The way Salesforce’s vice president of alliances and channels sees it, the global COVID-19 pandemic has not only been a time to prove his company’s technology for remote work and the safe return to offices. It’s also been a time to prove the strength of Salesforce’s channel partner relationships.
“Without our partners pushing us, without our partners contributing to us, without our partners building services and software around what we do, I’m not sure we’d be in the position we’re in,” Tyler Prince told CRN in an interview. “And we welcome and appreciate that.”
The vendor likes to say that 90 percent of deal wins include Salesforce partners, and the vendor has seen impressive growth despite global uncertainty. For its fourth quarter, the company reported its revenue rose to more than US$5.8 billion, up 20 percent year over year. For the 2021 fiscal year — which ended Jan. 31 — revenue was US$21.25 billion, up 24 percent year over year. Salesforce predicts fiscal 2022 revenue of US$25.75 billion, 21 percent projected growth year over year.
Salesforce’s “Better Together” initiative to collaborate with partners on complex digital transformation jobs is also a positive, as is the recent hiring of Eric Berridge as an executive vice president to help partners and customers get the most out of the Salesforce platform. Berridge, co-founder of IBM-acquired Bluewolf, started his Salesforce job in December, according to his LinkedIn.
In an interview with CRN, Prince laid out his top tips for the software giant's channel community.
How can channel partners take advantage of Salesforce’s growth?
I would say it largely falls into two categories. One is to take advantage of the growth opportunity. We’re growing as a company. We’re excited about the trajectory that we’re on. We’re very fortunate to be in a position where we’re creating incredible opportunities for consulting partners, digital agencies, our ISVs (independent software vendors) and our resellers. Prepare for that growth, invest in training.
The other element of that is this journey to help our customers be successful. When our customers are successful, they will do more with our software solutions and with our partners. As they get value out of their investments in Salesforce, they’ll continue to do more. And that’s been consistent in our 21-year history.
That’s not only good for our business, but it’s also good for partners as well.
How is Salesforce growing the partner ecosystem?
We’re always looking to bring incredible new solutions and software companies and consulting partners, digital agencies into the ecosystem. We think there is that much opportunity available.
I’ll give you one example where we recognize the opportunity to help the ecosystem generally grow, and it’s something called the Talent Alliance.
We have an opportunity, maybe even an obligation to invite and include more professionals into the Salesforce ecosystem. All of our partners are hiring aggressively and they’re looking for talent.
We need to figure out ways to train more people and invite more people into the ecosystem that haven’t been here before. We need to grow the number of professionals in our ecosystem.
I recognize we can grow the ecosystem with an eye toward diversity and inclusion. So we created this thing called Talent Alliance where we want to marry up all these incredible partners in our ecosystem that are hiring aggressively with net new talent and welcome them into the ecosystem.
I’ve heard it quoted a number of places that the talent is equally distributed but the access to opportunity is not. So this is a way of bridging that gap.
We originally had a goal of onboarding 250 companies to the Talent Alliance. We actually got 480 companies to take the pledge.
That really required them to hire with inclusion principles in your hiring process. At big companies, that’s pretty natural, they’ve invested in making sure that they have the right hiring principles. Smaller companies maybe haven’t had the time or the opportunity to do that. So we offer up the way that we’ve done it, and we ask them to follow some principles of their own or leverage ours.
No. 2 is, we ask for a commitment that they will hire at least 20 percent of their net new staff into their firms that are new to our ecosystem — they’ve never been part of the Salesforce ecosystem before. That’s a way we can get new talent into the ecosystem.
And the third is we’ve started to work with some workforce development groups and highlight those among the partners. We actually structured it where these partners will guarantee interviews for people that have come out of a couple of these workforce development programs. Salesforce military is a perfect example. Because of the confidence we have in our partners, the amount of people they’re going to hire, we will guarantee with our partners that every person that comes through the Salesforce Military program builds their capabilities, earns some of their credentials and certifications. Every one of them will get a guaranteed interview from at least one of our partners. You multiply that by 480 firms, you multiply that by dozens of workforce development programs.
We really just got it to go toward the end of last year. I think we’ve already placed 2,000 professionals that maybe hadn’t even heard of Salesforce before, who certainly weren’t part of the ecosystem.
Why are more people in the ecosystem important?
It really is to satisfy the growth and the demand in the marketplace. Imagine if you weren’t adding new professionals, new Salesforce talent into consulting firms or into software companies. Essentially, those resources are probably going to move from firm to firm with the same skills. We’re going to break that. We are going to double the company in the next four years, which means we’re going to need to double the number of consultants in the marketplace. I expect the number of ISV solutions to double or triple in that time as well.
You can’t do that from simply who the current group of professionals are today. You have to get creative in coming up with new ways to introduce new talent.
The other reason I’ve had a tremendous amount of confidence to lean in is because we’ve got this amazing learning platform already in place called Trailhead.
Think about the journey when you find someone that wants to get a new job and wants to redefine what their skill sets are. One way to start is through Trailhead. It’s a fun way to learn about our technology, learn about how to implement our technology, learn how to build on it, be a developer, be a consultant. And that becomes your journey into the ecosystem. If we didn’t have that, this might be tougher.
Are there still opportunities for Salesforce partners to grow in the midmarket?
Customers, particularly as they’re on this digital transformation journey, oftentimes need help. Certainly from Salesforce — but beyond. That help might come in the form of a digital agency that’s helping them reimagine their digital marketing approach. It may come in the form of consultants who help in deployment of maybe Service Cloud, or it may come in the form of them looking to third party ISVs.
We feel that Salesforce and other SaaS providers have democratized software for all sizes of customers because what the biggest customer in the world of Salesforce deploys around sales, service, marketing, whatever, it is the exact same functionality that the smaller customer can get as well. Similarly, we’re trying to democratize the way we engage and support our partners as well. We actually have a version of Trailhead called Partner Learning Camp. It is not Trailhead, but it is a highly curated set of assets that help consulting firms build their capabilities. That’s accessible to our biggest partners all the way through to our smallest partners. There are over 600 courses in Partner Learning Camp. We’ll add another 200 this year. And again, it doesn’t matter what size partner you are, you have access to the content to build your capabilities. And then similarly my team is working to help introduce and engage and support them at opportunities of all sides, whether it’s in our enterprise space or whether it’s in our small- and medium-sized business space.
How important is certification in growing the channel partner ecosystem?
It’s a very important part of management of our partner ecosystem because it is important to not only leverage something like Trailhead or Partner Learning Camp to begin their learning journey. We also need a way of capturing the knowledge.
We have what I would consider a fairly robust way of credentialing. We do this in connection with our Trailhead group because customers, they may earn certifications as well. It’s so that’s an important way in which we measure the ecosystem. And it’s important for our customers to have confidence that the consultants that are part of their projects have gone through some sort of rigorous training and demonstrated their capabilities.
Do you think your channel partners are better off specialising or mastering as many products and services as they can?
It is a fair question when you think about how to architect. You kind of need both. But in zero cases can a customer be successful if they also don’t bring some architectural capabilities on ’How does that integrate to other legacy systems?’
It’s perfectly fine to specialize in a very unique, specific Salesforce product. But then there also needs to be other capabilities. Most deployments also come with a promise of better data and insights. I think the answer is it really depends on the strategy of the firm or the partner themselves. They may differentiate themselves on being a world’s foremost expert in one of our products or one of our clouds. There may be others that come in and represent themselves as digital transformation experts, at which point you need to know a variety of products, need to understand integration and understand data and security.
Do you see a lot of Salesforce channel partners adopting multiple expertise?
Years ago, a consulting firm would simply show up and bill consultants.
We are seeing partners that are traditional consulting partners that are innovating on our platform and making that innovation available to customers. And software companies, increasingly, regardless of the size of software companies, not only are building their applications on our platform and integrating to our Salesforce set of functionality, but they also need to show up with their expertise as well. I think there is a bit of a convergence. And in a blending of the types of partners in the value they bring the customers around expertise, technical capabilities and solution orientation.
What do channel partners need to know about where Salesforce is investing its time and money?
That’s what my team and I do every day — help partners understand how to take advantage of this opportunity and make our customers successful together. One way that I think partners can be wildly successful is to build an industry orientation. Many of them already have it. But when you think about the innovation that’s come from Salesforce, in the amount of product that we built, and acquired, and the amount of industry specific functionality, showing up and understanding that the specific needs of a customer in their industry is key, and being able to deliver value based on Salesforce to that customer is going to be key.
So my first question typically is, ’Help me understand your industry orientation. Where are you focused? What are your priority industries?’ And then from that we can start to really help them hone in on what their skills are.
The No. 2 opportunity is probably around, tell me where you started, because we have a large number of Salesforce partners that have been with us for many years. In those cases what I do is help them understand the evolution that we’ve gone through in terms of other acquisitions. In addition to Salesforce, how much more value can you deliver to your customers. If you consider what MuleSoft integration means to your Salesforce deployments or Tableau. Imagine getting these rich, incredible insights out of your deployment. It may be historically that you had to custom build, you went to a third party, you did a take off of those technologies. Imagine the power now of Tableau being part of that. And then, while we can’t really can’t go into any details, I suspect they’ll be similar opportunities that relate to Slack.
What’s your pitch for companies that are interested in becoming a Salesforce channel partner?
Look at the growth trajectory. We expect to double the company over the next four years. And imagine the match and the opportunity that is going to spit out. It’s quite remarkable. And then if there were still a question, I would say look at our track record of growth that we’ve delivered on and the opportunity we’ve created for our ecosystem as well.
This opportunity is available for partners of all types, ISVs, consulting partners, digital agencies of all sizes in virtually every corner of the world as well. You simply just need to follow the success that we’ve enjoyed.
How has AppExchange helped partners?
AppExchange is the destination for solutions from our ecosystem. Whether those are our consulting partners or whether it’s software partners. That’s been a big, big, big benefit to our customers and a benefit to our partners as we see increased traffic of our customers to the AppExchange. We are clearly seeing more uptake and click through and opportunities arise for our partners, both consulting partners and software partners as well. I think that’s a differentiator because we can point customers. We may not always know exactly what third-party solutions or services advice our customers are looking for. Which means we have this always on.
It allows these partners to market themselves within it. Partners have started reinventing their listings in there and then link into their own digital domain as well. We’ve been thrilled with the growth there.
Has your partner ecosystem been an asset during the pandemic?
What’s also been critical to our company’s success is the amount of innovation coming out of our ecosystem. Without our partners pushing us, without our partners contributing to us, without our partners building services and software around what we do, I’m not sure we’d be in the position we’re in. And we welcome and appreciate that.
The thing that we’ve all been dealing with over the last 14 months, it’s around, ‘How do we leverage technology for good, to really help people power through the pandemic?’
Get back to work safely, open up offices in a way that’s appropriate and healthy. That has evolved into things like contact tracing with lots of government entities. It also then evolved into what we launched as a Vaccine Cloud — there’s over 150 government health agencies that are using the Salesforce platform to manage the vaccine supply, scheduling patient or citizen engagement. Analytics around it as well. And by the way, every single one of those had a partner involved. We work with third parties to help in some of the other ancillary products around it.