.

Be sure to tune into Yahoo Finance Live Programming on Thursday, March 2:
- 9am ET: Brian Sozzi joins Yahoo Finance’s Julie Hyman and Brad Smith with his key takeaways from the Marc Benioff interview and the company’s next steps
- 11am ET: Salesforce Analyst breaks down the company’s earnings with Yahoo Finance’s Rachelle Akuffo
- 3:00pm ET: Dave Briggs and Seana Smith talk with Constellation Research Principal Analyst & Founder Ray Wang

Full breakdown of Salesforce's Q4 results
For analyst reaction to Salesforce's Q4 earnings, click here

Video Transcript

BRIAN SOZZI: All right. Joining me now is Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. Marc, always great to get some time with you.

Normally I would style this off talking about earnings, but there was a lot going on that earnings call. What stood out to me is you saying you have hit this hyperspace button. What is that button, and what did you mean?

MARC BENIOFF: Brian, it's great to be with you again, and I'm so thrilled. And well, we were together at Dreamforce, and you were there when we laid out our profitability framework that by fiscal year '26, that we would exceed 25% margins. Well, we actually did that today. We hit that hyperspace button, accelerated everything by two years. We delivered for this quarter an incredible 29.2% operating margin while also delivering 17% revenue growth. It was pretty awesome this quarter, and I couldn't be more proud of our team and what everyone has done to make this happen.

BRIAN SOZZI: You also talked about it being a new day at Salesforce. Walk us through that.

MARC BENIOFF: Well, I think it's connected to what we're talking about. We've really been focused on getting to higher levels of margin and higher levels of profitability. And now you can see the North Star more than 30% how we're moving forward as a company. It's not just being the number-one CRM in the world. Obviously that's incredibly important for this company in sales and service, in marketing, in commerce, in all of our critical areas where our customers connect with their customers.

But to really also deliver all the financial metrics, we want to be the most profitable software company in the world, one of the very largest, which we are, and also the highest cash flows. You saw we delivered more than $7.1 billion in cash flow for the year. These were incredible numbers. And we're committed to much higher results.

BRIAN SOZZI: Marc, I was talking to a couple of analysts while the earnings call was going on. I think you knocked them off their seats with a call-out of a 30% operating margin by the first quarter of what, calendar 2024? How do you get there? Do you need more headcount reductions? Does the economy have to come back? How do you hit that number?

MARC BENIOFF: Well, you can see the direction. We've had increases in our operating margin each and every year in the last five years. But you'll see also that we were able to, exactly like you said, hit the hyperspace button. Look, we added 4 points this year-- not 4 basis points, 4 points in operating margin. And next year, we're going to add-- or the current year that we're in, fiscal year '24, 4 and 1/2 points. So directionally, we're going in this incredible area, and we're moving as fast as we can into the '30s.

BRIAN SOZZI: I would love to unpack a couple of things you mentioned on this call. Let's start with you working with the team at Bain. Are you trying to find more efficiencies? Why did you tap them, and what are you working on with them?

MARC BENIOFF: Well, I should just bring them in or knock on the-- I should just hit my foot on the floor because they're actually in our building, which is how I know Manny, the CEO of Bain is here. I bump into him on the elevator all the time. And I said to him, hey, we're trying-- and our company, we're a scaled software company now, the number-three software company in the world. We want to improve these financial performance metrics.

And he has just a whole playbook he just rips out and just says, here we go. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. We're already implementing a lot of his ideas. There's a lot more to do. Honestly, we're just getting started. I couldn't be more excited about where we are, but I couldn't be more excited about where we're going. And Bain is going to be an important part of Salesforce's future, and Manny especially.

BRIAN SOZZI: Where do you see Salesforce going?

MARC BENIOFF: Well, look. We're moving into this incredible new AI world, where everything and anything and everyone is all connected. And to make that happen, we're going to have to have a level of technology infrastructure inside all of our customers that's really completely different than we have today.

A great example is Ford Ford, I have a Mach-E. I also have the new Ford Lightning. These are electric cars that are autonomous. The Lightning's an electric truck. It's really cool. But all the telemetry data and all the connectivity from those cars is going into our data cloud. And that data cloud then ingests it, and then through our artificial intelligence, through the real-time capabilities, through the automation, it's communicating back to me as I hit different thresholds of product performance.

And I get texts, I get emails, I get offers, I'm getting sold, I'm getting serviced, all through my data cloud. It's this connectivity between Salesforce's core clouds and this new world that we're in-- that is really exciting to me. You saw incredible traction this quarter. It became our fastest-growing cloud.

But not just at Ford. At companies like Boston Scientific-- they did amazing things with the Data Cloud. F1, the guys who do the sports racing-- 99% of their customers they never even get to meet-- Data Cloud connects them all automagically. And this is what's getting me excited, that we're going to be a huge player in the new AI world.

BRIAN SOZZI: For the layperson out there that is not as tech-savvy as you, Marc, talk to us about EinsteinGPT. Is that going to go to battle with the Microsoft ChatGPT? Explain it to us.

MARC BENIOFF: Well, Einstein is our core artificial intelligence platform at Salesforce. You know we are the leaders in artificial intelligence and CRM and commerce. We've delivered incredible results for our customers, making sure that when their customers are online, buying from them, we're able to provide an artificial intelligence framework that we've been developing for a decade that is really, incredibly state-of-the-art.

With this next generation of generative AI, what it means is that that AI is going to be able to do even more for you. It can code for you. It can write letters for you if you're a sales executive or a service executive. It's going to be able to create content. There's a lot of things that AI is able to do today that we couldn't do 10 years ago. And we're really about to enter an incredible new world where AI is going to really help all of our customers be more productive, have higher performance, and ultimately be far more profitable.

BRIAN SOZZI: Marc, I hope it doesn't start creating finance content. I need to be out here keeping this gig. Please, please. I just can't. I can't take that stuff. All right. So we have EinsteinGPT. Second thing that picked up to me on this earnings call-- and I almost cannot believe I heard it-- you disbanded your M&A committee. Holy cow. That is a big signal, I think, you said to investors. I mean, just walk us through that.

MARC BENIOFF: Well, we've done some great acquisitions here in MuleSoft and Tableau, both who had great quarters in the fourth quarter. Slack, which I know you use at Yahoo very aggressively-- it's a great product.

By the way, it'll be a huge part of the AI future, because Slack, for so many of our customers, is a critical data set for their AI future, as well as a user interface into AI. A lot of these new AI startups that are emerging in the Bay Area-- they're all Slack-first companies, and they use Slack as the primary interface to their AI system. So that's something that we're going to definitely be demonstrating.

And when we walk in, we don't have to do the development work for the AI to Slack. It's already done, because that's how they kind of built their whole company. But this is really where the world is moving to. We're having a new kind of world, and our acquisitions have set us up very well for that world.

At the same time, for us to deliver these much higher levels of profitability and performance that we're committed to, new levels of prioritization of our core organic products like Data Cloud-- Brian, that's going to mean that we're going to have to slow down and mitigate what we've been doing with M&A.

And so we disbanded our M&A committee to do that. We created a new Business Transformation Committee to focus on profitability. And hey, well, you can see it in the results this quarter. 29.2% operating margin. We delivered $8.4 billion in revenue. Brian, how many software companies have you reported on that have ever delivered a quarter quite like that?

BRIAN SOZZI: Fair point, Marc. So is the day of the big acquisition in Salesforce done for the next 24 months?

MARC BENIOFF: Well, I certainly think so. I mean, it's impossible to predict the future. You know that. But what I really can say is, we're really focused on our profitability, our core performance, these financial metrics. That's why we delivered a great fourth quarter. That's why we're going to deliver a great fiscal year '24.

We're now estimating that we're going to deliver almost $35 billion in revenue this year with 27% operating margin. This is what Salesforce is really focused on today, while also-- we just hit an absolute record low in customer attrition because our customer success has never been higher. So all of these things are working together, and they're working very well for us here.

BRIAN SOZZI: There's a couple changes coming to your board. Why have you made those changes?

MARC BENIOFF: We've had some great experiences with our board. We've had two board members that we're sadly having to say goodbye to. They've been with us for 20 years. Sandy Robertson and Allen Hassenfeld-- incredible executives who have really guided the last two decades of our performance.

And we're saying hello to three great new executives. I mean, one of them has been part of our ecosystem. You might have seen him at Dreamforce when you were there, Brian. Mason Morfit, the CEO of ValueAct Capital. He was not just at Dreamforce and has met with our customers and spent time with all of our executives and employees, but built these incredible decks showing us new levels of performance that we could get, and a distribution strategy and pricing.

He was on the board of Microsoft, so he has incredible wisdom from that and from running ValueAct as the CEO. So we said, Mason, you should really be on our board. You're really adding value like we've never seen from an outsider. His founder, Jeff Ubben, also was someone who was there at Dreamforce with us. He's an old friend of mine for many years-- incredibly wise and enlightened person as well. And we're like, wow. Mason, come in and help us.

And then Sachin Mehra-- Mastercard's a great customer of ours. The chief financial officer-- he has incredible financial engineering expertise. We've asked him to join our board. And probably one of my favorite CEOs of all time, one of the top CEOs in the world, Arnold Donald is also joining our board. So we have three great new board members. And that's five new board members in the last 16 months. Incredible.

BRIAN SOZZI: Yeah, I've gotten to know Arnold Donald through the years. He's been very informative.

MARC BENIOFF: Just great person, isn't it? Just great person.

BRIAN SOZZI: Let me ask you this, Marc. I've been doing this for a while. I know I may appear young, but I have been doing this for a while. I've never seen--

MARC BENIOFF: You don't appear that young, Brian.

BRIAN SOZZI: Thanks so much. I appreciate it. Thank you so much for the raw honesty. The active situation-- I have never seen anything like this. Is there a resolution in sight? How does this all end, and how do you move beyond it?

MARC BENIOFF: Well, look. I can really learn from anyone, and I enjoy meeting new people, and I enjoy talking to folks. And look, there's lots of different levels of understanding of enterprise software. There's different understandings of our company, who our customers are. But it doesn't matter what grade all these folks are at. I'm trying to ingest and learn and understand their perspectives.

I think it's extremely important that I have a beginner's mind. You know I like to practice the Japanese concept of shoshin. How do I have a beginner's mind? And in the expert's mind, Brian, there's no possibilities. The beginner's mind-- there's every possibility. And that is really my approach with everything that has been going on with Salesforce. And it's been great.

And then out of that, wow. I was just really blown away with Mason Morfit and how he was able to just grok what we're doing at Salesforce but then deliver these-- like I said, these decks, which outlined what we thought was just strategic directions for our company that really showed his expertise. And that's why we've added him onto our board.

BRIAN SOZZI: Marc, you've long been seen as a pioneer in software but also in the business community. And you're a co-founder of this really large company. How has this been, to go through a situation like this?

MARC BENIOFF: I'm having the time of my life. I mean, this has been 24 years. You've been along the way for a long time too. You've been to all our events. You've talked to so many of our customers and our employees.

And look, this is great. Who would have thought 24 years ago when I was a few blocks away from here at the top of Telegraph Hill in an apartment overlooking Mount Diablo before it had all this gorgeous snow covering that it has today? I would say, we could never have imagined that we would have delivered one of the very largest and most important software companies in the world. So I'm very grateful to everyone who's been part of this journey, and I couldn't be happier with where we are today and where we're going.

BRIAN SOZZI: Where do you see yourself in the next decade, Marc? What's your next act?

MARC BENIOFF: I'm right here in the present moment, Brian, which is where I think you should be, too.


BRIAN SOZZI: Well, I've got to ask the tough questions, though, Marc. I've got to ask these things I have to. It's just part of the gig.

MARC BENIOFF: I am having a great time, and I am just loving being the CEO of Salesforce. If you're trying to allude to what my succession strategy is, I mean, you've been following the company a long time. You know I always have a strong successor in place. I always have a strong number two. I always have a strong management team. That's what I love. And that's what I'm very much committed to at the board.

BRIAN SOZZI: Is that person inside the company? Do you have a group of people?

MARC BENIOFF: Oh, we definitely have people inside the company. Absolutely. And that is something that we'll continue to develop and grow and enhance and make sure that that's a core part of our strategy. And it always has been, and it always will be.

BRIAN SOZZI: Salesforce co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff. Thank you so much. I know it's a busy time. We'll talk to you soon.

MARC BENIOFF: Thanks for taking the time, Brian. All the best. We'll talk.

BRIAN SOZZI: Of course. Thank you.