Why you need to be proactive as a Salesforce ISV (Trails Podcast episode #11 with Joel Mansford)

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Why you need to be proactive as a Salesforce ISV (Trails Podcast episode #11 with Joel Mansford)
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Episode eleven: Joel Mansford, Co-Founder of ProvenWorks

Join us in this episode as we delve into the perspective of Joel Mansford, Co-Founder of ProvenWorks, discussing the importance of being proactive in finding opportunities as a Salesforce ISV. Explore his journey, gain insights, and discover valuable tips.

Please introduce yourself and share your story with Salesforce with us

My Salesforce journey began with Microsoft CRM. I'd just finished my first Microsoft CRM implementation, which I enjoyed. I was then looking for other similar opportunities. In particular, I saw how Microsoft CRM could be extended and made more valuable for users. So, I set up a company and went on my own. Unfortunately, the 2008 financial crisis hit, which forced us to change plans quite a bit.

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I found a contract role for a company called Commvault developing SharePoint and SQL, which was something I'd learned as part of the previous CRM work. One thing led to another, and I started seeing that they were doing much of their sales forecasting reporting in Excel. I offered to automate them in SQL/SSRS with the actual underlying data being from Salesforce.

The more I automated and refined the reports, the more management asked to extend them. I quickly found myself making changes to Salesforce, becoming a Salesforce Admin, adding fields, and changing things.

As the end of the financial year approached it was time for territory planning for the next year. To design good, practical territories, you have to have good addresses. I realised the address data wasn't very consistent and needed tidying up. That's effectively what turned into our first product and is still our main product today – AddressTools.

Did the company you worked for become your first customer, or did you start a free version on AppExchange?

The offering that solved the problem at Commvault was developed by my co-founder and became a free product. It was a free product for a while before being further extended into a broader, paid product. As we got more interest from customers, we added features, and that's how it came about.

Did the story continue in the same way where you were trying to solve a problem – like data import problems – with ProvenWorks?

That’s exactly it. I've always been very blessed to be near users. When you're with users, and you can see the pain points and jump to a solution, it's a perfect way to develop a product. You can see how it has solved that problem. That's exactly where SimpleImport came from. The premise that you shouldn't have to go to an Admin to actually import a file. There are people within the company that you can and should delegate that to.

Salesforce has always prided itself on empowering users. So, we wanted to enable administrative staff or operations staff, for example, to do some tasks that they would otherwise need a Salesforce Admin for.

Do you have other ideas in mind? Will you continue building this suite of tools? Are you bundling them, or are these all individual offerings?

I still have many more ideas than I have time in the day! Indeed, there are a couple of entirely new applications that I would love to give a lot more attention to getting off the ground. Hopefully, I'll find a way to make some of those ideas happen in the coming months.

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Bundling, we do. We have customers who have multiple products. It's very common. For example, I mentioned territory planning and the need for good addresses. It's also the case, as I'm sure you'll appreciate, that in many organisations, their sales teams are industry aligned. For example, they may be industry-focused in the United Kingdom, but in Germany, they're geographically focused. Our IndustryComplete product often goes with our addressing product when somebody's trying to solve a sales territory problem.

β€ŒWe often see products being sold in combination, depending on the use case. For example, we spoke about SimpleImport earlier. The addresses within that import file may not be good. It's thus important to ensure that those addresses are good, verified addresses. Overall, the products fit together well. But with regards to bundling, we learn what the customer's doing and how we can help them fit the products together to suit them.

How do you juggle your two roles (as an Entrepreneur and Enterprise Architect), and how do you manage to maintain a balance between them?

Firstly, it is tough. But whenever something's challenging, your achievement is much more rewarding. The other thing that helps is that I genuinely enjoy what I do. It does feel like a hobby. There are also a lot of similarities between the two roles. To be a company founder and CEO, you, by definition, have to be entrepreneurial. But people often don't think about how to be entrepreneurial in an enterprise environment. What that means to me is looking for opportunities to make things better.

✍️ Author's note: Did you know that the timeline for identifying an opportunity is roughly:

  1. Day one – three: Process assessment
  2. Day four – six: Data analysis
  3. Day seven – nine: Stakeholder collaboration
  4. Day ten – twelve: Solution proposal
  5. Day thirteen – fifteen: Stakeholder feedback and refinement
  6. Day sixteen – eighteen: Implementation and planning
  7. Day nineteen – twenty-one: Testing and piloting
  8. Day twenty-two – twenty-four: Rollout and training
  9. Day twenty-five – twenty-seven: Monitoring and optimization
  10. Day twenty-eight – thirty: Reflection and documentation.

β€ŒIn my time at Commvault, I always found that my initiative was appreciated organisation-wide. I managed to spend time with senior executives. That meant I could have a conversation and understand their goals, the decisions they're trying to make, and what information and data they need to make those decisions. Understanding what the most senior people want but also what the users on the ground want or need has allowed me to connect the dots and think ahead.

To be a good entrepreneur, you also have to think ahead. On the ProvenWorks side, we're now at a point where we have thousands of customers and have had feedback, mainly through customer support.

As a slight tangent, even for our free customers from the beginning, we've always offered proper customer support. That was deliberate because you can only get feedback if you speak to customers. It's an ideal time to understand their pains.

πŸ‘‰ Author's note: Here are some tips on how to listen to your users' pain points:

  1. Be empathetic
  2. Practice active listening
  3. Ask open-ended questions and probe for details
  4. Validate any concerns
  5. Take notes and identify patterns
  6. Offer solutions and follow-up
  7. Showcase continuous improvement.

β€ŒI also encourage those I work with to do more than just take requirements and ask what they need. You must spend time with users and look at what they do. If you’re a Salesforce Admin and if it’s practical, go and sit next to an inside salesperson. Look at how they're navigating through the records, are they going back and forth? Are the fields in a logical order? Don't wait for them to come to you pointing out a pain.

Be proactive. It matters. Even development staff, who may not have the luxury of being near users, should do that. I encourage them to look at logs, at telemetry data. Don't wait for a user to report a problem. Look through any logs and ensure you log errors where you and the team can see them.

Regarding balance, it was definitely challenging a few years ago when my children were much younger. There were, of course, a lot of school drop-offs, pickups, cooking, and ironing. I hate ironing! For anybody who's listening to this – especially single parents – trust that it gets easier as the children get older!

How hands-on are you still in the ProvenWorks products? Would you still consider yourself the, let's say, Chief Product Officer? Are you still the one driving requirements or shaping the roadmap? Or did you hand that off now having a team at ProvenWorks?

It's something in between. I encourage staff feedback from members who are in front of customers much more than I am. About product architecture, I still do a lot of SQL development work and data analysis reporting. When we're doing the product architecture, weighing up different ways to design it, our backend systems, and the actual packages themselves, I play a leading part in those. I should hand those things off, but I enjoy it too much!

In your role at Commvault, are you still heavily working with Salesforce technology, or did your role pivot away from Salesforce? Β  Β  Β  Β 

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I did pivot a little. It's exciting to be a part of a Microsoft Dynamics implementation. After over ten years of being away from it and drawing those parallels, I became involved again with day-to-day Microsoft Dynamics, as it's now called.

However, my depth of knowledge of Salesforce is my specialism. I spend more time there now than anywhere else. But I still get involved with other enterprise applications and platforms – like Workday, Netsuite and Azure – daily.

You've been on the Salesforce AppExchange since 2009, how have you seen the Salesforce ecosystem change?

If I think back fifteen years ago, few people wrote packages and listed them on the AppExchange. The people who did do that though were people more like me – tech enthusiasts. Increasingly now though the people who are coming in and are interested in AppExchange are investors. It's a sign of the Salesforce AppExchange maturing both financially and technologically.

Those investors coming in has led to a lot of merger and acquisition transactions with AppExchange ISVs, leading to consolidation. While this is a typical behavior of any developed market at a certain stage, it is interesting to see how this is going to change the ISV landscape.

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Author's note: Did you know that in 2009, there were only a couple hundred apps on AppExchange versus the 4.5K plus apps there are now?

I think it's still very early, but we're starting to see clusters of partners or ISV partners. Let’s see how those integrate and how Salesforce reacts to them. For ISVs like ProvenWorks, for example, we're a scale-up partner. The margins we pay Salesforce percentage net revenue (PNR) are hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. But we're not big enough to get go-to-market assistance from Salesforce. You have to be in the million-plus margin to get Salesforce's attention.

Even though we’re a relatively well-established ISV, we have to develop our strategies and look for opportunities, and we don't get to ask for help. On the other hand, you also get the startups. These companies are starting on zero PNR. It's going to be tough for them. I’m curious to see how broadly those investors will get involved with the full range and how the landscape changes due to that.

Find your opportunities

Thank you for tuning into this episode of Hutte's Trails Podcast.

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