There's probably no one with more experience in the Salesforce consultancy business than Eric Berridge, who co-founded Bluewolf, one of the very first technology services companies to focus solely on Salesforce implementations, in 2001. After leading Bluewolf as CEO for almost 19 years, followed by two years leading Salesforce's in-house professional services organization, yesterday he stepped into the role of CEO at Coastal Cloud, a Salesforce consultancy headquartered in Palm Coast, Florida. We caught up with him to find out what has tempted him back into the fray.
With a little over 500 employees, Coastal Cloud is a similar size to Bluewolf at the time it was acquired by IBM in 2016. It was founded a little over ten years ago by two Accenture alumni as a project to support disaster relief in Florida with Salesforce technology. From that beginning Coastal Cloud has developed a substantial public sector and non-profit practice, and later expanded into commercial areas including healthcare, education and manufacturing. Berridge, who has served on the company's board since 2020, says:
They reminded me a lot of the journey that we went on ... Similar to how we built Bluewolf, they hired people they knew one at a time, they got some scale, and really filled that gap that sits just below the GSI where customers want to move fast. They want agility. They want to show results in short sprints. That was a similarity that I saw.
While the large Global Systems Integrators (GSIs) and Salesforce's own in-house professional services organization serve the largest enterprise customers, there's a swathe of mid-sized businesses and organizations that need a consulting partner with a deep skillset in Salesforce technology, but without the overhead of those larger providers. Drawing on the experience of his two years at Salesforce, Berridge observes:
I saw GSIs and I saw [Salesforce's] professional services, both of which are looking for the 20-to-50-million-dollar engagements. And then I saw this whole layer of customers that were trying to be served by a cottage industry of smaller services providers who didn't have the skills that were necessary to deal with this organic development that Salesforce was generating. And that's really the gap we fill.
In part, this gap exists because of the broad appeal of the Salesforce offering. He elaborates:
They made a decision two decades ago that they were going to build this platform that can be consumed by anyone, whether it's a one-person shop in the middle of nowhere, or it's the largest publicly-traded company. Their challenge is, how do we serve the entire portfolio of products across this broad customer base? ...
There are pockets of customers in different industries and different sizes, that do feel like they've turned into Oracle — you feel like this isn't like the upstart that used to bend over backwards to take care of you.
I do think, though, that the way they are addressing that is through better tools, using AI and self-service and chatbots and allowing customers to self-serve.
Platform innovation creates opportunities for SIs
The sweet spot for the likes of Coastal Cloud consists of those customers who can't self-serve and want to take advantage of the full range of Salesforce technologies — in some cases, modernizing an existing Salesforce implementation that has become siloed over time — but who want to deal with a more approachable provider. Berridge believes there's tremendous opportunity at the moment because of the new platform capabilities Salesforce is bringing to market. He elaborates:
I think that Salesforce is doing an incredible amount of organic development right now on the platform. If you look at what they're doing with AI, if you look at what they're doing with things like Revenue Cloud, if you look at Data Cloud. All of a sudden, they pivoted from, ‘Let's go buy Slack, let's go buy MuleSoft’ to an organization that’s going to build our own stuff, because that's best for customers.
There's a gaping hole right now for service providers that get that stuff and know that stuff. It's a little harder, because you have to build practices and skills that are a little ahead of where the market is.
Coastal Cloud is going all-in on Data Cloud, he adds:
Data Cloud is off to a heck of a start. From what I've been told it's the fastest-growing organic product in the last decade and they made it at Salesforce. It was built from scratch. They don't have the integration challenges that they had through some of these other acquisitions. They obviously don't have the customer base out of the gate either. But it's an exciting product, and Coastal is 100% behind it. We have more certifications than just about any other partner offering it. It's a big part of our strategy, getting customers from the legacy Salesforce world into this world where Data Cloud is now driving their AI, driving their user experience and customer experiences.
Delivering for customers
So how has the role of the Salesforce service provider changed in the past quarter-century? Not much, according to Berridge, except that the scale and complexity of the product set has grown. But the core ingredients remain the same. He says:
Data's always been a piece of it and tech integration has always been a piece of it. None of these systems work well if they're siloed. If they do work well, they're now embedded into your enterprise architecture, and the data flows at the speed of the transactions and at the speed of the end user's need.
While some partners in the Salesforce ecosystem have been complaining that they've found themselves in competition with the vendor's own professional services business after it refocused on profitability rather than growth, Berridge demurs:
I've competed with Salesforce professional services since 2001, when I started Bluewolf. The organizations that aren't fit are going to complain about competing with Salesforce professional services. The organizations that actually have a mission and have the right approach and the right people, [are the ones] that can sell against a larger organization that's going to quote you an SOW that's twice as big and it's going to take twice as long, it takes twice as much time to get approved, that you're going to have twice the resource churn.
He adds that his experience is that when partners deliver for customers, Salesforce sees it as a win-win. He explains:
One of the reasons we love partnering with them is that when we go to a customer together, if Coastal can build a strong relationship with that customer, Salesforce knows that we're going to take care of their needs, and we're going to get them on the platform the right way. We're going to do that next release the right way. And we're going to give them guidance around how to get their Salesforce usage into the modern era.
When that's happened, they don't need all the handholding from Salesforce. It's where the ecosystem and the partner channel becomes extremely critical.
While the likes of Bluewolf have been absorbed into the GSIs — and in some cases into Salesforce's own professional services unit — there continues to be a market demand for a smaller, more approachable consultancy that nevertheless has a deep understanding of how to get the best out of Salesforce technology, often tuned to the needs of specific industries. As ever, that revolves around providing a unified view of the customer, but it's interesting to hear Berridge talk about the new opportunity that Data Cloud opens up. Even after almost a quarter century, there's still plenty of enthusiasm for what the platform can do.
[Updated Sep 19th to correct a minor transcription error].