Skip to content

IN-PERSON is a podcast series that tells the stories behind the world's most daring events and the people who make them happen.

Music by Winesap.

 

GUEST SUBMISSIONS
By Industry
By Topic
By Role
feather_search

47 I Rex Serrao, Salesforce: Turning Insights into Action and Guiding the Attendee Journey

  • June 17, 2021
  • 41:13

Rex Serrao (Senior Director of Marketing Technology, Salesforce) discusses turning event insights into action, digital-first experiences, and guiding the attendee journey.

You can also listen on these platforms:

Top Takeaways

1

FROM INSIGHT TO ACTION: “The discipline to set a hypothesis, to lay out the success metrics ahead of time and then close the loop, that was one of the hardest habits to break was when an event was done you have this completely understandable flight of people. It's like 'We got this event done, I'm out. I'll see you after a week.' Just to recover. But oftentimes that's when you need to strike. That's when you need to immediately dive into the data. Map it against your lag metrics and really pull out 'Was this successful? What did we learn?' Because you need to immediately drive into the next cycle and set up the next set of experiments and learn from that event so that you can improve for the next."

2

HYBRID EVENTS & DIGITAL-FIRST EXPERIENCES: “Keep in mind every piece of technology, every new interaction model, for the designers out there, every new interaction model that you create, an attendee has to learn. So if you introduce a whole bunch of features and a whole bunch of bells and whistles they have to learn all of that. And if it's a one-time event you are putting such a cognitive load on them to one, figure out the content, two, figure out what they need to do, three, plan their schedule, four, learn your tool set. It's a lot. The message gets lost. I'm going back to kind of the signal and the noise. The noise just completely overtakes any signal that you were hoping to kind of get out there to your audience."

3

THOUGHTFULLY GUIDING THE ATTENDEE JOURNEY: “Putting yourself in the shoes of an attendee is easy to say and what you're asking is a hard but important question. When it comes to thinking about the customer journey there's a couple of things that remain top of mind for us. You really start with this idea that we have to respect the attendee's behavior in the context that we meet them. So what does that mean? If you are an in-person attendee you show up a different way. Your commitment level to that event is very different. Likely you paid money or you decided to get in a car and drive somewhere or more probably you decided to get on a plane and fly somewhere. That's a huge level of commitment that you've decided to make. If you're a digital attendee, quite frankly your level of commitment is different. It was likely an e-mail that showed up in your inbox and you went like 'I guess I'm free Wednesday morning, I guess I'll add it to my calendar, if nothing else important shows up I'll attend.'"

ABOUT Rex Serrao

Rex Serrao is the Senior Director of Marketing Technology at Salesforce. For years, Salesforce has successfully led the way for in-person events with household name event brands like Dreamforce and the World Tour Series. More recently the Salesforce team has pioneered the virtual event space, and are now paving the way for the hybrid models of the future.

Rex has held IT roles across a variety of industries for more than 10 years. Starting as a remediation consultant bringing troubled projects across the finish line, he went on to run application development, PMOs, product organizations and Technology strategy functions in financial services, insurance and healthcare domains. As the Senior Director of Marketing Technology, Rex currently runs the global event and brand technology capability at Salesforce.

Episode Transcript

Rachel Rappaport:

Hello, and welcome back to In-Person, brought to you by Bizzabo. In case we haven't already met, I'm Rachel Rappaport. And in each episode of In-Person, we explore the world's most daring events, and the people who make them happen.

 

Rachel Rappaport:

Today we’re chatting with Rex Serrao, the Senior Director of Marketing Technology at Salesforce. For years, Salesforce has successfully led the way for in-person events with household name event brands like Dreamforce and the World Tour Series. More recently the Salesforce team has pioneered the virtual event space, and are now paving the way for the hybrid models of the future.

 

Rachel Rappaport:

Rex has held IT roles across a variety of industries for more than 10 years. Starting as a remediation consultant bringing troubled projects across the finish line, he went on to run application development, PMOs, product organizations and Technology strategy functions in financial services, insurance and healthcare domains.  As the Senior Director of Marketing Technology, Rex currently runs the global event and brand technology capability at Salesforce.

 

Rachel Rappaport:

In this episode, we explore the importance of event data and how to turn your insights into action. We take a look at the Salesforce World Tour Series and Dreamforce, dive into the future of digital-first experiences, and uncover the secrets to guiding attendees through their journey to create lasting advocates and fans.

 

Rachel Rappaport:

Let's get to it. Here's Rex Serrao, and our host Brandon Rafalson.

 

Brandon:

Rex, welcome to In Person.

Rex Serrao:

Hey, I'm really glad to be here Brandon.

Brandon:

I'm super excited to have you on the show for a number of reasons. Obviously Salesforce is doing really cool things, but also because you're the first event technologist that we've had on the show. We've had folks on the production side, we've had folks on the marketing side, folks who are in the nitty gritty thinking about event strategy and all sorts of things, but we haven't had anybody who can really speak to tech. So congratulations on being the first event technologist.

Rex Serrao:

Thank you so much for having me. That is a little odd considering Bizzabo is an event technology company. So I'm confused and excited to be your inaugural event technology guest.

Brandon:

When organizations are smaller it might not be as common to have a dedicated tech role, but that set aside, do you think that they're increasingly more marketing tech and event tech roles popping up?

Rex Serrao:

We see a real kind of dichotomy of roles when it comes to event technology. There's the logistics and operations-focused version of this, which is "Hey, we need a registration system, we need an agenda builder." And if that's where you spend a lot of your technology conversations then quite frankly it's not a role that you want to keep in-house. Right? It's a role that you could host with an agency. But if you are looking at technology as a differentiator and if you're really focused on innovation, you're really focused on pushing the needle in any which way, there tends to be more of a reason or a really strong case to bring that role in-house. Salesforce in particular of course, innovation being one of our core values, it's not surprising that they keep that role in-house and constantly challenge the technology team to come up with new, cool, effective ideas.

Brandon:

So how did you get involved with event and marketing technology then? I mean, I know you have a pretty long career when it comes to IT, you have a background in product too. Could you walk us through some of those steps and how they led you to where you are today?

Rex Serrao:

It has definitely been a long and windy road, a fun one. I'm a recovering developer so at one point in the distant past I used to write code. I started off really in the remediation consulting world. So your project's behind schedule, you need to kind of get it across the finish line. So you get a lot of exposure in that world that what can go wrong. Eventually I decided to stay around with a firm that I helped and I got into a real variety of roles; running an application development team, running our PMO, our Project Management Office, running our product organization, and then our tech strategy for our CIO at the time. I think there was a point at which I looked at myself and said "Are you growing or are you too comfortable?" And I think for me at that point in time I was really comfortable, and my growth, not from a promotion perspective, but just from a personal perspective, it was limited.

Rex Serrao:

So my mentor who was my boss at the time said "You need to go find something that you're really not great at and go do that thing. Go be a student again." And it's funny, I actually picked Salesforce and said "I want to work for Salesforce because of not just what they do but how they choose to do it." And then I looked through the list of jobs that I thought I could do but I definitely didn't know how to do and event technology popped up on that list. So that is how I decided to enter the world of events.

Brandon:

Now at that time had you attended events, had you been involved in sort of the behind the scenes of making events happen or was it a pretty strange and new world for you?

Rex Serrao:

It was actually extremely strange. I had attended a bunch of events, but as an attendee clearly you're not really thinking about it. Right? Everything feels so smooth and seamless to the point that the technology recedes into the background. The attendee is never really thinking about registration technology or the agenda builder application, right? So I hadn't really given it a lot of thought until I looked at the job description and went "This sounds really interesting and incredibly challenging. I'm going to go do it."

Brandon:

So I mean, eventually you joined the team and you sort of mentioned how a role like this, it really is when an organization is looking to meaningfully move the needle with their tech stack, not just find a solution. Could you tell us a little bit more about how on a day to day basis you are collaborating with your colleagues to drive event success?

Rex Serrao:

One of the most exciting things about an event that I've come to understand is just the scope of impact that it can have on a firm. You were talking to me about impacting the marketing organization of course, but also sales and the IT units and the enablement units. Every part of the firm gets touched by an event. So when we talk about collaboration with the various partners we actually split our team into two components. There's one which is just the execution arm. So there's a level of collaboration there that is necessary to run an event smoothly. Picking out the exact drop down values for a registration form or thinking about exactly what tags you need for your content.

Rex Serrao:

But then, and again I'm really passionate about this part, which is kind of the strategy part. Where you're sitting across the table and you're asking why. And being a newcomer to the field I get a pass asking the whys a lot more I guess. But you can ask questions like "Why do you want to throw this event? Why 10,000 people? Why not 5,000 people? Or why not 20,000 people?" You're asking this question across so many domains. You're asking this question around audience acquisition, you're asking the question around content, you're asking this question around the experiences. And good ideas can come from anywhere, so there's this constant back and forth of an idea and a response and a sharpened idea and a sharpened response until you arrive at an answer. We don't see technology as a silo, but at the same time it's not an order-taker. You really have to show up as a partner. And that's the primary type of collaboration model we try and model is that of a partner. Whether it's strategic or operational, I'd say that is it.

Brandon:

It sounds super cross-functional and sitting in rooms with a lot of folks from maybe the event side or the marketing side or as you even alluded to, maybe there's some folks from the enablement team or sales team in the room too. And refining this "Why?" And how it can be reflected in the tech.

Rex Serrao:

Absolutely. Again, it's so easy to kind of default into order taking, which is tell me what you want and I'll go do it. But that's not where the magic happens. I think the magic happens when you sit across the table and say "Hey, I don't know what you're trying to do. Help me understand your why." And then make that why into reality. I'm partial because I'm in tech but I always say "Tech is the great leveler because at the end of the day no matter who's telling you what they want, whether it's content or employee relations or employee success or sales or enablement, it all shows up as one experience to an attendee." So merging all of those perspectives and really trying your best to represent the why of all of those perspectives is so critical or you get lost in just the sea of these requests without knowing the reason.

Brandon:

I wanted to take a second to kind of look back in that crazy year of 2020. In the event space it compelled a lot of organizers to move to virtual. It's old news but Salesforce was one of the first brands to really embrace this digital approach. When there was so much uncertainty with events and conferences being canceled left and right Salesforce World Tour Sydney in March 2020 went live with a very successful show, which I think was inspiring. Just if you're somebody who follows the Salesforce brand it was very cool. But I think for just event organizers generally to see there is a way that we can come up with creative solutions to engaging our audiences virtually. It really led the way in that respect. From your perspective what was some of the inspiration behind launching that series and what are some of the learnings from this past year of World Tour events?

Rex Serrao:

2020, what a year. The World Tour Sydney, when that pivot happened I remember quite frankly, initially the panic in the room. It was an in-person event. I think that most people forget that. It actually started off as an in-person event. Registration was pretty far down the pipe. We were 10 days from show. And to get told that this event that's normally about 10,000 people, they're not going to be able to show up on-site, it was devastating initially. But I think it's testament to two things, not unique to Salesforce but important to Salesforce. One is the creativity of the team. Our team in APAC did not accept that failure or cancellation was an option. Right away the first thing was "How do we pivot?" It starts from there.

Rex Serrao:

I think the second thing you see is that innovation, that drive for innovation. It didn't default to "Let's just go and buy something real quick, slam it in, and just provide whatever type of experience." I think the team very carefully started to go and say "How do we, in the time that we have, get really scrappy while providing a good experience for the customer?" And again, we look back on that and we think "Oh we could have done this differently or we could have tried something else." But you think about what can be done in 10 days, throw a virtual event. It was simply incredible. But that pivot, that scrappiness really set the tone for the whole year across our regions.

Rex Serrao:

2020 taught us a couple of things about virtual events. It got us looking at the data at a much more granular level. I think in the past, and again, as a relative newcomer to the industry I want to be careful, you get in the mode of "We did this last year, it was a hit, we should do it again. We did this last year, it worked so well we should do it again." You start to lose the first principle around "Why did we ever do this thing in the first place?" And as we pivoted to virtual we started to ask that question much more often. Why is it we are trying to do this thing? Why is it we want to add this experience? Are people really going to use this?

Rex Serrao:

We saw so many systems and technologies that were pitched to us about "You use this tech and you are going to be great." And I think we held firm to our first principle thinking that content was ultimately going to be king, that we started to think about the user experience, we started to kind of respect what it meant to be a digital consumer of content. That was one of the most important takeaways is go back to the first principles, go back to the why, get back to the basics, and look at the data in a whole new way, not just reporting on stats, but looking on some of those insights.

Brandon:

Let's dive into it. What were some of the ways that you were thinking about data, looking at insights to drive the decision making around virtual in 2020, but also as you were thinking about 2021?

Rex Serrao:

When we started in 2020 the initial instinct is "Well, let's report the way we report it." Let's just take the old way of reporting and kind of pivot that. You're just swapping out the different sets. In the old world you might be looking at it as how many people showed up into Room A and now you're saying how many people showed up on Broadcast B. But you start to challenge the data a little bit and start to ask, "I get what the statistic is, but what did it actually drive?" Dwell time is a really common metric that we use in the digital space and a lot of technology vendors tend to say that they track that metric. Dwell time, how long was someone on the platform.

Rex Serrao:

If you take a step back and go to your CMO or you take a step back and go to your CFO and say "I got 20,000 people to spend 20 minutes on the platform or 60 minutes on the platform." The first question they go is "So what?" The real metric they're after is pipe gen. Or if you're a SaaS company, "What's your ACV?" It's that initial exploration that continued to keep us interested in deep diving into the data, not just what the actual measurement was, but what was that measure driving? Was dwell time truly correlated with pipe? If someone was on the platform 45 minutes was that enough? Was it materially different than if someone was on the platform for two hours? And how many of these systems were really tracking engagement time versus dwell time?

Rex Serrao:

Having a stream up in the background, you've muted it, you've just taken your headphones off, does that really matter or should we really track the number of times someone made a comment, clicked an emoji, bookmarked a session? Are those things important? So that exploration of not just capturing the measurement, but interrogating the measurement, looking for the story it was trying to tell us, that I think really kind of changed the way we continued to explore the data during 2020.

Rex Serrao:

So it seems like there's a big shift in the mindset and sort of determining what is meaningful, as the adage goes, separating the signal from the noise. But I'm also interested in hearing your perspectives in terms of what became available with this shift to virtual and the sort of data points that you were able to leverage or look into to connect the dots that you weren't able necessarily to do with strictly in-person events?

Rex Serrao:

Oh my gosh. You know it's funny, when people think about kind of instrumenting an in-person space, besides the scanning data that most people think about, the lead scanners, section access scanners, et cetera, generally people think "It would be really cool and interesting if I knew everywhere a person walked." That's usually what people are thinking. People use Bluetooth or RFID to scan for that. When you are in the virtual space I have that. I know everywhere you are. I know everywhere you clicked into. I know how long you were on a page. I know every chat you made. I know every button you clicked. And you have this sudden explosion of data. Depending on kind of your firm and how well-instrumented your corporate website is, you know where they came from, what they were doing ahead of time. Salesforce, we use our own product [inaudible 00:13:55] on our website. We use Experience Cloud, we use our customer data platform so we really have a good understanding of who you were, where you came from, what you consumed, what you did at an event, and where you're going past an event.

Rex Serrao:

Now what we weren't prepared for was this explosion of data because all of the sudden every system is capturing all of these logs, all of this plethora of data. We looked at one virtual event, was able to generate, just in terms of raw count more data points than the entirety of our in-person portfolio last year. Yeah. So trying to make sense of that really was the biggest challenge. Thinking back, gathering the data was easy, but stitching it all together and making sense of it, just incredibly hard. Incredibly hard. But again, that's where the magic is. Nobody's asking me "How many people clicked on button A?" but a lot more people are asking me "What content was most relevant or what journey seemed to drive a lot of the pipe or what journey really kind of drove down NPS, what should we take out to make this event better?". Those are the types of questions that we get asked, which can really highlight this intermediate layer of data analysis that needs to happen to make sense of all this luminous data.

Rex Serrao:

Yeah, it's a great opportunity but such a huge challenge at the same time. I mean, some of our listeners, I'm sure many of our listeners have encountered the same situation of just this explosion of data points. I think it's super helpful to hear about creating that intermediate layer, working with other teams, or members of the events marketing team to sort of figure out what are the important research questions to be asking. Are there any other frameworks or steps that you think might be helpful for some of the folks listening to the show?

Rex Serrao:

Absolutely, I lean on my product background quite a bit when it comes to this space, which is going back to that first principle thinking about why you are throwing this event and being really clear about what you're trying to chase down. Something as simple as 'is this a top of the funnel event or is this a bottom of the funnel event?' Are you going after all segments or two segments or just one segment? Are you trying to hawk one product, all your products, is this a brand awareness event, is this a closing event? Those questions are so important because what it does is it sets up your lag metrics. It sets up this framework of metrics that you will use to judge all of this data. If I know that this is a closing event then I know that I'm really looking at pipe gen as a great leveling metric.

Rex Serrao:

All of this data that I collect, this web data, video data, on demand video data, et cetera, engagement data really needs to be mapped against that success metric to see which of those pieces of data have a correlative or causative impact on that metric. If it's a brand awareness metric then that's certainly what I'm looking for. How many people didn't know about Salesforce but now have a better understanding about Salesforce? So that first principle of thinking, that discipline to set a hypothesis, to lay out the success metrics ahead of time and then close the loop, that was one of the hardest habits to kind of break was when an event was done you have this completely understandable flight of people. It's like "We got this event done, I'm out. I'll see you after a week." Just to recover.

Rex Serrao:

But oftentimes that's when you need to strike. That's when you need to immediately dive into the data. Map it against your lag metrics and really pull out "Was this successful? What did we learn?" Because you need to immediately drive into the next cycle and set up the next set of experiments and learn from that event so that you can improve for the next. That is probably one of the most important things is that discipline to set the hypothesis ahead of time, lay out your lag metrics, and have the discipline then to kind of close the loop.

Brandon:

Boom. One, two, three. That's super helpful to hear. So we're talking about data and the mindset and some of the signals to look for. One of the other things you mentioned is the technology and the role that that technology plays in capturing and accessing this data. You mentioned some of the different platforms that Salesforce has. Just generally speaking, what are some of the key considerations that marketers should keep in mind when evaluating technology platforms for their ability to capture and share data?

Rex Serrao:

If the listeners take anything away, I would say that remembering that an event technology platform isn't the same thing as an event strategy. That is the number on thing to remember. If your entire strategy says I'm going to use Platform A to deliver the experience, you have a huge problem. It's so important to have that strategy be apart from technology. Because while technology is super important and you can not have an event without technology, having technology drive strategy is backwards. The other thing I would say is don't buy off of marketing material. If you're picking a platform, attend the event on that platform and really spend some time on it.

Rex Serrao:

I can't tell me how many demos we saw and how many pitches I heard from marketers who said "I saw this really cool piece of software, we should totally use it." And it's really great in a video but then when you sit down as an attendee... I recommend that. Spend time as an attendee. It doesn't feel right. It doesn't feel as magical as the Sizzle reel that you saw from the sales executive. So I think that point is really important, is to actually spend time on the product. And thirdly I'd say spend time as an attendee. I remember vividly this moment towards the end of last year when we had a product workshop around where we want to put our energy for this fiscal year and we asked the team "How many of you attended an event?" And everybody's hand went up. And I said "No, well how many of you attended an event to actually attend the event, not to figure out what a competitor is doing or not to figure out what the trend is. How many of you attended an event to attend an event?" And all but one hand went down.

Rex Serrao:

It's a real challenge in the industry when we forget what it is to be an attendee. So when you're trying to pick technology or the considerations, remembering what it is to be an attendee is so important. Now, there's many tactical considerations and most teams will either have someone like me on staff or someone from their agency that they can lean on for important concepts like compliance, integration, scale, so on and so forth. But I would say that what often gets overlooked is the true experience as an attendee. And you can only do that if you have the empathy and the memory of what it's like to be one.

Brandon:

That's huge. For a peek behind the curtains, what are some of the considerations that you and your team are thinking about when mapping out that attendee journey, putting yourselves in their shoes? And how does this approach to mapping out the attendee journey help your organization just drive your return on event?

Rex Serrao:

Putting yourself in the shoes of an attendee is easy to say and what you're asking is a hard but important question. When it comes to thinking about the customer journey there's a couple of things that remain top of mind for us. You really start with this idea that we have to respect the attendee's behavior in the context that we meet them. So what does that mean? If you are an in-person attendee you show up a different way. Your commitment level to that event is very different. Likely you paid money or you decided to get in a car and drive somewhere or more probably you decided to get on a plane and fly somewhere. That's a huge level of commitment that you've decided to make. If you're a digital attendee, quite frankly your level of commitment is different. It was likely an e-mail that showed up in your inbox and you went like "I guess I'm free Wednesday morning, I guess I'll add it to my calendar, if nothing else important shows up I'll attend."

Rex Serrao:

It's really understanding that those personas are fundamentally different. They don't show up the same way. They don't engage the same way. You can't have the same goals for them. So when we think about the ROE we have to peel back that equation for both those personas. A lot of teams around the world quite frankly have cracked the in-person. You know what it costs, you've done it so long, it's been a storied history of in-person events. Virtual, not so much. There's this desire to kind of do more and add new features and add networking and add all these bells and whistles, gamification, so on and so forth. But when you think about the behavior of a digital attendee, ask yourselves how many times you've gone to a website and just started playing a game or ask yourself how many times have you gone to a website and just spent two hours consuming content, B2B content. How often does that happen?

Rex Serrao:

So really thinking about what is realistic to ask that persona to do and then designing your event around that goal is really critical. Is it fair to ask someone to spend two hours on your site to watch content that you're pushing at them to sell them something? I don't think that's fair. So our events are designed differently and they're designed to kind of respect that persona. They're shorter, they're punchier, they're less salesy, they're much more about how you can be successful with us. And then we take you to a different spot and say "Hey, if you want to learn more and you're ready to spend more time with us, let's deep dive with you offline and kind of respect the time that you've chosen to spend with us."

Rex Serrao:

When you see some of those event plans I always challenge those things. When's the last time you attended a three or four hour virtual thing? People complain about doing their job at home looking at a webcam and you're expecting someone to sit in front of a screen and consume B2B content for four hours? It's got to be some pretty exciting B2B content.

Brandon:

I got to be honest, I'm a little late on the game, just generally pop culture, TV binge culture-wise with Breaking Bad. I've been watching it. It's been so much fun. But I think even a show as compelling as Breaking Bad would be kind of hard to sit down and watch for three to four hours. Maybe I can get those three episodes in at a time, but I need a break.

Rex Serrao:

I think it's a great analogy to think about how someone engages with a property like Netflix or Disney Plus or Paramount Plus or all of these streaming services that are out there. If you want to think about that digital experience from an attendees perspective, they show up, they want to quickly find what they want to find in whatever set of content or material or experiences that you have on your platform. And your challenge and obligation as an event planner is thinking about how can you connect them as fast as possible with what they're looking for? Not provide them with as many features as possible, not select a technology platform that's got 30 bells and whistles as opposed to 25. Like that's not the goal. The goal is how do you connect an attendee with what they're looking for in the moment and then allow them to take that next step in the journey? So if it's just dwell time, I want them to watch a lot of content in the moment, right now, like you said, there's no competing with Breaking Bad.

Brandon:

It's creating that more nuanced journey. And also to some of the points you raised earlier, I mean yeah, that dwell time's okay but how are we actually then driving that action that's going to benefit the sales or the company in general? All of this is sort of getting at this other idea around personalization of the attendee journey, something that pops up a lot in conversation and something that's super powerful, but I feel like it often, the power of it can kind of get ground out and just the glow of the term itself. How are you and your colleagues thinking about leveraging some of these new shifts around virtual, some of these new insights gleaned from data, some of these new inspirational models from Netflix or Disney Plus to think about making that attendee journey more tailored to them?

Rex Serrao:

Personalization, even when I joined Salesforce I heard that word bandied about a lot. We've got to make it personalized, got to make it relevant. And I think everybody inherently knows that that feels good. You go to YouTube you see those recommended videos for you. You go to Reddit and your posts are curated for you. Same thing with Netflix. Same thing with Prime. So you know that that's right. And there's also studies that say 37% to 40%, I think it's even higher now, 45% of users expect to see personalization on a platform. Not seeing it is weird. Customers notice that now. It isn't a nice to have, I think it is the new normal.

Rex Serrao:

So when we think about personalization it's really interesting. I feel like I'm repeating myself but it goes back to respecting the persona a little bit. A really interesting experiment our e-mail team ran actually showed that for someone who attended an event in person, if you made complex recommendations to them to go do a next thing that they didn't actually see at the in-person event, they actually didn't respond well to that. They actually responded much better when you recommended them a thing that they did at an event already, which is counterintuitive because you want to put them on a journey. Your desire is that you did A so I want to send you to B, not hey, you did A, why don't you go back and check out the video about A. So it's a counterintuitive thing but I would never have known that if the e-mail team hadn't spent cycles on that experiment.

Rex Serrao:

Whereas digital attendees are a little different. As long as you use, and Salesforce does again, a really great job when it comes to leveraging AI in that we don't just say "We recommend X to you." We actually say "Because you are X and because you are Y and because I saw you do B, based on this I'm telling you what I think you should do next." And we found in our products and even in our experiences that attendees respond really well to that. They can respect that transparency of an application of AI. We then make those recommendations.

Rex Serrao:

And it's interesting, in the digital space, counter to what I mentioned in the in-person space, you have a lot more leniency in saying "Hey Attendee, I saw you do A, I think maybe you should go watch B." And again, we would not have known that had we not experimented with it. So personalization helps a lot in that aspect if you learn from it and apply it. Where I think the future for personalization is is really merging it with this idea of journey. If all you talk about is the event, pre-event you showed up on the website, I'm talking about the event, you came to the website, you did the event, you come back to the website, I'm still talking about the event in the past tense, you're missing an opportunity to take them on their personal journey with your brand.

Rex Serrao:

When we think about personas we also think about the motivations. So it's not just that you're a digital attendee and you're Segment A, Segment B, Segment C. You could be digital attendee Segment A, but you have a motivation to learn versus you have a motivation to buy versus you have a motivation just to learn a little bit because you're kind of curious but you don't really know who Salesforce is. So each one of those journeys is different and we need to send you to a different spot, we need to send you to a different property that isn't an events property. So that's really where the power of personalization kind of really starts to shine is merging personalization with this idea of next step in your journey.

Brandon:

That's super fascinating. I mean, just thinking about the journey, thinking about the next steps. The goal shouldn't be you just got to the event and then that's it. The goal is you got to that event to continue your journey with us, whether that's like the first big touchpoint you've had or one of many different touchpoints. That's super interesting. And then also the way that you were gleaning these insights from other teams or collaborating with the e-mail marketing team to sort of find this takeaway that's super, super relevant to the event side of things. All of that's super interesting. I want to chat with you about what does that spell out for what comes next in events? This hybrid era. We're expecting virtual and in-person experiences to both be on the table, separately as different events and sometimes in a blended capacity as part of one event. So with that, first question is what does hybrid mean to you.

Rex Serrao:

Hybrid is an interesting word. If you look up a definition of it I'm sure it would say something like combining two different elements together or something like that. And I go back to asking "Why combine it? Who are you combining it for? As an event planner do you really, truly in your heart believe that by combining a single event, a digital experience quite frankly and the in-person experience that you're going to make it better for both audiences? Are you combining it just to combine it? So you're combining it because the industry says you should combine it? Do you really believe that they're going to behave the same way and therefore they need to deal with the same challenges?" Keeping in mind that the in-person has to deal with the logistics and the digital attendee does not.

Rex Serrao:

Or are you just trying to capture the momentum of the moment to say "This thing is happening next Wednesday at 9:00 and we need you to show up." Those are different reasons to have a hybrid event. It's odd to hear the tech guy keep going back to empathy and ask what's in your heart, but you have to really question the motivation. Is your motivation for creating a hybrid experience fundamentally an internal company reason or is it a customer reason, because you think it's going to make it better for the customer? I think the way Salesforce thinks about it is not that we should have a hybrid event but that we have a hybrid strategy, that we have a way to have a really amazing in-person experience and then to have a really amazing digital experience. And what we publicly refer to these events sometimes as it's just the one event, and for your listeners, we just announced Dreamforce so it is going to be an event. We're going to have a huge, massive digital component and an in-person component as well. So hoping to see everybody in San Francisco.

Rex Serrao:

But even for Dreamforce we think about it publicly as one event. We talk about it in that way. But when it comes to the experiences we really design them as ground up, separate experiences that has intentionality all the way through. So if I make Dreamforce a digital only event, how could I make it the best digital event possible? Would I give you an agenda builder? Is that what I really think a digital attendee's looking for? If you're an in-person would I limit the number of sessions that you go to when I quite frankly have 100 rooms at the Moscone Center? What is the single best way for me to serve both those constituencies? That's really the way we think about it is that we have a hybrid strategy, we think about these experiences as separate, but at the same time we build for purpose, for each one of these personas. It's really important to us that we do that. I'll end by saying it's about that respect. You must respect the way a human being will engage with your brand, whether it's in-person or whether it's digitally. And you need to meet them where they are as opposed to really define the interface in a way that you, the company, the brand wants to define it.

Brandon:

Is it fair to say that with the upcoming Dreamforce that the plan at the moment is to have a stellar in-person experience and a stellar virtual experience but there might not be opportunities for the in-person attendees to speak to a wall of faces who are attending virtually?

Rex Serrao:

So I can't give away too much about Dreamforce but yes, generally what I would say is the idea isn't that Joe who's sitting down in a session room in Moscone is going to get that much value by trying to initiate a chat with Sue sitting in Raleigh, North Carolina. The value is going to be bringing together audiences, and that's really where we again, take a step back and say "How do we derive a lot of value from this idea that we can bring disparate groups and crowds together?" You look at our World Tour series now I think as a great example. We do shows from around the world. We do shows from Austin, we do from London, we do in DC, we also source lives in APAC region, several locations. And there's this idea of bringing people who you wouldn't normally interact with, present some amazing content to you.

Rex Serrao:

But is it the best experience to create kind of a free for all where everybody may talk to somebody else? Because keep in mind every piece of technology, every new interaction model, for the designers out there, every new interaction model that you create, an attendee has to learn. So if you introduce a whole bunch of features and a whole bunch of bells and whistles they have to learn all of that. And if it's a one-time event you are putting such a cognitive load on them to one, figure out the content, two, figure out what they need to do, three, plan their schedule, four, learn your tool set. It's a lot. The message gets lost. I'm going back to kind of the signal and the noise. The noise just completely overtakes any signal that you were hoping to kind of get out there to your audience.

Brandon:

We talked a lot about some of the ways that you are working with your colleagues and kind of providing almost this consultative, this strategic role in shaping how the experience will interact with the technology. But I'd love to look at the other side of that. For any of our listeners out here who are maybe more on the events or more in the trenches, marketing side of things, what advice would you have for them when working with their colleagues who are more on the technical side of things?

Rex Serrao:

I think go to them with a problem not a solution. And I know half the technologists in your audience are going to go "What are you doing?" But I think there's a real value in tapping into the intelligence that's available from your technology team. I always kind of challenge the team to say "Do you want a team of order takers or do you want a team of partners?" And if you continuously dictate orders and expect technology teams to simply obey, I think you don't need to hire really smart, intelligent, creative people. But I think if you have a desire, and I think most firms do, to hire really smart, creative, intelligent people then you're obligated to tap into that intelligence. So go to them with your problems. Go to them with the whys and say "Hey, what do you think about this? What do you see in the market?" Leverage them for some of that market research. Ask them what they know about user research. Because there's so much knowledge and creativity to be gained by having an iterative relationship, a back and forth as opposed to treating them as simply an operational unit that executes orders. So that would be I think the most important thing that non-technologists to take away.

Brandon:

Spot on. Love it. And another note, who's someone you look up to in events, marketing, technology, or business in general?

Rex Serrao:

Oh my gosh. I will say when I joined this industry a couple of things really shocked me. One of them was how close knit the industry really was. Everybody seemed to know everybody else. It was incredible. I felt like I was let into kind of a secret club almost. But secondly is just the love and welcoming nature of everybody that I've met. I'm new to the industry relatively speaking and so many people offered so much time to bring me up to speed. And I'm still learning and people are still so incredibly generous of their time.

Rex Serrao:

Two people come to mind because I bug them the most, especially because of the fact that they're outside Salesforce. One is Ken Madden, he runs the Digital and Experiential arm of The GPJ Agency. And then we also have Matt Colner from Cisco who really helped me understand what I really tight knit shit looked like from an events perspective, really helped educate me about the vendor landscape. So both fantastic, incredibly intelligent, and just very generous people.

Brandon:

If you could give an earlier version of yourself one piece of advice, what would it be and why?

Rex Serrao:

I would say get uncomfortable much much much sooner. I've always enjoyed being the dumbest guy in the room because it just means you're soaking up all this knowledge, all of these new ideas. And in the last couple of years with Salesforce in the events space has been fun and exciting and I'm jonesing for more of that feeling and my only wish is I could have done that sooner.

Brandon:

Love it. And finally, how can our listeners keep up with Salesforce and all the great work that you and your team are doing?

Rex Serrao:

So definitely go to Dreamforce.com and sign up for more information. We're going to have a lot of exciting announcements coming up soon on Dreamforce.com so stay tuned. Also check us out at Salesforce.com/blog. It's a radically new digital experience. We've had some amazing innovations coming out of our digital experience team and the blog's a great way to kind of catch up with not just events but everything else that Salesforce does.

Brandon:

Great. All right, well Rex that's it. Thanks so much for being on the show.

Rex Serrao:
It was a huge pleasure Brandon. Loved talking with you.

 

Rachel Rappaport:

Thank you again to Rex, for joining us, and thank you all for listening. If you enjoy listening to In-Person, there are several ways that you can show your support, subscribe, rate, leave us a review, and share the show with your colleagues and friends.

 

Rachel Rappaport:

If you'd like to share your feedback, please drop us a line at in-person@bizzabo.com. You can also find full transcripts of the show, along with key takeaways at in-person-podcast.com.

 

Rachel Rappaport:

In-person is a production of Bizzabo. Today's episode was hosted by Brandon Rafalson, co-produced by Brandon and myself, and edited by Brian Pake. Music by Ian O'Hara, until next time, I'm Rachel Rappaport, thanks for tuning in.