Last year Salesforce launched its Customer Success Group under the leadership of long-time staffer Brian Millham. Every tech company says that it is dedicated to delivering success for their customers, but this was the creation of a unit dedicated both to assisting enterprises with planning their implementations and to being on the frontline when transformation programs run into bumps on the road.
At the time, Derek du Preez observed:
Cynics would argue that ‘customer success’ is a nice fluffy term that companies use to sound like they are serving their customer base effectively - but what does it really mean? What does Salesforce actually ‘do’ to help ensure that its customers are getting value?
Nearly 15 months on from the formal launch of the Customer Success Group at Dreamforce 2018, Millham and his team were able to address some of those questions at this year’s recent jamboree in San Francisco. One of the challenges, he told an audience of Salesforce users, relates to the sheer breadth of the company’s portfolio of cloud offerings today:
We've listened to feedback that, 'There's a lot and sometimes it's not easy to consume all the things that you're delivering to us, so help us. Tell us more about which products we should be using from you, what success plays we should be using’.
There was also a welcome recognition that success is not an absolute concept, as Millham told the conference delegates:
We also know that success is defined differently by probably everybody in this room, a different definition of what success looks like...I was with the VP of sales for a high tech manufacturer just down in the South Bay last week who said, 'My number one goal, my number one success criteria, is how do I make sure that I'm getting top line growth, do better campaign execution better, lead conversion and higher A/B productivity? A medical device manufacturer on the East Coast said, 'Hey, I need to take some costs out of my support operations'. That’s really important to that person, the most important thing from a success perspective. Or the regional bank I met with last quarter who said, 'I need to transform my business, that's my measure of success, because my entire industry has been transformed’.
To that end, personalization and tailored responses are key, he said:
We believe in the future of success is about a personalized journey and personalized path of success for all of you. It's individually targeted at your company. We call it ‘precision success’ - mostly because my boss came up with that name and it seems to make sense, so we'll call it precision success - offering you the right resource, at the right time with the right skills to drive the best outcome, and the most value for customers.
But the Customer Success messaging has become more layered over the past 15 months with what sounded like a greater surfacing of the work of professional services experts, both internal and third-party. Lori Steele, recently appointed as VP of Customer Success and Professional Services, explained:
Our professional services team is part of our customer success organization, and whether you're just starting out, whether you're bringing on new functionality, whether you're bringing on all this new lifestyle voice and mobile, our teams are there to help you, to work alongside of you to bring expert best practices and advice, and to really help you get the most value from your investment in Salesforce...our teams are really here to make sure that we can bring the frameworks, the best practices, and use our incredible assets and resources, whether it's just Trailhead [Salesforce’s education and learning program], whether it's the experiences we've learned through thousands of implementations to help you get the fastest success and help your organization adopt more quickly and get that success.
And then as we think about you standing up as an organization you being an organization of experts yourself, we want to make sure that you leave behind the skills that you need. So we're partnering with you to help you on your journey, but making sure we're helping you establish a center of expertise and have the kinds of skills that you need in your own organization to continue to deliver on value.
Steele talked in terms of “enhanced advisory services” as an example of what customers can tap into:
These are areas where many of you use our experts or architects, whether they're technical architects, business architects, solution architects, to help advise and guide you. But this is about bringing some very targeted offerings to bear in those most challenging areas, so that we have a way to bring those best practices, with small teams to help you along your way.
This might be, you have some concerns about the business value you're getting from your Sales Cloud implementation. We can put together a business value framework and look at where those challenges are and help you figure out how to make the changes you need to extract more value.
You could be a retailer, with high volumes and you know you're going to hit your peak volumes [during the Holiday season]. Our teams can come in and do a peak readiness assessment for you to make sure that you're ready and that your teams are set up, your data and how you're going to operate it and make sure that's going to go smoothly.
As to third party services providers, this is an area that’s moved on a lot over the past couple of decades. As Salesforce co-founder and now Chief Technology Officer Parker Harris recalled, at one point in the early days of the firm he told CEO Marc Benioff:
Marc, whatever you do, we do not want consultants!
It’s a very different story today, as Steele pointed out:
Over 75% of the implementation is done out there, done by our partner eco-system. Our customers want Salesforce and the partner eco-system to work together in the most collaborative ways to bring the most value to how we work together. Today, about half of our services are delivered alongside partners. But I think we can do better. We've spent a lot of time with our customers and listening to how we can do better, and how we can make sure we're bringing the right teams, the right expertise, and the right collaboration to all of you.
But it’s also about ensuring that end users have their own skills in-house, she added:
We talk a lot about skills, and it's important that everyone continue to grow the skills that we need, because Salesforce is growing, your businesses are growing and our eco-system is growing. So this is about our Salesforce, professional services teams working really closely with all the partner education that's out there for our partners and the certifications. But it's bringing the best practices that we've learned by working closely with our product teams, that we know by being in the field and implementing, that give the practical experience to that education.
All of which sounds fine in theory, but as with all such pitches - and particularly with one that centers on delivering customer success - the most powerful proof point is always going to come from customers themselves. In this case, Finnish multi-national Nokia was on hand to explain how it made use of the resources of the Customer Success Group. Ursula Soritsch-Renier, Group CIO and Digital Leader at Nokia, argued:
I think Nokia is a very good company to talk about disruption and transformation. Having started in 1864 as a paper mill, going into consumer electronics, mobile phones, and now 100,000 people as a telecoms infrastructure provider, I think we have disrupted ourselves multiple times. In that respect, 5G, this new technology, is exactly such a next frontier that now requires internally from an IT perspective a different mindset, where you bring in people, processes and technologies together.
Having had an acceleration of acquisition, our last acquisition [Alcatel-Lucent] was in 2016, where we actually doubled the company. Through doubling the company, you immediately have an issue of how do you combine this together? How do you make this work? We tried very quickly to implement lead and opportunity management from Salesforce and we managed that, I think in just eight months, rolling out to over 10,000 people.
In so doing, Nokia tapped into the professional services on offer via Salesforce’s Customer Success Group with “speed and competence” cited by Soritsch-Renier as the drivers:
To do such a thing in eight months is not easy. And we didn't stop there. We’re actually heavily implementing Einstein Analytics, where we're really using performance and metrics to create an insight in this domain that allows us business growth and opportunities.
We worked with a team of architects, of sales professionals and also other eco-system integrators together. It was not only for the implementation, but also the knowledge transfer and allowing us internally actually to accelerate and really fully use the capabilities that we have in-house.
What’s next, she added, is what she calls “an innovative go-to-market strategy”:
The number of company sales people that you can throw into the sales process is not unlimited. So at a certain point in time IT is the sales function. And we need to go into this experience with, you know, beyond an [IT] transaction mind. What we did for example, we added an intelligent care assistant, where we're exposing network insights. We’re really transforming our care business with this, for field service employees as well as our care people, [providing] a complete different knowledge in your interaction.
And on the other hand, we're also using Salesforce where we take the care environment into the e-commerce environment. In this e-commerce environment where we work together with other eco-system partners, we then allow our customers, the telecom providers, to actually monetize their 5G digital services. For us the journey has been extremely exciting, but I think we're actually also only at the start now.
A cursory glance over diginomica’s coverage of Dreamforce 2019 - which you can find here - will note a heavy leaning towards customers stories. This is reflective of our oft-quoted mantra that it’s customers and peers who are the best validation of any new technology or set of marketing claims from a vendor.
Delivering an ongoing success delivery strategy is essential in the Software-as-a-Service world. The days of chucking some software over the wall of the IT department and leaving it to a big SI to get it up-and-running - or make budget-busting millions out of failing to do so - are long-gone.
With that in mind, Salesforce’s efforts here to pull customer success delivery resources into a coherent set of messages and offerings under 'one roof' has proved to be a savvy move that might act as an exemplar to others.