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Why You Should Specialize in Customer Verticals

Product knowledge is important, it’s true. What’s equally — maybe even more — important than knowing your product?

Knowing your customer’s vertical.

In this episode I sit down with Megan Piccininni, Regional VP of Customer Success at Salesforce, to talk about:

  • Why Salesforce is moving to a more specific vertical model

  • How their CS teams have started to specialize in specific verticals

  • Ways Salesforce educates their customers

  • How Megan’s team adds value to the renewal process

Megan’s career has been mainly focused on technology, including the larger ecosystem of Salesforce. She started out in Marketing at ADP, where she got straight into working with Salesforce as they were implementing their solution. Moving forward, she worked in consultancies like Deloitte and IBM.

Megan is most passionate about being customer-facing, getting to the root of her clients’ challenges and solving them from there. Her passion for what she does is what makes this episode worthwhile.

Salesforce is focusing less on geographical location

Before we got into the nuts and bolts of the discussion, Megan shared that Salesforce is evolving into a less geographically focused business, helped along by the pandemic. 

It doesn’t mean that there’s no base of operation, but it does enable flexibility for their team and give them the opportunity to travel again, when the time is right.

Our thoughts at Flatfile, about being remote-first, was what we thought made us stand out, and now everyone’s remote by requirement, so it’s interesting to see how the world of work operates with this being a common trend. 

Megan believes that we’re heading to a hybrid work model, where there’ll be more remote work widely available, with some degree of expectation to meet in person, be it with teammates or customers. Investing in face-to-face engagement with customers has its place and certainly has a unique value that’s appreciated more today because we’re limited in providing and receiving this.

What is customer success?

To go out and find or deliver something, we all need to first make sense of it in our own minds. 

Megan mentioned that Salesforce has experienced somewhat of a paradigm shift about this over time, from defining successful use of their platform, to expanding that perception from their customers’ points of view.

Customer success might look different for each customer. There are unique key metrics and performance indicators your customers have, and maybe they do or don’t overlap with what you think they are, but fundamentally Megan explains the golden thread that ties it all together: delivering customer success is making an impact on your customers’ business objectives. 

The entire focus of what Salesforce does has shifted onto their customers.

If their customers meet their respective targets, they grow, and that means Salesforce grows with them.

Why Salesforce is moving to a more specific vertical model:

Salesforce is known as a titan in the CRM world, but a recent report indicated that it serves a mere 14% of the CRM market at the moment. It’s no wonder the team is thinking about fresh ways to target and serve customers. 

As massive as Salesforce is, they understand how much room there is for growth, and they’re going to keep doing what they do best, in new and exciting ways, to achieve that for their business.

The idea behind Salesforce switching gears and focusing on verticals, is in fact customer success. Although they already serve businesses in verticals like financial services, life science, public sector and retail, there’s movement toward what Megan calls ‘CMT’ — communications, media and technology as a vertical on its own. The goal is to meet customers where they are, and offer industry best practice that’s easy to adopt and see tangible impact through.

How is Salesforce starting to specialize in specific verticals?

Initially it seems that the Salesforce team was organized according to geography, but there were hints of vertical focus. 

For example, west of the Bay Area was where mostly technology-based customers and teams were situated. What’s happening now is a process of formalizing those structures of specialization in response to market activity and the competitive landscape.

As the process continues, it’s natural to have some verticals appear further ahead and more developed within Salesforce, but there’s a broader mindset shift across the business which is both positive and strategically successful. There are questions that emerge as any process is rolled out, but being able to start having already had some of those verticalized structures is a big win, I’d say.

Ways Salesforce educates their customers:

To educate a customer, you’d have to know about the industry they’re in. Sometimes, that means Salesforce team members learn about entire industries (and verticals) that are completely different from what Salesforce is and does and offers as an organization. 

This is closely aligned with the shift to verticalization because it’s all about finding more efficiency and effective paths to customer success.

Salesforce has both core and success enablement teams to build out central and broader plans that filter the focus from a company level down into the customer success group, for example the customer success group for CMT that Megan’s a part of. 

Salesforce as a team has industry experts on board to then design and build elements like the framework and methodology, keeping in mind at all times what their customers’ priorities are. What happens next is that both the central and specific customer success teams create that model that customers can utilize for their own growth and future success.

What I also found to be pretty awesome is that Salesforce has a learning platform called Trailhead. It’s completely free for their customers to use and it unlocks a path of further enablement for their customers. It allows Salesforce clients to create a learning journey that works for their specific pace as a team. It’s interactive, there’s no Q&A, you can earn points — the whole thing’s gamified. There’s integration of video and other media that make it engaging and a novel experience — learning through play is something that can be achieved even at this scale and that’s what Salesforce is proving with this.

Of course, there’s also physical site-based training available. 

Salesforce holds training sessions for their customers, they host office hours and they’ll even bring in industry-related speakers to assist with getting maximum value from the platform for their particular scope of work. All-in-all Salesforce has a well-rounded approach to customer success and education.

How Megan’s team adds value:

Adding value starts long before the purchase or adoption of the platform takes place. 

Understanding this is what makes Megan’s team so successful at it. 

They’re asking themselves questions like:

  • How can we enable our clients to up-level their conversations and focus more on value for their customers?

  • What are our customers’ business objectives and KPIs?

  • How do the different success initiatives that we create align with those objectives and KPIs?

  • How can we ensure that we’re measuring the value and impact we have for our customers’ objectives and KPIs?

Training enablement at Salesforce is constantly taking focus into their customers’ respective business visions and that’s the key differentiator here. Every aspect of creating value is about “walking the talk around business value,” as Megan says. 

It’s not always easy, either, focusing on business value and impact; it’s easy to get sucked into hyper-focus on tactical work. 

The reality, though, is that tactical work never goes away, and while it does need attention and it needs to be taken care of, the big picture and broader objectives and KPIs are those guiding lights for the customer and those need to be taken seriously, too.

Salesforce doesn’t limit their support for their customers either — it’s not just the customer success manager present in the account management team. There’s actually a host of what Megan calls ‘peripheral representatives’ who will be available to help out or answer questions, like advisors. 

This is what makes it all work so well together: investing in the platform pays back value that adopts and prioritizes the customer, values, objectives and all.

What about value that’s specific to the renewal process?

In addition to everything we’ve just spoken about, Salesforce also involves highly specialized senior technical experts, who can proactively engage with larger customers who need executive level technical support. 

Megan’s customer success team sits at the core of the account and is positioned perfectly, to rope in other resources available within the Salesforce ecosystem: all for the client’s benefit. Some customers’ employees have a lot of technical aptitude, which makes the daily process of customer success management all the more intriguing and rewarding for Megan’s team: there’s such a wide range of opportunities to strengthen that customer relationship, and keep offering value.

They’ve gone so far as to introduce their new UI/UX framework, called Lightning, that provides actionable insights to further customize how clients each use Salesforce, and most importantly benefit from it. 

When it comes specifically to renewing or expanding, the customer success team is working hand in hand with the sales team; they’re aware of how much quantitative value the platform and additional initiatives have brought in for those customers who are up for renewal or upgrade. 

All efforts at the point of renewal are geared toward increasing visibility for the customer on the value they’ve obtained through their use of Salesforce as a platform and success enablement resource.

Check out the podcast to hear more. 

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