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Salesforce hones its GSI partnering strategy for AI

Katy Ring Profile picture for user Katy Ring January 12, 2024
Salesforce's partner ecosystem has long been of great importance for growth.


It is a truth often spoken by Salesforce that to reach its $60 billion revenue target, it needs a flourishing partner ecosystem to help it grow and innovate. Salesforce has around 12,000 partners, of which over half are service partners. Within its service partners, Salesforce has 220,000 certified consultants and wants to focus many of these partners on AI data CRM, as part of a generative AI push.

Partners have the capacity and reach Salesforce needs, but the company is also aware that many of its most important service partners are already working with over 100 other technology partners, many of whom are also pushing AI agendas. Salesforce needs to stand out to attract and retain the attention of the Global System Integrators (GSIs).

Pivoting to global players 

Steve Corfield, EVP Alliance and Channels at Salesforce, says that Salesforce is currently paying particular attention to how it works with its top 20 GSIs. For Data Cloud and AI, Salesforce is creating a hub (the AI Hub) and supporting team for both sales and product enablement for this service partner group.

The concept is that Salesforce is putting its technology into the hands of these partners as soon as possible, providing access to products and making Salesforce sales and technology teams available to support this access as part of account-based marketing. In this way, Salesforce is hoping to create an embedded partnership around joint planning, joint metrics and measurement.

The engagement varies by partner, as Salesforce Alliances & Channels works to best support data practices around specific use cases to help partners achieve what their end users are trying to do. The AI Hub has been developed to be a conduit between product and practice, ensuring that Salesforce has the right bill of materials, the right entry phase and architecture to inform the joint go-to-market. Salesforce is co-building its technology assets in this way with partners such as Accenture, Capgemini, Deloitte, IBM and PwC.

The concept thus far is not particularly radical for GSI partnering by technology vendors, but what is more interesting is the establishment by Salesforce of a single sales and marketing organization aligned with the GSIs. Dedicated partners at the very top of the GSI 20 are managed by a Salesforce senior leader so that they are tied in with Salesforce’s executive leadership. Salesforce has a growth formula in place for this approach for each GSI, but the approach is described as a balanced scorecard for both partners, with Salesforce assessing how to become a more significant technology partner for each one.

The partner sales lifecycle for the GSIs involves scoped journeys by persona and AI-powered recommendations for lead and opportunity management, creating a virtual capability for people from both companies to come together and collaborate. Partner analytics are provided by Salesforce to provide discovery across constructs ranging from new product innovation, strategic advisory and implementation requirements. 

Where does this leave regional and specialist partners? 

Salesforce has several thousand consulting partners, and so the vast majority are not GSIs. Salesforce is adamant that partners beyond the GSIs are not being neglected and are better supported then before by the company’s partner success pillar which improves partner onboarding, the achievement of the first opportunity and deal, and the ongoing quality of work delivered. SI partners are an annual contract value (ACV) accelerator, whatever their size and so Salesforce has open dependencies built around these mutual relationships. For example, the partner program for mid-market RSIs is being improved to reduce friction and increase deal velocity.

Salesforce is proactively looking at processes to enable investment and sales support for RSIs in a given industry in a particular region to help Salesforce get defined sales muscle in areas where demand is strong. Specialist partners create use cases and narratives that Salesforce can then align with, using Copilot Studio to help partners and customer work better together.

As soon as a customer goes live, Salesforce wants reference-ability and has a $500 million fund to target new AI applications and invest in upcoming partners, especially smaller partners looking to enter the AI space.

Primarily, Salesforce is looking to develop AI capabilities with partners of every size and is setting out to achieve this by building the right data strategy, deploy the best in class use case and drive relevance with industry expertise.

My take

For deployment of generative AI technology to support CRM, GSIs will already have the Salesforce playbook in hand as a strong option when working with clients. As we have previously noted, Salesforce has created a sales, marketing and services AI environment that minimises risk because it only works with known data and the Einstein Trust Layer. Salesforce Einstein Copilot also offers a great tool for consultants to work directly with clients to develop practical use cases in the Salesforce environment. The question is whether Salesforce can use its partnering approach to get as much consultancy resource amongst the GSIs as, say, SAP, Oracle and Microsoft do for their data and AI offerings. 

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