Gone are the Days of the Generalist Partner – Even in the Cloud

September 2, 2011 at 5:17 pm Leave a comment

Salesforce.com Gets Serious about Partner Certification

Beth Vanni – Vice President, Amazon Consulting

When you’re moving fast, sometimes you miss the obvious. The meteoric growth and rapid market support for Salesforce.com’s leading SaaS solutions are a great example.  The company’s rise within 10 years to a $2+ billion dollar organization has allowed them to cut some corners on how they’ve supported and engaged consulting partners.   But, at this year’s Dreamforce conference, we saw a renewed commitment and sense of urgency around helping partners (mostly of the consulting variety) develop one of the most basic value-based attributes — well defined technical and sales competency, in the form of certifications.

Once nearly exclusively focused on ISVs building to their “sales cloud” CRM platform, the SaaS giant now realizes their glaring gap — how to scale their sales and professional services capabilities to meet their growth targets to $5b, $10b and beyond.  They’ve always competed with on-premise software giants much larger and better resourced than they around partnering (think Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, SAP).  But as the darlings of the cloud applications market, Salesforce now realizes how seriously these competitors are retooling their platforms and partnering efforts to come after them….. and their built-on-the-cloud partners.  With a 36% year over year increase in the number of partners overall, Salesforce clearly still has the consulting and ISV partners’ attention.  However, in order to meet their existing sales and deployment projections, the SaaS leader estimates they need just under 3,000 professional services partners globally with well defined sales, service and/or platform capabilities in order to sustain their market leading position.

The company’s certification program is three years old, but a bit like the proverbial light hid under a bushel. The program has been focused historically on basic administrator functions and the CRM sales cloud, producing strong generalists. The new program, announced today, has four roles — administrator, implementation, developer and technical architect.  Most of the buzz was around the technical architect role as the crown jewel asset for a consulting partner to invest in.   With only nine individuals certified at this level today worldwide, they have a long way to go in getting partners to invest in this specialized certification, which is intended to help partners truly architect new cloud solutions and generate larger license and professional services sales, both pre- and post-sale.

This expanded certification program and its associated sales and marketing benefits is an obvious and long overdue investment in Salesforce.com’s consulting partner community – a partner segment which now seems equally yoked and strategic to the company with the ISV AppExchange community.  Denzil Samuels, the company’s new channel chief, has given the consulting community a real voice, both internally and externally, which is fantastic.  However, they still have a lot of work ahead of them to create one unified partner program across the ISV, Alliances and Consulting segments.  Samuels, ironically, only focuses on the consulting partners, and the announcement this week of a new Cloud Alliance Partner Program is, again, only for consulting partners.

Helping partners to specialize and further their skills around the company’s innovative sales, service, data and software development platforms is good for all involved.  However, we still heard the certification investment message delivered here at Dreamforce in a much too “what’s good for Salesforce” tone.   When vendors move from being partner tolerant to partner reliant (see the Amazon Consulting Partner Impact Model explaining these stages at http://amazonconsulting.com/stages/) they start to reorient their message with a keen ear to what partners need to hear to invest; namely, how it will offset costs, make them more efficient, bring them higher margins and/or increase service attach rates. That spin was only marginally delivered by Salesforce.com today.

We agree that specialized skills is good for Salesforce consulting partners and a critical next step in getting the SaaS leaders field sales teams and customers to start engaging partners more broadly as deeply skilled and trusted advisors.  But, let’s all remember that Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and IBM are competing for that same mindshare and share of partner wallet, despite their decidedly less innovative and sexy market image.  But, with a much stronger and more unified partnering DNA and set of enablement resources, the Salesforce consulting partners today might be more generalists than they would like to be – but technology loyalty only goes so far.  As Marc Benioff’s innovative organization struggles to build its partnering muscle, they need to remember to speak the investment and value language of the partner and spend as much time selling-to as selling-through their target partners.

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