Salesforce Aims to Modernize Channel Partners With Lightning, Einstein

Channel partners are often behind their vendor suppliers as far as the tools they use to track sales and customer service performance. Salesforce.com says it can get everyone on the same page.

Salesforce Channel Partners 2

Salesforce plans to help its customers upgrade the tools their channel partners use with the release of Lightning Partner Community, an adjunct to its Community Cloud platform.

Currently, an average of 70 percent of sales come from channel partners, according to a study by Accenture. The problem is that most companies don't have efficient connections to the partner ecosystem that represents them, such as retailers and franchisees. Another issue is that there isn't a single system to manage different types of partners because those partners use completely different systems to register deals.

"These channel partners also don't have mobile access to their systems, it's pretty much unheard of," Mike Stone, senior vice president of marketing for Salesforce Community Cloud, told eWEEK. "We looked at that and said, 'what if we took everything that's great on Salesforce with Lightning and made it something our partners could give to the channel?'"

Salesforce Lightning is an updated user interface and related tools designed to make it easier to use the popular CRM platform on desktops, the Web and mobile devices. Stone says the new Lightning Partner Community provides a mobile-first interface that partners can brand.

"It gives the partner the ability to bring business processes and pricing quickly to their online portal, update opportunities and leads. The reseller then has one place to go to find all that," Stone said. Previously these systems were "very disconnected across multiple systems," Stone said.

Available now, Lightning Partner Experience has three main features.

First, it's designed to let companies deliver a more personalized and branded experience across any device. For example, rather than readjust to different interfaces, a health insurance reseller can access information about family plans, billing and what providers are covered in a specific location from a desktop PC or mobile phone.

"With the dashboard you can look at different businesses and see which partner is most effective. That visibility is a big selling point," said Stone.

Second, it provides what Salesforce calls a "unified partner platform" by extending CRM records to partners so they have everything they need to close deals. This includes access to leads, opportunities, accounts and articles relevant to customers and prospects. It also includes workflows, Lightning reports and dashboards as well as CPQ (Configure Price Quote) software.

Third are artificial intelligence features Salesforce recently introduced under the name Salesforce Einstein, which shows users relevant posts, articles and experts in the field. Salesforce says, for example, that Einstein might offer contact information for an expert in the community or relevant articles.

There are also a lot of customization features which enables users to start with a blank page and add components like sales figures, customer records and contact lists. Any object in Salesforce can be dragged or added to the page.

"You can add a feed or any conversation tied to a group or record that the whole community can see," explained Rasmus Mencke, a senior director of product management at Salesforce who demonstrated the product. "It could be a campaign page or wherever you want to have an ongoing discussion."

Jeff Kaplan, managing director at Thinkstrategies, says Salesforce has employed a similar strategy of making its software free beyond its established customer base with such products as its online collaboration tool, Chatter.

"They're hoping the more they expose the various applications and platforms the better," Kaplan told eWeek. "After Chatter was unveiled and customers took advantage of it, Salesforce encouraged them to spread the software to their customers."

Kaplan agrees that Lightning Partner Community is going to be a valuable upgrade to most channel partners. It's just a question of getting them to adopt it. "That's why Salesforce wants to familiarize as many people as possible to the functions and business benefits. It starts with evangelism and as it gains greater traction and Salesforce can show successful use cases, the more valid this is going to look to potential users."

Salesforce says a few early customers are already using the software including DineEquity and Zurich Financial.

Editor's Note: This story was corrected to state that Rasmus Mencke, a Salesforce.com senior director of product management.

David Needle

David Needle

Based in Silicon Valley, veteran technology reporter David Needle covers mobile, bi g data, and social media among other topics. He was formerly News Editor at Infoworld, Editor of Computer Currents...