Salesforce consulting partner revamp finishing up

The now-implemented changes to requirements for consulting partners within Salesforce’s partner program place more emphasis on customer satisfaction and training, and will allow smaller partners to advance more easily in the program.

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Neeracha Taychakhoonavudh, Salesforce’s Senior Vice President, Partner Programs & Marketing

At the end of the last calendar year, Salesforce started rolling out an improved channel program for its’ consulting partners. Now, almost four months later, that process is basically complete, and partner alignment has been greatly strengthened as a result, said Neeracha Taychakhoonavudh, Salesforce’s Senior Vice President, Partner Programs & Marketing.

This change follows up a major change 20 months ago, when Salesforce unified all partner types within a single program.

“It made sense because we have ISV partners who want to work with consulting partners, and consulting partners who want to better monetize their operations, by working with ISVs,” Taychakhoonavudh said.

For a company best known for its direct sales, Salesforce has a large channel, with over thousands of partners, from large SIs like Accenture, to consultants, VARs, ISVs, agencies, and strategic partners. Their channel operations are somewhat unusual in today’s channel world however.

“Salesforce often maintains the direct relationship with the customer from a pure contractual standpoint, but about 40 per cent of sales are touched by a partner,” Taychakhoonavudh said. “Partners build a recurring services revenue, but it’s not a straight reseller relationship.” Taychakhoonavudh said that the percentage of pure direct sales in North American than outside it, although in Canada, about 45 per cent of sales are touched by a partner.

Taychakhoonavudh said if a customer is new to the cloud and have a solution provider they work with, the solution provider typically comes to Salesforce. Likewise, partners looking for business on their own also come to them with a new customer. From the customer side, they often bring a partner in if it’s a straightforward SFA or CRM deployment.

“Customers working with Salesforce also often ask who can help put it together for them,” Taychakhoonavudh said. “We are not a service company – only in our edge products, our very new ones. We know which partners work in what market, what capacity they have, and who would be the best fit.” For example, Taychakhoonavudh’s team based in Toronto maps the whole of the Canadian partner organization. Their job is to understand the partner landscape and ether recruit new ones to meet needs or recommend existing ones to customers.

Taychakhoonavudh said while the Salesforce channel has always been there, especially among the ‘born in the cloud’ partners, it has grown significantly as the cloud has become more accepted.

“We started in 1999 as a mid-market SMB solution when the cloud was new and unfamiliar to many, and grew into the enterprise as acceptance expanded – although we always had some ‘born in the cloud’ partners,” Taychakhoonavudh said. About half the partners fall under the enterprise business group and about half the commercial market group, which covers the midmarket down to the SMB. “In the last couple years, we have seen a lot more of the traditional channel come into the cloud – traditional on-prem resellers dabbling in pure cloud play. The key is how they make the transition. We want consulting partners to advise the customer going forward even though the contract is held by Salesforce.”

To this end, the new changes to the partner program are designed to make the partners better at supporting and satisfying their customers.

“We made the changes to do a better job of vetting partners,” Taychakhoonavudh said. “If you take good care of your clients, there is no reason for them to leave. Customers leave for another partner only when they are dissatisfied. That’s why if a partner is having trouble installing we will parachute resources in, because it’s a subscription business, and we don’t want to run the risk of losing the customer either. That’s why partners concerned about maintaining control over the customer need to realize the best way they can maintain control is by doing a good job.”

The vetting component is one of three attributes that Salesforce uses now to determine a partner’s tier eligibility in their three tier program, and is measured by both customer references and implementation surveys. The other two components are bookings, and training certifications.

“We now provide additional training as well,” Taychakhoonavudh said. “We had some of both customer satisfaction and training as requirements before, but we have definitely increased them as we revamped the program.” A key difference is that now a strength in one area – like customer satisfaction or training – can offset a weakness in another, like bookings. The result is a more flexible program, which will allow smaller partners in particular the ability to advance levels in the program easier, thus acquiring both the expertise and the programmatic validation of that expertise necessary to impress, satisfy and retain customers.

“In the subscription model, you want to keep customers for life, and keeping partners aligned and highly skilled is the best way to do that,” Taychakhoonavudh said.

“This is the fastest growing practice area many of our partners have, and a unified program with a unified team managing it breaks down siloes internally and improves the partner experience,” Taychakhoonavudh said. “The opportunity in cloud, whether with SalesForce or any other cloud vendor, is tremendous, but it is also a business model that is different in many ways. For partners dipping their toes in, they need to be flexible because it does mean a change in the way a traditional channel company does business.”