Salesforce Trailhead – An Example of the Salesforce “System of Innovation”

Salesforce frequently gets ranked as one of the most innovative companies in the world. It is natural to focus on the wonderful platform and products Salesforce has built over the years. Salesforce has led the Enterprise Software segment into the cloud for many years and continues to do so by bringing new offerings like IoT, AI and Analytics to the market. So what is the secret sauce of innovation for a company of this scale? It is a System of Innovation that is in play everyday.

Let me take an example of Salesforce Trailhead. It is Salesforce’s learning destination for business users, Salesforce admins and developers. You have already heard and experienced it if you are in the Salesforce world. But you don’t have to be connected to the Salesforce world to experience this innovation from Salesforce. There is a lot of content in Trailhead about business, technology, culture, user experience, communication and so on. I would highly encourage you to signup and experience this hidden gem from Salesforce.

Trailhead came out of a skunk works project in 2014 when a team of evangelists was overwhelmed with the challenges of training ever increasing constituents of an expanding ecosystem. Salesforce had established itself as a platform company and was constantly expanding its cloud application portfolio. These evangelists were in charge of ensuring that the ecosystem came along and derived the maximum benefits from Salesforce offerings. They had to think of something different than hiring more evangelists and trainers. The only way to scale was to create a cloud learning management system that is self-service and fun. Trailhead was born as an experiment!

Let’s look at the 4 key elements of Trailhead:

Content – They already had a large content repository in their old LMS (Learning Management System), user and technical documentation, and videos. All the existing and new content had to be assembled and adapted to a very friendly style for non-instructor led audience.

Organization – The content had to be organized in an easy to consume manner for multiple roles and audience. Trailhead content can be viewed and searched by module, trails, topics, tags and so on. Trails allow you to have a guided learning path so you know where you are headed and how far along you are in the journey.

Challenges – There are challenges after every unit that let you take a quiz or do a hands-on task. Trailhead is connected to a Salesforce environment through single sign-on and the quizzes and hands-on tasks are automatically verified. It is an amazing seamless experience.

Fun – As you learn units, modules and trails, you collect badges and superbadges that you can flaunt on your Salesforce profile as well as professional social platforms like LinkedIn. Trailhead is gamified.

Salesforce is well positioned to make this into a platform offering that its eco-system can start using. Clearly, that is where they are headed. Adoption is usually a big issue with any enterprise solution. Trailhead is a great fit to address the adoption issues in enterprises – even beyond Salesforce implementations. Trailhead needs to evolve into a multi-tenant platform while taking care of many aspects like authoring, content publishing, setting custom modules/trails/badges/sandboxes, APIs and integrations. But imagine the impact of “configuring” Trailhead to deliver the same value and user experience to your own organization.

To be repeatedly ranked as one of the top innovative companies doesn’t happen by having one big idea in a decade. It’s the ability of a company to have the culture that promotes constant innovation in small ways, having the vision to see a big idea in the sea of small ideas, then have the conviction to bet on the big ideas to see some of them become game changers. Trailhead is a great example of this “System of Innovation” at work at Salesforce.

Anil Nair, Managing Principal, Varasi