What Trails Are You Blazing?

Are you a Customer Trailblazer? If not, it’s not too late for you to become one.

Maybe you’re not familiar with the term. It’s what Salesforce calls those people and companies who leverage the platform to drive innovation, solve problems and transform their careers and their teams.

No doubt you’re already using Salesforce to take care of the basics: understanding customers and prospects, closing deals, keeping your team informed and empowered. And that’s great. But some users are pushing themselves towards disrupting their markets and paving the way for new business models. In short, they’re inventive thinkers who are turning their sales tech into engines of ingenuity.

I know you want to drive a better customer experience. It’s not a simple ask. Neither is energizing your sales team and taking them to a higher level through technology. But some leaders are rising to the challenge – and here’s how they’re doing it.

They’re all about empowering people through technology – and not just their team.

Let’s admit it. Traditionally, IT has existed in its own bubble. IT leaders may be hunkered down integrating new platforms, solving an outage or monitoring dashboards for signs of cyber attacks, but they don’t always have a seat at the business strategy table. Trailblazers are changing that by using their technology to help every part of the business function at a higher level. Maybe it’s about helping the customer success team access key information, or using applications to align sales and marketing. Maybe they’re figuring out the right metrics that can turn sales effort into sales efficiency. Overall, they’re kicking down silos and helping the entire organization get stronger.

They don’t just ask for innovation – they foster it.

Trailblazers look beyond their traditional systems and hunt for opportunities to help others get creative. They know when people are bogged down in tedious tasks, they probably aren’t going to carve a few hours for brainstorming or meeting with other teams to develop synergy. One basic example: cloud technology has freed workers from maintaining hardware and allowed them to focus on more flexible improvements. Salesforce can help businesses scale projects, integrate important tools and connect data, which gives everyone more time to be creative and think outside the box.

They’re all about their customers.

When sales tech first came around, people thought it would help sales reps connect with prospects and buyers. Today we’ve gone way beyond that. Now smart leaders are exploring ways to help every employee better understand and assist customers. By connecting customer data across platforms, different teams and departments can all draw from a well of valuable information – adding up to a seamless experience for the customer that ultimately increases loyalty and satisfaction. The customer experience is no longer about one transaction or phone call. It’s about a connected community that offers an “anywhere/anytime” availability to help customers feel understood and fulfilled, no matter what their challenges.

But they care about their employees too.

Okay, so it’s a cliché but it’s still true: your workforce is your greatest asset. Customers may be vital, but leaders know that employees — from all departments — want to enjoy a seamless, mobile-friendly experience while they’re at work. Trailblazers have made it their mission to boost collaboration, productivity and talent retention through better access to information and tools for everyone. Not only does it drive up employee morale, it fosters an overall commitment to excellence built on a foundation of employee loyalty. Increased productivity from a motivated, skilled workforce: there’s no better recipe for a great brand experience for customers, or an increase in revenue.

Ready to be a Customer Trailblazer? Your Salesforce platform can give you the tools. Transformation is just a few fresh new ideas away.

Afraid of Our Own Shadow: Why Complexity Costs Drive Shadow IT

If you take a look back at the last few decades of technological advancements, it’s easy to focus on the benefits we’ve reaped. The software as a service (SaaS) revolution? The doorway to many conveniences we now take for granted. Virtualization? It’s changed everything from cost savings to disaster recovery. And of course the analytics we now enjoy have delivered insights that let us abandon low-performing strategies and focus on the practices that drive us forward.

So yes, at a glance we can all agree that these advances are something to be celebrated. Yet at the same time we pay a price for these developments that go beyond budgets and dollars. I’m talking about the complexity of these tools – a complexity that ultimately creates the world of Shadow IT.

After all, these capabilities are valuable for a reason. Not just anyone can wield these tools. They’re specialized. Complicated. They demand skill. Finding the right IT professionals who know how to run and manage them and turn theoretical returns into excellent results is no easy task. And the fact that they’re often used together in intricate technology stacks and connections complicate the situation even further.

Imagine, for instance, that your account reps need an app that lets them check results and account status when visiting a client. Some of that information will be housed in a cloud-based sales tool which probably connects to a separate tool that manages inventory. From there you’ll need to involve a connection to a shipping tool. Any data that’s pulled will need to be delivered in a clear and comprehensive way that’s mobile-friendly – and of course, it will need to be secure too, which could involve an experienced third party provider with advanced security and compliance expertise. Finally, you’ll probably want to draw on a separate analytics tool to help translate the numbers into results the client can understand.

Complicated enough for you? It gets worse. Imagine managing all of this – and then your company merges with another and it becomes imperative to make two incompatible systems work together. That’s when it really gets tough.

True, various new technologies claim to assist with this kind of challenge. They tend to be unfriendly to legacy systems, though, which means teams are forced to choose between abandoning their existing stack and starting over, or dealing with the existing complexity. Neither is an easy option, so it’s not surprising that many of them seek the help of outside consultants and vendors.

Now think about the time factor of this complexity. You’ve probably gone through it yourself; IT projects tend to proceed at a snail’s pace, as teams map out and test an almost unlimited range of possible issues. In the meantime, the business manager who asked for the solution grows impatient, so much so that he or she will often create or outsource solutions on their own. And that’s how a new Shadow IT is created, where departments end up using solutions deficient in functionality or cybersecurity.

Maybe you think that your business managers don’t have the skill to create their own fixes. Think again. This dynamic is widespread enough that both inventive startups and established companies like Dell, Citrix and HP have catered to this market, creating apps and services that can be implemented by end users independently of their IT team. Today’s business leader is increasingly comfortable with cloud computing basics and not afraid to use the new tools available.

If the very idea of such rogue practices alarms you, you’re not alone. IT teams don’t just solve functionality problems – they manage security, compliance regulations, company policies and more. They maintain an overview that ties innumerable technology components together into a protected and high-performing ecosystem. Shadow IT initiatives tend to move forward heedless of these concerns, which creates even more vulnerabilities.

There’s no simple solution here.  Too many organizations are mired in legacy systems and complicated technology stacks. The complexity cost of those systems isn’t going away. Neither is the eagerness of business managers to solve their problems and accelerate projects however they can.

So what can we do? Here’s a start: CIOs can take a look inside and find a way to re-architect their systems so that their teams can work more productively with business leaders and eliminate Shadow IT. It won’t be easy, true. But the future ahead of us if we leave the complexity challenge unaddressed will be even tougher.