Salesforce Releases Overhauled Channel-Building Platform

Salesforce released a platform Thursday meant to help vendors foster channel ecosystems by extending internal sales tools to their indirect partners.

Lightning Partner Community introduces major design and capability upgrades to its predecessor, Salesforce Partner Community, including the ability for Salesforce-aligned systems integrators to build custom industry solutions for their customers, who then pass the technology to their own partners.

The new platform takes design inspiration from consumer-facing solutions, can pull data from multiple Salesforce and third-party sources, integrates advanced machine learning capabilities and offers a mobile device experience, said Mike Stone, Salesforce's senior vice president of product marketing.

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With so many business sectors, such as manufacturing, tech and telecom, deriving the majority of their revenue through reseller and distributor channels, it was time for Salesforce to create a solution that brought partners in those industries to par with their direct sales counterparts.

"Huge portions of the economy go through that reseller channel," Stone told CRN. But the technology for driving channel relationships, and facilitating channel sales, hasn't kept up with what's available to direct sales organizations.

Most companies provide modern sales tools to their internal staff, Stone said, where their partners rely on dated, difficult to use and disparate systems for closing deals, checking leads, requesting deal support, and checking on the status of deliveries or payments.

"A lot of the innovation gets funneled to direct sales reps and not so much to indirect channels," Stone said.

Salesforce is leveraging its sales force automation and CRM technologies to ensure partners have tools just as powerful as direct sales teams, including full mobile device functionality.

With Lightning Partner Community, Salesforce customers can quickly launch partner portals and community forums that pull data from Salesforce and other CRM products, integrate with Salesforce CPQ for quoting prices, and leverage gamification and machine learning technologies through the Einstein platform.

That infusion of artificial intelligence provides proactive recommendations to partners of those customers related to the products they sell, Stone said.

Salesforce's partners will be able to leverage Lightning Bolt, a recently released framework for building portals and community clouds, to customize the platform to help their customers in specific verticals looking to engage their partner communities.

Salesforce partners including Accenture, PwC and Deloitte are already using Bolt to customize portals and create workflows for franchise managers, financial advisors and insurance brokers working with resellers, he said.

"It's gotten our partners tightly integrated into development and distribution," Stone told CRN.

In the coming months, Salesforce partners will be able to distribute their customized portals on the AppExchange, he said.