In 1895, Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People was first performed in London. The play is a satire that turned the traditional values of late Victorian London on their head. It was released at a time of changing social norms and customs and became his most famous play.
What does a 125-year-old play about Victorian London have to do with … Salesforce?
We tend to believe that because the rate of change in our society is so fast-paced that it is a unique aspect of the time that we live in. In fact, the cultural changes in late 19th century England were very dramatic, in spite of moving at a slower rate. Oscar Wilde’s play was an attempt to highlight those changes in a humorous way. He stood back and used humor to shine a bright light on a process that would have felt subtle to those going through it. Much like the process of social evolution, in order to better understand the changes occurring in today’s Salesforce ecosystem we need to take a step back to get a better view of what is going on.
When did Salesforce get so … big?
Ben McCarthy’s excellent blog article entitled “A Brief History of Salesforce” is a fascinating read. In 2011 when I joined the Salesforce ecosystem with a large Systems Integrator, Sales Cloud—or SFA as it was initially known—was only eleven years old. The Force.com platform was three years old (announced at Dreamforce in 2008), and Service Cloud was barely over a year old. The ExactTarget acquisition, which formed the basis of Marketing Cloud, had not happened yet, and it was well within the capability of a Systems Integrator or skilled practitioner to be proficient in the three available clouds.
A quick glance at today’s Salesforce Suite of Cloud offerings shows a dozen clouds (Sales, Service, Marketing, Commerce, Engagement, Platform, Integration, Analytics, Industries, Communities, Enablement, and Collaboration) that address the full range of employee and customer experience. The breadth and depth of the Salesforce portfolio are well beyond the capability of an individual or organization to fully master. In fact, Salesforce breaks down its Certification credentialing into eight distinctly different roles.
In 2013, during this period of rapid platform expansion, Keith Block, now Co-CEO, was brought in by Marc Benioff to run his sales organization. Keith’s time at Oracle had taught him that to effectively scale his organization he would need to create silos of vertical industry expertise within his team. This process started slowly, but in today’s Salesforce, the non-vertical, general market teams are definitely in the minority.
Perhaps the best illustration of Salesforce’s dramatic and accelerating growth can be seen in the growth or their stock and their market valuation.
Who wins in this new gigantic matrix of … possibilities?
When the horizontal complexity of the Salesforce Platform is laid against the vertical specialization of the markets served, a vastly complex matrix is created. This rapidly expanding complexity puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the customer base to be effective in leveraging the Salesforce products to drive their overarching corporate objectives.
This complex matrix capabilities and needs can be related to the parable of the elephant and the blind men. In the story, the blind men each touch a separate part of the elephant and come away with widely different perceptions of what the elephant was. It is one Elephant in the same way that Salesforce is one Customer Experience platform, but if you only touch one elephant part, or one Salesforce Cloud, you will come away with a very incomplete vision of the whole.
The breadth of the Salesforce platform and its accelerating growth rate create a scenario where the Global Systems Integrators struggle to keep up their competencies. They are forced into a pattern of acquisitions that dilutes their brand, their culture, and ultimately leads to poorly integrated silos of capability. These patched together organizations have widely varying processes and skills that lead to inevitable performance issues. While not blind, these teams are often completely cut off from each other in ways that lead to blind spots in their interactions with their customers. These large consultancies also end up with their vertical market expertise segmented in completely different parts of the organization from their technical application expertise.
The winners in this rapidly expanding ecosystem will be the customers who work with Salesforce Partners that have to chosen to narrow their focus to a restricted set of market verticals. By dialing into a specific vertical such as Healthcare or Financial Services, a Salesforce partner will be able to develop deep vertical expertise and tie it directly into a team of experts who can focus on a subset of the Clouds available pertinent to their space. A healthcare provider organization, for example, doesn’t need their SI to bring a clinician and a Salesforce expert. They already have plenty of clinicians—they need people who have integrated Salesforce and clinical knowledge and experience. Only a firm with narrow vertical specialization in the space can bring that.
The future will belong to the Customers who partner with companies that bring a focused skill set of vertical market expertise that is tightly coupled with sophisticated salesforce skills developed in and around that market. The large global SIs by definition have to be stocked with generalists. These are the folks that try to patch together internal teams that have the required market and technology knowledge. At Silverline we focus exclusively on the end-to-end implementation of Salesforce products and powerful third-party apps in a small number of markets. This laser focus gives us the leverage to serve our Healthcare, Financial Services, and Banking customers more effectively than any other partner in the ecosystem.