Salesforce Doubles Down On Its Talent Strategy To Build Professional Learning Communities

Salesforce has a long-standing tradition of promoting professional learning communities around its software products. In doing so, it has bucked a widespread emphasis in talent management circles on employee retention. Salesforce, in contrast, has built a “Salesforce ecosystem” of talent, involving all of its own and its customers’ present and potential future employees.

This approach to community-building sets Salesforce apart from other major IT corporations. For example, IBM promotes a “culture of learning” among its own employees but outsources much of its customer training to licensed partners. Oracle offers learning communities, but only within the talent management options it provides to one customer at a time. Microsoft promotes a “growth mindset culture” among its own employees while offering separate training courses to outside individuals. Amazon has a “user experience and design” program available to its own employees while offering a range of separate training programs to outside individuals. Among talent management software vendors, retention of a customer’s employees is commonly touted as a primary goal.

In contrast, Salesforce has extended the reach of its community-building model. Its Trailhead range of training courses, and the individual “Trailblazer.me” profiles it maintains, now reach across Salesforce’s four main businesses. These involve Salesforce’s customer relations management software (its traditional business), the applications network system of MuleSoft (purchased in 2018) the analytics platform of Tableau (purchased in 2019) and the enterprise communications software of Slack (purchased in 2021). As a result, the fundamental community-building model developed by Salesforce will be available for each of these businesses. Moreover, Trialhead members will have access to training across all four of the systems involved. Salesforce reports these four businesses are expanding rapidly, and predicts they will together generate 9.3 million new jobs by 2026.

I was invited to talk with Tony Nguyen, employed by software developer Calabrio as a Salesforce Administrator, to hear how the community-building approach has worked for him.

Michael B Arthur: Hi Tony, it’s nice to meet you. How did your career get started?

Tony Nguyen: I got a degree in economics and finance, then went into the restaurant business. We were planning to take a Vietnamese sandwich shop and blow it up into a chain restaurant like Chipotle. However, like many other small businesses, we really got hit hard by Covid.

Arthur: So you were looking for something else. How did you get connected with Salesforce?

Nguyen: I wanted to break into the tech industry, but didn’t really know where to start. I had imagined it might cost me $3-4,000 for initial training to break in. However, I didn’t have a job or a place to live, so I was trying to find a free way to learn. I have a friend who works for a tech company as a recruiter, who could talk about what kind of roles might be a fit for me. She recommended that I look into Salesforce, and I did. I ended up joining the Salesforce ecosystem in the summer of 2020.

There’s a free program built on top of Trailhead from a non-profit called PepUp Tech. It helps minorities and diverse group of candidates break into the tech industry. However, their program didn’t start until late August, leaving me more than two months to look into Trailhead and find where I could skill up on my own. I spent eight hours a day on Trailhead as if it were a full-time job, because there was nothing else for me to do. Then, when I went into the training program, everything was clicking a lot quicker for me because I was ahead of the class. So I was able to help out other students in the class.

After the PepUp Tech program, It took me two months to land my first Salesforce admin job, and I’m still with the same company. I was able to break into a new industry, skill up and land my first job in six months. Right now, I have five Salesforce certifications—Administrator, Advanced Administrator, Platform App Builder, Sales Cloud Consultant and Service Cloud Consultant—and I’m pursuing getting two Slack certificates right now. Since Slack got acquired by Salesforce, and since their systems have been integrated together, I can be more mobile in my learning endeavors.

Arthur: So there’s more in it for you?

Nguyen: Before the purchases of Mulesoft, Tableau and Slack, there were only Salesforce certifications. But Salesforce recently announced that training for all four platforms will be in one place. So, whatever certifications you earn will show up on the Trailhead website. It’s like a live resume. Slack certification was already on my “to do” list for this year. But when I saw that the training was on Trailhead, I thought that’s super cool. It makes so much sense that all four business’s certificates are now shown in Trailblazer.me. It’s really cool for recruiters, too, because now you just have to go to one place to look at a candidate, versus trying to find them in every other platform or system.

Arthur: Who’s hat are you wearing when you make that comment – your own, or a recruiter’s?

Nguyen: I’m coming from both aspects because we had a chance to hire someone recently, a teacher. We knew that Trailhead was our first stop, because everything is on display there from a technical perspective. Once she was OK with that, all we had to do was to interview her to see if she would be a good fit with our culture. So, from a hiring perspective, showing all the training available is really good to see. Also, if someone were to look at my profile, they would see all of the training I have received, as well as the training I was currently pursuing. It feels like magic.

Arthur: Magic?

Nguyen: Yes, each of the four platform involves different things. There’s MuleStop for integration, Tableau for analytics, Slack for communication, and then Salesforce that brings everything together. It’s like a one-stop shop. It’s important to have an ecosystem where all four of those things can be displayed, rather than four separate systems. So, for example, if someone were to look at myself as a potential candidate, they would know exactly what I’m capable of, and what systems I know. This is in contrast to trying to guess, or going to different resources, or looking at my resume to try to figure out what I’m capable of.

Arthur: Is it also about how good a learner you are?

Nguyen: Absolutely, they can see what I’ve been learning. Also, it’s really exciting that the learning is free. Learning is expensive, especially in America, where tuition seems to be getting more expensive every day. So, when people hear the word free, most of the time they think that’s not really something that exists out there. But ever since I joined the Salesforce ecosystem, it has shown me otherwise. My career opportunities just keep growing and growing every day.

Arthur: Can you say more about your community-building experiences as a customer, rather than a Salesforce employee?

Nguyen: When I talk to a Salesforce professional, I don’t really feel like there’s a gap or any kind of distinction between us. I feel we’re all one professional group. I host Salesforce Saturday every month in Minnesota. I also attend different Salesforce Saturdays, with different user groups. Then there are two big Salesforce conferences every single year that I go to as well.

Arthur: Are your own Salesforce Saturday events attended by a mixed audience of Salesforce workers, customers and independent learners?

Nguyen: Yes, anyone can go, it’s just a completely open registration system. It’s open to anyone to share their enthusiasm about working with a set of products that they are involved in. Also, there are some sessions where we cover things like career coaching or resume building. The subject doesn’t need to be Salesforce related. That’s a cool thing, because some of our members work on a different platform. They are not part of the Salesforce ecosystem, but they still like to come to our events just because they are so inclusive.

Arthur: Okay, so Salesforce events attract people who do not work on the platform, because people can just come and talk tech. Then they identify with the conversation and may get drawn into the Salesforce ecosystem.

Nguyen: Exactly. Another channel is the nonprofit PepUp Tech program. I am one of the teachers in that program now. My team teaches a class of around 30 to 40 people every three months. We are part of an overall effort where many of PepUp Tech students move on to a position in the Salesforce ecosystem. Also, there are other channels to attract new people to Trailhead, an open “Pathfinder Training Program,” a “Salesforce Military” veterans program and a “Talent Alliance” program with employers. All of these serve to attract and support new learners to the ecosystem and help them find jobs.

Arthur: In summary, anyone can join Trailhead, attend regional or virtual meetings that interest them, find support and guidance on what learning to pursue, develop community attachments, collect and display their certifications, and experience what you describe as the “magic” of seeing their career opportunities grow by the day. Is that right?

Nguyen: Yes, exactly.

Arthur: Thank you for your time.

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