This week on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we get to sit down with Brian Millham, President of Global Customer Success and the thirteenth employee ever at Salesforce, to hear some tips on dealing with senior executives and the importance of admins.

Join us as we talk about why tough feedback is key to your career path, why admins are key to Salesforce success, and how to communicate with executive leadership.

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Brian Millham.

The early days of Salesforce.

Brian joined Salesforce in 1999 as the thirteenth Salesforce employee. “Back in those days, we talked a lot about on-demand software or software as a service, the ‘cloud’ term didn’t even exist back then,” Brian says. Throughout his time with the company, he’s worked primarily in sales, with some experiences in alliances and business development as well. “The early days of Salesforce were not as glamorous as they are today, for sure,” Brian says, “but it was a fun time.”

“For me it’s been an exciting evolution,” Brian says, “I was very lucky to be able to learn iteratively through the years.” From Sales Cloud and Service Cloud to MuleSoft, Salesforce has evolved through the years and Brian has been along for the ride. Now on the Customer Success team, he gets to see how the scope of the platform is changing companies every day.

The tough feedback that makes a great manager.

Many Salesforce admins find themselves in management positions, and Brian has some great advice. For one thing, looking for incremental gains through smart hires is vital if you want to keep growing and work efficiently at scale. “Don’t rely on the past to get you into the future,” Brian says, “bring in new people with new perspectives.”

For another thing, you need to not be afraid to have honest conversations. That goes both ways. You need to be willing to give tough feedback at times when someone can hear it, but you also need to be able to make changes to your own leadership style and listen closely when someone is being honest with you. “Some of the best learnings you have are not from your successes but from the challenges instead,” Brian says. Ask for the hard feedback you need to hear, and don’t be afraid to be honest with your team.

Admin magic.

“We live in a world where we get to place the customer at the center of everything that we’re doing,” Brian says, “and we have the ability to go help companies accelerate one of their priorities.” As companies start to think differently about customer engagement and touchpoints, the platform also opens up opportunities for new people to work with new tools to do amazing things with those insights.

“I was just with a customer last week who was telling me a story about an admin that built an application that sat adjacent to the product that we’d sold them. No technical skills when they joined the company, but they were able to come in, understand the business requirements of the users, and then built this application that is the most used application in the entire suite of products,” Brian says.

How to talk to executive leadership from someone who does it all the time.

Many solo or part-time admins are out there trying to figure out how to get support from leadership to add people to their team. The bottom line is that someone in your organization has made the decision to invest in Salesforce. They want it to succeed, so the key is figuring out who that is and helping them understand why they need someone who owns adoption, customizations, and fundamentally understands the technology.

When Brian talks to executives, he really stresses the importance of making sure that you’re setting yourself up to get value from your investment by making the right personnel decisions. “The number one hire you must have after you buy Salesforce is a rockstar admin,” he says.

In his current role, Brian has a lot of experience talking to executives and leadership. “You need to make sure that there’s clear understanding around the business value you’re getting from Salesforce,” he says. “Make sure you’re tying value to your  business because executives really want to know what the payback is in any of the work that’s being done out there.”

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Full Show Transcript

Gillian Bruce: Welcome to the Salesforce Admins podcast where we talk about product, community, and careers to help you become a more awesome Salesforce admin. I’m Gillian Bruce, and today listeners, we have an extra special episode coming your way. I got the amazing opportunity to sit down with Brian Millham, who’s our President of Global Customer Success here at Salesforce. He is in fact the 13th employee ever at Salesforce, so he’s been around for a while. I had an amazing opportunity to chat with him about his growth within the Salesforce ecosystem, growth of Salesforce as a company, and some things that he wanted to share about the importance of admins and how critical Salesforce admins are to a successful use of Salesforce, and some tips about dealing with senior executives and management. So without further ado, please welcome Brian to the podcast.

Gillian Bruce: Brian, welcome to the podcast.

Brian Millham: Thank you. It’s good to be here.

Gillian Bruce: So happy that you’re taking the time to chat with us. And I wanted to introduce you a little bit to our listeners by asking you the question I love to ask all of our guests. Brian, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Brian Millham: What did I want to be when I grew up? I was really into athletics. So in the wintertime we did a lot of skiing. I thought I was going to be a downhill racer for a lot of years. And then in the summertime I was a soccer player and thought I’d be a professional soccer player. Of course, as I sit here today, neither of those things were even close to coming true. But that’s what I thought when I was a kid I would be growing up, some sort of professional athlete. Failed miserably, but that’s okay.

Gillian Bruce: Well that’s okay. That’s all right. You are now an athlete in the CRM cloud space.

Brian Millham: Wow. That’s a stretch.

Gillian Bruce: Or something. Maybe?

Brian Millham: But thank you for that. Yes. Yes.

Gillian Bruce: So let’s talk actually a little bit about that. Tell me about how you have become part of the Salesforce Ohana. Tell me a little bit about your Salesforce journey.

Brian Millham: Yeah. I joined back in ’99, September of ’99. So I was the 13th employee at Salesforce way back when we started, and back in those days we talked a lot about on-demand software, software as a service. The cloud term didn’t even exist back then. And it really was about evangelizing cloud to all of our customers, going out and talking to them about hosting and managing all their data on Salesforce, and it really was a single product company back then. I’ve been in a lot of different roles over the years, moved to a lot of different places, but primarily in the sales organization. Did some alliances work and some business development work as well, but really rose through the ranks of the sales organization over the many, many years that I’ve been here.

Gillian Bruce: That’s great. So 13th employee at Salesforce. That is incredible. So I think didn’t we start in the landmark building on Market Street?

Brian Millham: We actually started in the Rincon Building.

Gillian Bruce: That’s right.

Brian Millham: Which is very close to the landmark, but we then outgrew that space very quickly and were in the basement of the landmark building across the street from Rincon, and I had an office down there in the basement with a … When it rained, water would run through and rats were everywhere. The early days of Salesforce were not as glamorous as they are today, for sure. But it was a fun time, for sure.

Gillian Bruce: A far cry from the very fancy tower that we are now in, here now.

Brian Millham: Indeed. A very far cry, yes.

Gillian Bruce: All right. So that’s quite a Salesforce evolution, quite a Salesforce journey. I mean, just to see that growth, just even for the company and the technology, must’ve been really, really fun. I mean, just in terms of evangelizing what the cloud is to now. Gosh, we have such a robust suite of products and things that our customers are doing. It must’ve been pretty fantastic to go through that.

Brian Millham: Yeah, for me it’s been an exciting evolution, and I always say this to people who join the company now. I feel very lucky that I was able to learn iteratively through the years sales cloud, then service cloud, a platform that underlaid everything that we were doing. Marketing cloud, e-commerce, mule soft. I’ve been able to learn along the way. I think it’s harder when you join a company at our stage to learn all the breadth and depth of our offering and solutions that we put in the market. I feel very lucky to be part of our customer success organization now and running that team, because I get to see how our customers are using our technology every day. And I just met with some three customers this past week and talked about the incredible transformation that they’re driving across 11 different products within their organization. So it’s really fun to see the scope and breadth and depth of our offering and how it’s changing companies every single day.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah. Okay, so you talk about customer success, you lead this group, you’ve grown with Salesforce over the years. A lot of our Salesforce admins are either in managerial roles or have had different managers over the years. Since you’ve had a fair amount of manager experience and management experience, can you talk about some of the things that … How managers have helped you be successful? Some tips and tricks, maybe? Some learnings that you have to share with our admin audience?

Brian Millham: Yeah, I think I always look at a place in time in the evolution. Keith Block has come into the organization, as you know. Now the co-CEO of our company. I think five plus years in the organization. And Keith brought in a different perspective. He comes from a large enterprise software company and he had that mindset and really helped educate a lot of us leaders about what scale looks like, how important talent was as you think about scaling the organization. Not only at the manager’s level, but also at the individual contributor level. How do you continue to evolve as an organization and scale and look for incremental talent to bring into the organization? Don’t rely on the past to get you into the future. Bring in new people with new perspectives.

Brian Millham: I have had many managers here, and I’ve gotten a lot of great insights from a lot of those managers. Some of them not always the most pleasant in terms of the feedback that you get. Those honest conversations that can be hard to hear at times, but super important in terms of evolving your own career in taking that feedback and really understanding how you need to change as a leader. A gentleman by the name of Frank van Veenendaal who was a here for many, many years was probably the one who gave me the hardest feedback, but also had the biggest impact on my career. And I think if you’re in a leadership role, you owe it to your people to give that strong feedback, to have open conversations, transparent conversations with them about all the things that are going great. And Frank was very good about that and rewarding me for all the goodness, but also was very good at saying to me, “Hey, you need to work on a couple areas.” Conflict resolution was one of them that I had to deal with, and he said, “There are different ways about going about the issues that you’re facing within your organization. Let me help you through some of these things.”

Brian Millham: And so, some of the best learnings you have are not your successes, but the challenges instead. And so I think it’s a really important aspect of how to scale your own career, ask for the advice, but also demand it from your manager to give you the hard feedback. But as you’re managing people to do the same for them as well.

Gillian Bruce: Absolutely. And I think there’s a lot of parallels there. When you think about an admin who may not be managing anyone specifically, but you’re in a role where you are working with all different stakeholders across the company, including your end users. In some ways, you have to manage them too, right? In terms of understanding how to help coach them to get to use the product better, to understand how to better serve them. So there’s some good parallels in terms of inviting that feedback and taking that feedback.

Brian Millham: That’s absolutely true, absolutely true. And regardless of where you are in an organization, that ability to communicate openly across many different levels is super important, and how do you do that? And how do you affect change within an organization is super critical to drive success for the company and for you, and for the people that you’re supporting across the board. So absolutely agree with that.

Gillian Bruce: It’s not always easy, as you said.

Brian Millham: No, it certainly is not.

Gillian Bruce: The easy stuff is the good staff. It’s the hard stuff that can be challenging.

Brian Millham: Yes, but the hard stuff is also what I think creates the biggest impact, right? So if you’ve got gaps in the way that you’re communicating, or the way that you’re managing, hearing that feedback and owning it, as hard as it is, owning it and then making change going forward, I think can really help people advance their careers.

Gillian Bruce: Absolutely. All right. So that growth in terms of both maybe managing your users and growing your Salesforce implementation at your company, growth in terms of managing and being a manager. Let’s talk about Salesforce a little bit more specifically. So if you’re an admin at a company and maybe you’re using Salesforce in a very limited capacity, what are some things that you can talk to your stakeholders, your executives about to really position Salesforce as a business person’s platform? As a way to really manage all different aspects of the business?

Brian Millham: Yeah, I think we’re really lucky that Salesforce plays in a space CRM that is super important to every company out there, whether you’re trying to drive top line growth from a revenue perspective, you’re trying to drive better customer engagement from a support perspective, you’re trying to drive more efficiencies around the organization. We live in a world that we get to focus on putting the customer at the center of everything that we’re doing. And so, if you’re not taking advantage of that, in our opinion, you’re not really advancing your company as fast as you possibly can. I think every company in the world is thinking about growth or expense management or better customer sat, and we have the ability to go help companies accelerate one of their priorities. It may be all three, it may be just one of them. Luckily, we’re in the CRM space and I think everybody pivoted this direction in the fourth industrial revolution, really thinking differently about, how do I engage customers? How do I make sure that I know every touch point across the customer journey so that they’re having great conversations with their customers downstream?

Brian Millham: And so, we feel great about where we are. This is a business platform driving top line growth, driving efficiencies in the organization. We also built a platform that we think is … We believe is easy to use, and it really has been a core fundamental of ours from the very beginning of make it easy to use, but also allow the flexibility. And this is where our admins come in. Allow flexibility for customization so that our customers can build instances of Salesforce that match their specific business needs. I love the brilliance of click not code, which I think has been from Parker and Dave Mollenov and all the folks that built the product early on, an awesome evolution for us to introduce this click not code platform that allowed you really to customize the product to your specific business needs. And then layering on, of course, the ability to write code with Apex and Heroku and a lot of the other stuff that we’re doing out there. So from business platform perspective, in the right space in CRM, but also a platform that allows you really to customize the product to meet the needs of every customer.

Gillian Bruce: Well, and it opens up the opportunity for folks who don’t already know how to code to be able to customize and build on the platform. And I think that’s that sweet spot. This is that admin magic that we’re so passionate about and that I think we find this passion in the admin community, is that it is a whole new world for folks to enter into this technology space and be able to be those developers without having to learn all this code going into it. A lot of them go on to learn code as well, or work with their developer buddies to then layer on some more complexity. But having this declarative platform is really one of the fun and amazing differentiators, I think, in the space that allows so many people to be builders.

Brian Millham: I was just with a customer last week who was telling me a story about an admin that built an application that sat adjacent to the product that we’d sold them. And no technical skills when they joined the company. Were able to come in, understand the business requirements of the users from the business side, and then built this application that is the most used application within all the suites of products. And it was fun to watch the pride that the head of business strategy had, that one of his employees who had no technical ability when they came to the company was able to transform the company and really drove a ton of adoption of our own products by the application they built separately. And it was just a great story and it was great to see them tell that story in front of some analysts last week when we met with them.

Gillian Bruce: That’s fantastic. And I’d love to actually carry that on a little bit. So we have a lot of admins who are maybe the solo admin, the only Salesforce person in their company, or they’re new in their journey or maybe they’re trying to fight for resources to maybe get another person on their team.

Brian Millham: Yeah, I think the most important thing you can do as part of any deployment is to have an admin who is driving the successful adoption of Salesforce, regardless of which products that you’re using within Salesforce. And so, that executive typically has chosen Salesforce for some reason. That is, “Hey, we want to go drive efficiency,” or top line revenue or whatever it is within an organization. You have to have someone that’s going to own that day to day and can really drive those outcomes for your company, that knows the tricks of how to drive higher adoption and can really engage with the user community out there to ensure that they’re using the products, that is running the analytics to say who is and isn’t using that product every day, is customizing the product to meet the requirements of the organization.

Brian Millham: The execs want to see the dashboards that give them the insights into the business. The day to day operation really needs to be led by our admins who really understand the technology, can drive great adoption and value for all the users that are out there. And so, I’m always an advocate for, “Hey, if you’re going to make the decision to buy Salesforce, make sure you make the additional investment, ensuring you have the right people inside the company that can drive the success of the deployment.” And that really starts with an incredible admin.

Gillian Bruce: That’s great. I could not agree with you more. You’re speaking to the … It’s a preaching to the choir, if you may say. But it’s really great to hear when you’re talking how you position that to executives because you’re in these meetings all the time and conversations all the time with these business leaders who are making the decisions, making the resourcing decisions. So it’s nice to hear that from you as well. So one of the things that I would also love to get from you, being that you are so close to a lot of these executives, you’re in a lot of these meetings with folks and conversations. What are some tips for communicating at that level? A lot of admins, this may be the first time that they’re communicating at that high level with maybe a C-suite or a business leader. What are some tips you have for them to help make sure that they’re getting their message across in the right way?

Brian Millham: Yeah, I think it’s a balance between … The admins are always going to know a ton about the technology. So how do you not get in the weeds, but also communicate at a level that there’s clear understanding around the business value that you’re getting from Salesforce? So simplicity in the messaging is super important. I also think you need to be really open and transparent about what’s really going on at the executive level. How do you drive communications that are honest? And sometimes maybe not always great news about either a deployment or a process that you’re running, but make sure that you’re driving towards whatever outcomes that the company’s looking for.

Brian Millham: People say to me all the time, “Hey, we really wanted to go drive X and we’re not quite sure how to get there.” Make sure that you’re using the products and what you’re doing every single day as a lever for driving outcomes for the business. So when you’re communicating, make sure that you’re driving the things that matter. We’re driving great adoption. We’ve seen an increase in X, or we’ve seen a decrease in Y in terms of cost reduction. Whatever it happens to be, make sure you’re tying value in your communications because executives really want to know what the payback is in any of the work that’s being done out there.

Brian Millham: So we also think that there’s … I believe in some of the core values around this business, certainly trust is important. So how do you always drive trust with your executives and make sure they understand that you’re solving for the outcomes for the company? Simplicity is really important to me. Open and honest communication is really important to me as well. So make sure you’re aligning when you send out those emails to the things that matter most, but doing it in an open, honest way with your executives.

Gillian Bruce: Great tips. Those will be very, very helpful, I’m sure for many of us listening. So before we get to our lightning round question, I wanted to ask you some fun future-looking idealistic, what’s next on the platter? What are some things that make you most excited about in this technology space, in the Salesforce space?

Brian Millham: I think there’s this emerging technology, and it’s probably only in the early innings of artificial intelligence, and I think it’s a really exciting time for us as a company around all the Einstein initiatives that we have. But broadly in the space, all that’s going on around artificial intelligence. I think we’ve just scratched the surface of what’s possible there. I think it’s an exciting time. I also think it’s a scary time. I think we need to be thoughtful about all those use cases and make sure that we’re applying them to things that make all of us better every single day.

Brian Millham: But also we’re thoughtful about what happens to a lot of the jobs that are out there if they do get displaced by technology. I think we as an industry are … We have to own the fact that some of the technology may displace some users out there, some workers out there. We have to make sure that we’re providing resources to help re-skill some of the people who may be affected by artificial intelligence. It’s why I love our trail head offering so much.

Gillian Bruce: I was gonna say, Trailhead!

Brian Millham: Yes, it is a great technology and learning platform for people to really take on new skills and learn quickly and really find new careers and new job paths for them. So I’m really excited about AI as a strategy for us as a company, for the industry. How do we be thoughtful about how we’re using that A.I. But also, cognizant of the fact that it could replace some of the workers out there. So how do we retrain people to make sure that they have jobs, and it’s a continuing a thriving economy around Salesforce and other companies in technology?

Gillian Bruce: Well, I know there’s always a huge demand for people with Salesforce skills. So, good news is we do have Trailhead to help some of those folks.

Brian Millham: Indeed. Yes. Thank goodness. Yes.

Gillian Bruce: All right. So before I let you go, I always get in trouble if I do not ask a lightning round question.

Gillian Bruce: So, Brian, I have a lightning round question for you. You ready?

Brian Millham: I’m ready.

Gillian Bruce: Okay. First thing to come to mind. No right or wrong answer. All right. So you’ve been to a lot of dream forces since you were the 13th employee at Salesforce.

Brian Millham: I have. I have not missed one yet.

Gillian Bruce: Wow. That’s impressive.

Brian Millham: Yes.

Gillian Bruce: Okay. What is one of your favorite dream force moments?

Brian Millham: I think it was U2 playing at the Cow Palace. It was a pretty incredible night. Packed Cow Palace and having U2 on stage there was … It made it very real that we were a pretty successful company at that point. To have U2 play your dream force event, that was pretty awesome.

Gillian Bruce: Didn’t they even rename it like the Cloud Palace or something?

Brian Millham: Yes. Exactly right. Exactly right. Yes. Yes.

Gillian Bruce: It’s pretty amazing when you can get Bono to do your corporate events.

Brian Millham: It was pretty cool. It was pretty cool. They don’t do a lot of corporate events, so it was also I think a pretty impactful evening as well, that they don’t do these events and we had them here. So pretty cool.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah. Very awesome. Well, Brian, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. So appreciate your time, appreciate your insight, sharing your expertise.

Brian Millham: Always happy to do it and very thankful for all the admins that are out there helping us be successful every single day. So thank you for having me.

Gillian Bruce: Well, huge thanks to Brian for taking the time out of his very busy schedule helping all of our customers be successful, to sit down with me and chat about admins and Salesforce and career and managing teams. Really enjoyed getting the chance to chat with him, learned some really great stuff.

Gillian Bruce: So some of my takeaways from our interview is one, inviting feedback. One of the things Brian was very clear about was inviting that tough feedback can really lead to some critical breakthroughs and growth along your career path. And also as you think of your role as an admin, finding ways to really get that feedback from your users that you may not be getting, or your stakeholders, and don’t be afraid of it. It might be uncomfortable, but if you can work through that it’s going to really help you unlock things that you never thought possible in terms of maybe being able to discover new solutions or find a new capacity that you didn’t realize you had. So inviting that feedback.

Gillian Bruce: I also really enjoyed our conversation about the role of the admin and how important we are. Brian was very, very clear about it, and he talks to C-level executives all day long about Salesforce and what you’re doing with Salesforce and the vision. The way that he positioned how critical it is to hire a Salesforce admin immediately to make sure your implementation of Salesforce is going to be successful, I thought was critical. In fact, one of my soundbites that I really liked was that, “The number one hire you must have after you buy Salesforce is a rockstar admin.” Cannot be more clearly said then that.

Gillian Bruce: Now, when you’re talking to executives, I thought this was another great topic that we got to cover with Brian. You have to focus on three things. Trust, simplicity, and transparency. Now, trust is critical because you have to make sure that everything you’re doing, your executive trusts you to do so. You can do that by tying what your projects are in Salesforce, what things you’re working on, directly to business value. What are the business values? How are your projects tying directly into those? Making those clear and being simple in your communications, being direct, being transparent. Don’t hide things. Really make sure that your executives are clued in on everything that’s happening.

Gillian Bruce: Now at the minute details, as Brian was very clear to say, we are very proud as admins to know all of the ins and outs of the platforms. But learn how to up-level and simplify your communication so that the important things get across without getting mired in the details.

Gillian Bruce: Now if you want to learn more about how to grow your career and specifically about how to be a great manager or how to work with your manager, which are all great skills that you can transfer to working with your stakeholders and your users as an admin, we’ve got some great trail head content for that. So the first piece of trail head content I want to recommend is a trail called Manage The Salesforce Way. It is a great way to understand the methodology behind being a great manager that we’ve learned at Salesforce, and hopefully you can glean some awesome insights from that trail.

Gillian Bruce: And if you are working with a manager or working with some stakeholders, there is a great module called Alignment With Your Manager. So make sure you focus on that. It’s got some really great tips in there on how to build that trust, focus on that simplicity of communication, and being transparent. So make sure you check those resources out.

Gillian Bruce: As always, you can find more great content on how you can be an even more awesome admin at Admin.Salesforce.com, where you can find blogs, webinars, events, and yes, even more podcasts. Please make sure you subscribe to the podcast to make sure you get the latest and greatest episodes delivered directly to your platform or device of choice the moment they are released. You can find us on Twitter, @SalesforceAdmns, no “I”. Our guest today, Brian, is on Twitter, @SMILL, and you can find myself, @GillianKBruce. Thank you so much for listening to this episode and we’ll catch you next time in the cloud.

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