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Salesforce Wants 250,000 Channel Partners To Realize Benioff's Growth Vision

The CRM leader's channel chief, J.C. Collins, tells CRN expanding the number and size of its partners is essential for doubling the business in four years.

Having set its sights on doubling its business within four years, Salesforce is looking to spur a massive expansion of its channel to handle that growth, the CRM leader's channel chief told CRN.

"Partners are the lifeblood of what Salesforce is doing now and are going to be a critical part of achieving $26 [billion] to $28 billion," J.C. Collins, Salesforce's senior vice president and COO of industries, innovation and partners, said.

Ramping its channel involves helping existing consultancies scale with Salesforce while encouraging the formation of startups and recruiting legacy solution providers looking to establish cloud practices, Collins told CRN.

[Related: Salesforce Looks To Drive The Mobile Future]

Co-CEOs Marc Benioff and Keith Block stated the ambitious revenue goal during Salesforce's fourth-quarter earnings call earlier this week—Salesforce's fiscal 2019 blew past $13 billion faster than any software company before it, and the company's leaders believe current trends will keep the market ripe for adoption of Salesforce's CRM portfolio for many years to come.

Technology partners building on Salesforce's development platforms and selling their solutions on the AppExchange are one leg of that growth strategy, Collins said.

"When Marc [Benioff] and Keith [Block] say we're going to double the business over the next couple years, what we're thinking is we need an ecosystem that's helping propel us by innovating on our platform," Collins said.

But services providers and systems integrators have an even more critical role to play in meeting the evolving needs of a growing base of customers.

Those partners "need to be in lockstep with us in being able to deliver that technology to more customers and expanded size of customers," Collins said.

Salesforce may need 250,000 consultancies in its channel to reach the lofty revenue projections Benioff and Block put forward, he said.

"It's not just to build on the capability of our existing ecosystem, but also building capacity and bench strength of the ecosystem we're going to need in a couple years," Collins said.

One priority for those partners should be developing industry expertise, Collins said, so they can "speak the language of the customer." Salesforce has identified seven industries it wants to target.

Partners must also keep up with Salesforce's rapid pace of product innovation, staying on top of the latest capabilities as they are released three times a year.

To that end, the channel organization Collins leads is ramping its focus on training and enablement.

"For our partner team, what's incumbent is to be able to create scalable learning models to be able to understand the technology and achieve the customer success," he said.

Trailhead, Salesforce's learning platform, is a central pillar of that strategy. The online program, which offers guided educational paths through interactive tutorials, helps "seed the talent" from which Salesforce partners build their workforces.

And Salesforce being Salesforce, another area of partner development is "the extension of our Ohana," Collins said. That Hawaiian term represents Salesforce's culture of trust and recognition of values that permeate through a philanthropic model the company encourages partners to adopt.

It's all a juggling act given the trend across the industry of convergence in partner business models.

"Traditionally, everyone stayed in their boxes," Collins said. "Those lines have really blurred a lot with the advent of the cloud."

Salesforce now regularly sees its systems integrators launching apps on AppExchange, or ISVs building out services capabilities. And it's also welcoming a new breed of untraditional partners that focus on delivering a broader set of technology solutions to specific industries, like telecom and health care.

"What it means for our partner program is finding ways to make it a bit more flexible and not as rigid, while also finding ways to reward innovation for what partners are doing on the platform while keeping it easy to do business with us," Collins said. "We would be limiting ourselves if we just said, 'Let's work with SIs and ISVs,’ rather than working with a host of partners to build an ecosystem."

A year after taking the top channel position, Collins, who previously was responsible for developing Salesforce’s partner strategy, has been thinking a lot about what a differentiated partner model should look like.

Partners say his message is resonating.

"The goal of the Salesforce partner ecosystem is to keep up with Salesforce's rapid growth and industry vertical focus," said Eve Nunez, practice director of Salesforce at Apps Associates, a Boston-based consultancy.

That requires hiring not only the best Salesforce consultants, but also general consultants with in-depth enterprise experience, she said.

While the platform changes quickly, Salesforce has made it easy to gain skills through its classroom training and the Trailhead program as it expands its footprint in the enterprise in pursuit of its growth targets, she said.

"Apps Associates believes a combination of staying up to date with platform changes, and a constant refining of consulting skills is the recipe for effectively navigating enterprise customer challenges," Nunez told CRN.

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