Salesforce’s Maria Martinez on life, Latin America and customer success secrets

SUMMARY:

Partner with the big players, and spot talent in emerging regions – the secrets to success for Salesforce’s Customer Success champion Maria Martinez. 

Maria Martinez

Maria Martinez has a big job at Salesforce – and it’s just got more high profile.

As Salesforce’s President for Global Customer Success and Salesforce Latin America, Martinez, who joined the business back in 2010, is responsible for keeping Salesforce’s 150,000-plus customers across the globe happy, while looking after the firm’s operations in the emerging Latin America region.

Being a cloud and SaaS company, it’s theoretically much easier for customers to flit between different applications and vendors compared to the behemoth on-premise installs of old. The Salesforce business model then is very much based on keeping customers for life, Martinez explained:

We always worry [about attrition] like every company. We want to make sure it keeps us on our toes. We want to be the best, we hope to be here for sure in 10 years, 100 years.

The higher profile for Martinez mentioned above comes after the launch of the Salesforce Success Cloud at the recent Dreamforce conference in San Francisco. Success Cloud is geared towards helping the firm retain current customers, while encouraging new ones to come on board. Martinez said this marks the first time Salesforce has packaged up a blueprint on how to do this kind of work, including letting customers see the patterns and characteristics of all the successful companies:

A lot of it is not about technology, a lot of it is about culture and leadership. With the new Compass [a Salesforce methodology] approach, we’ve actually captured all that you need to do. It’s a lot more than technology – how you inspire teams, how you create a truly customer-obsessed culture, how you create a platform for accelerated execution.

In cases like [Salesforce customer] John Lewis, they do great things but are probably not moving at the speed they want to, she added:

It’s about the alignment of leadership so you have shared values. We now have a blueprint with Compass that we can actually tell the customers specifically this is what we’re seeing at those Trailblazers that you’re seeing on stage.

Another core element of customer satisfaction Salesforce is pursuing is forging new relationships with partners, ideally the biggest names in tech. At Dreamforce, the company announced a new partnership with Google as its preferred public cloud platform; a year ago, this same label was awarded to Amazon Web Services (AWS). You can never have too many preferred cloud partners, it seems, as Stuart Lauchlan noted.

According to Martinez, the driver for working with firms like Google and AWS is the customers:

They will have a mix of vendors that they partner with and we all need to work together to make their jobs a lot easier. Customers all the time ask us about integrating with other vendors because otherwise they have to do the integration themselves. If we do them and we do them once, then all the customers benefit from it. We’re very excited about the partnerships with Google and Amazon. We will continue to do it. Google is just the beginning of some really great things to come.

Martinez wouldn’t be drawn on who might be next in line as the big partner announcement, reiterating that the relationship Salesforce forges will be driven by its customers and advisory boards.

Latin America

Running the Latin American side of the business means that Martinez also gets first-hand experience of the tech scene there, and early insights into which might be the next startup to make it big. Mexico, she says, has a huge amount of talent and entrepreneurs, and Salesforce is actively looking to partner more in that region. Martinez cited current partner Bluewolf as a model for this approach, which is part of IBM and has built its whole business on Salesforce consulting:

I remember when they were a very small company. I’m seeing that in newer countries. It’s a small region but it really has a lot of potential for us. We go into places and it’s just a very entrepreneurial spirit. That’s no different in Latin America. You find different things, but you have very, very advanced companies that are doing some amazing work, and then you have some companies that have skipped some generations of technology and they are ready to leapfrog.

The opportunity to identify and work with startups and emerging businesses is no doubt an aspect of Martinez’s role that she relishes, after working for tech giant Microsoft for many years heading up its global services business. It was certainly not her intention to move from one large enterprise to another when she decided to leave the Redmond firm eight years ago:

I wanted to work for a smaller company. I wanted to be more entrepreneur-like, help grow something. I had a really big job at Microsoft, I ran Microsoft Services worldwide, I had a very large team there around the world, I had seen scale, but I wasn’t learning anymore.

Various disparate reasons led to Martinez moving from Microsoft to Salesforce. One was the opportunity to work in the Bay area again, but the bigger impetus was her intention to have some quality family time.

Martinez explained that she stepped down from Microsoft so she could enjoy the few months with her daughter between her graduating from high school and leaving for university. Her plan was to take those months off and then find a Bay-based startup to join. But as soon her departure was announced, the calls started coming from big names in the industry to talk her next move.

A call never came from Salesforce, but the firm was already on her radar as Martinez had been a customer back in 2000, when she ran a startup in Silicon Valley. She recalled that her five sales people were doing great things with the application, and it stuck in her mind as she knew the cloud was going to be big. Martinez added:

I had advice from someone that said don’t go where they want you, go where you want to go. I picked three companies that I wanted to go work for. One of them was Salesforce.

“So I just emailed [CEO] Marc [Benioff] and the following week I was in his office. He said he was looking for execs who have seen the movie of a large company, because ‘I want to be a large company’. I was so excited to be going to a small company – and now we’re big again.

As well as keeping customers happy and running Latin America, Martinez is also an active contributor to Salesforce’s many equality programs:

We are as a company very committed to helping all the STEM efforts. We bring lots of girls to do things like robotics programming and coding. I speak to a lot of different school girls and work with several of the programs for under-privileged kids in San Francisco. We adopt a lot of local schools to try and meet with the kids and be role models for them.

With a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico and a master’s degree in computer engineering from Ohio State University, Martinez has experienced first-hand the gender imbalance in tech:

There were three or four women when I was doing my engineering degree out of hundreds. When I went to get my masters degree, it was also two or three. It’s one of my frustrations but also where I try to spend a lot of time trying to help.”

Somehow computer science is not fun or cool for girls, including my own daughter. I pushed her so much that it didn’t work. Now she is doing her doctorate in psychology, which I am very proud of as she’s actually using a lot of technology today. I always pushed her to take her computer science class, stats, maths – now she’s leveraging all of that because she knows technology is a core part of the research she’s doing today.

Image credit - Salesforce

Disclosure - At time of writing, Salesforce is a premier partner of diginomica.

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