Soon after founding Salesforce, CTO Parker Harris forcefully argued to CEO Marc Benioff that the new company should avoid building a channel.
"Marc, whatever you do, we do not want consultants," Harris said he told his co-founder twenty years ago.
Harris wanted the innovative cloud-based CRM to be a no-code platform, and systems integrators and consultants would ruin that vision, "because people are going to write code."
Thankfully, Benioff rejected his bad advice, Salesforce's CTO told thousands of ecosystem partners attending a keynote Tuesday at the Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.
[Related: Salesforce Dreamforce Keynote: AI, Integration, Alicia Keys And Protestors]
"We need you," Harris told those consultants he once hoped to shun.
Harris now sees partners who "speak the language of the customer" as vital to the company's strategy of extending into industry verticals. And Salesforce especially needs SIs as it leverages its MuleSoft platform to bring in data from Oracle and SAP ERPs, enabling implementation of a "single source of truth" concept presented through the Customer Truth 360 tooling unveiled earlier that day.
As the CRM leader chases Benioff's ambitious goal to double the business over the next few years, recruiting new partners, enabling existing ones to scale, and encouraging startups to form is a larger priority than ever before. The company has previously said it's aiming to build a channel of 250,000 services partners.
To that end, Salesforce channel leaders outlined specific initiatives Tuesday around enhanced advisory services, a new Architect Certification Program, expanded partner learning, and new resources to help customers identify implementation partners best-suited to their aims.
Tyler Prince, Salesforce's executive vice president of industries, innovation and partners, told representatives of the consultancies, digital agencies and ISVs attending the partner keynote that Salesforce is focused on helping them meet the increasing demands of customers in an era of rapid disruption.
"Salesforce is a different kind of company. I hope we're a different kind of partner to you as well," Prince said.
The opportunity for Salesforce's channel is massive, Prince noted, citing an IDC report that predicts by 2024 the Salesforce ecosystem will generate six times more revenue than Salesforce itself.
"Most of that is represented by solutions and services you provide," Prince told partners.
Kai Hsiung, chief growth officer at Silverline, was one of those in attendance, as he's been for every Dreamforce partner keynote.
To eventually enable the 250,000 partners needed to support Benioff's $28 billion revenue target, "the partner program will have to grow and adjust based on the different partner types out there," Hsiung told CRN.
Salesforce is making a valiant effort to that, Hsiung said.
"The next step is to figure out how to rightsize the enablement based on partner size, industry focus, product focus, geographic focus," Hsiung said. And "they are very much in tune with the feedback partners like Silverline are providing them."
That's why this year Salesforce has introduced so many new partner programs and initiatives, while also ending programs that became less relevant, he added.
Lori Steele, Salesforce's executive vice president for global customer success and professional services, earned a round of applause when telling the keynote's attendees: "our purpose as an organization is not to compete with the partner ecosystem, but to work together, to collaborate and bring the best of Salesforce to our customers."
Currently, half of Salesforce professional services are delivered through partners. "That's good, but it's not good enough," Steele said.
Customers are "really looking for us to come together with shared goals, shared measures," she said.
To deliver more value through its channel, Salesforce is implementing a new engagement model through which Salesforce's advisory services arm looks to collaborate closer with the channel. Salesforce will bring partners into engagements at critical junctures in the customer lifecycle and work closely with them to ensure challenging integration projects are successful, Steele said.
Salesforce wants to leverage the capabilities of partners and complement their skills, while "doing the right thing for customers at the right time," she told Dreamforce attendees.
Enablement is another important component of that vision, she said, and the company is doing "brilliant things with Trailhead."
That Salesforce learning platform isn't just about training, but also bringing best practices to partners and offering them opportunities to shadow Salesforce engineers in the field.
Randy Davis, a partner at Chicago-based Salesforce consultancy Sikich, said Salesforce execs delivered "an inspiring message to the whole partner community" at the keynote.
That message is reflected in an increased investment in partner programs, Davis told CRN.
"As they grow, they need to rely on partners more," Davis said. "It's extremely important partners are enabled with the right training and resources to make customers successful."
Earlier this year, Salesforce launched Trailhead for Partners, a learning system aiming to help consultants develop the talent they need to fuel their growth. Building upon that, a Partner Learning Camp was introduced at this year's Dreamforce, powered by the customized myTrailhead platform.
Prince also suggested to partners they familiarize themselves with innovations on the AppExchange marketplace.
"At a rapid rate, customers are going on the AppExchange not only to find cool apps, but to find a consultant," Prince said. "Use this to your advantage."
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