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Dreamforce 2022: Salesforce Partner Atrium Doubling Business

Wade Tyler Millward

‘Our business has doubled this year, and the year before as well,’ Salesforce and Snowflake partner Atrium CEO Chris Heineken says.

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Atrium CEO Chris Heineken

Customer demand for data analytics and artificial intelligence is helping to fuel business growth for Salesforce and Snowflake partner Atrium, CEO Chris Heineken told CRN in a recent interview.

And so far, customer spending for Bozeman, Montana-based Atrium – aside from some industries, such as the mortgage business – is resilient despite ongoing concerns of a recession in the future, Heineken said.

“Our business has doubled this year, and the year before as well,” Heineken said. “Productivity (is) definitely in fashion. Revenue predictability, definitely in fashion. How do I take these investments – and when we‘re talking about analytics and data and then putting AI (artificial intelligence) to work and modernizing some of these platforms, and investments in Salesforce, what we’re really talking about is productivity.”

[RELATED: Dreamforce 2022: Slack Channel Chief Foresees App In Every Salesforce SI’s Solution] 

Heineken discussed his company’s success just ahead of Salesforce’s Dreamforce 2022 conference held in person in San Francisco and online. The about-200-employee Atrium was also among a handful of Salesforce partners named as bringing the first industry-focused Slack services to market during the conference – alongside consulting giants Accenture, PwC, Capgemini, Deloitte and KPMG.

His comments around customer spending – customers mostly “business as usual” with “a few more decision cycles” – are in line with what Salesforce co-founder and co-CEO Marc Benioff said on the company’s latest quarterly earnings call in August.

Benioff said on the call that he and his team were seeing “customers becoming more measured in the way they buy” and sales cycles “get stretched” with deals “inspected by higher levels of management.”

“Nearly everyone I‘ve talked to is taking a more measured approach to their business,” he said. “We expect these trends to continue in the near term.”

Still, Heineken sees massive opportunity ahead, he told CRN.

“We want to go build the best company in the world that brings together the concepts of … front office, CRM (customer relationship management) use cases with the platforms of you know, Salesforce, and Snowflake … that space, in the craft of data and data science, right in the middle of that Venn diagram is where we think we can go build the best company in the world that does this,” he said.

Here’s what else Heineken had to say to CRN.

What’s fueling customer demand for Atrium lately? 

Productivity (is) definitely in fashion. Revenue predictability, definitely in fashion. How do I take these investments – and when we‘re talking about analytics and data and then putting AI (artificial intelligence) to work and modernizing some of these platforms, and investments in Salesforce, what we’re really talking about is productivity.

And how do you take some of these use cases and yield more. So I’ll give you an example. One of our customers – by pulling together the data and some predictive scoring around data in the area of lead management for them – has recently doubled their conversion rates.

So that‘s the type of thing that gets companies excited. There’s just massive business cases out there around things like customer lifetime value or customer attrition, customer retention.

It‘s fascinating to see how much of the Fortune 1000 runs really big parts of their operations off of a lot of gut feel. So there is so much opportunity out there in the enterprise to be able to take some pretty basic concepts around predictive analytics and AI and apply those … for really big impact.

That‘s what I think is generating excitement around the category. Generally, a lot of companies have a challenge in that they don’t know where to get started.

They hear about machine learning and AI, and they‘re thinking of driverless cars. They’re not really sure how that connects to the enterprise. And so we find ourselves in a situation where we do a lot of roadmapping and strategy and coaching for them to understand how to start their journey.

And so we do quite a bit with art of the possible – that‘s a very popular request that we get. ‘Help us. How do we get started? What’s our strategy?’

And then soon thereafter, once we start that process, many times, we have the complete opposite problem – which is now, I’ve got a taste for it. Now, I’ve got 1,000 ideas of what I want to do. And then we very much get into the area of, well, how do we help sequence this? And how do we make sure that you‘re not biting off too much at once?

Why are services partners still important for data tools vendors? 

We had the enterprise software scene with SAP and Siebel migrating to systems of engagement around cloud systems.

And generally, through that process, that was a two-party negotiation. That was business working with IT stakeholders to implement platforms.

In the realm of data and analytics, where we find ourselves, it‘s now a three-party negotiation, which now you have the mathematicians and statisticians entering in the mix.

And how do you manage that three-party negotiation? You can do all kinds of research out there on the number of predictive models that never see the light of day, the number of projects that get done with a data science team that really never get to production. … There needs to be connectivity to those data science teams with somebody in the business who’s going to own these things that are data hungry and data literate.

If you don‘t have that, then you don’t really have a foundation for a great investment or a program. So it‘s important that those underpinnings are in place.

Is Atrium hiring? 

We’re pretty much hiring across the board. We hire data scientists, for Salesforce developers, for analytics developers as well.

And then our strategy team is the team that helps pull together the art of the possible. … We‘re always in the market for amazing talent.

We have a real belief system around recruiting from (college) campuses. And so we‘ve had a campus-recruiting program for the last several years that has been amazing for us.

So we have offices in Indianapolis and in Bozeman. Our data science team is out of Bozeman, Mont. And we will tend to spend time regionally with those universities. … And we‘ve just had tremendous results from hiring straight from campus. Really impressed with the caliber of the curriculums that are being built in higher ed to make consultants ready to come out with backgrounds in computer science and statistics and be ready to make impacts on our projects.

How about retaining employees? 

The Salesforce community itself, the market, it feels like sometimes it‘s a shark tank. You’ve got all these recruiters swimming around.

And we‘ve been very fortunate that our attrition rates have been low. We spend a lot of time focused on culture and building an environment that could put people on a career rocket ship.

When we start talking about our ‘why’ statement as a company, we want to create a world-class team that is going after really intellectually captivating problems that make impact.

So very cool projects, good tech platforms. Good culture is our formula for – how do we create a really compelling message for our employees to be with us and stay with us long term. … Not to say that we‘re immune. … People change career motivations and where they want to go. But we’ve certainly weathered, quote, ‘the Great Resignation’ in a really good way. … I would recommend the consulting field to anybody wanting to get into the business space because … you get put in a lot of different environments.

It‘s a great way to start a career. It’s way better than when I started. I started at Anderson Consulting before it was Accenture. And I had just a phenomenal experience with them. They were one of the best in the world at bringing people from college and putting them in the workforce. But at the time, it was like, ‘Hey, you‘re going to get on the road for a year straight and head over to the East Coast and fly out on Sundays.’

So for me, I got out of that just because of the work-life balance. But the dynamics have changed so much with COVID and cloud. Those two things, COVID and cloud, put together, have made the dynamic around the consulting industry really tenable for people who want to manage that travel and personal and professional balance.

I mean, before COVID, we were probably 3 percent on site with our customers … and now it’s like, I don’t think we have a single customer that wants us on site. And we’re being productive. And so that’ll probably change, but those entering in the workforce, you can have a really fulfilling career where you don‘t have to be on the road, you don’t have to make those trade-offs anymore, which is special.

What’s the future hold for Atrium?

We were recently plugged into Salesforce’s acceleration partner program, which is basically a program they use to manage their top 20 consulting integrators across the Americas.

It’s interesting for us to be a part of that program.We‘re kind of the smallest company that’s a part of that. So we’re commingled with some really big players out there.

It‘s just an amazing statement on our growth potential and where we could be, where we expect to go. We want to go build the best company in the world that brings together the concepts of … front office, CRM (customer relationship management) use cases with the platforms of you know, Salesforce, and Snowflake … that space, in the craft of data and data science, right in the middle of that Venn diagram is where we think we can go build the best company in the world that does this.

I wouldn‘t put any gates around size or where we’re going just because the category is so massive. I mean, it‘s still early days … our biggest challenge is, do nothing. Honestly.

There‘s not a lot of competition. It’s more getting people over that first investment. So we think we‘ve got a very full plate with the platform’s we‘re working with, with the verticals we’re working with. And now it‘s just more about going deeper and deeper in each of those. There is no cap. … AI in the business community, there’s a $3 trillion opportunity out there. … That‘s just such a massive number that you don’t really need to gate yourself around, ‘Can I be a 500-person company or 1,000?’

We’re going to basically stick to our knittings and continue to go after the category that I just described. Have an amazing team and amazing work culture. That‘s really what we’re focused on.

What can your vendor partners do that would help your business? 

I‘ve seen a lot of different partner programs. Salesforce has probably the best I’ve ever interacted with – by a lot. They have always been very friendly in terms of … developing the skill sets in the market, their Trailblazer program, they make their platforms very accessible for people coming into the market.

And that helps consulting firms like us when we‘re bringing students from campus to get trained up and certified. The gates to get people in are lower than I’ve seen in other platforms.

So I couldn‘t say enough good things about them as a partner.

And Snowflake is early days. They‘re just getting their wits about them with that. But I think they have the same intent.

So, as an entrepreneur, as somebody that‘s started a consulting business and seen this, I think they’ve done a tremendous job of supporting the ecosystem. … Salesforce has done a really nice job of also gating the amount of services that they‘re going to take on with their own team versus allowing their partner community to flourish.

So I would say, ‘Hold the line on that.’ They‘ve done such a tremendous job the last couple decades. Keep it up with that. If anything, Salesforce is looking to partner more with us. They have a whole program that they call ‘better together’ that we think is a really good program.

Customer spending is still staying strong with everything going on in the world? 

For the most part, our customers are business as usual. A little more careful. A few more decision cycles that everybody‘s going through to get projects approved.

Maybe there are a couple like segments that are in more acute pain than others. Like in the mortgage space, the mortgage space is a rough place right now. … There‘s a couple examples like that where I think it’s going to be rough.

But for the most part, we are seeing companies be businesses as usual. They’re not making any really big moves to downshift.

Has the supply chain crisis been an opportunity? 

It‘s been really interesting to listen to some of our customers that are manufacturing customers, where supply chains has really hit them.

The supply chain, in some ways, you’ve had demand off the charts, you’ve had some of the supply chain issues. And so we have situations where companies are basically sold out. And so then they‘re working with limited inventory. So then it becomes more of a question for – how do they target their prospect list to be more intelligent around where they can actually deliver that inventory?

So that has been an area that we‘ve seen some really interesting work with.

What keeps you at the helm of a partner business? 

We’re having a lot of fun. … We‘re in business to do intellectually captivating work with some of these new paradigms in an area that we know really well, to create just high impact investments for our customers. … Working on really cool projects like that and seeing the outcomes we can produce is highly motivating.

The other thing that‘s highly motivating is watching our team grow, take on more leadership responsibilities, put their careers on rocket ships in this space, building their networks. I mean, for us, that’s a really fulfilling thing.

What other Atrium offerings are popular with customers? 

We do a lot of strategy and implementation work. Another area that we think is just critically important is … we do quite a bit around sustained care and feeding of the predictive analytics, the analytics themselves and the environments we‘re plugging in.

So you can imagine that companies … it‘s really hard for some of our customers to orchestrate and hire the Salesforce talent, the business talent, the data science talent and make those all work.

And so we have an offering that we call Elevate that is a huge bet for us. We want to be able to consistently work with our customers over multiple years, where we can augment their teams in those categories and help evolve their systems long term versus just doing a project and going away.

So we think that that’s going to be critical to our success and our customers’ success. And it’s definitely an area, platform and a service offering that we‘re spending a lot of time on. … (It launched) two years ago. We have north of 25 companies that are working with us in that capacity and seeing a lot of value from it. … We’re starting to get a little more depth around the offerings. We‘re going to create a pod just specifically around financial services.

So it’s going to follow some of the things I was talking about with verticalization as an emphasis point.

Wade Tyler Millward

Wade Tyler Millward is an associate editor covering cloud computing and the channel partner programs of Microsoft, IBM, Red Hat, Oracle, Salesforce, Citrix and other cloud vendors. He can be reached at wmillward@thechannelcompany.com.

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