In this week’s episode we’re joined by Mike Wheeler, a previous guest who we’ve invited back to explore how he has seen the Salesforce Administrator role change and develop in the past and how he expects it to change in the future.
Mike shares some really interesting thoughts and insight around how he sees the Salesforce platform evolving, how AI can make an impact on the different Salesforce roles, and his take on some of the announcements that came out of Dreamforce.
Make sure you check out Mike’s courses here:
Mike, welcome back to the show.
Mike Wheeler (00:06.594)
Thank you, glad to be back.
Yeah, it’s awesome to have you back on the show. I really enjoyed the first version of the podcast we did and really keen to explore some new topics today. This kind of came about because last week I posted around what the Salesforce Administrator role could look like in the future based on some of the trends, some of the observations and obviously new technology that we’re seeing in the ecosystem, so I’m keen to explore that. But I guess for anyone that hasn’t listened to the first podcast, I recommend going back and doing that because we talk a bit more about your career and some of the things you do. Today we’ll focus on really the way the Salesforce Administrator role, I guess, has changed over the years, what it could look like in the future. But let’s start with that, because you’ve been creating content and courses for Salesforce professionals for a number of years. There’ll be a lot of people that are listening to this that are quite new to the ecosystem, so they only know what the role looks like right now, they might not have known what a Salesforce Administrator typically did several years ago. So since you started in the ecosystem, how has that role changed? How have the responsibilities and the expectations of an Admin changed?
Mike Wheeler (01:19.982)
Sure, it’s grown more challenging, I would say, when I started out in the Salesforce ecosystem professionally in 2012 was when I attained my first certification and my first job. And I was a Developer on the platform, and so I’ve also worked as an Administrator, Consultant and then started training in 2016. And back then, I would say that there wasn’t near the saturation point as far as the entry level skilled persons, and so the demand was much greater. The supply versus demand scenario was more in the favor of the Admin. You saw less posts or job posts around expecting Administrators to be able to write Apex code, and it really was more of configuration and setup and security and access. Some of those core fundamental concerns that were what the Admin certification was all about. And over time, the certification has not changed too greatly. There has been a massive overhaul of the exam guide in 2021 which led me to have to redo my course for about the third or fourth time. And that’s the nature of training in software but the main point of that was the same concepts were in that exam back then during that shift or that pivot, they were just combining knowledge areas together. And what I’ve seen over recent years is that as the talent pool has grown then we’re seeing more expectations of Admins trying to take on more technical roles and seeing more job postings it seems to where it may be considered unrealistic expectations as far as Admins doing coding but what’s nice now with the advent of AI is that is more readily accessible so I would say from a training perspective because with the advent of ChatGPT launching in November of 2022, I added that into my Admin course and did a new version of that several months ago now, that included AI and so I have my students doing things like generating Apex code to perform some key functions. That’s something I would have never dreamed of having Admins do that we’re just starting out. And so even though it is more challenging, we do have help with some of this generative AI tools as well. So I think that some of the core shifts in the marketplace is more of a saturation, but then also greater technical ability that has been more democratized and this rising of soft skills that are now needed. So I think that I’m having to take stock in my own training offerings and really reassess what I focus on because I’m seeing that not only Salesforce but all tech companies, they are more downplaying the hard skills because those can be trained and attained by way of generative AI as well as the soft skills, where you’ll really shine and separate yourself.
Yeah, that’s definitely an observation I would have as well like the I think the unicorn talent in the market now from an Admin perspective is someone that has both, right? So someone that is a great communicator, can empathise and I guess really be the face of the platform and give comfort to the business that this person understands me, understands the business, understands what we’re looking to achieve, but then also has those technical capabilities. I feel like Flow is still kind of, it’s emerging. Like what I see right now is that a lot of Salesforce Administrators, especially in Australia, a lot of the people I speak to aren’t comfortable with Flow and that’s been something that is being pushed and pushed and pushed and is becoming the automation tool of choice by a lot of companies. But if we look back historically, did you see, were you in the market when Workflow was kind of being phased out for Process Builder and was there as much of a shift and as much, I guess of a shake in the market when people needed to start learning Process Builder as now when people are needing to learn Flow?
Mike Wheeler (05:13.582)
Sure, yeah. So it’s kind of history repeating itself. When I first came along, it was Workflows all day every day or it was Apex. And there were still S-Controls in some orgs that I dealt with and those were eventually phased out. Took longer than anticipated, but it was Workflows, got very comfortable with those. Then with Process Builder, there was more of a learning curve, but you could embrace the power of Process Builder. Took several years for that tool to get to where it was on par with Workflow rules. If you’re trying to do things in bulk, it would error out oftentimes. And then there was this line of thought as far as having one process per object. It’s much like having one set of automation around Apex and having helper classes and kind of getting deep in the weeds and coding land there. But the idea being that you tried to have one process per object. Otherwise, it was hard to control the order of execution. And then with Flows coming along, and this has been a long journey as well. And I teach live Admin certification courses as well. And I was running into some issues as far as some things that were not working with the Migrate to Flow tool. And so this is a tool that Salesforce has provided in the past year or so to help organisations, in theory at least, to migrate from Workflow rules and processes to Flows. And so it is in a way history repeating itself. There’s some pain points and that tool of the Migrate to Flow has not lived up to what I had hoped it would do and I had high hopes when it first rolled out because I wanted to cling to my Workflow rules. I think I’m much like the masses where we get comfortable with how we got here and then we want to just hang on to those skill sets rather than having to reinvent ourselves oftentimes. So my hope was that Salesforce would have this great tool to migrate to Flow and then they would incorporate the familiar interface of Workflow rules and Process Builder. Let us continue to create those and then just convert it to Flows, but there’s limitations around cross object updates, and then sometimes it’s bouncing you into classic as well. I discovered that last night on my live class. So that was some interesting insights. So I do think that Flows are very complex. I think that Salesforce has done about as best they can with declarative automation, with clicks instead of code, but Flows do take you right up to the doorstep of coding and have a lot of more complex scenarios that are very coding like as far as variables and loops and things that have a steep learning curve. And so I think that a good majority of people struggle with Flows. And so I have high hopes that Salesforce will settle on some sort of middle ground or solution. And that may be in the generative side as far as being able to build Flows with prompts. And so that is where I’m hoping that this heads in the near future.
Yeah, that’s interesting. We’ll get on to that point. But as it stands today, for what you know to be available right now, do you think the Salesforce Admin role is more difficult today to be efficient and have a broad range of skills across than it was historically, like if you look at when you first got into the market?
Mike Wheeler (08:36.909)
Sure, yeah, I would say it’s more complex because when I first approached Salesforce and discovered it in a bookstore and was reading a book about how attainable it was with clicks instead of code, that is still holding true, but we’re heading down the path of, and this is kind of the nature of things, is that Salesforce is trying to condense down to one primary automation solution, which is Flows. There’s still things that can’t be done with Flows, which have to be done with Apex. And then coming down the pike, also with AI coming that that’s going to permeate everything and so this ability to perform tasks such as AI orchestration and now you’re not only having to deal with human interactions but also interacting with different large language models and making sure that everything is behaving and doing as it’s intended if you will. So I think that it’s going to be more exponentially complex and being able and that’s any time that you’re dealing with data that’s moving or updating or dynamic that is more complex than anything that’s static and so we are entering the phase where the complexity is going to rise but we also have helpers in the AI realm that will help us to manage all that as well. But I would say that it is more complex now, definitely, than it was when we were just dealing with Workflow rules. But then once again, there was less that we as Admins were able to do. We had to farm so much off to Developers. And that’s just the natural curve of things is that as technology progresses, it becomes more attainable to the masses. And so the complexity in some ways does go down, and then we’re relying less on Developers to code that for us as Process Builder came along and now Flows. It can do things that used to be you could only do with a trigger.
Yeah, it’s really interesting to understand that because like I said a lot of people only see what’s happening right now, so it’s interesting to look backwards and when you talk about the potential of the future, the potential of the platform, GPT tools What are you thinking will change like what when you say Flow is obviously complex as a development element to that or knowledge of loops and things like that you’ve mentioned, but where does ChatGPT or the Salesforce GPT tools help? How can that change the Admin role moving forward?
Mike Wheeler (11:02.402)
So I think that it’ll really be helpful in this kind of, even though GPT or generative AI is newer with the advent of ChatGPT, kind of crossing the chasm into the mainstream. Salesforce has been dabbling and developing AI for years and with the Einstein platform all the way back, I think it was 2016 to 2017, I did a course on Einstein discovery and that was predictive. And so I try to relate the predictive AI which predates generative in that we all have been consumers of predictive AI. If we’ve ever used a search engine, it’s an algorithm predicting what our desired result might be and it takes signals from our behavior. If we bounce right back to the search engine and say, “no, that’s not what we were looking for” and we’re checking the next link, et cetera, or if we’ve been a consumer of a weather forecast, it is analyzing patterns and predicting future results. And so that has been baked into the platform. And even prior to AI inside of Salesforce, these whole concepts of predictable revenue and tying stages to probability to provide forecast, that is in a way a predictive AI was just done probably in Excel spreadsheets or on napkins back in the day. And now we have the ability to have more fine tune not only predicting what is the probability of this opportunity closing, but how can we increase those odds? And that’s where you start to get into things such as next best actions. And so this is not only empowering the Admins, but the salespeople, the service people, and the marketing people in order to take things, whatever it is that their primary focus is, whether that’s a lead an opportunity or a case down that path from inception to closed one or closed case successfully with one touch point or whatever the goal might be. And then for us Administrators, Consultants and professionals on the platform I think AI is immensely underhyped right now I see a lot of people saying “oh it’s just hype, it’s just a fad”, I do see the same individuals saying that about the internet when it came along and so I do see this as being a very fundamental shift. And I see, and so here’s how I would bullet down Ben as far as what I’ve, I’m an outside observer of Salesforce. I have no stock in the company. I’m not an employee. I tend to tell it how I see it. And I ruffle feathers sometimes. But what I’ve equated Salesforce to pre-AI is that it was the three fundamentals of Salesforce were marketing, sales, and service. And my mantra that I always say is where you attract and retain customers, and I noticed a very insightful thing from Salesforce as they were leading up to Dreamforce and their messaging, is they started to have this equation of Data + AI + CRM. And then about a week before Dreamforce started, they added trust on the end of that. So there were four points to that equation. And knowing what I know about Marc Benioff, having studied his history, read his books, familiar with his V2MOM methodology, it in essence brings from the top down all of Salesforce into alignment very quickly. And I have not seen a company that large perform that well in getting into alignment. That informed me that this is a fundamental shift and this is more earth shattering or tectonic in nature than we realise. It seemed like just marketing buzzwords as far as Data + AI + CRM + Trust. But that is the new fundamentals and foundation of Salesforce. And so it used to be that the fundamentals of Salesforce were the three legs of the CRM table or stool, if you will. Now, CRM is one of those legs. We have data, we have AI, and we also have trust added to that. And oh, by the way, those other three legs have AI baked into them as well. And so that is the through line. That is the punch line. And that is the future starting right now. So I think that that impact for all Salesforce professionals moving forward, accept that this isn’t a fad and look at history to inform you of how you need to behave now. And what I think about a lot is if I had a time machine, if I had the magic DeLorean like back to the future, if I could go back to pre-internet, what would I do differently by what I know now? One thing I’d do differently is I’d be buying domain names, I’d be preparing for making money online, creating digital products, all these things that I couldn’t imagine back then. And so now I’m doing that now as we approach this, what I think is the start truly of the fourth industrial revolution. So that’s a long and winding answer, but I think that gives you and others a backstory into, at least from my perspective, that this is a huge shift from Salesforce and they’re bringing their employee base into alignment and this is where the thoughts are headed as far as how Salesforce will operate from a tangible perspective. So I’m asked often who should learn AI in Salesforce and I say everyone that touches Salesforce needs to because it is going to impact the back of the house and the front of the house, for those of us that deal in the setup menu and beyond and then the front of the house being those that are the end users which is a vast majority of people that touch Salesforce.
It’s a really interesting point you made around like, if you could go back to the internet days, you’d buy domain names and stuff like that. What’s the equivalent then like without giving too much away and without giving your secrets away, what’s the equivalent of things you can do now to prepare?
Mike Wheeler (16:30.146)
So anytime that there’s a slide deck, a presentation, I was watching very closely, because I know how Salesforce operates, leading up to Dreamforce every year, they have these little road shows that they do. And so they had an AI road show, Marc Benioff, basically he’s workshopping his keynote for Dreamforce. And that’s a smart thing to do. And then there’s other individuals and executives sharing slide decks, and there’s all this terminology that I’ve never either heard of or didn’t really understand and I know that if I don’t understand this, if I’ve never heard of this, other people are going to be searching for this and “oh, it might be a good idea to secure those domain names”. Now, I’m a big believer in protecting a company’s IP and intellectual property and their trademarks. You’ll never see me call myself ‘Salesforce Mike’. Now, other people have done that and in the fine print of the partner agreements are things where you’re not supposed to use the term Salesforce or Force in your name and yet I see people doing it, people to do it and that makes it a lot easier to rank in search but I digress but the point is that we can do things as far as securing domain names and then start to put some content out there to help inform, educate, and then generate leads, if you will. So some things, what I would do if I owned a partner company, if I had a consulting company, I would buy domain names around things such as datacloudconsultant.com. And then, “hey, by the way, we are a specialist with this new data cloud and fill out this, get our white paper”, whatever it may be. And so I think that there’s a lot of people that are slow to react to this. And this is history repeating itself. And I’ve seen this time and time again. And what this means for the individual listening to this, whether they are quote, unquote a thought leader or an expert, or they own a small agency, or you’re just trying to start your career, is how can you set yourself apart? And that is what is so important right now, because it is becoming a crowded space, but the good news is, as this space is getting crowded, there’s some new paths that we can go down that are not well worn. And so part of being a Trailblazer is identifying those opportunities and finding those niches for you to where you can take advantage of that. And a lot of that will be related to data cloud and AI and how all that works together.
And you’re so true to your earlier point that, you know, although being in the Salesforce world, like everyone’s talking about AI now and, you know, it’s the big thing and that’s because obviously Salesforce have addressed it at Dreamforce and prior to Dreamforce, but people outside of the tech space probably are sleeping on AI as well, a little bit. Like, you know, I spoke to someone this week that didn’t understand the powers of ChatGPT just because they’d never used it. And they just presumed it wouldn’t be able to go into as much detail or surface the kind of content that it does. So, yeah, I think because we are talking about it and because we are in the Salesforce ecosystem, we’re in a very strong position to position ourselves well for it in the future, where would you say people can go or look or where can they find content and things that are going to position them well for getting ahead of the curve with AI and how that relates to Salesforce?
Mike Wheeler (19:55.73)
So I think that’s real important to get hands on. And this is something that we talked about three, three and a half years ago when last we talked. And this was during the lockdowns of COVID. I was talking about finding something that’s essential and relevant and attainable. And I’ve talked about making your own experience and that equates to building applications, building a portfolio. And I tell you that I’ve learned so much in preparing my own courses. I mentioned that I had added AI into my Admin course, almost had to hide it from people because the sales went down as soon as they saw “oh, it’s got AI in it, I don’t need that” and then now they’re coming back around realising that they do and that’s fine, but then I’m also creating courses around prompt engineering and in doing that and learning about the depths at which you can go with prompting and creating concepts around things such as prompt silos to where you’re taking the out-of-the-box functionality or out of the cloud functionality of a ChatGPT or other large language model and in that individual chat you’re feeding it and training it you’re training a large whatever cloud and Salesforce or whatever it may be and that becomes an increasingly valuable asset to where you have your own prompt library. This is much like a Developer or a third party vendor having their own app on the AppExchange is that you would be able to hit the ground running if you have, it’s much like a code based on GitHub, but it would be a prompt library to where you have a lot of solutioning expertise and these are ways that you can learn to leverage generative AI in order to do things such as solutioning problems, giving you scenarios, giving you from idea to execution. That’s what’s so fascinating to me about this is it’d be one thing if it just told us how to execute but it also helps us ideate and come up with ideas for applications, scenarios, etc. And so I think that just getting hands-on and of course I’m going to say “buy my courses” you know but that’s but I think it’s not that’s not the answer it is looking at said, “oh, Mike’s distracted by AI” and “Mike’s distracted by ChatGPT”. I think you better believe I am because that is where the future is. And it goes so much beyond Salesforce, Salesforce and other companies. All of them have been working for years to develop AI. And that is because, and this is something we talked about three and a half years ago as well. Ben, I did revisit our podcast to remind myself of our talk. And but talking about becoming a creator in a consumption world and pre-generative AI, the whole concept was that humanity’s desire to consume content has exceeded or outpaced humanity’s ability to create it. And that’s why you saw tech executives back then telling us the line that everybody could code, okay? That’s because they were trying to generate more bodies that could code. And now they were also behind the scenes developing their AI solutions and generative was starting to come along, now post generative AI, we do have the ability to create content at scale beyond human capacity. And so now we see lines being said such as by Marc Benioff at Dreamforce just a few weeks ago. It’s not that anyone can code. He’s saying anyone can be an Einstein. That is not just happenstance. That just didn’t roll off his tongue. That is something that they’ve thought about and planned for years. And we’re just now cluing into that as individuals, so now what that means is there’s a shift of what is the greatest constraint. Our greatest constraint before this generative AI shift was human capital. Not enough people to sit in chairs and do coding, not enough ability out there, not enough hard skills. Now that has shifted to our greatest constraint being time because we can execute 10x, we can come up with ideas at 10x or more. And so now time is the greatest constraint. So that is why you see this shift happening right now where soft skills are growing by leaps and bounds in demand and the hard skills are cratering, because a lot of that can be relegated to AI and I just saw today one example that I’ll give you that just I saw today was that LinkedIn Learning is releasing an AI bot that is a career coach okay, now this has huge implications, now what they said that they were going to be coaching on was soft skills and that really caught my attention, it wasn’t teaching us Python it was teaching us communication, problem solving, collaboration, all those intangibles that we oftentimes don’t want to focus on, because we all think, “oh, I can communicate, I can problem solve, I can get along with others”. Well, can you? And that’s harder to train as well, because I can’t just tell someone, click here, and that’s the magic button to communicate better that takes actual work. And that’s where we can keep the human in the loop. And then, by the way, you hear all these buzzwords, human in the loop, bring your own model, et cetera. I’ve been buying those domain names because no one else is. So I would encourage people to pay attention to some of these buzzwords because you can, if you have assets around that, digital assets, you can turn those into your own intellectual property rather than siphoning off of some other company.
I love it. I love your forward thinking around that. And yeah, always a pleasure to talk and hear your thoughts and some really interesting things in there. If anyone wants to pick your brains further, ask any questions, where’s the best place to find you these days?
Mike Wheeler (25:35.246)
That would be on mikewheelermedia.com
Yep, awesome. Well, thanks so much. Always a pleasure and I’m sure we’ll record another in the future and it’ll be interesting to see what’s changed next time round.
Mike Wheeler (25:47.199)
Alright, look forward to it.