Communicate Like a Billion-Dollar Entrepreneur

Whether you’re running your own show or dream of a business venture, take a hint from CEO Marc Benioff on entrepreneurial communication. CEO Marc Benioff created a billion-dollar business and started a software revolution from a San Francisco apartment. And he did it by telling great stories.

Benioff found success by creating software for salespeople to keep track of their customers and envisioning an entirely new software-delivery model called Software as a Service (SaaS) or “cloud computing.” But his ability to communicate his vision to investors, customers and employees was the prime mover of his company’s success.

“Communication is probably the most essential part of my job,” he told me in an interview to promote his book, “Behind the Cloud.”

Communication was also the most essential part of his personal success.

You can apply Benioff’s communication strategy to drive your own success. Below are six tips that can help you communicate the vision behind the ultimate brand of all – yourself.

Be responsive. Benioff responded to my requests for an interview directly and within 24 hours (despite the fact that he was preparing for a large customer conference). He was also gracious with his time when I contacted him later with follow-up questions and always responded immediately. Responsiveness is a common thread among great business leaders and successful job candidates. Benioff said that by quickly responding to e-mail, you show your customers that you care about them and value their time. If you’re a job candidate, think of yourself as a brand and recruiters and human-resources executives as your customers. Consider the image you want to project. If you can’t respond to their e-mails or correspondence in a timely manner, why should they expect you to be responsive to the needs of their clients or customers?

Embrace social media. For Benioff, “the future of communicating with customers rests in engaging with them through every possible channel: phone, e-mail, chat, Web and social networks. Customers are discussing a company’s products and brand in real time. Companies need to join the conversation.” As a job hunter, you need to join the conversation as well.

If you perform an Internet search for “Marc Benioff,” you will find him quoted in thousands of articles because he makes himself available to reporters, whether they are writing about his company or not. He made a decision early in his career to be part of the conversation. Today you can participate in your industry’s conversation as well by blogging, tweeting and being socially connected. You might think it’s a waste of time because “only two people” are reading your posts. Well, if one of those people is potentially your new boss who did a Google search on your name, you have just reached the most important reader of all. He or she doesn’t know that the only other person reading your blog articles or Twitter posts is you!

Tell classic stories. Most reporters don’t care about a tiny startup, and that’s why Benioff never positioned himself as such. He told a classic David-vs-Goliath story.

“We gave the media something different. We always positioned ourselves as revolutionaries. We went after the largest competitor in the industry or the industry itself. We made our story about change.”

Benioff is a classic storyteller. Stories are important and appeal to a person’s “right brain,” his or her emotional core. Decisions are often made by emotion, not logic. You might look equal to another job candidate on paper but will you stand out emotionally? Stories can help you cross that threshold and stand out.

If you’re in a job interview and the interviewer asks you to recite some of your significant accomplishments, turn a few into good stories. Tell the story of how you landed that multimillion-dollar account or saved your company $100,000 in expenses. Every brand has a story, and so do you.

Act confident. Benioff learned several things from his former boss, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. One of these lessons was simply to act confident… even when you’re not.

Recent research shows that 63 percent of the impression you leave on another person involves body language and facial expression. That means your skills and experience – all those great things you can do for a new company – are not quite as important as how you say something and how confident you look when you’re saying it.

Become a better presenter. Want a job at Salesforce? You’d better be a good presenter. Some candidates are required to give a presentation in addition to answering tough questions.

“Presentation skills are key,” Benioff said. “People who work for you represent your brand. You want them to present themselves, and represent you, in a certain way. Whether employees realize it or not, everyone in a company interfaces with customers in one way or another, and their attitude will affect the brand. That’s why we work so hard to make sure we have the right people representing our brand, and that everyone is in alignment once they get here.”

Have a big dream. Benioff believes in dreaming big.

“I believed that all software would eventually be delivered in the cloud. I had to believe in it passionately and be ready to constantly defend it.”

Inspiring communicators are passionate about their mission – they believe it to their core and speak with conviction. As a brand, you need to have a big vision for yourself and what you can accomplish. Keep that vision in mind at all times; better yet, write it on a card, laminate it and stick it in your wallet or pocket. Benioff did so for, laminating cards for himself and each of his employees that read, “The end of software,” which became the company’s mantra. Get yourself a mantra and own it.