Why Salesforce’s Quest For $20 Billion Rests With AppExchange and Trailhead

Last November, Marc Benioff proclaimed his company would generate $20 billion in revenue by 2022. The declaration by Salesforce’s chief executive came after successfully beating analyst expectations in the company’s Q4 earnings, where it revealed it had also passed a revenue milestone of $10 billion for the fiscal year. The growth was attributed to more global brands signing on for the Customer Relationship Management platform.

Targeting an additional $10 billion gain in revenue is no small feat, but for Salesforce, there’s plenty of opportunities for it to target, not only by sector but also those companies which prefer a multi-cloud strategy. And while we have come to expect Salesforce to launch a new product each year that’ll allow its customers to remain technologically advanced in the world of sales and marketing, perhaps the biggest initiative flying under the radar is an effort to modernize legacy systems to work with Salesforce’s massive platform, which is why MuleSoft was acquired for $6.5 billion.

“Together, Salesforce and MuleSoft will enable customers to connect all of the information throughout their enterprise across all public and private clouds and data sources—radically enhancing innovation,” Benioff remarked in a statement.

For 12 years, MuleSoft served as middleware, facilitating integrations between applications, data, and services. Among its many capabilities included an API hub, which contained more than 13,000 feeds and was likely viewed as an integral resource for developers to make enterprise systems work more closely with each other. MuleSoft also has the capability to connect systems that are in the cloud with on-premise ones, making it logical why Salesforce decided to make MuleSoft the centerpiece of its brand-new Integration Cloud.

No systems left behind

There’s no denying that Salesforce is advancing at a rapid pace, with each quarter generating more and more revenue. And every year at the company’s Dreamforce conference, it reveals the next round of innovation to improve how businesses can be more in lock-step with their customers, such as the launch of its Einstein AI solution, an offering around the Internet of Things, the release of a streamlined solution called Salesforce1, and more. This is great for existing customers or those that are “hip to the ways” of modern business, but for those stuck using legacy systems that just haven’t scaled as fast, it leaves them wanting.

MuleSoft is no stranger to Salesforce, having been one of its biggest partners for years. But now that it’s powering the Integration Cloud, Salesforce can help administrators and developers find ways to sync their data across their on-premise systems and tie it back with Salesforce capabilities, such as Marketing Cloud, Einstein, Analytics, and even integrate with thousands of third-party apps through the AppExchange.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Salesforce president Keith Block explained the acquisition decision:

As we were listening to CEOs, the whole notion of integration and data kept coming up over and over again. They are so frustrated that they can’t unlock data from their legacy systems. That is the strategic nature of why we are acquiring MuleSoft. We believe that it is a very important piece of the puzzle to satisfy the needs of our customers and a necessary piece to drive their transformation.

But after these companies are now up-to-speed with what Salesforce can do, what’s going to really jumpstart their innovation? It’ll likely reside within Salesforce’s AppExchange and Trailhead programs, each designed to encourage developers and customers to get better acquainted with the platform.

The first one’s free

No, integrating with Salesforce via MuleSoft isn’t going to be free. But what Salesforce likely hopes will happen is this: New company loops the data from its legacy system into Salesforce, realizes the capabilities, and wants to further weaponize the information. Because each company is different, it’s not possible to identify each specific need for them all, which is why there’s a marketplace for third-party developers to produce possible solutions.

For as long as MuleSoft has been around, Salesforce AppExchange has been the business world’s version of Apple’s iTunes. More than 3,000 apps are available for download and new Salesforce customers may find this appealing as if it’s a treasure trove of capabilities that they didn’t previously have access to — which likely they haven’t.

Even with Salesforce developing at full-steam, it hasn’t forgotten about the AppExchange. The company has invested in making the quality of the apps better and personalizing it so Salesforce customers are able to discover tools that they’ll find useful and those they may not know have existed. In the long-run, new businesses will likely be able to do more with their data, meaning more experiments and marketing services can be offered to their own customers.

And even if a company doesn’t want to use the full weight of Salesforce’s platform — maybe they already have a marketing solution — the ability to still extend their data from legacy platforms into third-party apps via AppExchange is available. So there’s great potential there and the more sources of data Salesforce opens up for developers, an ever-diverse set of applications will flourish.

The trailblazers will inherit the cloud

At Dreamforce 2016, Salesforce transformed a convention hall into a Trailhead experience, highlighting its e-learning platform. Photo credit: Ken Yeung

As Salesforce’s Senior Vice President of Developer Relations, Sarah Franklin has noticed a problem: With more than 3 million people building apps, there’s a disproportionate amount of solutions versus needs.”How do you educate developers at scale with a company that’s a fast innovator in all of the technologies coming out?” she told me in 2016.

This is why Salesforce created Trailhead three years ago, as an online course to increase the number of skilled workers who are adept at using and building around the platform. It’s no surprise that Salesforce has become an economic sector unto itself, but it could eventually lead developers and administrators who primarily work on legacy systems to better understand Salesforce and improve their integrations, thanks to the support by MuleSoft.

Being a so-called “trailblazer” is almost being an evangelist for Salesforce, but without being an employee. For most customers, what Salesforce offers with its suite of cloud products will be sufficient. But for others, being able to customize their experience may be critical. Better understanding the bones of Salesforce can help developers and administrators realize what they’re lacking in their own companies. So if that’s the case, are there APIs that are available either through Salesforce or MuleSoft that they can leverage to create a custom application, which in turn could help other businesses with a similar problem?

Benioff didn’t specifically say from where the $20 billion in revenue would come from, so it could be through app development, propelled by people’s better understanding of what Salesforce can do. This is the benefit Trailhead brings. It’s not just for beginners or those with intermediate exposure to the platform — it’s a continuing education service to those looking to find ways to tap into MuleSoft’s API to modernize their legacy systems, there will likely be courses on that, as well as how to use AppExchange apps to further weaponize data, or maybe specific use cases that will appeal to those in untapped markets will find interesting.

Over the next few years, it wouldn’t surprise me if Salesforce devoted more resources and development catered towards businesses with legacy systems and improving education to potential end users. This type of outreach could be important in Salesforce surpassing or failing to achieve its milestone.