Salesforce is an amazing platform for all business processes, and the way that it’s set up means that those using it can develop unique traits and skills. Some of these are ideal for c-suite roles, with Trailblazers often rising through the ranks to achieve high-level jobs – this is what happened in my case.
This article will help Salesforce Trailblazers understand the characteristics that make them attractive resources for senior leadership. I’ll also propose some moves you can make to create opportunities aligned to your skill set, while priming you for upper management roles.
My Salesforce Journey
When I joined the Salesforce ecosystem in the early/mid 2000s, I was not only new to the technology (with cloud computing being the ‘next big thing’), but I was also very early in my career. This story is very similar to that of many long-serving Trailblazers in the community.
Now, 20 years on, a generational shift is occurring where us ‘old timers’ are climbing up the ranks of the corporate ladder, being elevated to senior management and executive positions. However, changes to technology and the business landscape are starting to take shape as a result.
Early in my career I was a Salesforce Business Analyst, and I’m now the Chief Innovation Officer at a publicly listed bank. Although this may sound like a traditional CIO technology focused role, it’s actually a hybrid tech and revenue generating role – an intersection between a CIO’s tech accountabilities and a CMO with a marketing budget and revenue generation responsibilities.
The trajectory and pace I have experienced in my career is one that I believe many others will follow – I’m just one of the earlier participants in this generational shift, and I want to share tips for those to come.
The Characteristics of a Great Leader
There are some characteristics perfect for leadership roles that are inherent in Trailblazers – and you may not even know it. In my experience, these are the top three:
1. A Unique Understanding of Business Challenges and How to Fix Them
There are very few software applications out there that cover cross-functional business processes as well as Salesforce does. If you are a Salesforce Business Analyst or Admin, you’ll understand that often your job is to ask the right questions, understand and document the business challenges and requirements, and then implement the change needed to solve the complex business problems. Plus, this all needs to be done both at a technical and business level.
Having this skill across multiple departments (like Sales, Marketing, or Finance) and across a multitude of business processes gives you a unique understanding of departmental challenges rarely found in other jobs. Your ability to enact the change and your appreciation for the change management process is unique and specialized for the departments and processes you’ve serviced.
2. Exposure to RevOps-Like Business Models
RevOps, SalesOps, and Marketing Ops are organizational constructs that are slowly gathering momentum as modern businesses realize that IT and business departments no longer need to be separate. Gone are the days when only one revenue generating team needed to exist.
Technology like Salesforce has systematically broken down the silos between departments that traditionally worked alone. For instance, IT would typically build the systems and manage the data, then ‘hand it over’ to the next step and walk away – job done!
Often, traditional IT is no longer required to support application system change. While it used to be that marketing would generate leads and sales would close the deals with limited collaboration and feedback, this is slowly becoming a remnant of the past. With technology like Salesforce, the keys can be handed over to the business for full operational support and ongoing change – with the right Rev/Sales/Marketing Ops people at the helm.
Selling frameworks like Account-Based Marketing are gaining prominence, with these approaches gluing together Sales and Marketing into one revenue generating team striving towards a common goal. The next logical step for many businesses is to merge together data and technology teams so that businesses can increase their speed to market, adaptability to change, and selling effectiveness.
This puts Salesforce-savvy resources who are a business/technical hybrid at the forefront of leadership opportunities when RevOps-like departments begin to gain serious prominence (likely within the next decade). As RevOps teams and departments become industry standard, Salesforce knowledgeable resources should be first in line for these leadership positions.
3. A Natural Ability to Connect Systems, Data, and Processes to Drive Revenue
The key objective for many Salesforce instances is revenue generation. Salesforce resources have hands-on experience working on revenue generating systems, processes, and data. Marketing Cloud users execute campaigns to support lead generation. SalesOps staff track and manage the pipeline and come up with business tactics to drive Sales. These resources gain an inherent ability to connect the dots between the need to generate revenue, the data required to facilitate it, and the systems used to execute and analyze the effectiveness.
Along the way, these resources are typically pulled into meetings that give them insights into the business strategies sales and marketing teams use to leverage the data and systems to generate revenue. This exposure is very unique in any organization and this perspective makes Salesforce Trailblazers a formidable force in a company’s quest to build departments and systems that are focussed on generating revenue.
So, you believe you have the core attributes and skill sets as mentioned above. The question now becomes: how do you navigate your career from being an admin or business analyst towards a senior management position? And when should you pivot from being a resource that works purely on a Salesforce instance to a business executive resource?
How to Rise Through the Ranks
The Salesforce ecosystem is vast and the number of roles in it varies significantly, as well as the different career paths towards senior/executive management – there is no ‘one size fits all’.
Often technical resources want to stay technical, and that’s OK. But how do you start off as a ‘techie’ and end up as a business leader like I did? Or how do you start as an admin or business analyst, then end up running an entire business function?
Here’s an answer in one sentence: you need to elevate to a level where you are managing a collection of projects, and then you’re in the right spot to pivot towards the business/department you have domain expertise with.
When you reach a stage where your projects are cross-departmental and you have proven your ability to manage multiple stakeholders and budgets, you’ll be well on the way towards catching the eye of the executive leadership team – ready to make the big move.
As a technical resource (you may start off as a coder), your trajectory is likely going to take you down the path of being a developer manager or architect. You may well be offered a chance to manage projects and programs in future stages of your career. You will then be presented with more opportunities – your exposure to business leaders and stakeholders will open up doors as long as you’ve stayed close to the business requirements and challenges.
The program management role is a pivotal point in your career (as it was for me) and a key stepping stone towards life outside IT.
A large part of being a great senior leader is having access to and understanding multiple business lines, along with their specific business challenges. Having cross-departmental knowledge is critical at the executive level. This will arm you with a key executive business skill I call ‘business empathy’.
Business empathy is a highly coveted attribute at the executive level that often leads to great leadership. It’s all about empathizing with the challenges of your executive peers, and demonstrating that you have the knowledge and skills to face them together.
Business empathy often starts with the ability to listen and ask the right questions. There are few resources in any company who are better groomed to be business empathizers than Salesforce resources – it’s in our DNA! We are trained to ask the right questions, think about the solutions required, and then implement the change and measure the results.
As the generational shift slowly occurs, a new breed of leader will emerge. We’re going to see that many of the top executives will likely have started from humble beginnings, cutting their teeth on their own Salesforce instances as admins, business analysts, or technical resources. You’ll smile when you get your own budget to manage and get to call the shots knowing that you have the skills and experience to take things to a new level.
As this happens, we will see a new CRM paradigm take shape; the new generation will have a totally new way of interacting with software, and have different expectations on usability, data, and intelligence compared to the generations before them. I look forward to ushering in that new era and the technological advances that will occur – advances that will, in turn, shape future generations.
Good luck and best wishes to all the Trailblazers out there – the future is bright and it’s only a matter of time until you become tomorrow’s great leaders!