The Salesforce eco-system is broad and deep. Broad in terms of companies using the platform, both as part of their own operations and to develop applications for others to use. Deep in terms of companies helping other companies to wring the most value out of the platform.
I took the opportunity at Dreamforce to speak with representatives of some of the major players in the Salesforce consultancy and implementation space.
The virtuous cycle
Salesforce blood runs through the arteries of Appirio. The San Francisco-based tech services vendor, acquired by Wipro last year, was literally “incubated” on Salesforce, said CMO Latane Conant. “That’s important,” she told me, “because we’ve always tried to keep that incubation feel.” A strategic partner of Salesforce, pretty much from the get-go, Appirio closely aligns with the big platform’s evolution. “As Salesforce’s priorities change, we need to understand [what’s happening] incredibly early, and build up our expertise.”
Example? Salesforce Lightning Bolts — an accelerator for building and deploying communities, portals and website at speed, integrated with Salesforce CRM. In the last quarter, Appirio quadrupled the team implementing Lightning Bolt experiences for their customers. And upcoming developments? “Salesforce is continuing to own the entire front office from a tech perspective,” said Conant. Now they’re moving into the mid-office” — for example, with Lightning Flow. She also sees an orientation of the product suite to verticals and sub-verticals, gearing up to address the specific challenges of specific spaces, including deployment and change management (“That’s where we come in,” she said).
After all: “Anybody can buy the software. But are they using it to transform?” Which brings us back to the question of worker experience as the important flip side of customer experience (see my previous article). “Just think about the worker experience,” said Conant. “Sales people don’t like the CRM. It’s annoying. So, how is it not just a CRM?” The main theme of Dreamforce, for Conant, was the “evolution of the CRM.” We’ve come a long way from the Siebel days, when we managed the customer according to how the software worked. “Now we manage the customer the way they want to be managed. The next wave is the customer and worker experience. That’s the last frontier.”
After all, the software, for the most part, “doesn’t interact with the customer ever.” That’s why Appirio is promoting “the virtuous cycle.” Happy workers, happy customers. And happy workers, especially when it comes to CRM, are those who can live inside it, and improve their outcomes; not those who regard it as “annoying,” or as just a way to store data.
Women in Tech: Time for Action, says Adrienne Weissman
Equality and diversity are perennial themes at Dreamforce. Celebrity speakers talking about women in the workforce just this year included Michelle Obama, Ginni Rometty, Taraji P. Henson, and Natalie Portman, and Dreamforce hosted an Equality Summit.
According to the World Economic Forum, she told me, the U.S. is actually dropping down the rankings in terms of women in the workforce and overall gender equality. “Despite tech being very aware [of the problem], it’s not yet resulting in action.” I asked whether one root of the problem was in tech start-ups being founded by small groups of friends — often enough, young white men.
“Early stage start-ups do have difficulty prioritizing this,” she agreed. “Keeping the lights on, and keeping the right people in the right seats is important.” Even so, the community they’re pulling from, she said, is a level playing field: there are women as well as men to recruit from.
“You need to start thinking about it from day one,” she said. “Our founders all have known each other for 15 years. It’s easy to start a company with people you know.” The evolution to a diverse team “is not going to just happen naturally.” What’s more, it’s too easy even for well-meaning men to sit back and say, “I didn’t create this problem.”
At G2 Crowd, Weissman set up a women’s group about a year ago — “I need them to tell me what they need.” They’re bringing in female and male thought-leaders to talk about how to bring about change. With 150 plus employees, Weissman thinks they now have enough data to assess equality within the company, and she hopes to start benchmarking progress in Q1 2018.
Her message: “Stop. Take a look at the data. Share it. And make commitments.” She wants people to say of G2 Crowd, “They’re doing it right.”
At the epicenter is Salesforce
Pradeep Kamat, a principal at Deloitte Digital, became immersed in the Salesforce eco-system around 2006/7. This was his eighth Dreamforce. I think the record-holder among the attendees I met was Salesforce’s own Shawna Wolverton, who has attended them all, with Full Circle Insight’s Bonnie Crater not far behind.
As a consulting agency, Deloitte Digital is end-to-end: Strategy and execution across the channels. Ask Kamat about Saleforce’s evolution, and he’ll point to what he calls the “digital foundry” — the transformation of a CRM solution into a platform for building apps. “The evolution has been seamless,” he said. And indeed, just this year, Deloitte Digital announced the launch of DigitalMix, an eco-system of solutions to orchestrate personalized experiences across the range of engagement channels — with the connectors in place. “At the epicenter is Salesforce,” said Kamat.
Personally, Kamat is witnessing high levels of adoption of Salesforce in industries which some of us might not expect. Life Sciences, for example, where he calls Salesforce “the platform of choice” for sales, service, marketing and patient engagement, within the industry’s regulatory constraints. R&D groups too are increasingly turning to Salesforce as a platform to build out apps.
Kamat’s Dreamforce 2017 highlights?
- The focus on Lightning. He’s seeing Deloitte Digital clients migrate to Lightning from “classic” Salesforce, where they find a better UI, faster enablement, and a device-agnostic experience.
- Trailhead: “Your own learning portfolio,” he said.
- Einstein. “It’s been there for a year. They’ve doubled down. That’s what clients are asking for. Cloud is now table stakes. “When you think about it,” Kamat said, “this is just the beginning of the journey on [AI-driven] predictive. You can set up things in minutes, eliminating a lot of the heavy lifting. In a couple of years it will be table stakes too.”
“Customers are changing,” he reflected. “They need something different from brands. They’re saying, ‘Listen to us.'” The flipside, he said, is that tech innovation also provides the opportunity for employees to have better engagement with their organizations (Deloitte Digital offers ConnectMe, a solution to support employee engagement).
The same refrain. Not just customer experience, but worker experience too.
Bluewolf: The State of Salesforce 2017-2018
Einstein analyzed data trends. Watson read the news sources and attached sentiment ratings to the trends Einstein identified as important. And the cognitive twins produced the report. Probably with some help from humans. Here are the headlines:
The report can be downloaded here.
“This is about making technology easy”
Bluewolf is an IBM company, and Salesforce’s global consulting agency. IBM has Watson. Salesforce has Einstein. Ginni Rometty sits down with Marc Benioff for a fireside. So what goes on?
IBM and Salesforce, of course, announced a global strategic partnership earlier this year. Sure, there are areas where they compete, but Bluewolf CMO Corinne Sklar told me: “We’re focusing on areas where we are complementary, because we know there is deep alignment there.” As far as Blueworlf and Salesforce are concerned, there are long-standing professional — and personal — relationships. Bluewolf was the first consulting practice within the Salesforce eco-system, and is the only company to have sponsored every Dreamforce (no, Sklar has not attended all of them). What’s more, Bluewolf CEO Eric Berridge worked with Marc Benioff at Oracle many years ago.
Sklar has a direct message for marketers about Salesforce: “This is the eco-system that you need to cling onto because of the innovation its driving for marketers in a single platform.” The single platform is key, said Sklar, because “we can’t keep up with the number of channels coming online.” A single platform can make engagement seamless.
She spotlighted two main themes at Dreamforce. Unsurprisingly, one was AI. It’s being demystified for brands, she said, by the development of very specific use cases. It’s now possible to design agile “sprints” around AI-driven projects: Identify the use case, run the project, see the results, move on. That certainly seems a more productive suggestion than sitting around wondering when the robots will take over.
Seriously, the way in which Einstein and Watson can work in a complementary way is clear. Einstein builds on models on the copious data hosted within the Salesforce platform, and — as long as the feedback loop is closed — continuously optimizes them. Watson is the doyen of unstructured data — natural language, voice, tone, sentiment. It’s easy to imagine a sophisticated Watson-based chatbot conducting conversations while armed with Einstein CRM data. As Bluewolf puts it in a handy Salesforce AI field guide distributed at Dreamforce: Watson knows the person; Einstein knows the customer.
But Sklar also underlined what she described as “Marc’s vision around declarative software.” In other words, “drag and drop.” The My Salesforce piece. “We don’t just need developers in this world,” said Sklar. “This is about making technology easy.”