Salesforce’s Irish VP: How to be data-driven

Podcast Ep 144: Deirdre Purcell, head of Ireland Sales at Salesforce, explains how businesses can unlock the value of their data.

Around 23 years ago when a start-up called Salesforce was founded by Marc Benioff in San Francisco to pioneer the business uptake of software as a service (SaaS), very few businesses even had a basic broadband connection, let alone a mobile device capable of doing anything with data other than send text messages or surf the web in an expensive way.

Within a year the company established its first outpost in Ireland on the top floor of Powerscourt House where I met with Irish executives of the company who had previously been with Oracle and they talked about how software was on the cusp of changing business forever.

“It is about looking at patterns such as how customers are interacting with you”

Meeting Benioff in person a year or two later in Dublin, he emphasised how software as we knew it (data sitting on discs) was dead and that everything was going online. On reflection, I have decided, it is worth listening to predictions from Salesforce people.

Zoom forward to 2022 and Salesforce is one of the biggest tech employers in Ireland and has built a shiny new global headquarters in Dublin’s docklands, adjacent to the IFSC. Globally the business employs close to 75,000 people and has revenues of close to €27bn. In Ireland it employs more than 2,000 people and has a turnover of close to €3bn.

Last year, a study from IDC predicts that Salesforce and its ecosystem of partners in Ireland will create 19,900 new jobs and €4.9bn in new business revenues by 2026.

The study also finds that Salesforce is driving immense growth for its partner ecosystem in Ireland, which will make €5.34 for every €1 Salesforce makes locally by 2026.

It’s all about the data


“Data is the bedrock of every organisation, whether you are a small entity, an SME or a large organisation”

Deirdre Purcell, a tech industry veteran who is head of Ireland Sales at Salesforce, told ThinkBusiness how she has been with Salesforce for more than 15 years and has seen the business evolve significantly over that time.

Purcell heads up the software giant’s commercial operations and explains how it is her passion to work with its Irish customers and navigate the choppy waters of business to thrive.

I asked her about how Salesforce became a pioneer for how businesses were able to bring all of their customers data and put it all online.

“Ultimately what Salesforce does is bring companies, their customers and their customers’ customers together in this digital era that we’re now in. But if we think back to where it all came from, the whole premise of Salesforce was that it wanted business to be as easy as what was happening in the consumer world. At that time it was about Amazon and being able to just buy a book online. So why couldn’t business work in that same way? That was the premise of what we were trying to do.

“At the time it was the future, but now obviously it [the cloud] has been around for some time. But at the time it was about investing in the technology and how they were going to ultimately grow and drive their businesses forward. And companies were becoming more global, they were expanding and going into new geographies. But how were they going to do that easily and at scale? It was by using SaaS.”

It is perhaps ironic how just a few decades into the internet revolution, every meeting in every business in every part of the world listens to terms like “data-driven” and analytics and everyone nods sagely. In reality, businesses are only beginning to figure out how to unlock the value of the data sitting in their enterprises.

“We are still the world’s number one customer relationship management (CRM) platform and certainly Salesforce’s business spans more areas than when I joined, but crucially it works everywhere across your organisation, on every device. But what is data? Data is the bedrock of every organisation, whether you are a small entity, an SME or a large organisation. Data is any information that a business collects, whether it is customer names and contact information, social media or data from external sources, all of that data about customers, the frequency of their ordering, how they are connecting with you, have they any customer service issues, all of that is data.

“The biggest challenge is how do you unlock that data and surface it and bring it into an application where you can derive value from that data.

“When we talk about data-driven organisations, it’s about how that information is used. It’s insightful and you can unlock it to create value from it. It can drive your business in terms of those next best actions, how you deal with your customers and the decisions you make in your business to move forward.”

Purcell explains that the journey towards unlocking the value of data starts with the very basics such as contact details, phone numbers, email addresses. “Then it is about looking at patterns such as how customers are interacting with you. Is it still by telephone? Are they sending you emails. Are they coming to you via some sort of social media? So if they are interacting with you it’s about seeing that pattern and taking that and proactively going back to the customer by predicting what they want and building up loyalty.

“So all of your customer data is really important for patterns in terms of how often they are ordering from you and what they are ordering. Where are they ordering from, what’s the value of those orders? How many times are they coming back with issues or complaints? Are all of your emails from 10 years ago really important? The service piece is really important. And the value piece happens when you analyse the data and start crossing over the data. If you have a customer who has ordered the same things for 10 months but in the last two months they’ve ordered different products from you and have had three different service issues. All of this builds up a story of your customer.

“You could overlay that data with social media information, did the issues get resolved? Datasets happen when you start chopping and changing that data, looking at it in certain ways and making that data actionable and then deriving value from it. That’s what being data-driven is all about.”

John Kennedy
Award-winning editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.