Mike Wolff, SVP of Global ISV Partners at Salesforce, joins the AppChat Podcast to discuss the tool they use to keep employees aligned and set priorities, and the AppExchange’s role in Salesforce’s growth.
Also discussed is what brought him to Salesforce, his experience helping to build Salesforce’s SMB business, and his transition from SMBs to ISVs.
Here are the key topics, with timestamps, as well as the full interview transcript:
00:00-2:25 Introducing the AppChat and our guest, Salesforce’s SVP of Global ISV Partners Mike Wolff
2:26-4:44 What brought Mike to Salesforce
4:45-10:21 The tool that Salesforce has used to keep everyone aligned and prioritize
10:22-12:21 Building out Salesforce’s SMB business
12:22-19:48 Salesforce starting off as an SMB and the AppExchange’s role in growth
19:49-26:50 Mike’s transition from SMBs to ISVs
26:51-28:34 Closing out and how to get in touch
Intro: 00:01 You’re listening to the AppChat, a podcast focused on SaaS growth strategies, plus successes in the Salesforce ecosystem and beyond. Here’s your host, CodeScience CEO Brian Walsh.
Brian Walsh: 00:13 All right. Welcome back to the AppChat podcast. I’m here today with Mike Wolff, who’s SVP of the ISV team at Salesforce. Welcome, Mike.
Mike Wolff: 00:23 Hey. Thanks, Brian. I’m excited to be here.
Brian Walsh: 00:26 Great to have you on. I thought before we actually got into your role there and what you do, you’re a huge sports fan for the Bay Area. You love Bay Area sports teams.
Mike Wolff: 00:36 I do. I’m a huge fan. Should we start testing knowledge here, or how do you want to handle?
Brian Walsh: 00:42 Well, what the hell is going on? Outside of the Warriors, what’s going on? The Giants and the Niners, we’re struggling.
Mike Wolff: 00:50 Yeah. Well, as I tell all my friends who aren’t 49ers nor Giants fans, so for the Giants, three championships in the last eight years, that’s not too shabby. The Niners, five Superbowls, okay. Sure I might be living in the past, but I’m okay with that. It’s been a good life. I’ve got the Warriors to keep me engaged right now with championship blood, so all good.
Brian Walsh: 01:17 I started getting nervous with the Warriors here, with some of the injuries. And we had a little streak there, of not doing well.
Mike Wolff: 01:23 Yeah, exactly. And then you can give me a little bit of a bad time; I’m also a Cal Bears fan. Yeah, so what’s interesting, my dad was at Cal from 1958 to 1960, and that was the last time that Cal went to the Rose Bowl. And it’s also the last time that Cal was in the NCAA Basketball Championship. So we’ve got our work cut out on that front.
Brian Walsh: 01:46 Did you make it out there to see the game against Colorado last week?
Mike Wolff: 01:50 I did not, no.
Brian Walsh: 01:52 It looked like a fun time, now that the smoke cleared in the Bay Area.
Mike Wolff: 01:55 Yeah. But I do have Cal’s marketing slogan down, and it’s, “Wait till next year.” Wait till next year; we have a great recruit coming on board. It’s going to be amazing. Wait till next year.
Brian Walsh: 02:06 Wait. So your dad was there from ’58 to ’60.
Mike Wolff: 02:09 Yeah.
Brian Walsh: 02:09 So he graduated quickly.
Mike Wolff: 02:11 Yeah, yeah. He was in an accelerated program for dental students at the time.
Brian Walsh: 02:17 Wow. Yeah. It doesn’t seem like anybody accelerates quickly any longer.
Mike Wolff: 02:21 Stay in school as long as possible.
Brian Walsh: 02:26 Awesome. So when you came out, after a short stint, you actually joined Salesforce in 2002.
Mike Wolff: 02:32 I did, yeah. It all began in a place called Hope, Brian. Many years ago.
Brian Walsh: 02:38 What first brought you to Salesforce?
Mike Wolff: 02:40 I appreciate the question. Prior to Salesforce, I was at the University of San Francisco earning my MBA. My first exposure to Salesforce was in a telecommunications class. We were doing a SWOT analysis on ASPs, Application Service Providers, at the time.
Brian Walsh: 02:56 Now we’re really showing our age.
Mike Wolff: 02:58 There we go. And the companies that we were doing the analysis on was number one, Salesforce; number two is Upshot, which was ultimately acquired by Siebel, which was acquired by Oracle, and NetLedger, which is NetSuite, which is now Oracle as well. So those were the three companies that we were looking at, and I had the opportunity to come down and interview a number of people at Salesforce at the time. And what blew me away was, what Salesforce was solving for was actually something I was trying to solve for when I worked at the University of California as well as a marketing coordinator. We were creating access databases to keep track of our sponsorships and ticket sales, and it just was not very effective. And what I saw with Salesforce and Upshot and NetLedger was doing was just the power of the Internet at the time, was making it really easy to keep track of customers, and I was just blown away by it. That was my first exposure to those organizations, and I just loved the Salesforce culture from my experience of talking to a number of people on the team. When I graduated from business school, this is the place I started.
Brian Walsh: 04:05 How big was it when you started in 2002?
Mike Wolff: 04:08 About 150 people at the time.
Brian Walsh: 04:10 Wow. So you’ve seen it grown from there to, what is it today? 20-something thousand?
Mike Wolff: 04:16 Close to 33,000 employees. But I think that’s one of the beauties of Salesforce, we still operate very much as a small business, as an entrepreneurial business. And I hope you feel that, and the partners and customers that you work with feel that as well. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve been here for so long. It’s just the creativity and focus on driving customer success has been constant from day one, and something I really enjoy.
Brian Walsh: 04:45 Yet how do you maintain that sort of culture of entrepreneurialism at 30-some thousand people?
Mike Wolff: 04:53 Yeah. And that goes back to one of the, I think one of the pieces of our secret sauce, and that’s from day one, Salesforce has leveraged its alignment mechanism called the V2MOM, right? And for those of you who don’t know, that’s our alignment tool that we use at Salesforce. Every employee has one, and what V2MOM stands for is, what is our Vision? What are our Values? The first M is, what are our Methods? How are we going to accomplish that vision? The O is for Obstacles, and the M is for Metrics. How are we going to know we are where we’re trying to go? That’s literally been the tool that we’ve used at Salesforce to help keep everyone aligned, and more importantly to prioritize what is and what isn’t important. I feel like that’s helped keep us nimble over the years, and helped focus us as an organization as we’ve grown from 150 when I started to 33,000 employees today.
Brian Walsh: 05:57 It’s incredibly transparent. Everybody can see everyone’s V2MOM, all the way from Marc on down, right?
Mike Wolff: 06:02 Everyone can see everyone’s V2MOM, and it’s actually been a tool that I use when I’m talking to partners or customers in my prior role. I find it’s a great way to help organize a company’s thoughts, and help get everyone aligned and accountable to what we’re trying to mutually accomplish. So it’s not only an internal tool; it’s a tool that I’d like to use whenever I’m talking to a partner today or customers in my prior life.
Brian Walsh: 06:29 It was interesting. We were working a project with Salesforce IT, and there was a challenge in the project coming up, and so they were meeting with a lot of stakeholders from business. And one of the things they did was to review the V2MOMs, then compare it to the challenges that we are facing in this project, to look at drives and motivations and what they were trying to accomplish. And I just found that such a useful tool to understand before you even started the meeting.
Mike Wolff: 06:52 Yeah, 100%. It’s funny; one of the other things that I’ve appreciated is learning from Marc Benioff over the years. We’ll have V2MOM review sessions. And let’s say you have 10 methods in a V2MOM; he’ll walk through the V2MOM and literally each method, “What’s more important? Is number one important, or number two? How about number three or number four?” It’s, again, just the beauty of prioritization and alignment is really what has helped us drive.
Brian Walsh: 07:19 That’s awesome. And given that you started when it was 100, 150 people, you must have worked with Marc quite a bit on the early days.
Mike Wolff: 07:27 Yeah. He’s always been a very hands-on CEO. Again, the things that stand out for me when I think of Marc are, number one, the V2MOM is a big part of it, just the alignment piece of it. Number two, he’s someone who has always rolled up his sleeves and gotten involved in the business. Number three, he’s been great at always painting the picture for where we want to go, but orienting us on executing today. Those are just a few of the lessons that I’ve learned over the years, that I’ve really appreciated about working with him. And then in more recent years, what I’ve appreciated is, sometimes it’s really easy for us to get caught in the minutiae of our own worlds and roles. And just the power of simple questions, right?
Brian Walsh: 08:18 What would be an example of that?
Mike Wolff: 08:19 And example of that is, last year when I was running one of our commercial sales teams at Salesforce, I was at a crossroads of what I wanted to do next in my career. And I was fortunate to have the opportunity to have a conversation with Marc, and he asked me just this really, after him listening to me for probably 15 to 20 minutes, he asked me just a really simple question. And it’s a question that I kick myself on, and it’s going to sound really ridiculous when I share it with you. But Brian, literally the question was, “Michael, what do you want?” Right? “What do you want?” We spent a couple minutes on that, and it evolved into Marc sharing with me, “Michael, you should create a personal V2MOM.” Right? And again, we talked about the V2MOM in terms of its importance for businesses and alignment and prioritization. But the same can hold true in terms of our personal lives. What do we want? What is our vision for success? What are our values? What do we value about the companies we work with, the businesses that we work at? What do we value about our health, families, religion, whatever it may be? How do you want to get there? And again, it was a really simple question, but it uncovered a level of focus that I didn’t feel like I had before, and something that I appreciate.
Brian Walsh: 09:47 Did you enroll your family in that as well, then?
Mike Wolff: 09:49 Absolutely.
Brian Walsh: 09:50 That is awesome.
Mike Wolff: 09:50 It’s a fun exercise, right? I mean it’s going to sound really ridiculous, but yeah. I have a personal V2MOM, and a big part of that is, there’s methods in there that my wife and kids collaborate on, and it’s pretty much turned into a family V2MOM. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.
Brian Walsh: 10:07 That’s really cool. That’s really cool. I find that being so busy, and I work with my wife, and so much of our life and our work and our travel, everything’s just, it’s all one unit now. It’s really holistic; it’s all combined.
Mike Wolff: 10:20 Totally.
Brian Walsh: 10:22 So when you joined, you started on the SMB team. And you started as a salesperson, or account executive on that team?
Mike Wolff: 10:30 Yeah. Actually, I started as a sales rep. The responsibilities of a sales rep at the time, there were just a handful of us, and we were responsible for qualifying inbound leads. Right? So again, if you flash back to 2002, no one really knew what the cloud was, there wasn’t a term, right? It was the Internet, and then maybe it evolved into software as a service. But a lot of evangelism around this new delivery model and how it helped companies focus on their core business rather than the underlying technology.
Brian Walsh: 11:04 And you obviously, in creating that category, had huge challenges around trust, around uptime, availability, around innovation. I mean it was brand new to people, this concept that you could put things in the quote, unquote, cloud. But there wasn’t even a cloud at that point, right?
Mike Wolff: 11:18 No, no. Yeah, you hit it on the head. Nine out of 10 conversations were around trust, around backup, around storage, how to access the solution when offline. If I leave Salesforce, who owns my data? A lot of those really standard questions, which we now all just take for granted. We think of these solutions, we just expect, much like we turn on the lights at our homes, right, we just expect when we get into the office or when we log on, that the solution will be there. So it’s really interesting. But from day one, right, what Salesforce has always focused on is trust, right? We knew that the system had to be reliable. We had to help make companies and champions more effective. We had to be secure. And we had to deliver value. And it’s, again, goes back to that’s been core to who we’ve been as a company from day one.
Brian Walsh: 12:22 So the SMB side now, I think about the origins of Salesforce; it really started as SMB, and then grown. And now I think it’s more viewed as hitting the Enterprise. But SMB still makes up a gigantic portion of its business, right?
Mike Wolff: 12:36 Absolutely. I think it’s … I mean to be, I want to give full credit to the person who built out the SMB business at Salesforce. His name is Rob Acker and he actually runs our .org team today. He’s the COO of Salesforce.org. Rob was convicted around how a company like Salesforce could help democratize enterprise software. It started with just a handful of us on that team, and now there are a lot of salespeople focused on the SMB and commercial sales business, delivering a very material amount of contribution to Salesforce. And more importantly helping customers change the way that they serve their customers, and helping them be more successful. It all started with Rob and his conviction in terms of selling Marc on, “Hey, there’s a huge opportunity here for Salesforce to have a really material impact on the market.” And I think what it really did was, it helped us diversify our revenue model, right? The Enterprise business is lumpier and there’s more seasonality to it. And having a diversified portfolio of customers really helped us navigate the dot com turn in the early 2000s, and the recession in 2008, and other times when there’s been economic difficulties.
Brian Walsh: 14:07 So in 2006 the AppExchange came along, and obviously you continued to rise in the ranks. How did the AppExchange start playing into SMB and your go-to-market strategy and your sales strategy?
Mike Wolff: 14:20 It was really cool, right? First of all, what’s interesting is the AppExchange emerged as a result of customer demand, right? So, if you think back to 2004 when just the concept of custom objects-
Brian Walsh: 14:34 Was huge.
Mike Wolff: 14:36 Yeah. Oh my god, we can build our own custom objects, totally available, and integrated with standard objects in Salesforce. Customers started building these amazing solutions: expense tracking, project management, tax credit applications. Whatever it may be, whatever challenge a customer had, they would start building it. And then it evolved into, well how cool would it be if we could take these apps and have other customers use them as well? That was really where, the genesis of the AppExchange, and really created people like Layla and Ron and Ross and Brent.
Brian Walsh: 15:13 Yeah, that original team was amazing.
Mike Wolff: 15:20 Yeah, all these really creative people being able to take this concept and actually make it a reality. But from the salesperson’s point of view, which I was at the time, it was amazing. Because number one, it helped us continue to solve challenges that Salesforce couldn’t solve out of the box. Number two, it helped from a differentiation perspective. No other competitor had this type of ecosystem to help differentiate. Number three, it helped make Salesforce more sticky with our customers. And then, as a result of all that, it helped us drive success as a company. Those are the things that stand out to me at the beginning. It was just such a cool concept, and it was really the first time that a company had gone down this path and made it so simple for companies to build on and to consume the technology.
Brian Walsh: 16:18 I think that concept of ISVs filling all the white space on Salesforce, and then being able to both share together, like Salesforce and the ISV and the customer ultimately share in the value of that. And it still stands true today. Even as big and wide and complete as Salesforce has become, there’s huge white space out there that ISVs are filling, and are an essential part of every sale.
Mike Wolff: 16:42 I totally agree with you.
Brian Walsh: 16:43 Did that change over time how much you relied upon the AppExchange? I mean, the sales model of going after SMB is so different than going after an Enterprise client, right? Cost of acquisition is a huge concern when you’re on the SMB side. How do you leverage that AppExchange there?
Mike Wolff: 17:01 I think what’s interesting is, what changed is that, again it’s kind of like the analogy that I talked about at the beginning. Where when I first started selling Salesforce, we had lots of questions around security and how do I access my data if I leave, and all those types of things. So there was a lot of selling up front. I’d say the same thing happened with the AppExchange. I think one of the best sales tools that we used to have was to go to the AppExchange and take our customers to the AppExchange, demo how they could leverage it, show them how they could install an app directly from it, and then it just became accepted as the norm, right? As our customers started having success with it, and then users of our customers went to other companies. They would bring the solutions that they initially leveraged from the AppExchange with them, install them in the emphasis of other organizations, and it just became the norm. Of course, we’re going to use the AppExchange, or of course we’re going to go and … you need an ERP solution? We’re going to go to the AppExchange and install the one that we used before, or project management, or whatever it may be. That was the transition that we saw, just became the expectation that, if you’re using Salesforce, you’re going to leverage a host of other AppExchange solutions to help you drive value.
Brian Walsh: 18:19 Yep. I’ve never asked this one, but there was a side point, like this detour around RelateIQ and then Essentials came in and said, “Hey, we’re going to bring it all back under the Salesforce.com platform.” At least that’s how I had seen it from the outside. But I always assumed one of the reasons was, when it came back to Essentials is we could use the ecosystem again. RelateIQ being in Gmail, being in sort of the separate piece, we didn’t get access to the ecosystem. But now we could actually bring it back in, leverage the ecosystem, and then they could grow all the way up from Essentials on to EE and other versions. Was that accurate, or was it completely different?
Mike Wolff: 18:56 I think it’s definitely a piece of it. Right, and I think it goes back to … I think you’re hitting on the key theme, and that’s just that the power of the platform, right? Just the power that we get, we collectively, Salesforce, our customers, partners, et cetera, get when we’re all leveraging the core Salesforce solution, right? If you think of the power of starting with Essentials, and when you’re a small group, and evolving to Professional and Enterprise, and having a seamless upgrade path there, I think is important. Incorporating the best aspects of Relayed IQ into our entire Salesforce solution has been important. We’ve taken advantage of that over the years. Yeah, and also just fully accessing the power of the ecosystem was definitely a consideration there as well.
Brian Walsh: 19:49 Cool. So when you went and said with Marc, you said, “What do you want?” I think one of the big changes out of that was now coming in to lead the ISV team. That’s a huge change for you in your career.
Mike Wolff: 20:03 Yeah. And I think it’s a natural extension. You’re absolutely right, when I had that conversation with him, that was one of the areas that, when we talked about the ideal characteristics of what I was looking for. This was top of mind. And the reason for that is really simple. I feel like I’ve always enjoyed selling. That’s been part of my career over the last 16 years at Salesforce. But what I’ve also enjoyed even more are the relationships I get to build with the executives. Solving challenges, really being a trusted advisor that an exec could call and have conversations with about things that are way beyond what Salesforce could solve. And when I think about the power of ISV and the AppExchange, that’s exactly what this is. When I think about all the partners that I have the opportunity to work with as a part of the AppExchange program, we’re helping build great businesses, right? We’re helping think through how to market more effectively, how to sell, how to support customers, how to run a more operationally effective business. How to consume the technology in a different way. How to navigate this 33,000 person company now, right?
Brian Walsh: 21:22 To co-sell, to work together.
Mike Wolff: 21:25 Right, to get plugged in. And that’s really fun. And again, I think … I’ve been in this world now for nine months, and this is by far the most fun I’ve had in my career, because I feel like I’m genuinely aligned with our partners’ success.
Brian Walsh: 21:43 When I interviewed Ron Huddleston back earlier in the summer, that was one of the things he said, is, “Once you get the experience of working in a partner ecosystem, you can’t let go. It’s addictive.”
Mike Wolff: 21:54 Yeah. It’s a blast, right? I feel like it’s the most fun I’ve ever had, and it’s the most mentally stimulating, as well.
Brian Walsh: 22:04 It’s almost like this is the startup ethos at scale, right? Because you’re constantly talking about the next dream, the next vision, and then how do we operationalize that? How do we make it real?
Mike Wolff: 22:14 You got it.
Brian Walsh: 22:16 What were the first couple of months like? I mean you went from hands-on sales to now walking into partner-based sales, and so many different personalities and so many backstories and drama. What was that like, making that transition?
Mike Wolff: 22:29 Yeah. Whenever I change roles, my approach is always to learn from the best. So over the course of the first three months in the role, I just did a lot of learning and listening, right? I just feel like that’s, any advice for anyone changing roles, I think it’s a great way to learn and get up to speed on the business. So I met with people like yourself. I met with more than 100 different partners during that period, stakeholders across the Salesforce business. And just tried to understand at the high level what success looks like for the different stakeholders. Tried to understand what we’re doing well, what we need to improve upon. And again, just trying to understand the history of the AppExchange and ISV business. We talked about a little bit, I feel like we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. This type of model had never been proven before, and I just feel so fortunate that this amazing foundation that was built by people like Ron and Layla and many, many others, and now it’s how do we continue to evolve this business to help our partners to continue to build great businesses. That’s where we’re at in this evolution.
Brian Walsh: 23:48 Well, and we look at SaaS’s, the revenue itself compounds. And by the way, congratulations on your quarterly. Amazing numbers, the guidance for this year, I think over 13 billion now. But we look at that compounding revenue, because it’s subscription-based. And when we look at the AppExchange, you are compounding, and you have partners out there as well. Everything keeps piling on, so it must be growing … I know you don’t break up the numbers separately than the rest of the company, but it must be a freight train at this point.
Mike Wolff: 24:20 Yeah. This is, again, the way I look at it, I’m constantly asked the question when I’m sitting down with partners, where does the AppExchange stand as a priority at Salesforce? This is highly important to us as a company. When we think of growing a robust ecosystem, number one. Number two, helping us fill white space from an industry perspective. And number three, the power of successful partners is a multiplier effect, right? It’s an accelerant in terms of helping build credibility and helping us help our customers in many different ways. That’s very exciting.
Brian Walsh: 25:01 Industries, when Keith came on board, became a big focus for Salesforce. Being able to work with industries, and early on launch both Health Cloud and Financial Services Cloud. Everything that you basically hear come out of Salesforce right now is in industry-speak. How do you work with industries like specific ISVs? What’s the opportunity for them?
Mike Wolff: 25:21 Yeah. Just to simplify it even more, I think what, when we hear industries, it’s definitely strategic direction that Salesforce is going, when I simplify it I just think of, how do we speak in the language of our customers, right? And that’s where we’re really, when we’re thinking of, number one, white space of how can we help. What are the areas that Salesforce needs to invest in to help build out a better story there and tell a more relevant story? Who are the partners that we want to collaborate with that have already found product market fit in these areas? And number three, how do we identify a joint challenge that we can mutually solve better than anyone else? So, that’s the way that we’ve been thinking about it from an AppExchange ISV perspective.
Brian Walsh: 26:06 And are you outbound trying to recruit specific ones, or is this an open field for, if you’re a startup that’s does, works with industries?
Mike Wolff: 26:15 Totally a combination of both, right? So there’s some strategic partnerships that we’re invested in. And then there’s also, we want to get aligned with the start-up organizations that are looking to change the world. And think about solving challenges in a totally different way. Go back to the fun part about this business. That’s what I’m really enjoying. The strategic partnership that are really interesting, but it’s how do we also collaborate with those who are building new technology to help us think about solving of these challenges in different ways.
Brian Walsh: 26:51 Totally. So how do new partners then discover that white space for what Salesforce has? How do they find and work together with your ISV team?
Mike Wolff: 27:01 Yeah, so a number of different ways they can attend an event. They can simply go to the AppExchange website and talk to a member of our team, we’re happy to have those initial conversations. I’d say those are the two primary ways. I don’t know, how are you seeing partners or start-up companies also.
Brian Walsh: 27:25 Yeah, I think part of it is having the understanding of the Salesforce offerings to begin with.
Mike Wolff: 27:31 Yeah.
Brian Walsh: 27:31 And where that fits in. You’re right, attending events is a huge piece of it. I think Salesforce is leverage of events and being in person is amazing.
Mike Wolff: 27:41 Yeah.
Brian Walsh: 27:41 I think today alone or yesterday there was something going on in L.A., Dallas, New York and Chicago, all at once right? So, attending those events really helps. And I think the networking pieces is, as much of Salesforce is about technology and new partners and ISVs, it’s still humans that are running it and being able to network and learn from other partners. And so the partner community is huge for collaborating in there and meeting people in person really helps.
Brian Walsh: 28:12 That’s awesome. Well Mike, thank you very much for your time today. It was great to hear sort of the long story of Salesforce and your involvement. And also the AppExchange’s role and the success.
Mike Wolff: 28:24 Brian, thanks for having me on the show, appreciate it.
Brian Walsh: 28:27 Awesome. All right everybody thanks for listening in and follow the website for the next episode.
Outro: 28:34 Thanks for listening to this episode of the AppChat. Don’t miss an episode, visit appchatpodcast.com or subscribe on iTunes. Until next time. Don’t make success an accident.