Dreamforce Recap and 3 Major Takeaways for Benefits Technology Providers

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Every year, Dreamforce brings technology professionals from around the world to San Francisco. Hosted by cloud computing company Salesforce, it’s the largest software conference in the world, and blurs the line between trade show and cultural gathering. It’s a star-studded event that mixes stellar concerts, industry-shaking announcements, fun mascots, and thought leadership.

The conference debuted in 2003 with just over 1,000 power users and sales professionals in attendance. This year’s Dreamforce had over 170,000 in attendance (two years ago they had to rent a cruise ship because they ran out of rooms!)

Insight Squared has a great infographic on the history of the conference in its first decade.

Dreamforce infographic












The crowds were massive and lines formed to get into most sessions. I spent the majority of the conference in the Palace Hotel – which was converted to the “Marketing, Commerce, and Retail Lodge”. The content was rich and provided a ton of value. I kept relating everything back to what we’re doing here at PlanSource and how we can improve our relationships with our consumers.

Here are three of my biggest takeaways from the event and how we can use them to move the benefits technology industry forward.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is Here, For Real This Time

We’ve been hearing about the arrival of AI for some time now. Already in 2011 it was destroying human geniuses in Jeopardy. The problem was, like with many new technologies, people were left asking “great, but how can I use it?”  This year’s Dreamforce was all about how we can use their implementation of AI technology, Einstein, which first debuted at Dreamforce 2016.

Salesforce was clever about their application of Einstein. It (he?) was there as I set up my agenda weeks prior to the event – providing recommended sessions based on what I had already chosen to attend. I woke up each morning with “Today’s Agenda,” which included the sessions I selected, along with a few of Einstein’s recommendations in case I wanted to make some last minute adjustments. With the announcement of myEinstein, Salesforce is empowering users and developers to build their own AI-based applications and tools. It’s ready to use.

What Can the Benefits Industry Do About it?

For starters, selecting benefits is hard. Benefits packages become more complex and customized every day. Employees often experience “choice paralysis” when going through the process. Education tools are helpful to answer questions “PPO or HMO? Copays or coinsurance? HSA or FSA? And what’s a CDHP anyway?” Adaptive recommendations based on the user’s demographic data and past decisions will be paramount in increasing the adoption and satisfaction of AI with benefits selectors – not only providing a “what” but a “why.” Not sure what to choose? Your software should help you decide.

Decision Support tools should continue to improve and provide the best recommendations possible for individuals picking benefits for themselves and their dependents.

Einstein and Astro

The Customer is an Individual, not a “member” (Yes, even in B2B Marketing!)

Personalization was a major theme this year. On the first day, Bobby Jania, Senior Director of Product Marketing, stood in front of a room of hundreds as part of a keynote called “State of Marketing: Insights on Top Marketing Trends for 2017 and Beyond”. He surveyed 3,500 marketing leaders worldwide to find out the latest trends in reaching consumers.

“Today’s customer expects brands to treat them like an individual and not a number,” said Jania. Instead of focusing on deepening the customer relationship, organizations have historically focused on quick returns, the fulfillment of short-term objectives and higher conversion rates. This focus is shifting in recent years.

“68% of marketing leaders say their company is increasingly competing in experience over product.” The movement has already started, make sure you’re a part of it!

What Can the Benefits Industry Do About it?

Obtain and use consumer data to create a better experience. Once you’re armed with detailed information about your consumer, you can use your findings to communicate in the most impactful and relevant way. Give them a real-time look at the benefits they opted in last year for some perspective. Each time a customer is interacting with your product – whether it be during open enrollment, quarterly business reviews, or a check in call – it should be a personal and consistent experience. Regardless of the medium, the message needs to reflect the personal nature of the relationship with the customer.

PlanSource Keynote

Video is more important than ever

More video! Video advertising as a whole has grown 204% in the last two years. Digital video viewership growth worldwide has been spurred by the general expansion of internet and mobile internet usage, faster mobile internet connections, and increased data and Wi-Fi availability across developing countries. 

What Can the Benefits Industry Do About it?

Use educational videos during the benefits selection process. These videos help the user better understand the benefits they are being offered, and will leave them with a higher satisfaction around their decision.

And don’t forget subtitles! A majority of social views on our videos are actually viewed without sound. Videos on Facebook and Twitter autoplay without sound, and marketers across the board have seen that very few opt to turn the volume on. In fact, Facebook reports that captioning a video increases average video view time by 12%. Clearly, video subtitles are key these days, take advantage of them!

In Closing, What We Will Do

I keep thinking back to a quote from Ashton Kutcher during his keynote on how technology can change. Kutcher co-founded Thorn, which partners across industries to fight the trafficking and exploitation of children with the power of technology. He said, “We like to blame technology but technology isn’t a force for good or for evil, it’s just a tool. You are the force for good, or for evil.” While we not be dealing with issues to this scale, it does ring true. We are creating breakthrough technology each day that can change the coverage and well-being of an employee and their family.

It’s up to us to continue creating a better technology for a better benefits and HR experience.
















Want to see more from the conference? Watch this year’s highlights here.

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