The Importance of Culture at Salesforce for Startups

Inqune co-founder Alana Kadden Ballon recently spoke with Mike Creaden at the Salesforce for Startups blog about the importance of corporate culture in startups. Check it out!

The Importance of Culture

Culture shapes the everyday performance and decisions across all levels at your company. Deliberate planning with your leadership team on the physical setup, processes, values, and assumptions to reinforce collaboration and accountability.

5-24-2015 | Mike Kreaden

The following is an edited version of a conversation that I had with Alana about corporate culture and its effects on employee productivity and retention.  As a startup founder, corporate culture is one of those nebulous things that is hard to define, let alone create.  Alana had some great things to say about this.  Let us know what your thoughts are in this regard, so we can expand the dialog on this important startup topic.

Alana Kadden Ballon is founder and principal of Inqune, designs and builds sales programs that have enabled some of the fastest growing technology companies to scale their teams from one to hundreds of reps. Alana began delivering sales kickoffs, onboarding and ongoing development programs that drive revenue by reinforcing culture at and over the past three years has worked with dozens of clients including FinancialForce, SnapLogic, Silverline CRM, App Annie, Taulia, and Informatica Cloud.

Alana— When you are creating a startup, there are many things to optimize. Product. Processes. A qualified executive team, a well-connected board, supportive funders and your company culture.

Your company has a corporate culture whether you optimize it or not. Many assume that all startups have a similar “startup culture.” But truly, each company’s culture is unique.

Mike— So true, Alana. As you know, the Salesforce corporate culture is centered around “doing the right thing.”  From a business standpoint, this means being aligned with our primary value of Customer Success. This is more than just a stated value; it embodies everything we do.  If I’m in Engineering, I’m thinking about what I’m doing in regards to delivering quality code and features that will have an impact on productivity, ROI or just delighting the end user.  If I’m in a Customer-facing role, I know that I’m empowered to go above and beyond to service my customer.  If I need to, I know that I can walk up to Marc or Parker (our CEO and technical co-founder) and raise a concern or ask for help.

But “doing the right thing” transcends the work we do each day.  Salesforce is well regarded (beyond company performance or product awards) for pioneering the 1-1-1 model of integrated corporate philanthropy. In this model, Marc and Parker set aside 1% of founders equity into a 501(c)3 and created the Salesforce Foundation. Additionally, Salesforce provides free product to over 25,000 non-profits and instills a commitment of community service by allowing employees to donate 1% of their time to a nonprofit or charity of their choice. To date, we have volunteered over 920,000 hours. We partner closely with Pledge 1%, an organization founded by Salesforce Foundation, Atlassian and the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado, to help startups integrate the 1-1-1 model at an early stage.

I would argue that this personal empowerment is a cornerstone of the culture of Salesforce.  We are in business to do good – for our Customers and for the community.  This “higher order” way of looking at what we do is also good for the bottom line.  Delighted customers do not attrit and become advocates for you and your products.  Engaged customers (we involve our customers in community service projects as well) become part of the overall cultural dynamic in this way.  This helps to form common ground for deep relationships that go far beyond the last sale or service call.  A culture of good makes everyone feel like they working for something bigger than the bottom line. They are working on their sense of purpose in work and life.

Alana— Great point, Mike.  As you can see, you have the power to create, shape and change your corporate culture — and the choices you make will affect your revenue and results. Edgar Schein, former professor at MIT Sloan School of Management is renowned for creating a three-tier model to identify company culture. Looking through his lens, it’s easy to see why and how culture affects your revenue.

Here’s how:

Artifacts: Visible Organizational Structures & Processes

Collaboration & Best Practices

  • Can your in-person sales team listen in on each other’s calls or are they always in individual meeting rooms?
  • How easy is it for virtual teams to interact, and how do people respond to requests?
  • How easy is it to find information (sales presentations, competitive intelligence, scoping documentation?
  • Do you have an “open-door” policy? Are the doors open and are executives often in the office?
  • How often do remote employees see the rest of the team?

Making your team successful means removing hurdles and giving them the tools they need to do their job. People often learn best if they are repeatedly exposed to the information in their daily life. Overhearing a teammate’s sales pitch, quickly getting to marketing materials, and feeling free to give honest feedback increases individual performances and drive consistency across your team. Removing barriers to finding information allow people to focus on selling instead of wasting time and energy finding the tools needed to do the job.


  • Is it okay to disagree? How are disagreements resolved? Allowing your ideas to be challenged sends a message that the team has enough confidence in the product, the market and each other to tackle challenges and let the best ideas rise to the top.
  • Is it safe to say “I don’t understand”? If your reps don’t understand and can’t get clarification, they won’t be able to share it with customers.
  • Do sales reps feel comfortable honestly forecasting, even if that number is $0? Making room for your reps to tell the truth about what is happening in sales cycles allows you to make fast and effective changes. If reps are projecting (to avoid repeating “forecast/forecasting”) forecasting deals that aren’t going to happen and not disclosing the unknowns, you can’t make your number.
  • What happens when team members make mistakes? How risk-tolerant are your business processes? Some risk tolerance is important because it will allow you to reach the limits of innovation and not play it too safe, too much risk tolerance

Espoused Values: Strategies, Goals, Vision

Do you have stated goals, vision, values and strategy?

  • This can never be done too early. Make sure that you have executive alignment between different divisions so that you can work as one team.
  • Does each segment understand how they fit into the overall picture of organizational success and how they work with other groups to achieve that success?
  • Does your company vision actually encompass what your business does? Do your values reflect the ways you do business? Are all current business segments addressed in the overall business strategy?
  • Do all employees know your corporate goals, vision, values and strategy? What roles do these statements play in everyday decision-making across the organization?
  • Do any of your processes or office spaces contradict your vision and values? These friction points could be keeping your company from achieving its full potential.

Assumptions and Beliefs: Unstated & Unconscious Beliefs, Thoughts and Feelings

This is the trickiest to forge: It can’t be directly controlled by changing processes, physical setup, technologies, making plans or announcing direction.

By uncovering these unstated assumptions, you can determine if any changes need to be made. They should be shifted through sincere course adjustments by leadership (espoused values) backed up by tangible changes in policy, compensation, employee development initiative and other meaningful structural shifts (artifacts).

To uncover these core assumptions and beliefs, ask yourself and your team these questions:

  • Why do I work here? Would I consider leaving? Why or why not?
  • What would happen if I made a big mistake at work? Whom would I talk to? How would they react?
  • What would happen if the company were to fail? What would that look like? How & when would the decision be made to change direction? By whom?

Culture shapes the everyday performance and decisions across all levels at your company. Deliberate planning with your leadership team on the physical setup, processes, values, and assumptions that reinforce collaboration and accountability sets you up to maximize success.

If you’d like to learn more about Pledge 1%, you can start with the Salesforce for Startups program website.