In today’s episode, we’re joined by the creator of the Salesforce training platform that has helped over 110,000 students become Salesforce certified, Mike Wheeler.
Mike, who is based in the USA, has previously held various Salesforce roles himself, before using his talents to help others and we were fascinated to hear how he first became a part of the Salesforce ecosystem, and how the idea first sparked to move specifically into Salesforce training.
He shares his insight on the market, given his tenure in the ecosystem, and where he sees the most demand currently. We discuss how people can prepare themselves for roles and be well placed for success, given the growth that Salesforce is forecasting in what Mike calls, the ‘grand reopening’, and harness the idea of shaping an ‘experience’ to get ahead.
Mike explains the non-technical skills that companies typically look for, and we discuss the claim that you don’t need to be technical to excel at a career within the Salesforce space. Is it really true? We enjoyed hearing success stories that Mike shares on the podcast of students using his platform, and the plans he has for the future to provide even more value to students as they discover the world of Salesforce and develop further in their careers.
Make sure you’re following Mike on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/company/mikewheelermedia/ and check out https://mikewheelermedia.com/ to find out how you can benefit from his resources. We hope that you enjoy the episode!
Ben: Mike, thanks so much for coming on the show, we’re obviously a long way apart today but it’s great to be able to use technology and get you in for a chat
Mike: Yes, thank you I’m excited to be here
Ben: I think a lot of our listeners already will know who you are, I think your personal brand and the value you have added personally to the Salesforce ecosystem is well known. I guess what a lot of people might not know is that your journey up until this point, so I’m keen to discuss that a little bit. So what was your career before Salesforce?
Mike: So I’ve done several different things in the past, primarily my career was in technical writing and I spent about 15 years writing manuals and learning systems quickly. I used to joke that I would write the manuals that no one would read basically, and I also became familiar with building out websites using WordPress. Back when I guess the internet was first born, I remember learning HTML and building static websites, that sort of thing. And then around 2009 time, I got involved in affiliate marketing, launched some websites. I was behind some kind of viral hits, related to the Snuggie that would be snuggiesightings.com and snuggiepugcrawls.com, so I’ve done a lot of different things. And then after the wave of the Snuggie kind of died down, I was in a Barnes & Noble bookstore where I was perusing the technology aisle, and I was always looking for some technology that would enable me to quickly and easily create something much like WordPress did back when Snuggie was at its zenith. And I think this was about 2011, I discovered a book about Salesforce and developing on the platform and it just really clicked with me. I saw the demand and how approachable it was and it just made sense for me, so I did a career pivot at that point and went all in with pursuing getting certified, and then getting a job. So that’s how that played out.
Ben: And at that point, when you say you went all in on getting certified what was available at that point to kind of help you with that journey of getting certified?
Mike: Not a lot. I had that book that I purchased at the bookstore and then at that time Salesforce did have on iTunes, replays of one of their, back then it was the Developer certification, the Dev 401 certification. They had replays of that available on iTunes. They’ve long since taken that down and retired that certification as well, but that was the primary resource. And then they also had some workbooks, so I was just really scrounging whatever I could find. This is before Trailhead, before courses like mine existed so I was just doing a lot of searching and did a lot of just building on the platform to figure things out.
Ben: Sure, and then obviously you got certified and started your career in Salesforce. So what did that look like before the the training business came along?
Mike: So how that looked was I pursued that Developer certification and failed the first time, and that was a really good and learning experience because that showed me some of my gaps and areas I needed to improve. And then back then as well, they didn’t give you the section level feedback or the knowledge area scores. It was just a singular word ‘fail’ and that’s where I learned to kind of record my thoughts after a test, and try to remember what was on the exam. I call that a brain dump, and then just really addressing my weak areas, in order to improve, and then pass the second time. So then once I passed the certification, I also happened to be in a technical writing job that I was able to do, what I call ‘growing where I was planted’. I usually tell people to do one of two things – grow where you’re planted and or make your own experience. So I was in a tech writing job for a software company that was using Salesforce Service Cloud for their support tickets for their users. And so I kind of volunteered to raise my hand – expressed an interest in Salesforce, and had the opportunity to start sitting in on some of the meetings that they were having with their implementation or their partner company and started to be involved with some of the requirements gathering. I was enabled to be an Admin while being a Technical Writer, and started to be able to build a few solutions, just enough to put something on my resume to then go to town with updating my LinkedIn profile, going on interviews and was able to pivot into landing a job within a month as a Salesforce Developer.
Ben: Okay, and at that point was the the market busy? Was there high demand for people like yourself back then?
Mike: There was high demand back then, and I remember, and this was, I think by the time I got certified, July 22nd 2012. It’s a date that lives in infamy in my own life because I knew that my life had changed fundamentally at that point. Little did I realize how much it would change. If I had known then I probably would have just passed out, but it was an emotional moment though when I passed the exam. But back then at that time, the demand was intense and I remember talking with other Salesforce professionals at that time, either in the job that I landed or in User Groups or Community Groups back then, and we’re kind of talking amongst ourselves like ‘how long is this going to last’ and ‘can this be, really this good this demand?’ and I can only say that from my own experience, it’s only just increased since then. I’ve not seen it slow down. Now I know we’re in kind of an unusual situation now with Coronavirus and COVID-19 and so I’m sure you’re seeing a lot about people in the recruitment space, but up until that point and up until, you know, recently, when I’ve been involved and kept my profile up to date from a job seeker perspective, definitely had no problem finding work.
Ben: Yes, and I completely agree. I got into the market in 2015/2014, and it’s just continued to grow and you know, the demand has kind of never slowed down. But we are in a funny period, so it will be interesting to see how we come out the other side of this. So you were a Developer, and obviously you’ve got a technical writing background. Did you always, when you were on the tools, were you always playing a Developer role?
Mike: I’ve done a lot of different roles, and I’m more looking back now, I fancy myself a Developer and then I raised my oldest son to be a Developer and he’s just far exceeded my abilities with coding. I’m a quasi coder more of a kind of in-between Admin Developer Consultant. So I’ve done Administrative work, I’ve done Developer work, and Consultant work, now training – so I’ve filled a lot of different roles on projects
Ben: Yes nice, and then obviously you’re famous for the training business. So how did that come to be? What was the the kind of plan behind that?
Mike: So there was no plan behind it. I had a friend that emailed about a large cell on the Udemy platform and I checked it out. And I kind of on impulse, bought a bunch of courses. And I’m one to not spend money online because I can figure stuff out usually. I’m like “oh I don’t need to, I’ll just look it up, I’ll Google it” and so then I took a step back I thought, “wait a minute.” They were really good at positioning having offerings that caused me – someone that doesn’t buy courses – to buy courses online. So I thought, “well they’re doing something right” and as an entrepreneur, and having done some things online previously, promoting the Snuggie and doing affiliate marketing and all that craziness, I quickly looked to see what was out there on the Udemy platform related to Salesforce. And there was nothing then that was geared towards the Admin certification, and so I tend to think, and this is kind of from my tech writing background, and it was always pounded into my head as a beginning Tech Writer 15/20 years ago. however long ago it was now, I’ve lost track – was to assume no prior knowledge and to be approachable and not talk down to people. And so I knew that the Admin certification is where the vast majority of people get their start, and there was nothing. There was like this glaring void in the marketplace. And it did remind me of prior to that when I was creating these websites around the Snuggie. I know, it’s like how does Snuggie and Salesforce life meet? I still have a lot of them in my closet. But I remember when the Snuggie first started coming along, there was this glaring void in the marketplace. There was no website to where you could post photos of either yourself or others wearing a Snuggie in public, and I just knew that people would wear these in public. Little did I realize how much they would do it, and so I created you know, that website so it was kind of like history repeating itself when I was on the Udemy platform. This is long before I even began to think about creating my own platform or anything like that. This was, you know, really early and I just thought you know, what I’m going to create a course just geared specifically to the Admin certification and just forced it on the world and see if anyone notices. I knew that my sons could do the editing and filming and it was kind of like the perfect storm.
Ben: So you had the the training background you had the Salesforce knowledge and you had that entrepreneurial mindset and marketing slant. That kind of, and a lot of people would have missed that opportunity, but you kind of jumped on that and look at you now? So how did that, when you launched the Admin course, how much demand was there at that point and how have you seen the demand for various Salesforce courses grow and then how do you keep up with that growth?
Mike: Okay great question. So there was a lot of unmet demand and it’s kind of hard to kind of quantify, but the conversion rates like when you sign up as an instructor on the Udemy platform, they reveal to you through their marketplace insights, they have tools that reveal what the average conversion rate is on different topics. So I was, you know, poking around in there, and it looked like there wasn’t much demand because the conversion rate was low. But what that meant was, what I didn’t realize at the time was, there wasn’t a suitable offering at that time to fill that need, and so the conversion rate was low because people aren’t finding what they’re looking for. So I entered that space and then there were several other people since then that have copied me of course, so now if you look at those topics, conversion rates have gone from like three or four percent to like 20 which is astronomical really. So that demand has increased and I think that it’s interesting, because now I’ve got this audience of over 100,000 students and many have gone on to just these huge heights as far as being well more certified than I’ll ever dream of being. But there’s a lot of demand for other certification courses or things specific to newer things like Salesforce DX or Lightning Component Development and various certifications like CPQ, Field Service Lightning, you know, I think in an ideal world I would go about getting every certification and doing a course on it, but right now I’m finding my sweet spot is like, the primary five that I have courses on, and then just working on keeping those up to date in some form or fashion. So yes, you can’t spread yourself too thinly, right? Because you need the people to to get real value from the depth of the course as well, rather than just a little touch point on each.
Ben: And another question that has just come to mind is you must have seen the over the years there’s been a growth in the demand of people asking for dumps as well. So like, completely the wrong thing to be doing. And it’s pretty obvious to me, but people still do it. Why is it better just to spend the investment in your course, rather than getting these dumps that people are still looking for?
Mike: I see dumps as a shortcut, and you know, if you want to be technical about it, it is violating Salesforce’s intellectual property and as a course creator, and I’ve done video courses and I’ve done practice test courses. I take great pains to not have any of my questions or any of my teaching be just word for word, what was on the exam. I’m out there preaching this mantra to the masses, to learn the concepts and that’s what I try to do, is to convey the concepts. I have students that reach out, and they talk about how stressful the exam was, or how maybe they may have failed and how they just want to give up, and that is a good preparation for the real world. Going through my coursework where I provide contextually why you would do these things, and when you would do them and not just the how it’s easy to say “click here, do this, do that”, but, so what at the end of the day, if you don’t know why and when, who cares. And so that’s what I try to provide, so resorting to using dumps produces non-tech. It doesn’t take any talent first of all, and then it produces non-talented professionals competing against those that have put in the work. I could go on and on, I’ve seen Salesforce have to take down certifications because of dumps that have been online. I remember the Developer one had to be pulled for months and that kept professionals from being able to pursue that, because there were exact copies online and so it’s a shortcut and you’ll be found out at some point. Now I get that people want to go ahead and take that shortcut and think “well, I’ll fake it till I make it”, but going through the process of actually learning the concepts will not only prepare you for the exam, but also for the job as well, so it goes hand in hand. So yes, dumps are a scourge on society in the Salesforce ecosystem.
Ben: Yes, agreed, and one thing I really like about and what you push is, like you said make your own experience. I’m a big fan of Trailhead, but what I find so ever since COVID, I’ve been opening up my calendar for people just to lock in some time, let’s have a chat and how can I help, and a lot of people think I’m just going to keep doing Trailhead badges, I’m just going to keep doing Trailhead badges. myTrailhead is great, but it also tells you what to do. And what I’ve been pushing people to do is make your own experience, like you say. If you’re applying for roles, build something in Salesforce where you can track your applications, use something that you could take to an interview and show someone, this is what I’ve built and that you don’t get that with Trailhead. So I think that’s a real key thing as well, not just knowing what to d,o but why you’re doing it right?
Mike: Yes, I’m a big fan of Trailhead personally, and I’ve watched it be developed over time since its inception. I remember Salesforce University before Trailhead, and then them migrating all that into Trailhead as well and converting all their books and workbooks, and everything is Trailhead now. I know there’s a lot of people out there that like collecting badges and points, and I don’t know how many badges I have, or how many points I have. A lot of people out there probably have a lot more than I do. I do hit Trailhead if there’s something specific that I’m looking for, and I do assign Trailhead in some of my coursework as far as for supplemental material. I’ve created my own Trailmix as well, it’s my own take on what I think you need to know in order to pass, for example, the Admin certification. So I think there’s a lot of value there, and it’s interesting to see how team Trailhead is responding to what’s going on in the online learning space. because I see them with their Trailheadgo application, starting to migrate into some live sessions as well, and to try to do some more video content. And that is also a glaring void that I saw when they came around. There was not a lot there around video, and they’re starting to do some of that. But the common thing that I receive from students that I see out there – I’ve got a Facebook student group of about 8,500 students that are in a group and a common thing, is that people that are new – they like Trailhead but they don’t know what their path is, and you know, one of the common questions is “well, why would I pay money for one of Mike’s courses when it’s all on Youtube and Trailhead?” Valid point. Part of that is that I’m kind of curated a path, and suggested a path for you to follow, as far as different milestones. There is some value to that, and that’s borne out with the number of students in the reviews, and you know, I don’t make any illusions of competing against Trailhead. I think that I look at them or hopefully they look at me, as a strategic partner rather than a competitor. I look at them as the big fish and I’m just a guppy, you know, so I’m just trying to add more value and that’s always what I’ve done, prior to even Salesforce. That’s what I did in the Snuggie universe, was all-star marketing with their amazing product that was really goofy and funny and I just kind of helped it go more viral. So the biggest threat to Salesforce was and I think still relates even now, is the lack of humans to fill roles. And so I’ve always been out there evangelizing for Salesforce, trying to bring in new people into the fold, not just being a barnacle on their ship, and just trying to suck what I can. I don’t want to be a parasite, I want to add value and let make people aware – friends and family, and those that I know. And you know, even my son is a Salesforce Developer, and I’ve got other sons that may be going down that path. But you can ask my friends from five years ago and I was always bugging them about how they need to learn Salesforce.
Ben: I think that we all agree Trailhead is great, but I think it’s good that people have options, right? If people prefer learning through video and through a guided course like yours, then great – and other people won’t want to put the cost into a course and Trailhead is great, and it’s good that people have different options and different routes to go down. Your point around the the demand in the market and the people not having enough people leads me on nicely to the next question, because there’s a lot of marketing in the space around how many jobs Salesforce was creating in the ecosystem. So I think people are aware of that and are kind of coming across and seeing that there’s opportunity here. So there’s two questions that I think come come off the back of that. What can people be doing now to make sure that they’re well placed? Let’s put COVID-19 to one side, and when things start spiking again, how can you make sure you’re well placed for these opportunities? And do you have to be technical to start your Salesforce journey? And I know I already know the answer to that, but some people still kind of doubt that that’s the truth.
Mike: Okay awesome. So if we put COVID-19 aside and just talk about once things are back, which I think we will move on quickly – that’s a good point and I can speak to what to do even during COVID-19 – but after we come out of this – the ‘grand reopening’ is what I’m going to call it – everything rebounds. I think things that you can do is make your own experience, build a portfolio of apps and that will help prepare you for the exam and also prepare you for the interview room. Because I relate it to having stories to tell, much like in this interview. If I’d never done anything about Salesforce and you started asking me about it, it would be a really awkward interview. Much the same if I were interviewing for a job, I want to have stories that I can tell. You’re a storyteller as an interviewee, and so when people ask you, “what’s the most challenging thing you’ve done on the platform” or “tell me something you’ve built on the platform” you want to have something to say. You can’t point to your Trailhead badges or your points or “hey I’m a Ranger”, they don’t care about that. They want to see either printouts, or you pull it up on your phone or an ipad or have them log into your instance if you’ve had the forethought to give them a guest account. Something like that will speak volumes. And it could be something simple, like a mileage tracker application, and so making your own experience, building apps, building out a portfolio and then not just attaining the Admin certification, but then doing the “now what” or “what’s next” and so a few I guess things that I would advise.. I’ve got articles out there, and you can just Google “Mike Wheeler, charting your path”, that will lead you to an article that I wrote about what certifications are important to specifically partner companies. Now there’s three types of Salesforce employers, they’re Salesforce themselves, there’s Salesforce partner companies, and there’s Salesforce customers. So if you’re interested in a partner company, which I think is a great place to land, then check out that article because I go into which certifications are valuable to those companies. And then there was the other question about do you need to be technical? Absolutely not. I think a lot of people have the impression that I’m highly technical. I’m not highly technical. I know people that are highly technical, that’s the reason why Salesforce appealed to me, because I had tried to learn Java, I tried to learn Ruby on Rails. I have books on my bookshelf right there with the bookmarks that kind of stand testament as to where I hit my head on the wall as far as not being able to get through to the other side and be able to compete in those realms. I was a just an average, mediocre Developer. So I found that through clicks instead of code and taking some of my consulting background and just communication skills, there’s a wealth of opportunities around. Project management, business analysis consultant as well, so you don’t have to be technical at all to succeed in the ecosystem.
Ben: And have you seen that, like you’ve got a big audience right, you’ve you’ve trained over 110,000 people you’ve got 8,500 people in a Facebook group. Are there some standard examples of people that aren’t technical that have gone on to to be technical?
Mike: Great question. I was thinking of this when I was talking earlier about make your own experience, and I think the ultimate example is a lady named Stephanie Rhodes. When I met Stephanie – this is a few years ago – I used her as a case study and an example of someone that made her own experience, and I interviewed her, and you can find the interviews on my Youtube channel. For her at the time, I think she was 68 or 69 years old and she doesn’t mind me mentioning her age because that’s part of her own personal brand, and she came out of retirement and was hired by a Fortune 500 company as a Salesforce Administrator. And she’s still going strong. I saw her on LinkedIn posting about her two year anniversary, and she’s now 70 or 70 plus, and she was talking about these huge deployments she was doing, so we’ve kept in touch kind of behind the scenes a little bit too. So Stephanie, if you’re watching, I’m thinking of you right now, and using you as an example. But she was someone that was retired for years, and decided to kind of come off the bench, and come contribute some more, and she’s a great example. Besides myself, I think she’s an even better, more inspiring example – someone that’s non-technical that landed a job in the ecosystem.
Ben: That’s amazing. I hadn’t heard that one. There are some amazing stories out there, that’s definitely one of them. Just on your point about building your own experiences, and I don’t want to drag on about that point, but it is really important, and I think the the key is, if you have an interview coming up on Friday this week, it’s too late. Well it’s not too late, but you’ve left it really late to start building your own experience, right? What you need to do is plan for interviews that are coming up in three months time, and then you have got a full portfolio. It’s not just about like a couple of little bits of work that you do, it’s about building something that you can show a suite of different pieces of experience to a customer, and get them to buy, and this person is passionate, they think outside the box and they can actually do the job they’re applying for. I think that’s the key. And because a lot of people kind of leave it last minute, and then try and run around to build something in a couple of days, that isn’t going to really showcase their skills.
Mike: I think that’s a very great point, and this is kind of touching on this, another, I guess, mantra that I have that I’ve kind of talked privately, even before Salesforce and kind of instilled in my own kids. And now I’m starting to speak more publicly about it, is this idea of becoming a creator in a consumption world. The idea behind that is that most people in our society just want to consume content and if you want to succeed especially in the economy of now, you need to learn how to become a creator in this consumption society, and that’s why Salesforce resonated with me. That’s why prior to Salesforce, WordPress resonated with me, and a few other tools since then and before then as well. I could go on and on, and anytime I find a tool that enables me to create something that that peaks my interest. And so with Salesforce, it is a tool that enables you to be a creator in a consumption world, and so when you’re talking about just cramming three days before an interview, how much better to have been working and leading up to that for months prior. It’s kind of the old saying “when’s the best time to plant a tree? Well it was 20 years ago. The second best time is right now” and if you do have an interview those of you that are watching this, if you have an interview on Friday, go ahead and cram and get started. You may not get hired but that will be some groundwork that you’re laying and just always be creating, you know. And I think that that’s something that I believe at my core, that’s something that I think, I walk out and exemplify what I’m doing, I’m always creating new content. If you watch what I do online, I’m out there creating new stuff. Some of it’s a hit, some of it’s a flop, but you don’t know until you try, you know? And so I would encourage people to be building out their portfolio and giving it enough time to add some complexity, and you know, if you were to look at – like if I were to look at what all I had built now four or five years ago when I was starting this journey teaching online – I would have been overwhelmed, but it wasn’t built in a day. It was built day by day over the span of four or five years.
Ben: That’s such that’s such a great point. You don’t have to think of the end goal, it’s like what can I do every day to make myself better and create something that I can really be proud of right? So the the market obviously COVID-19 aside, it’s continued to grow and the demand grows and grows, and so where are you seeing a lot of people are interested in learning new areas of Salesforce? You’ve mentioned CPQ, Field Services, are they the kind of sweet spots at the moment that you’re seeing?
Mike: I would say for non-Developers, if you want to be marketable and stand out then Field Service Lightning and or CPQ – Configure Price Quote – would be two logical places. I think that Field Service Lightning lends itself towards health care and logistics, which are two that are very much essential. And my mind right now is around what is essential and how does Salesforce fit into that? There’s some areas that are really going strong and so prior to all this those were two that I had some requests for, but I think that really Field Service Lightning. I remember this is probably about a year ago now, but you can go back or look this up – Marc Benioff mentioned in one of his earnings calls. They have their quarterly earnings calls and those are very insightful for you Salesforce people – I encourage you to check those out, and not just listen to the fluff and the marketing message, but they actually have specifics on which clouds and industries are growing the most. And what caught my attention about Field Service Lighting was it was their fastest growing cloud offering in the history of their company. Now to get that certification, you’ve got to have Admin and Service Cloud Consultant, but if you go that route, that can make you very marketable for those that are in the Field Service space, so I think that that’s one that has legs and can set you apart from others.
Ben: Yes, that’s really interesting. It’s an interesting way of thinking about those messages as well and I would imagine that not many people that are looking for jobs do use that as a guide right so that’s useful. And let’s talk about your platform and the products that you offer a little further. What other kind of ongoing plans for the business?
Mike: I’ve launched my own learning platform, that’s Mike Wheeler Media that’s available at learn.mikewheelermedia.com, I still have some of my Salesforce courses on the Udemy platform and don’t plan on vacating that space just because the sheer volume of students there. So what is different on my own platform is, my Boot Camp series is only available there and that was geared around making your own experience, I also have stuff around Salesforce interviews, LinkedIn resumes, nonprofit success pack etc etc. What else I have on there? So I’ve got some replays from some of my live classes I’ve done as well, some live teaching which is a very interesting experience to be going live and teaching live in front of a lot of people and hoping that the internet connection works and that sort of thing. And then recently I’ve been releasing some new content in other areas on the Udemy platform. My thinking is, or what I am actually doing, the strategy behind that is putting some effort into making an inroads in some other areas about things that I know in addition to Salesforce, on the Udemy platform to see if I can have the same level of success or impact in other areas as well. And that has to do with. once again being a creator in the consumption world. So I’ve recently released a course on Zoom, because that’s very much on everyone’s mind right now, and as well, some work from home, like how to launch your own home business, and so I’m going to be doing a series around, you know, what I’ve done, how I’ve done it, and that could be online teaching or affiliate marketing etc. etc so. And then beyond that, I guess on the Salesforce side, updating all my courses is on the roadmap this year and then if time allows, getting some more certifications and maybe partnering with some people on some things, and then just helping others out. As well, my son is creating a Salesforce DX course and I’ve got a friend doing a Community Cloud course, another one doing an Agile course so just kind of lending the audience’s awareness to these other things as well as time allows.
Ben: Sure I mean you’ve got a lot going on, but I think there was there was so much value in this conversation. I think my key message from what I’ve taken from you, and obviously there are a lot of key messages, but the key one around being a creator I think is so important because it doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people and it’s something that especially in a job search and building a brand, people are now expecting you to have some sort of presence online when you’re applying for roles. So yes, that for me is a really important message that people can take away and creating your own experience which is something I tell a lot of people, but I’ll definitely be pushing people towards your your Boot Camp. Thank you very much for your time, I’ve really enjoyed the chat, you’ve already provided the link to your online portal and we’ll continue to push people in that direction so and if people want to contact you directly, to kind of hear your thoughts or ask any specific questions is there a way to do that via the website or is LinkedIn the best option?
Mike: You can try LinkedIn. But ideally mikewheelermedia.com and then there’s a contact button or just slash contact so through the website and that will create a case. I’ve got web the case integrated into my website through WordPress.
Ben: Thank you so much, I’ve really enjoyed the chat and I’m sure our audience will too, so thank you.
Mike: All right, excellent, thank you
Make sure you’re following Mike on LinkedIn and feel free to reach out to him with any questions regarding the topics covered in the podcast episode.