How Salesforce builds loyalty by investing in the success of its developers, admins, and customers

At Salesforce TrailheaDX 2019, Sarah Franklin spoke with TechRepublic about what makes the company's relationship with developers, admins, and customers.

How Salesforce builds loyalty by investing in the success of its developers, admins, and customers

Software developers are often passionate about the platforms they code for, but Salesforce seems to have a unique relationship with the people who build apps for the company's ever growing list of platforms. At the company's 2019 developer conference, TrailheaDX, I had a chance to speak with Sarah Franklin, EVP and GM of Trailhead and Developer Relations, about how the company has built such a loyal following. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

And if you'd like to know why I think Salesforce got its developer conference right, while Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Google have lost their way, check out my Monday Morning Opener on TechRepublic's sibling site, ZDNet.

Bill Detwiler: How would you describe a Salesforce developer and what makes Salesforce's relationship with its developers and admins unique?

Sarah Franklin: We're living in an incredible world today, where there's a lot of technology, there's a lot of innovation, and that's why Salesforce developers are very unique. Because they are the people that can marry all of this together. They take a beginner's mind. They look at problems, and they think, "Okay, you know, how can I solve this? What can I do?" And so that real problem solving mentality, that person that's like, "I think we can do this better," that is what's very unique. On our platform, yes, you can build with clicks. You can build with code. It has this whole spectrum, so you can all work together.

It's really magical, what happens when you give people ... You know, our Salesforce developers, we call them our trailblazers, because they really are. They're pioneers. They're innovators. They're people that are thinking differently about how they can solve the problems that we have today, whether it's as big as thinking about global warming or with how we do reusable energy or how we do process automation, mobile app development, all of that.

What makes Salesforce so unique in our relationship with the community is that we don't put people into boxes. You're not a developer that doesn't talk to an administrator that doesn't talk to an executive. We're here together, and everybody is here together. We work best when we learn from each other.

A developer may want to build something with clicks or build something with code. An administrator may need to knock on the door of the developer and be like, "Hey. Can you build this component for me?" We build this ecosystem where everybody is able to work together on the platform. It's not siloed. That's very unique and that's very differentiating about our platform.

Watch also: Developer conferences: Have they jumped the shark and forgotten about developers? (ZDNet)


Salesforce co-Founder and CTO Parker Harris at TrailheaDX 2019

Bill Detwiler: One of the ways Salesforce works to attract developers and admins, is through the it's online training platform called Trailhead. What makes your platform stand out and how does the gamification built into it help the learning process?

SEE: Highlights: Salesforce TrailheaDX 2020 (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Sarah Franklin: The secret sauce of Trailhead, with being fun, is that it's all about empowerment. It's not just gamified to be gamified. We have gamification for your own personal pursuit of career awesomeness or learning or whatever. It's just that level of encouragement and friendly competition, just as if you wanted to run your first 10K or lose 10 pounds or travel to a destination, like say you want to go to Europe. You tell people, like, "Hey. I want to accomplish this thing." It's a very positive way to think about what you're doing.

Then, somebody else might want to say, "Oh, I want to do that, too," and so you're just incentivized along the way. It's positive incentives with fun support and a little bit of confetti and flair with the badges and points. It really does make it fun. It's gamification in a way that it's very positive. I think it's because it's all about empowering people and it has a very strong outcome. It's outcome-based, you know? That's why I think that it really has worked.


Salesforce's myTrailhead

Bill Detwiler: In 2017, Salesforce went a step further with worker training and launched myTrailhead, a platform on which companies could build their own internal training programs. Salesforce rolled it out globally this past March. What insights has Salesforce learned from how customers have been using myTrailhead since its launch?

Sarah Franklin: MyTrailhead has been an incredible innovation, where we have taken the Trailhead platform and made it easy for our customers to create their own content, their own custom branding and content for their learning.

What I've learned and what we've seen from ... We have customers from every industry using myTrailhead platform. What's been incredible is that they're building communities with it. They're building this culture of learning, whether it's within their employees or within their partners. It's companies of every size — big companies, small companies. It's very interesting to see how the impact has been on things that really matter to us, like people being more happy, people being less stressed. Those are very real things that we care about, and then that indirectly makes companies more productive, better work product, all those things. But it's that level of caring, which is so incredible, that companies that are implementing myTrailhead, they're able to do that with the platform.

See: How to become a developer: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

Bill Detwiler: Beyond just a culture of learning, Sarah emphasized the importance of creating an overall positive corporate culture for attracting top tech talent.

Sarah Franklin: In today's world, it is absolutely imperative that companies care about their employees and that they build culture, because employees expect, they demand that their leadership have strong values. At Salesforce, our number one value is trust and being true to that value and know that we will stand up, whether it's standing up for a community and whether it's standing up for human rights or equal pay or the environment. It's absolutely something that everyone of us that, as a person now, we show up to work and there's a blurred line between your personal life and your professional life. And so when you come, it's something we really have. We call our ohana, like our family, which is our employees and all of our customers and partners and everybody.

It's really that personal connection that you need to cultivate at work. You need to have culture. Culture has never been more important, especially in today's world where technology's advancing, AI is advancing. We need to really look and make sure that we're doing things in ethical, humane ways that your employees, you know, relate to. It's never been more important than it is today.

Bill Detwiler: Another issue that Salesforce and other tech companies are grappling with is closing the inequality gap in tech hiring. I asked Sarah what Salesforce is doing to increase diversity in hiring and what else needs to happen both at the corporate level and within our education systems.

See: Top 10 programming languages employers want the most (TechRepublic)

Sarah Franklin: It's a great question on how we can really solve this equality gap that we have in technology. There's a lot that we can do, whether you're employers or just as an individual person. Employers, there's a lot that you can do to simply give people from alternative backgrounds a chance. There's different hiring requirements that we can look at and say, you know, maybe somebody doesn't always need a four-year degree to be qualified for a skilled labor position. You can also invest in programs, like invest in learning, investing skilling up and those type of things.

Another thing that we can do is really, really check, take a good gut check of yourself on if you have any unconscious bias in anything that you do, because people ultimately don't believe they can be something unless they can see it. Whether it's the way you describe the jobs, whether it's the way the photos that you put up around your company, or just simply the way that you go out there and be a role model. As a woman in technology and the mother of two daughters, I want to be a role model for the future. We can look at our media as well. I mean, you look at shows that make certain careers, like being a lawyer or a doctor, seem very appealing. All of our shows around developers and technologies are, you know, guys in hoodies that stay up late at night and play video games. You know?

We can do a lot by simply helping women, especially women and underrepresented minorities. Showcase incredible people that come from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds. Show them doing incredible things in technology. That's what we're doing here. At Salesforce, in Trailhead, that's what we're doing. You see women, African-Americans, Hispanics, veterans, mothers, people at different levels of abilities, people from all walks of life being celebrated for their accomplishments.

By doing that, then somebody that you don't even know can be what they can see. I have the best job in the world, because people come and they say, "Sarah, I was just at your event six months ago. I had no idea what this thing was, and now I have an incredible career all because you told me that I could do it. I didn't know I could."

To summarize, a lot of it is, you know, checking ourselves, making sure we have great practices. Then, also just looking around and being like, "Hey, you. You can do this, too." That's a very simple thing that each and every one of us can do.

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By Bill Detwiler

Bill Detwiler is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the ...