Fifteen years ago I botched a negotiation for a job offer. It was with Saleforce.org – then called the Salesforce Foundation – and the organization was in its early stages of formation. The Salesforce product was much simpler too, but I was already passionate about its ability to transform an organization. The original salary offer came in way lower than my managing director’s salary, and I couldn’t stomach that much of a cut. But when I countered, likely way too high, I heard radio silence for weeks – until a super confusing call with the hiring manager, in which halfway through they blurted out that they had also been talking to another Megan about the job, and thought this call was with her! [Post-mortem: neither Megan ended up there – though we connected through the community and laughed about the whole situation later.]
Real life, it turns out, can be stranger (and often more confusing) than fiction.
Last week Salesforce announced it would be acquiring Salesforce.org – the separate foundation turned nonprofit social enterprise it established upon its founding in 1999. To add more mud to the pie, there’s a separate legal entity, that used to be controlled by Salesforce.org, which is the actual Salesforce.com Foundation – which is getting the proceeds of the transaction.
While this muddle and the ensuing transaction are best explained by corporate lawyers, I’ve realized recently that most Salesforce employees and customers I’ve spoken with aren’t clear on where Salesforce.com ends and Salesforce.org begins (and that was before the acquisition!).
So here’s my completely unauthorized and somewhat hypothetical breakdown of the moving parts that are contained in Salesforce.org and the Salesforce.com Foundation:
- Salesforce core technology and products are sold at a deep discount to nonprofits and educational institutions (and the first ten users licenses given away for free)
- Salesforce.org develops its own core clouds, built on the Salesforce platform, with contributions from volunteer practitioners, partners and developers in the nonprofit and education communities
- Grant money is given to all sorts of organizations and schools around the world
- Salesforce.com employees are given a week/year to volunteer with nonprofits, in projects of their choosing (sometimes using the product, often not)
Many folks in the nonprofit and education space are worried about this merger. Worried that their free licenses will go away, or that significant price hikes are imminent. (Salesforce.org has assured that the ten free licenses will stay.). Meanwhile analysts have written that the transaction will dilute value for Salesforce.com shareholders. And I can only imagine that Salesforce.org employees wonder what will come of their in-flight projects and purpose-built teams.
I too, am concerned about price hikes for nonprofit organizations (though I may hold the unpopular view that the first set of licenses should be given away for a very low price – the families that got a scholarship to pay $10/season for their kid to play on the soccer team I managed were way more engaged than the kids who paid $0/season). I’m also concerned about the retention of the unique collaboration space for nonprofits, and its open source product. But I also see so much more that could be done – more unique product offerings, more investment in bundling and third party apps.
A friend recently posed a question on social media about a thorny issue. What could go right? – they asked us. It’s a fantastic question – and one that opens up vision for the path ahead, and prioritization of what’s worth doing. What are the ways this merger could position both organizations for success?
Salesforce.com Acquires Salesforce.Org – What Could go Right?
1. Elimination of Headaches for Renewals, Transfers and Onboarding
Between upgrades for Nonprofit Success Pack data models and migrations to Lighting, many nonprofit organizations are choosing to migrate their data and start fresh in a new instance of Salesforce. This takes an inordinate amount of time for Account Executives, and combined with the hugely inefficient process for renewals that are painful for both Account Executive and Customer, means there’s a ton of time and money spent on something that should be largely self-service. There’s a core team working on this at Saleforce.com – bringing this to Salesforce.org customers and freeing up the time for renewing 40K nonprofit customers annually would be huge.
Onboarding a new nonprofit to this innovation platform can also be a lift. The Essentials product team has created a really slick new onboarding process so that the smallest businesses without any tech support can get up and running quickly. I was so excited to see this in the last release notes, and extending this to nonprofit customers will accelerate their ability to get started using Salesforce.
2. Incorporation of Technical Innovations into Core Salesforce.com Offerings
Did you know that this acquisition also acquires a lot of great product development (and developers) – beyond the known Clouds? The Salesforce.org product development team likes to fly under the radar. They’re a whip-smart bunch, led by Kevin Bromer, and they’ve created some jaw-droppingly beautiful pieces of functionality on the platform. Administrators and developers of for-profit companies will cry with joy if these are delivered in the core platform. There are many, but my two favorites are Customizable Rollups and Table-Driven Trigger Management. Customizable Rollups allow a user to create summary totals on objects that aren’t just related via parent-child, in a way that is scalable for large data volumes (and super admin friendly) using Filter Groups. And Table-Driven Trigger Management (TDTM)? If you’re an administrator, you want all of your developers and third party apps to use this method to ensure that custom code is firing in the order you want it to (a current problem in core). Here’s the regular-person overview of TDTM. Here’s the developer-love overview of TDTM (warning – goes deep, fast).
3. Increased investment on Product and AppExchange Apps to extend Nonprofit’s Functionality
A Salesforce MVP once joked that he has a knack for breaking the obscure in the Salesforce platform – primarily because in running his enterprise nonprofit he is pushing all the limits and building things that product managers could never have imagined. It’s no secret that Salesforce employees love to volunteer their skills in nonprofits because they learn something every time about the way the product works, and how it can be extended – knowledge they take back to their “day” jobs. This acquisition offers an opportunity for product managers to harness this innovation in ways that can translate to the rest of their (for-profit) customers.
One of the biggest competitors to Salesforce.org is Blackbaud, which as a company is notoriously difficult to get data out of their systems, and has a record of killing off companies that it purchases – including products built on the Salesforce platform. My hope is that this acquisition will spur new interest and investment in product developments by Salesforce – that nonprofits can and are willing to pay for – including a Nonprofit Community License Type – as well as continued development by third parties of applications around text-to-give and other engagement strategies. This, while committing to develop and maintain the core Nonprofit Success Pack as-is, open source, and bringing key core functions like making Opportunity Contact Roles a First Class Object.
4. Co-Creation Product Model Extended to other Salesforce Cloud Families
Unique to the Nonprofit Cloud (Nonprofit Success Pack) and Education Cloud Products is an open-source product development model. This has created an ecosystem of deeply invested customers and partners who have donated thousands of hours to the product, and in doing so forged a close relationship between the product team and the customers that evangelize it.
I’m not suggesting that Salesforce.com core products become open-source – but there is a huge opportunity for closer co-creation with customers in this age of increasing stakeholder expectations. Salesforce MVP Ryan Ozimek started the tradition of Community Sprints, that bring together developers, product managers, content team members, customers and partners to brainstorm, build and document in two-day periods. These are fruitful times for all involved to step away from the day-to-day to listen and creatively imagine the next, while documenting and designing tangible solutions. [In one sprint I led a team that delivered auto-update campaign members when an Opportunity is closed/won; and in another I led a team that spent two days documenting why the current rollups didn’t work, which wonderfully led to the new Customizable rollups mentioned above.]
Today, many Salesforce product managers desire to get closer to their customers and partners’ needs while cutting through the clutter. There is an opening to replicate this model at scale – while maintaining separate gatherings for unique product communities (and continuing to maintain the core Nonprofit Success Pack as open source). Here’s a great post on the evolution of the Nonprofit Success Pack, and product leadership in conjunction with the community co-creation.
5. Reimagining of Customer Experience into Salesforce.com
I’ve written before about Salesforce’s need to Reimagine Customer Experience. As we continue through the 4th Industrial Revolution (the Engagement Revolution) Salesforce must reimagine the way it engages and responds to stakeholders. This is the most urgent and important work that Salesforce needs to undertake in the near term.
The good news is that with the acquisition of Salesforce.org – there’s some pilot projects that have been launched, vetted and have a life of their own around engaging customer experience – including a) collaborative documentation and best practices written by customers, led by the team of Jon Varese – example document: Campaign Fundraising Implementation PDF Guide b) a dedicated nonprofit industry-focused collaboration space called the Power of Us Hub, visioned by Brad Struss and Alicia Schmidt and Sam Dorman and others, which back in August had an unprecedented 99% answer rate, and more than 5000 posts a month.
6. Investment and Expansion of the Ed Tech Market
One of my current projects involves 14 different school districts. It’s a project that is 90% people and 10% technology, thanks to the ability to quickly deploy scalable Salesforce products, and it’s also made clear to me how far we have to go in the education space.
There is huge opportunity here – both from the revenue generating side for Universities that need to catch up to their constituents and their desire for life-long anywhere learning – and from the impact side, to give greater transparency and visibility into the most pressing issues we face in K-12 education – including achievement gaps and teacher training and retention.
Bill Huges writes a nice post summarizing why this acquisition matters to the education market.
7. Leadership of Ethical Use of Technology from Salesforce.com for Nonprofit Customers
This may be the last point, but for me it is the one that holds the most personal pull. Earlier this year I was devastated to learn that Southwest Keys, a nonprofit organization under federal investigation for abuse of minors, was hiring for positions using Salesforce technology, and apparently is a customer and product beneficiary of Salesforce.org. As Salesforce MVP Angela Adams so movingly writes in this post – not all nonprofits are created for good. I’m grateful for the leadership of Paula Goldman, who recently joined Salesfore.com as its Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer, and I hopeful that her office is able to lead and push into the complex and serious issues that apply even more persuasively to nonprofit organizations. There’s been no persistent leadership coming out of Salesforce.org on this, and we urgently need to reckon with a vetting process that touches all customers (including nonprofit and education organizations).
One of the reasons that I’ve encouraged hundreds of nonprofits to use the Salesforce platform and buy licenses from Salesforce.org is that it is a product built on a bigger promise. And that the core innovations and releases coming from Salesforce.com were pushed to all customers, including the nonprofit ones. Salesforce.org has always been stronger built on the framework of Salesforce.com. May it be so.
Less Confused and More Hopeful,