Salesforce aims to increase number of Salesforce consultants, SIs

In this Q&A, Salesforce channel chiefs Tyler Prince and Neeracha Taychakhoonavudh reveal the vendor's strategy for growing its consultants/system integrator channel.

Salesforce, a leading cloud vendor, launched on April 1 a refreshed partner program -- Salesforce Partner Program for Consulting Partners -- to provide better clarity around the vendor's expectations for consultants as well as to provide customers more insight into the capabilities of potential partner firms. Salesforce system integrator (SI)/consultants provide services around Salesforce implementations.

SearchITChannel recently talked with Salesforce channel executives Tyler Prince, executive vice president of worldwide alliances and channels, and Neeracha Taychakhoonavudh, senior vice president of partner programs and marketing, about the company's channel strategy. According to the vendor, Salesforce has about 1,000 SI/consultants in North America and another 1,000 independent software vendors (ISVs). The company also partners with digital agencies and telecoms. The Salesforce sales model in North America is primarily direct and the vendor's SI/consultants work with the company in a collaborative or sell-with model.

Let's start by defining the role of a Salesforce SI/consultant.

Prince: SI/consultants either help customers deploy the solutions or they're key influencers for selling Salesforce products. PwC, Deloitte and Accenture top the list for our SI firms and consulting firms. They have large practices with hundreds, if not thousands, of consultants certified in our solutions. There are also a number of born-in-the-cloud implementation firms, such as Bluewolf and Appirio, for example, and hundreds of other SIs that focus on a particular industry, region or cloud in our portfolio: sales, service, marketing, community or analytics.

Taychakhoonavudh: Some of the consultant companies are quite small, a two-man shop that services SMB [small and medium-size business] customers, for example. They're at the low end servicing the SMB market.

Prince: The ideal model for our SI/consultants is that we work together with a customer, big or small, to help that customer transform their business using one of our clouds. Our partner helps build out the business case, helps the customer understand what the requirements are, and together we put together a business case that makes it clear why the customer should select Salesforce.

Then we'd like support from that partner to help the customer be successful with that deployment, to help them around prototyping, piloting and then turning on the system on behalf of our customer. Our partner firms make considerable money around the implementation of services.

Would you provide more information on the new Salesforce Partner Program for Consulting Partners?

Taychakhoonavudh: We had a program for consulting partners, so this is a refresh that brings clarity to the things Salesforce cares about in a consulting partner, which, aside from the general top-line growth, is also a focus on expertise and having the right certified resources that are well trained and able to deliver the work around our products and customer success.

We look at customer satisfaction scores and at customer references to make sure that the partner is aligned with the Salesforce philosophy -- making sure that our customers are successful for life and that they're committed to the long haul and want to stay with that customer.

How does a company become a Salesforce partner?

Taychakhoonavudh: A born-in-the-cloud partner, for example, typically would maybe have some CRM experience from a prior life and decide they want to focus on cloud and develop the technical expertise. We have a whole curriculum available for the consultants at a partner company to become versed in our products, and there are tests so they can get an official third-party sanctioned certification. Then we have a list of SI/consultants, and also ISVs, on our AppExchange, and we introduce them to our local sales team so that they can build a relationship. When we're actually working together with the customer on building the business case, it gives the customer the full flavor of the all-in cost to get a job done.

Is Salesforce interested in increasing the number of SI/consultant partners?

Prince: Yes, we're trying to do several things. One is to increase the number of companies selling our solution. We're also trying to increase the delivery capacity or number of consultants in a firm. We have a strategy to do that, which is to help train them, taking some of the skills that they built in legacy on-premises CRM solutions and convert them to what we do.

Is Salesforce inclined to look for new partners in the traditional channel, especially those partners transforming their businesses toward cloud? And, does the company have a strategy to recruit this type of partner?

Prince: I think there are some amazing and innovative companies that are helping customers be successful with new technologies and they've been doing it for decades. We are absolutely open for business to help them figure out how to make the transformation.

I will add, however, that just like some large technology providers that are trying to make the shift from on-premises to a cloud model, it's not easy. Using the same corollary for partners, if they've built their business on reselling, implementing and deploying solutions in an on-premises model, that shift to the cloud is not simple. You can take any aspect of it -- how you sell it, how you demo it, how you provision it, how you implement it -- even if you take the last part, how you implement it, it's a different sales cycle.

Is it easy for [traditional] partners to make the shift [to cloud]? Clearly partners want to, because the cloud is where the growth is. For us, it's something we're struggling with: How do we help a partner transform their business to think about it differently?
Neeracha Taychakhoonavudhsenior vice president of partner program and marketing,

If a company buys from Salesforce, they're going to turn it on this afternoon and will start iterating and changing the way the business runs. It's much more iterative; there are more milestones and checkpoints. It's a different world. The revenue model, the skill sets, methodologies and implementation tools [that on-premises partners are used to] are all designed for that 12-month implementation scenario before you turn something on compared to ours which is very much iterative, get value immediately, continue to iterate and continue to innovate.

I don't know what level of success we'll have in converting traditional legacy technology VARs [value-added resellers] into this world but we're certainly willing and able to try.

Taychakhoonavudh: To Tyler's point -- is it easy for partners to make the shift? Clearly partners want to, because the cloud is where the growth is. For us, it's something we're struggling with: How do we help a partner transform their business to think about it differently?

If Salesforce doesn't make an effort to help partners interested in transforming their business, then more traditional vendors, like Microsoft with Dynamics CRM, for example, will. And Microsoft is helping partners move to cloud. So what is Salesforce going to do about this -- if anything?

Taychakhoonavudh: We have hand-held a couple of partners through the transition, but this is one of the things that my team is talking about from a prioritization standpoint for this year: to create more best practices, to talk about the business model change, to try to profile partners who have successfully gone from an on-premises partnering model into the cloud. So that's an objective for us this year. We don't have a toolset for that yet.

We're definitely seeing a lot more demand from partners who are more traditional but are interested in the cloud, and there's a lot of confusion. It's a priority, and we need to think through how we can get the partner because if they don't come to our cloud they could go to someone else.

What should these more traditional type partners expect to see in a Salesforce partner program?

Taychakhoonavudh: That's a challenge and a fundamental business change where the partner needs to think more about recurring services, recurring billings, and change management in an iterative manner.

If they come to us and say, 'We want margin,' or, 'We want MDF [ market development funds] or these traditional tools,' we're not going to supply them. At the end of the day, yes, we have co-marketing funds, but it's very selective and it's not associated with a percentage. That's really not our business.

What do your SI/consultants want from Salesforce in a partner program?

Taychakhoonavudh: The biggest things are the training and enablement. If you look at Salesforce's core product, we do three major releases per year. It's all agile development so we iterate fast as a company. The No. 1 thing that partners ask us is give us more enablement -- meaning training, courses taken toward certifications, product roadmaps, release previews. And we've doubled the partner events and assets that we had 12 to 18 months ago, and that's still not enough.

We put 80% to 90% of our resources online. We have a single partner community that is the hub for all different partner types. They can go in there. It's where we put communications [and] content, and it's where partners can collaborate with each other. So, for example, we find that ISVs and SIs have a lot of connections, SIs are always interested in bringing more functionality to their clients, and ISVs want to proliferate. From a Salesforce standpoint, it's great for us because the more there is there, whether it's from us or from an ISV product built on our platform, it's stickier.

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