Digital transformation: Put customers at the center of business partnerships says Salesforce CBO

From Amazon and Apple to Google and Microsoft, Salesforce wants to create business partnerships that meet customers wherever they are.
Written by Bill Detwiler, Contributor

As COVID-19 has forced companies to accelerate their digital transformation strategies, many have needed to make new vendor partnerships or expand existing ones to meet the rapidly changing business environment. Customers should be at the center of those business relationships, whether you're operating a chain of US connivence stores and the country's 5th largest pizza retailer, like Casey's General Store or a global, cloud-based software company like Salesforce. That was the key takeaway from my conversation with Ryan Aytay, Salesforce chief business officer (CBO), at Dreamforce 2019.

"I think ultimately, when the next technology comes around and customers are using it, we want to make sure that we're fully integrated and open and listening," Aytay told me. "That's true with any partnership we have. The partners we have all come from listening to the customer, ultimately, because we can't do this by ourselves."

During the November event, Salesforce made multiple partner announcements with companies like Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Google. I had a chance to speak with Aytay (then co-CEO of Quip and EVP of strategic partnerships for Salesforce) about those announcements and the company's strategy for creating business relationships. The following is a transcript of the interview edited for readability.

AWS, Azure or Linux: It's all about improving customer experience

Bill Detwiler: Ryan, let's go through the partnership announcement. There were some big ones, sort of one by one. We have one with Amazon, AWS. We have one with Microsoft or Azure, and we have one with Apple. So, let's start with Amazon.

Ryan Aytay Chief Business Officer at Salesforce

Ryan Aytay, Chief Business Officer at Salesforce

Credit: Salesforce

Ryan Aytay: Sure, absolutely. Again, thanks for being here. So, first of all, it's exciting to be here. This is my 11th Dreamforce. So, at Salesforce we're really focused. We have an inclusive partnership strategy. So, as we come to Dreamforce, we like to make sure we have these opportunities to bring our partners together and also to share those conversations and bring the customers into the dialogue. Ultimately with AWS, it's really an expansion of a relationship that we started roughly three years ago. So, it focused around a few different areas. The first area was really around what I call the context center. We'll call it contact center modernization with Service Cloud and with Amazon Connect. So, the ability to bring together things like the unified call center scenario, so high volume call centers where you may have Service Cloud and you want to bring in voice and bring in voice in an integrated way using Amazon Connect.

That ultimately improves the customer's experience and the end users experience because when you call someone and you call a call center, you want to get an answer right away. You want to understand immediately if you're the service agent, what's actually happening, the question, get the answer right away, and that area of voice really hasn't been innovated on around enough, in my opinion, if you compare it to some of the other channels. So, this is really an opportunity for Salesforce, the world's number one CRM, and then also Amazon, the leading public cloud provider to come together to offer this unified service in large call centers and really to ultimately help the end user and the end customer. So, we're really excited about it.

Bill Detwiler: And that's going to give you access to the actual voice calls? 

Ryan Aytay: Absolutely...

Bill Detwiler: That's the data you can collect and then bring...

Ryan  Aytay: Yep. Yeah. So, real time transcription and the ability to put AI on that as well through things with Einstein and really bringing that sort of more modern call center experience is what we're very excited about. The second thing we did is if you think about re-skilling the workplace, and if you've walked around the campus here at Dreamforce, you've seen Trailhead, right? We announced a number of things with Trailhead this week, but ultimately now it's not just Salesforce content, it's also this AWS content. So when I want to, I'm an AWS developer or maybe a prospect AWS developer that's coming from one industry to another, now I can also learn AWS content right from Trailhead. So, I'm learning Salesforce content, and now I'm also learning AWS content. So, that's great news for our community. It's great news for people who are trying to come to a new industry and that's extremely strategic and I think important to everyone in the community ultimately.


Service Cloud Voice

Image: Salesforce

The next thing is also really exciting, which as it relates to, well, a couple more things actually. The other one is around expanding a lot of what we do with our contacts or a cloud information model. So, if you think about the cloud information model, that's really this opportunity to have an open sort of environment for people to come together. Maybe they're working in multi-cloud environments, and so we're working with AWS along with the Linux Foundation to have this new model that's more of an open source scenario so that people can come together and actually have a model that helps them build into the future versus having a closed model. So, that's another exciting thing that we're talking about with our relationship with Amazon.

Bill Detwiler: Okay. So, let's talk a little bit about the relationship with Microsoft, the announcements around Azure.

Ryan Aytay: Yeah. Microsoft also a long time technical partner of Salesforce started off with things like outlook integration, exchange integration. Ultimately, people are in their email, people are also in the world's number one CRM. So, bringing those things together has been something we've been focused on for a while. As we move into this relationship now, it's about the Marketing Cloud. So, running parts of the marketing cloud on Azure is also something that we're focused on, and the Marketing Cloud has been a technical partner with Microsoft for a while. Additional to that is Microsoft teams. So, the ability to bring Microsoft Teams is sort of a new way for internal communication and bridge that together with things like Sales Cloud and Service Cloud, so that wherever our customers are, we can serve them depending on if they're using tools like Microsoft Teams or maybe they're still using Outlook. We want to make sure that they can access Salesforce no matter where they're working.

Bill Detwiler: So, it gives them more integrated access.

Ryan Aytay: Absolutely.

Digital transformation strategy: Listen to your customers

Bill Detwiler: Okay. So, as organizations sort of struggle or work with, not struggle, but implement a multi-cloud environment, how does that play into what Salesforce is doing on your end if your customers are kind of already looking at that multi-cloud environment?

Ryan Aytay: Yeah. I mean, I look at the multi-cloud or even if I'm a company choosing a single cloud, whatever it may be, we're all in this world of digital transformation. So, you are, one of the big spend categories that people look at if you're a CIO, is you need to make a choice to move some of your on-prem workloads to a public cloud, and we have many different types of customers, and some are choosing to run an AWS, and some are choosing to run on other platforms like Azure or Google Cloud Platform. So, from our perspective, that's a big component of digital transformation, which is this which public cloud do I run these workloads on. They're already running Salesforce, and in that scenario, we want to be able to be, again, where our customers are. So, if you think about it, digital transformation, you need to be operating in a multi-cloud environment from our perspective, but there are some that of course choose one, and in that case, we also want to be able to provide that integration for them.

Bill Detwiler: So, it's helping your customers and listening to what your customers are saying what they want...

Ryan Aytay: Absolutely. Yeah, we're always listening, right. I think, ultimately, when the next technology comes around and customers are using it, we want to make sure that we're fully integrated and open and listening. That's true with any partnership we have. The partners we have all come from listening to the customer, ultimately, because we can't do this by ourselves. We have to be able to do it in an open ecosystem.

Bill Detwiler: Let's talk about, before we talk about the Apple partnership, I'd love to just touch on maybe partnerships more broadly. I mean, and Salesforce's strategy to building those partnerships and looking for, because you touched on it with your customers, right? It's like they have all these partners, they have all these relationships, the CIO's job these days is basically managing third party relationships. Talk about Salesforce's strategy when it comes to these partnerships?

Ryan Atay: Absolutely. We have many partners at Salesforce. We have thousands of partners, whether it be on the app exchange, or our global system integrators, regional system integrators, but I think what we're talking about here is really the strategic technology partnerships. So in this case, whether it be AWS, or Google, or Microsoft, or Apple, or some of the other ones you saw in the slide in Mark's keynote, Mark and Keith, it was really that scenario where we are ultimately bringing together the technology vendors that our customers are using.

Whether we're focused on the Marketing Cloud, or the Sales Cloud, or some technology that those particular partners offer, if I go to the Apple partnership, it's very relevant and mobility, where iOS first. So, the ability to bring Trailhead to iOS and have Trailhead go and then bring in AWS content, it's kind of like the best of all worlds because I'm able to showcase that we have a mobility partner that's very unique in that regard and launch apps like Trailhead Go, but then also bring AWS content.

You could imagine we'll bring other partner content on as well. So, it's really how do we bring all of this to our customer at the end of the day? I'm sure they have great ideas for the next partner that we'll continue to listen to.

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Bill Detwiler: One of the challenges that a lot of organizations go through when they're dealing with multiple partners or dealing with, whether it's multi-cloud or multiple vendors is managing those relationships. From Salesforce's perspective, what are the challenges in maybe managing those relationships, bridging those relationships with your technology integration partners?

Ryan Aytay: I think ultimately managing them is ultimately probably not the most challenging thing. It's more understanding what are the business needs that you have. Every business has its own needs, right? Depending on which industry you're in, maybe you're a regulated industry and you need particular compliance regulations from a public cloud provider, and so you have to be focused on one or another. If I'm thinking about our customers, from our perspective, we serve hundreds of thousands of customers. So for us, it's more about, we need to be and operate in an environment that's relevant for them, whether it's a geo or it's a particular public cloud. Other than that, I don't anticipate or see any issues managing them. I think we're in the early stages of digital transformation in my mind where still we're in this wave one of on-prem workloads, right?

All of that information and all of those workloads coming to the public cloud is inning one. They've already been using the world's number one CRM, and so this is just a great opportunity to bring the data together so that ultimately you can use technology like Einstein to say, "Oh, now I have everything together and now I can actually make predictive insights and make decisions for my business." So, it's really about bridging all of that information together and you go back to this concept of the source of truth. We'll get all the data together and I can actually make a real decision very quickly and get on with the work that I need to do every day.

Bill Detwiler: Let's wrap up talking about the Apple partnership. So walk me through that.

Ryan Aytay: Yeah. Apple, that was announced last year at Dreamforce. It's funny, time flies lately. There's so much happening, but last year we announced the Apple partnership. We had Tim Cook here this year, which is super exciting and we talked about Trailhead Go as a great opportunity. Additional to that, we've been working on supercharging the Salesforce mobile app, and that's been a partnership with Apple. So. with Supercharging it with Einstein so I can talk to the Salesforce mobile app and also have the Salesforce SDK be modernized so that it's connected to iOS 13. Ultimately, Apple I think is a company that has great shared values with Salesforce. So, we look at it as we've started with mobility, but I see great opportunity to align, whether it be on industries, as well as wherever our customers want us to go. Like any partnership, and this is back to the partnership strategy, is it's not like it's a one and done, these are evolving relationships that span for years. So Apple, it's only a year old, so we're literally out of the honeymoon and onto the next phase.

Salesforce's approach to managing vendor relationships

Bill Detwiler: From your perspective, I think that's a really important point that a lot of companies are doing the same thing that Salesforce is doing internally. They have partnerships with a variety of vendors. What kind of advice, what have you learned over the years in managing or making good, what makes a good partnership? What do you look for in a good partnership?

Ryan Aytay: Yeah. I think a couple things. One, I would say is ultimately it's about balance, right? So, making sure that there's an opportunity for the customer that both of you can serve. So, in this case, if I look at even the Microsoft partnership, right? So, in their world they have plenty of customers that come to them and they say, "Hey, what's your strategy for integrating with Salesforce?" So, we have the ability now to have a tighter story in that regard and actually bring the data to the customer. Similarly, it's great for us to have a scenario to integrate with Teams or to focus on Azure like we talked about for parts of the Marketing Cloud. Also, I would say in addition to balance, every partner's a little bit unique in their own way, even though some have overlapping capabilities, right?

The scenario if I look at Apple, it's a mobility partner. There are certain things about Apple that are very specific to Apple. If I look at Google Cloud, we just brought also, we didn't talk about this yet, but MuleSoft is now available with Google Cloud as well as BigQuery Connector, that's also very exciting. Google Cloud is also a partner of ours from the multi-cloud perspective. So, I look at them as they're all at some level, somewhat unique and created differently, and you can apply what I'll call a broad brush canvas to them all. You have to have a strategy for sort of how do they fit together, and that strategy has to be tied back to the customer because ultimately, of course we have some ideas on who we should partner with, but it's better to actually be informed from the point of view of the end user or the end customer.

The other thing I didn't mention actually on the Google one is the ability to connect on the marketing side, with Google Analytics and bringing some of that offline and online data together is very powerful, and you'll hear about that more in the Marketing Cloud keynote tomorrow.


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