Talent Hub TV Episode 10 with Martin Gessner [PODCAST]

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Talent Hub is proud to introduce the tenth episode of the Talent Hub TV podcast series, and the first episode for 2019. Here, Talent Hub Director, Ben Duncombe meets respected Salesforce professionals and thought leaders to learn more about their fascinating stories and industry insights.

This month’s guest, Martin GessnerSalesforce Solution Architect and founder of Focus on Force, joins Ben to share the path of his own Salesforce career and how it led him to launch his own business. Focus on Force has gone on to assist tens of thousands of students across the globe to pass a host of Salesforce certifications to date. He shares his thoughts on the evolution of the Salesforce platform, the future of the market, and his advice for those taking their first initial steps into the industry.

Focus on Force is a platform designed to help Salesforce professionals learn more about Salesforce, develop their career and prepare for certifications through effective study guides and practice exams. 

Talent Hub Director, Ben Duncombe asks Martin for his views on how best to approach preparing for a Salesforce certification, the evolution of Trailhead, his thoughts on recent Salesforce acquisitions and the future direction of the technology.

We were thrilled to get the chance to talk with Martin having heard consistent enthusiastic feedback regarding success achieved through the study guides and practice exams, from our own networks and social channels.

This inspiring and educational podcast is one not to be missed, and if you’d prefer to read this insightful episode, you can find the transcribe below.

Ben: Welcome to Episode 10 of Talent Hub TV, we’re here with Martin Gessner today, and we’re going to be talking about his career in Salesforce, and Focus on Force, a business that he’s set up to help more people through their Salesforce certification process and get their first step into the Salesforce world. So welcome Martin.

Martin: Thank you.

Ben: So, as I mentioned we’ll be talking about your career and now the new business that you’ve set up recently so, to go back to the beginning, let’s talk a bit about your career before Salesforce and what you did, and then how you transitioned that into the Salesforce world.

Martin: So, I’ve been involved in I.T for probably over 20 years and quite early on I got involved in CRM projects, so quite a few years ago, so we’re talking Siebel CRM, and SAP CRM. SAP had something called Mobile Sales, so I was involved in quite a few projects over the years, both in Australia and internationally, contracting in different roles, so basically rolling out those types of projects, to help to support sales teams and service, and then I was working for a company that had a different CRM and started rolling out Salesforce globally, so then they started to look at rolling it out in Australia as well.

Ben: And when was that?

Martin: That was back in 2010 I think was the first time that I started to work across Salesforce.

Ben: Ok, so you were one of the people who kind of fell into the Salesforce world through a company doing implementation?

Martin: Yes, exactly, and it was that particular example where the company decided to roll it out globally and then it kind of trickled down from the global level to the regional level, down to Australia.

Ben: Sure, ok, so obviously you’ve been in the market for quite a while, what roles have you performed specific to the Salesforce industry since taking that first step into the market?

Martin: The first role I had was as a Project Manager, so we were rolling out a local implementation of a local template, and then moving on from there, I had some contract roles as a consultant, so some large organisations here in Australia implementing Salesforce. I worked for a Salesforce consulting company for a number of years, and when you work for a consulting company you basically have, depending on the project, a number of different roles, you could be more like a business analyst, you could be a technical consultant, you could be a functional consultant, and solution design, so you really need to be flexible when you’re working for a consulting company, depending on the needs of the project, but I’ve pretty much stayed more on the functional side than the technical side.

Ben: Have you ever dabbled in any code?

Martin: A little bit, as needed, but there’s always been a team of people to support and I haven’t really gone too deeply into the development side of things.

Ben: Ok so over the years, what have you enjoyed about working on Salesforce projects?

Martin: I think the main thing is that you can basically spin up an org very quickly and you can get a handle on requirements and you can actually demonstrate prototype or demonstrate something very quickly. You can start from scratch, you can configure, you can use App Exchange apps and in a matter of days you can basically go back and show the business something that gives them an idea of how Salesforce could support their processes or solve a problem.

Ben: Which must have been quite a shock coming from SAP or Siebel into Salesforce because I imagine it’s very different in those bulkier systems?

Martin: Yeah exactly, so in those days, you know, we’re talking about on-premise systems, and then you have all the challenges of configuring something on-premise and the time to get something actually done was a lot more, whereas these days it’s very quick.

Ben: Sure, so the Salesforce market has evolved so much and we’re seeing so many people coming into the market now and it’s such a hot market, that a lot of people see it for what it is now, but not necessarily what it once was. So you’ve been in the market a long time, how has the Salesforce platform evolved in that time, what’s changed?

Martin: I think it’s just continued to grow over the years in terms of the breadth of functionality that it covers, so when I first started working with it, it was mainly sales functionality, it was mainly Sales Cloud and starting to get into Service Cloud, and over the years through all the acquisitions, Salesforce has basically expanded that functionality and now they have a world class Service Cloud offering. It was pretty basic right at the beginning, so you know, obviously they continued to invest in Sales Cloud, they’ve got Service Cloud, they’ve got Marketing Cloud, and all the other niche parts of the Salesforce world, CPQ, Field Service Lightning now is a very fast growing part of the business, so it really has it’s expanded into a lot of niche areas, and one of the recent acquisitions with Mulesoft now positions Salesforce as a company that really can help with systems which are in the cloud, but also for large organisations that have a lot of on-premise systems still, so they’re right in that ball game now of being the provider of integration services as well as on cloud and Saas solutions.

Ben: Sure, and did you see that growth way back when first started, did you predict that it would be the solution that it is today?

Martin: No I don’t think anyone could have predicted how quickly and how fast and how wide the growth was, it’s just been amazing to watch.

Ben: And it shows no signs of slowing down, hey?

Martin: No not at all.

Ben: So now you’re not working in consulting, or you’re not necessarily performing a delivery role right now, you set up a while ago, but you’re now full-time with Focus on Force, so could you tell us a bit about that business?

Martin: Yes, so that business, basically we help people prepare for Salesforce certifications, we’re offering study guides and practice exams, right now we cover eight certifications, and it’s really something that grew out of a need that I saw when I was first studying for certifications all those years ago, maybe eight years ago when I did my Admin certification and so I thought it would be useful to have something that would help me study so I basically put down my notes as I went through the different topics you need to know and then I thought as well as having those notes and having a summary of knowledge it would also to be able to test myself so that’s where the idea came from basically, to be able to package something together that would help provide summary of what you need to know, and also an opportunity to be able to test yourself. And not just test yourself, but be able to learn from the questions so we’ve been very careful around creating questions that are really helpful so the why’s behind the questions so it’s not just the right and wrong answer, it gives you an explanation, a lot of time it gives you a screenshot so it helps you to think about why is this question correct or not correct, and we also encourage people to go in and recreate those scenarios in their own orgs.

Ben: Sure.

Martin: To really get some learning experience, testing themselves. So initially, it was a tool for yourself, and then I guess you helped some people around you, and people that you work with, and then the business formed from there?

Martin: Yeah, pretty much, it started when I was working for a consulting company I started a blog and I blogged about the learnings that I had on projects, and then as I started to do the certifications as well, and I put those notes together, and I started to think about questions and I put some sample questions on the site and it started to become popular and so I packaged that up and that was something that became popular, people started to ask for the next one and the next one, and it flowed from there.

Ben: So what’s the underlying goal, what’s the vision for Focus on Force?

Martin: So right now we’re concentrating mainly on certifications, but the overall goal is really just to help people learn the platform. You know, Trailhead is fantastic as a self-study tool, but what we’re trying to do is just give an additional learning opportunity for people so there are two parts to it. One is to package up that knowledge, and to help people sort of understand what’s expected in the different parts of the certification, and then on the other hand the learning part, so even though right now we’re focused on certifications we’re also looking at expanding the old app to more general Salesforce training. You know, right now the options if you want to do Salesforce training, you can go into a classroom to learn Salesforce and that’s quite expensive, and that’s not an option for everyone, so, and you can do the self-study on Trailhead which is great as well but it misses the interactive part so what we’ve got at the moment with our offering is, we have forums so if people have questions just generally about the certification process, or questions about questions, something that they don’t understand, then we actually reply to them in the forums to help people learn, but we also see an opportunity to expand beyond certifications, so general Salesforce training, it could be Admin, it could be the other aspects of Salesforce that are becoming popular, like flows and process builder, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity just help people and to provide more of an interactive envrionment to answer people’s questions, and go beyond the Trailhead, which is great but it doesn’t obviously give you any opportunity to clarify things, and ask questions.

Ben: Yeah, for sure, so has training always been a passion of yours?

Martin: Yeah I think I’ve always been interested in training and explaining things, one of the things we’re concentrating on at the moment is improving our materials to make them look a bit more visually appealing, so that if you need to learn about a topic, or a refresh of a topic that we’ve got a lot of overview diagrams already, but we’re looking to add to that and to get make it visually more attractive so that you can look at something, have a snapshot and get an idea of what it’s about. I think the challenge with Salesforce is that it’s just become so wide and there’s just so much functionality and in a lot of company’s you might not be using all of that functionality so it’s a bit of a challenge to do a certification. Like on Service Cloud if your company mainly uses Sales Cloud, so that’s where we try to either help people learn those concepts or refresh those concepts if they haven’t used them for a while.

Ben: Sure, okay and I find it amazing looking on LinkedIn, I’m regularly seeing people tagging you all over the world, thanking you for the courses and so on, so how many people do you think now that you’ve helped on their certification path to date?

Martin: So I think over the years, we started about four or five years ago. So over the years, it’s tens of thousands of people now.

Ben: It’s crazy.

Martin: Yeah, so it is popular and it has been well received, and when people use it for the first time they find it valuable, they find it helpful, so then they’ll come back and they’ll use it for the next one as well.

Ben: Yeah and the feedback we’ve had, we always direct people to the platform if they’re going on that certification journey, and the feedback we get is that it’s really helpful, and I’ve used it myself and it’s the most similar I found to the actual certification questions from all of the options online, yeah, for me it’s a great platform. So for people looking to move into the Salesforce world now, what do you think is the biggest challenge for a newbie in the market?

Martin: I think some of the challenges are that obviously, Salesforce has three new releases a year and so it’s quite hard to keep up with basically what’s the latest functionality and you know, as we said before, it’s just the functionality it so wide now and so picking a starting point is also quite hard as well now. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg, you need some experience to get a role and without that experience, you find it hard to actually get an opportunity. So, a lot of people do, they build Trailheads, they might get certified, but it’s kind of getting that first foot in the door and you know, a lot of people, they look at volunteering opportunities, and I think they’re great. The other thing that I suggest to people is just to build some things out yourself that you can demo.

Ben: So just in a developer org?

Martin: Yeah, just get a developer org and if you are going for a role, have that up your sleeve to say, well, I’ve got certifications, I’ve got knowledge, I’ve got Trailheads, but also here’s something that I’ve configured myself to demonstrate my capabilities.

Ben: Yeah, really it makes sense, and you know, that’s something that, it’s proof right, I’ve done this, this is something I’ve done myself, and this is the outcome, people can’t say that you can’t do it because you’ve shown that you have.

Martin: And I think it’s quite, you know it’s an amazing environment that Salesforce gives to people, they give free training through Trailhead, and they give the free developer orgs, so really you know, it’s up to your own abilities and your own discipline to basically do that, and go through that learning, and there’s nothing stopping you to get to the point where you can build up that knowledge and skill yourself and demonstrate to somebody, say look, I’ve built this myself and I think that’s something that’s quite unique. In the I.T world a lot of other vendors aren’t going to give you that free training, they’re not going to give you that access to nearly all the platform features for free, and go away and say, make what you can out of it.

Ben: Yeah, I mean, there really is not excuse, if you want a career in Salesforce, there’s all of the tools there to help you on that journey, and like you said, it’s unique, I know of no other platform that gives you that, it’s amazing. And you’ve seen a lot of growth and evolution of the platform, how do you see it evolving from here?

Martin: I think, so obviously, I was quite amazed when I went to Dreamforce they asked the Einstein team to stand up and I was just amazed at the size of that team, so you know, Salesforce, obviously they see AI and that side of things as a huge part of their future and the way that they differentiate themselves from other vendors. So building in Einstein and building in AI and all of that into all the products to make them more intelligent and to give you predictions and basically act as your assistant and mine the data and actually get some insights out of that data, is a huge direction and huge part of where Salesforce is putting it’s investment.

Ben: Yeah, for sure.

Martin: So obviously there’s the Wave and there’s the analytics component of Salesforce that is stand alone but is starting to get integrated more into the standard product. And then building Einstein as well, and some of the features like prediction builder where you can actually go and look at your data and make predictions from what you’ve got there. So I think that’s one direction that I can see the platform going, and I can’t see it slowing down.

Ben: Exciting times.

Martin: Yeah, and I think also voice and getting away from having to interact with the system in a traditional way with a keyboard, having the voice assistant and being able to interact with Salesforce in other ways is quite exciting as well, so you’ll be able to just you know, talk to Salesforce and ask you know, what is the sales forecast and what is the prediction for the sales forecast, or ask different questions, where you’ll actually get some sort of intelligent insight.

Ben: Yeah, for sure it’s crazy. So we spoke a bit about Trailhead, it’s an amazing platform but what impact do you think that has had on certifications?

Martin: I think that Trailhead has had an impact on the certifications in that they have actually started creating Trailmixes that are specific for the certifications, so it really helps people. Previously the Trailheads were great, you could run through them all, there were Admin Trailheads, and you could do all of those in preparation for an Admin certification, but I think with Salesforce now becoming more focused, giving people a bit more direction and so there could be a Service Cloud Trailmix just for the Service Cloud certification, so it basically gives you a path to follow, and instead of having that whole huge list of Trailheads you know more what you should be going through, and then, you know as we’ve said, Trailhead is great because it kind of gives you the exercises, gives you the knowledge, gives you the topics that are going to be part of that certification, and you can work through that, and I always say to people that, you know, you shouldn’t just rely on one method, and our packages are great for revision, for learning, for having a concise summary for having interactive sort of questions, but you should combine that with Trailhead, and you should combine that with your own work in your own dev org to actually get practical experience and recreate scenarios, and you’ve got some of that in Trailheads but you should also do more yourself, and ideally you’re combining that with your own work experience as well. So it’s quite hard for some of the certifications to do them if you haven’t had practical experience. Admin, you could probably get by, but once you start to get into other ones like Service Cloud, it’s very difficult if you haven’t worked on those sort of environments in actual projects. It’s possible, but you’ve just got to do more work and the overall goal I think of Salesforce and certifying people is to actually to be able to recognise people that have got knowledge but also the skill in that area, and the skill comes from you know, the experience, hopefully in an actual project environment.

Ben: Yeah because I think we see a lot of people who get a cert and think, great, I’m now a Salesforce professional, but there’s a lot more to it than that, and people need to be aware of when they’re entering the space, the cert is very helpful and definitely studying towards it and going through your material and exercises really helps, but you also need some sort of practical experience to really validate that you do know what you’re doing. What’s the best piece of advice you would give to someone now looking to start their Salesforce career?

Martin: I think it would be that you should think about where you want to go and what your career path is, so when I started all those years ago, it was quite easy just to be a Salesforce consultant, and be across all of the functionality, and be across how to configure in Salesforce, and there was very limited development options available. But now, it’s just expanded so far, but I think the starting point is to decide, do you want to follow a functional career path or a development career path? It’s pretty hard to really be a master of both of those, they are different skills, so, deciding what your strengths are, what your interests are, would you prefer to do business analysis, workshops, and defining requirements and doing work on the configuration side or do you prefer to actually get hands-on with coding and follow a technical career path where you’re going to be becoming an expert in Apex and Visualforce and Lightning, and Javascript, now with the new sort of developments with Lightning components, so do you want to follow more of that path and go from being a Developer and maybe Senior Developer, and then Team Leader. And there’s also the question around do you want to stay more of an end user, or do you want to go into a consulting role, and they’re very different as well, obviously, and need different skills. And then finally I would say that I think that it would be an advantage these days to, become an expert in one particular area, because as we said, it’s so wide if you can demonstrate that you’re an expert in CPQ for example, that would go a long way. If you’re an expert in Field Service Lightning, if you’re the Lightning component guru, if you can demonstrate that you’re really up to date and specialised, and you know everything that’s going on in one particular area that would make you stand out as well and that would be really useful I think going forward.

Ben: Yeah, I think there’s enough opportunity in the market to now be a specialist in a vertical rather than being a broad Salesforce specialist, and I think that’s something we’ll see more of as the market continues to grow, so yeah I completely agree with that. Thank you so much for coming on the show, I think the platform is doing a great thing for people on their journey and we hear really good things about it and we will continue to recommend it to our audience that are going through that certification path. So we’ll add your details and people can find you from there, and thanks very much.

Martin: Okay, no problem, thank you.

Find out more about how Focus on Force could support you on your Salesforce journey, no matter where you are in the world.

Website: Focus on Force


You can follow Martin on LinkedIn for updates and content.

If you’d like to watch inspiring People on Force videos from those who have benefitted from the platform, you can find them alongside a selection of insightful blogs here.

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