Salesforce.com Announces Lightning Partner Community

Salesforce.com today bolstered its Community Cloud with the launch of Lightning Partner Community, an offering that enables sales organizations to extend the capabilities available to their internal sales reps to affiliated offsite sellers. According to Mike Stone, senior vice president of product marketing at Salesforce Community Cloud, an interface makeover and several updates to the system will vastly simplify the process of setting up and modifying options available to a firm’s external teams.

While companies tend to invest most of their time and attention on internal CRM systems and sales reps, the reality is that often the majority of business is generated through resellers, Stone says. Hi-tech or telecom firms, for instance, typically rely on distributors; retailers and food-service providers also bring in much of their revenue via franchisees; and within the insurance and financial services industries, products are sold by agents, brokers, and financial advisers. In many cases, however, "the tools they have lag pretty far behind what's available and what's best in class for internal sales reps," Stone says. "Having things like mobile access, great intuitive interfaces, and data visualization just really isn't something most partners have at their fingertips."

And third-party sellers usually rely on outdated or disconnected systems, he says. "In a lot of cases, they are going from one system to another, and logging in and out of different windows to find leads or product information, get a pricing approval done, look for new training and certification material, or go create quotes to send to a customer." This complicates the process of winning accounts. The independent reps, Stone adds, "often on the road, meeting with customers and clients, and don't have access to information on a mobile device, which makes it harder for them to react quickly to client requests and comments."
Lightning Partner Community aims to solve these problems by offering business users access to a consumerlike interface that can be configured through drag-and-drop and accessed on mobile or desktop devices. Sales leaders can customize their communities and make changes to them without consulting IT, Stone says. Users who are selling across borders can use a translation function to customize the tools for different languages.
The upgrade aims to eliminate multi-system inefficiencies by automatically pulling in CRM data for the benefit of partner communities. "Things like opportunities, leads, campaigns, and contacts are all exposed to the partner in exactly the same record that's shared by the internal CRM system," Stone says. Records, he notes, are placed alongside analytics in the context of the selling process, thus providing partners with a more intuitive sales flow.
With the updates, channel partners also have access to Salesforce's Einstein offerings, which leverage an artificial intelligence engine to surface recommended actions and knowledge files or articles to smooth interactions with buyers.
"We've [made] it a lot easier to set this up in a matter of weeks or months rather than a yearlong project that we typically see with larger CRM implementations," Stone says. He points out that users have access to Bolt solutions, preconfigured, industry-specific templates developed by partners to help businesses get communities up and running more rapidly. Nevertheless, the expected implementation time, Stone says, differs a great deal depending on the size of the company, its scope, and what it is trying to accomplish. 
While Lightning Partner Community is generally available to holders of the Partner Community Cloud license, the offering has been tested by the likes of Zurich Financial and DineEquity, whose CIO, Adrian Butler, praised the solution in a statement:
"Empowering iHOP and Applebee's franchise owners to succeed is something we take great pride in at DineEquity. With Lightning Partner Community, we see a great opportunity to increase engagement and deliver the insights and information franchisees need to help them succeed."

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