How to make Salesforce AppExchange meet its potential

For a few months now I have the pleasure of frequently interacting with Richard Rosen of Fastcall, a company that exclusively focuses on extending Salesforce with CTI software. Rich is a firm advocate of focusing on one ecosystem and to not serving multiple ones. As such he is a friend of Salesforce. Still, he makes some astute critical and important observations about the market place and the customer experience that it offers. He also has some suggestions. Here is what he has to say.

It’s been a few months since I walked into Nordstrom but I do remember the experience. The store is nicely curated with classic brands I recognize and a few emerging brands. Nordstrom keeps their stores fresh and well designed. While our experience has moved more and more online the idea of merchandising has not changed.

Amazon on the other hand does a very bad job merchandising fashion. E.g. tThe search “shirts for men” results in “more than 30,000” results. When shopping I may be looking for one or two new shirts. Nordstrom does a great job suggesting a few ideas. I do not want to see or look at “more than 30,000” shirts. Amazon offers a few options to narrow down my search. There is a definite benefit in curation.

How does consumer software deal with curation? There are approximately 2.87 million apps in the Play Store (Android) and 1.96 million in the Apple App Store. The strategy in the consumer app marketplace is “more is more.” They give top lists in many categories. These consumer apps’ Top n lists are not well curated; the consumer app marketplace relies almost entirely on reviews.

The Salesforce AppExchange is the leading business app market, with over 6,000 enterprise applications and components. Salesforce also includes reviews, gives the app’s listing date, date of the last update and lists basic information about the application architecture. For example, is the application native to Salesforce? Salesforce requires these applications to pass a security review and has a growing team tasked with helping developers — Salesforce partners — optimize their application listing in the AppExchange. The AppExchange is organized into categories and there is a search function.

It is a total mess.

Think back to my Nordstrom example. I walk into the store and there are thousands of shirts. Some are mispriced — just as the AppExchange has apps with misleading pricing. Some shirts are years out of style — just as Salesforce lists applications that have not been updated in years. But then Nordstrom moves out-of-fashion items into its Nordstrom Rack stores, to save space for current fashion in the Nordstrom stores. The AppExchange marketplace does not. And in the software industry current “fashion”, achieved via frequent updates, is critical.

Search results are not really in any specific order, other than “Popularity”. Some apps are native on the platform, others loosely integrated. But it’s hard for the searching admin to know without looking at the app listing itself; and they cannot search for this important criterion but need to use the sidebar to filter after searching for solutions. There is no curation to drill into a specific solution. Let’s narrow the search for paid 5-star apps that are native by filtering. This narrows the results down to roughly 200. But then what?

Salesforce wants a marketplace where more is more because — let’s be honest — vanity metrics drive enterprise software.

I am here to tell you that this is going to end.

When Salesforce first launched the AppExchange they wanted to fill the shelves and recruit developers. The keys with a marketplace are the balance between supply and demand and the creation of value for all three involved parties: The marketplace owner, the vendors (developers) and their customers. Too much supply (competition) combined with a too noisy and poorly organized environment and developers will not see the value anymore. They will leave the marketplace to focus elsewhere. To reduce the risk of this happening, Salesforce needs to reward its most aligned partners and kindly let the lesser aligned partners move on.

Back at Nordstrom there are category managers who are experts in their department. Shoes, of course — it’s Nordstrom. There is a category manager for accessories, as well as for men’s wear, women’s wear, home and gifts, beauty, and so on. This is what a maturing enterprise marketplace needs. They need to know their partner solutions beyond “paid, five stars, native = 200 apps. Go find the one that works for you.” No, no, no. Enterprise software buyers want curation. Help them find the right solution for their problem. Salesforce needs to identify the top 10 or 20 categories in the AppExchange and assign category managers. These managers will know their categories and the associated partners. When a Salesforce admin is looking for a CTI app, for example, the category manager can guide them through the options.

Ten years ago, when I was first thinking about Fastcall, I met with a few Venture Capitalists (VCs). I told them Fastcall would only work in Salesforce. They said, “Good luck with that.” In 2021, if a start-up Zooms into a VC pitch with a plan to integrate with 20 APIs I bet they’ll hear, “Good luck with that.” Times have changed, and so has demand.

Enterprise Software is moving toward platform alignment. The days of plugins and integration to a ton of APIs will wane. Like so many trends in Silicon Valley, software APIs will give way to platform alignment.

Salesforce will focus on solving business problems with its own solutions and a smaller number of highly curated partner solutions. The essence of Salesforce 360 is solving the customer’s problem. In an ecosystem-led growth model, there is Salesforce and closely aligned partners; the less aligned partners will have only a limited role as they add less value to the ecosystem. And Salesforce will have a more closely aligned relationship with a smaller set of partners. They will more intimately know the partner solution and therefore jointly deliver more value to Salesforce subscribers.

What does this mean for software buyers in the Salesforce ecosystem? VPs of Sales Operations and Salesforce admins looking to solve current problems? They need to consider platform alignment when making buying decisions. If the software on your short list is not aligned with Salesforce it may not be around next year.

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