Here's What Happened When I Got an Invite to Dinner With Marc Benioff – CEO of Salesforce

When is the last time you met someone you’ve read about and admired for a long time? This happened to me last night with Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce. How did this occur? I love Salesforce, believe in the platform and tell anyone who will listen why.

As a result, I was invited to a dinner on the 50th floor of the IDS Tower in Minneapolis to meet Marc and witness a preview of the Dreamforce keynote address. It turned out to be an enchanting evening and way different than I imagined!

Getting an invite to dinner with Marc Benioff

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from our Salesforce representative, Christine Roti, inviting me to a Salesforce event. I assumed this was like other invitations and didn’t think too much of it at first. Luckily, I read the email more thoroughly, I discovered it was an “event” with Marc Benioff. This piqued my attention.

In the back of my mind, I figured it was a way to show me new products and services. I’m okay with that, I sell stuff, and am always on the lookout for new ideas to talk about on my still young Podcast called Make Marketing Easy Podcast.

Special Events

I know Salesforce, and Marc Benioff specifically, is famous for their events. In fact, in Marc’s book, “Behind the Cloud – the untold story of how went from idea to billion-dollar company – and revolutionized an industry,” he cites events as a critical success factor for Salesforce. So, I was interested, planned to go, and marked the event on my calendar.

Not long after accepting the invitation from Christine, I received an email from Ms. Rebecca Dowling of Salesforce inviting me to a private dinner with Marc Benioff, Chairman &CEO of Salesforce, and a small group of his Ohana in downtown Minneapolis. At this point, I emailed Christine and asked her if this was a webinar or if I actually got to meet Marc in person. “In person.” She wrote. Needless to say, I was excited.

Events are no easy feat to get set up and execute. I know because I just did a Marketing Bootcamp for ophthalmologists and optometrists 10 days ago and it was both fun and a lot of work.

A Humbling Experience

That night at dinner, I told my wife, Jean, that I got invited to a dinner with Marc Benioff and that I was pumped! “Who’s that?” is what she said first. After I explained, her next question can only come from a person I fell in love with at 16 years old, “Why did they invite you?” After I feigned incredulity, we both burst out laughing. Because, I too, had no idea why I got invited to this meeting.

The next morning, I wrote Christine again and told her of my wife’s query. She admitted to suggesting me as an attendee of the event and for that, I am grateful to her.

The Salesforce Event

Salesforce knows how to plan and execute events and this one I attended is no exception. The venue was the Windows on Minnesota on the 50 the floor of the IDS Building in Minneapolis

As a native Minnesotan, I always think of the IDS Tower as the tallest building in downtown Minneapolis. I remember when it was built and our family went there to experience the views and the elevator ride. Don’t judge, I grew in Rochester, and outside of amazing healthcare and IBM, there wasn’t much excitement. It’s now the second tallest building, but still, has the best views – Somehow I think Salesforce knew this…

The Setting

The room was dazzling and set with a long table in the center, a large monitor at the end of the table, and seating on the two long sides of the table for the Salesforce teams. It was surprisingly intimate for a large space. When we entered the room, we were greeted by Mr. Benioff and several other Salesforce executives.

The table in middle, where I found my name place card, seated about 25 people. That was the group and it included Marc Benioff in the middle of the table.

My seat was on the end next to the monitor and situated with the folks I was visiting with before the doors opened. Was this planned? Nah. It couldn’t have been. Could it?

Who Was There?

It was hard for me to figure out who was whom at this event. Other than Marc Benioff and Parker Harris (The Co-Founder of Salesforce), I knew no one else. We all had similar name tags on and I hoped that introductions were happening soon.

After we sat down, and within a minute, Marc strode up behind my chair, moved to the center of the table, thanked us all for coming to the event, and began telling us of the night’s agenda. He was, right there. This guy I see once-in-a-while on CNBC when I’m on the treadmill killing myself each morning, author of books and articles I’ve read and someone whom I think seems, well, just plain, “cool.” And if he seemed larger than life to me before, in person he is big, too. Tall and broad.

Marc graciously welcomed us all, said a few words and then we passed a microphone around the table to introduce ourselves. It’s funny, Jean’s comment wriggled in the back of my mind as I listened to illustrious titles, made contact with bright eyes, and took it all in.

The Food

My friends know that food is important to me. I know we all need it to survive. But, I really like food! Salesforce hit a home run here, too. They hired Steven Brown, Executive Chef, and Owner of Tilia restaurant here in Minneapolis to produce a splendid dinner. Tilia is one of my favorites and here’s what we had and I loved it:

Salesforce Event Dinner Menu

Menu of a wonderful dinner prepared by Chef Steven Brown of Tilia

The Keynote Preview

People attending Dreamforce 2017 are in for a terrific keynote and out of respect for the Salesforce team, that’s all I’ll say about it. A Salesforce fan at the beginning, I left more excited about a platform doing so much for our company. They earn all of the accolades they receive because they are that good.

Throughout the evening, Marc humbled me by how he interacted with the Salesforce team, all of the attendees and accepted what was, to me at least, some very pointed criticisms of the presentation. The Salesforce executives presented well and also were open to feedback from Marc and others.

The Moment of Truth

You know that dream you either have or read about, where you wake up and realize you’re in the wrong class or show up for work naked? I had this feeling when, after all of the presenting and open discussion finished, Marc told us he will pass the microphone around and we may talk about any notes we took during the presentation.

I left out of the setting of this story, that there were some handsome Woodchuck notebooks, a pen and some nifty stickers at each seat. Mine never got opened during the presentation. I was starstruck and too interested in both the presentation and the food to write any notes. Oops.

Luckily, I was number three in the rotation so I jotted a few things down, used the time with the mic to riff on a few things I’m passionate about with Salesforce and our business and everything worked out fine.

Listening to the Others and Grateful for the Experience

The interesting comments from some of the other attendees were amazing. I believe, at 52, other than Marc and Parker, I was the oldest person in the room. Witnessing these people in this setting, coupled with the messaging from the Salesforce team in the Keynote, energized me a great deal.

Mostly, the commitment to preparation for the Dreamforce event, a collaborative culture and humility were the themes that stuck with me. Marc started by saying he wanted to know how we felt about the presentation. Perhaps this was why I didn’t take note? I earned a Biochemistry degree, I know about note-taking…I was too busy trying to figure out how I felt!

In closing, I fought hard to get Salesforce into our company and believe we now have many evangelists for the platform at Sightpath Medical. Not because of what it is, but why it is and what it is becoming.

Marc Benioff’s vision for began as the democratization of cloud computing and evolved to fuel building a platform for people to embrace the 4th industrial revolution. This is powerful, important work and I wish he and the team success. Thanks again.


  1. Patty on October 21, 2017 at 8:48 am

    Wow! What an awesome experience! Salesforce sure knows how to turn their clients into advocates. Thanks for sharing, Joel!

    • Joel on October 21, 2017 at 8:52 am

      Yes, they do, Patty! Thanks for commenting.

  2. Doug Richey on October 25, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    What a neat experience, Joel.

    • Joel on November 5, 2017 at 10:00 am

      Yes, it was, Doug. Thanks for responding and I hope you’re doing great. If you have something you’d like to talk about on the Cognified Marketing and Selling Podcast, I’d love to have you as a guest.

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