Cloud CRM giant Salesforce is always exhorting its customers to make use of its analytics, AI and community functions to serve their markets better. Now it is taking its own advice — a practice known as eating your own dog food — with yesterday's launch of several new services for its AppExchange partner ecosystem.
The new functionality exposes much more of the data Salesforce has always collected about its AppExchange partners for much of the thirteen years since Salesforce first launched its platform marketplace. That data now becomes available through smart search and marketplace listings to customers and via dashboard analytics to partners.
AppExchange General Manager Woodson Martin, who spoke to me during yesterday's Salesforce World Tour event in London, says that opening up its data in this way will have a big impact on AppExchange users — or Trailblazers, as Salesforce likes to call its users, admins and developers:
What we're trying to do with the announcements today around the AppExchange is really to start to turn the AppExchange inside-out. [We'll] start to expose the insights from all this data we've been collecting for a decade-and-a-half and use it to help make the job of Trailblazing easier.
Search, analytics, reporting
Three sets of capabilities have been announced:
- To help customers identify the right consulting partner for their needs, Salesforce has introduced a new 'Consultants on AppExchange' function that lets customers search for a consultant based on criteria such as location, industry expertise, language or Salesforce skills. Salesforce already holds this information but has not previously made it publicly available to customers.
- ISV partners will have access from next month to App Analytics, which provides metrics on usage data and trends. These analytics help partners understand which features are most or least used, providing insights that allow them to optimize the user experience, functionality and performance of their Salesforce-native applications.
- From the summer, all partners and consultants will be able to get help to fine-tune their listings on AppExchange with Marketplace Analytics, which adds real-time reporting on visitor behavior to a partner's AppExchange dashboard.
It isn't just customers who will make use of the new search capabilities. Interestingly, Martin believes Salesforce's own sales teams will be among the most avid users:
I think a very large percentage of the usage of the consultant finder on the AppExchange is going to be our own teams. Because a big question [they] have is, which partners have the expertise to implement this solution and can deliver the project? — in Bangalore or Sheffield, wherever they're trying to get it done.
What we've delivered now in Consultants on AppExchange is a very easy way of course for the customers to go look at that themselves, but also for our own teams — or for partners who are looking for help.
Making it easier to find existing skills or reusable components will also benefit partners, who need to move away from the traditional technology consulting model of custom-building individual solutions from scratch. Instead of 'reinventing the wheel' for every new engagement, astute partners will become adept at reusing assets from across the ecosystem to speed time to market, he believes:
[Partners] are competing for the customer's business and the customer is competing on time to market. So to be a valuable partner over time and to maintain the relationship, you can't be starting from scratch on everything ...
What I'm most excited about the AppExchange is the opportunity to harness and to share the incredible richness of this ecosystem. The steps we've taken with these announcements today are just the first step of that.
Future developments will make much more use of machine learning and AI to tailor recommendations to a user's needs, he tells me:
While the AppExchange is a website today, the future of the AppExchange will be an algorithm. It is really an algorithm that says, wherever you are in your Trailblazing journey with Salesforce, I'm going to present at the right time and in the right place and on the right channel, just what you need next from the ecosystem.
That may be an app, that may be expertise in the form of consultants, it may be employees you may need, that level of Trailblazers. It may be components, if you're a developer, [offering] the Lightning Bolt component that already does exactly what you want ...
This is the vision that we have, which is both to continue to expose more and more of the richness, the value of the ecosystem to every Trailblazer, and then to automate the delivery of those insights. So that we are bringing that to you just the right time and you don't have to think to go search. Directionally, think of that as where we're trying to take this.
At the heart of the SaaS model — which is now expanding to become Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS) as every business becomes digitized — is the added value of being connected. One aspect of this is the connection between providers and their customers, allowing them to continuously monitor how users interact with the software, and then iteratively improve it based on that feedback. This is such a core part of the model — we call it the XaaS Effect — that it's perhaps surprising that Salesforce has taken so long to extend that intelligence about customer usage to its AppExchange ISV partners.
Another equally important aspect is ability to nurture an ecosystem community that shares insights, learnings and assets across a common platform. This is something that Salesforce figured out before anyone else in the SaaS industry and its AppExchange is now a model for others. Yet it is still barely scratching the surface of what's possible, as illustrated by these announcements and by Martin's vision for what comes next. Opening up the data and powering search and discovery with machine learning has the potential to supercharge its reach. This week's announcements signal the start of a fascinating new phase in the evolution of the AppExchange.