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  • Writer's pictureDiane Pierson

Marc Benioff Is Right About Unproductive New Hires. Or Is He?

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, caused quite a dustup when he justified layoffs by saying Salesforce was facing productivity issues, specifically with recent (and, implied, young) hires. I think he’s right, but not for the reasons you'd assume. The good news? It's fixable, and the Market Strategist can help.

A lot of folks inferred from Benioff's comments that young workers are lazy, or work-from-home arrangements create less-productive workers. Whether or not these are true, there are some practical tactics that would certainly help the Benioffs of the world find out whether they'd hired the wrong people, or something else is at play.

Lack of Tribal Knowledge Could Be Lack of Market Knowledge

To be fair, Benioff didn't lay the blame for new-hire unproductivity 100% at the feet of these new hires. One of his speculations for the issue was, "are we not building tribal knowledge with new employees?”

Tribal knowledge may or may not be lacking, but most organizations do over-focus on teaching new hires how to fill out expense reports and insurance paperwork. There may be a "history of the company" video thrown in, so everyone knows when they opened the Austin office and launched SoftProd 13.5, but that's about it.

What they don’t teach is the innovation strategy intended to take the company forward. Who these new hires will be serving in the market, what the market’s hopes and challenges are, how they buy and use the product, and why they buy from our company instead of someone else. They may have the company vision statement posted everywhere, but don't explicitly teach new hires how they contribute to reaching it. It's hard to be productive when you don't know what productive looks like.

Everyone Needs Market Knowledge to Be Productive

On January 9th, Business Insider shared a quote from Salesforce COO and head of sales Brian Milham to Benioff, that 96% of annual contract value was being delivered by 50% of sales reps. Wow - it sure looks like Salesforce has some unproductive sales reps! But - why? I mean, sales knows all about the company's products and buyers, right?

Too often, sales is schooled in enormous amounts of product detail (that they can't remember) and price lists (which they may actually be encouraged to ignore). They get no insight into how first-time buyers make decisions versus renewal customers. They never hear that their biggest competitor is "do nothing." Compensation plans pay them for selling anything, so they throw everything at a customer and cross their fingers.

This is another opportunity for the Market Strategist to help. As experts on the market, you can deliver market insights as part of the new-hire onboarding process. You can hold weekly coffee hours - virtual or live - so new hires can pop in to ask timely questions as they dive into the day-to-day of their jobs. You can make sure this information is constantly available to sales (and everyone) by embedding it in the tools they use in their work.

Younger, born-remote new hires may be less productive because they're, well, less productive. If so, that needs to be addressed by that hire and their boss. But they may be less productive because they're guessing what their new company aspires to be, who they serve, what their role is. That we can fix, if we innovate on purpose.

About the Author

Diane Pierson is the Founder and Principal Market Strategist of Innovate on Purpose, a consultancy enabling successful product innovation for tech companies through strategic focus and powerful go-to-market strategies. Diane is also a visiting instructor at Pragmatic Institute. Contact Diane at


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