Developing a 3rd party product pipeline for Salesforce
An interview with Trent Cook, VP of Market Strategy at b+s
A lot goes into creating 3rd party content for Salesforce. There are so many people and channels involved in steering content creation for the CRM giant that 3rd party developers have roles dedicated to interfacing with Salesforce to ensure the most harmonious possible coordination of efforts to produce the best possible products.
Today we had the pleasure of catching up with a b+s market strategy guru whose job it is to work together with Salesforce to help ensure that the incredibly complex ecosystem in and around the leading CRM provider is as productive and effective as possible. Our goal: get some insights about marketing strategy from a 3rd party developer’s perspective.
Interviewer: What’s your background? How long have you been in the field?
Trent Cook: I was originally a software engineer. I’ve been working in the contact center industry for at least a decade.
Interviewer: So, I guess you’re pretty familiar with Salesforce?
Trent: I’d say so. I’ve been working on and off with them for about ten years now, and really closely for the last five years or so.
Interviewer: Your title is VP of Market Strategy. What exactly does that mean?
Trent: There’s a lot to it, but I guess there are two specific parts. I’m responsible for product strategy, which basically involves working with our technical teams to make sure we’re building the best, most relevant products possible for our customers.
I’m also responsible for our “go to market” strategy. This means that I’m in really close touch with our big CRM vendors to make sure that we’re front and center with them when it comes to coordinating our product goals with theirs.
Interviewer: That does sound like a lot. You’re going to have to unpack that a bit more for me.
Trent: Sure. Think of it this way: we want to make sure we’re producing the right stuff for Salesforce. But, doing that isn’t always super easy since Salesforce is such a huge, dynamic company. It’s fairly common for them to have multiple initiatives, only some of which they will ultimately pursue. If we’re not really on top of things, we might end up producing software for something that never goes anywhere. That would be a huge waste of our resources.
Interviewer: So how do you figure out what Salesforce is planning? What they’re going to go forward with?
Trent: That’s the trick. A lot of times even they aren’t entirely sure which direction they’re going to go. To make sure we’re tracking with them, I need to stay in really close contact with the right people.
Interviewer: How do you figure that out? Sounds like an impossible task.
Trent: A lot of it is about cultivating relationships. It is important that I know the right people and that we’re communicating. It’s also about knowing where to go when you need something. That part can be hard sometimes because it’s not always clear who the point person on a given initiative is.
Interviewer: So, you approach them to get a sense of where they’re going with their products. Do they ever come to us for ideas about where to push product features?
Trent: Well, that’s another really important element of my job. It’s definitely a two-way street. I need to make sure we’re making the right products. At the same time, Salesforce is really responsive and is typically very curious to know what our customers and other partners are telling us that they want or are planning. The information flows both ways, and we know we’re working well together when they are pursuing features our customers are interested in seeing, and we are steering our products to align with their design goals.
Interviewer: You mentioned “other partners”. Can you say more about that?
Trent: Sure. Cisco is a good example of what I mean. It’s in our best interest to make sure Cisco and Salesforce are working effectively together. If b+s can broker communication in this collaboration space, everyone wins.
Interviewer: It sounds like you’re something like human infrastructure.
Trent: Haha. Yes, I guess you could say that. There are just so many things that go into making sure b+s is aligned with Salesforce: so many intangibles, so many relationships to maintain and things to anticipate. It is a complex role.
Interviewer: It surprises me to hear that a company as big as Salesforce would be willing to set aside time to discuss its plans with a 3rd party developer, let alone to actually coordinate its design goals with them.
Trent: Actually, that is one of the places I feel like Salesforce really shines. They are great at sharing their product roadmaps with us. They make a concerted effort to let us know what they’re planning, even if it is multiple things. Even when they aren’t entirely sure about their next moves, they do their best to keep us in the loop so there are no surprises.
Interviewer: How do you explain that level of attention to detail on their part?
Trent: Hmmm. I guess I’d say that b+s has a really close relationship with Salesforce. They respect us and care both about the products we are putting out and how those products interface with their CRM platform. I also think that they realize it is in everyone’s best interest to coordinate efforts.
Ours is such a huge development space that it’s impossible to do everything. That’s why the 3rd party developer ecosystem is so important. If Salesforce works well with their trusted 3rd party developers, they can make sure they cover every gap. I think that that attitude is an important part of makes them the world’s leading CRM.
Interviewer: What do you find most challenging about working with Salesforce?
Trent: I’d have to say it is figuring out who to talk to when it comes to figuring out either what the company is planning, or who actually has the information I need to help our POs make the right development decisions. The company is large, and there are multiple paths to creating successful products, and there are often different teams working toward the same goals but in quite different ways. It can sometimes be really challenging to figure out which person knows which solution the company is going to utilize going forward.
Interviewer: Isn’t it counterproductive to have different teams working on different solutions to the same problem?
Trent: Actually, it is an asset. Seeking multiple solutions ensures that the final product will be really top-notch. It means that customers will get the very best products since Salesforce will have seriously evaluated all the possible legitimate solutions for the features they are developing.
Interviewer: Given how complicated this discernment process sounds, what do you do to sort things out? That is, how do you know you’re giving the b+s POs the right information and steering product development in the right way?
Trent: It’s three things really. These are kind of the cornerstones of what I do, and probably what you’ve heard me emphasize thus far. The most important thing is making sure I am staying really close to key people at Salesforce. I need to be communicating with them very regularly. And, I need to make sure they remember us and value our input. Part of this involves staying on top of things when it comes to promoting b+s value and product content, and part of it involves regularly updating them to our customer and partner feedback, which they really need to know.
Interviewer: Somehow I would have expected this process to be far more systematic.
Trent: Well, it is and it isn’t. We have regular channels and systems by which we do things. But, at the end of the day, it comes down to effective and regular communication.
Interviewer: Good stuff Trent. Thanks very much.
Trent: My pleasure!
To read more about what goes into the nuts and bolts development of the b+s Connects for Salesforce software, read our interview with Xaver Bandi, here.
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