On Leadership With Salesforce’s Maria Martinez

Few companies are shaking up an industry more than Salesforce is shaking up the customer relationship management (CRM) sector. The cloud computing powerhouse and world’s number-one CRM company has a market cap of more than $50 billion. Maria Martinez, president of sales and customer success, joined Salesforce in 2010 after 15 years of helping grow such iconic corporations as Microsoft and Motorola. The trailblazer, tech leader, and STEM advocate sits down with HE to talk about her leadership style at Salesforce and the importance of mentorship.

Hispanic Executive: Salesforce has accomplished some pretty amazing things in the last 16 years. What has it been like to be on the inside for part of that journey?
Maria Martinez: It’s been exciting to be a part of the momentum of the cloud. We reached $5 billion in annual revenue faster than any other enterprise software company, and we owe that to the customer-centric approach that we’ve taken in the software space. Our singular focus on the customer has defined the product and strategy decisions we make and has greatly contributed to our growth.

In what way is Salesforce’s approach different from other CRM-focused companies?
Salesforce has defined the era of cloud computing, really transforming the way that companies of all sizes can connect with their customers. Salesforce also pioneered a 1-1-1 (equity, time, and product) philanthropic model that many others in the tech space have adopted. Together, we are impacting positive change both in our communities and at a global scale.

Where does your passion for the tech sector come from?
I studied engineering in both college  in Puerto Rico and graduate school at the Ohio State University, so technology was an always an interest for me. I was attracted to the innovation that technology was spearheading in the 1980s and 1990s, and I loved the thought of being a part of an industry that was built on the exploration of ideas.

That passion led you to work for some iconic tech corporations. What from those experiences are you leveraging at Salesforce?
Having been a part of those massive corporations at times of peak growth has allowed me to help navigate Salesforce through the same kind of growth. My experience at both Microsoft and Motorola taught me the business processes and operational rigor that are foundational for a rapidly growing company. I’ve been able to apply what I’ve learned about how to scale a global organization—both with people and programs—to meet the evolving needs of customers.

Looking back, what do you consider the major drivers of your success?
Taking risks has been an extremely important part of my professional development. And, to be honest, it hasn’t always been me taking the risk and pushing myself; sometimes others have taken chances on me and pushed me forward. Being open to new challenges and creating a supportive network around me has opened up tremendous opportunity, contributing to my growth and shaping me as a leader.

Speaking of your leadership style, how do you respond to roadblocks?
I’ve always been the kind of person that sees an obstacle as an opportunity to change something, and not as a roadblock. I’m a “why not” person—my team will be the first to tell you that—and I love that challenges create the chance to think differently.

How does that play out at Salesforce?
I’m always looking for opportunities. As we’ve grown and matured as a company, I’ve scaled a global organization of 3,000 people that are focused solely on our mission of customer success. My team and I have implemented a transformational strategy for services that has allowed our customers to realize business value from their Salesforce investments sooner. We’ve enhanced the customer experience by building out a robust Customers For Life organization, a comprehensive set of services offerings, and by continuing to add the new levels of expertise that our customers are demanding.

What part of Salesforce’s offerings is your team responsible for?
We own customer success, which is core to the Salesforce philosophy. Regardless of the customer’s size or type, we are responsible for creating an amazing experience and defining the path that accelerates the business value they realize from their Salesforce investment.

From your point of view, what are the main drivers of Salesforce’s astounding numbers?
Thanks to a faithful customer base and an ever-increasing demand for innovation, we have been able to grow the company exponentially. Our function allows us to stay close to the customer and react to their needs, which has included adding more services offerings, a deeper level of expertise, and more specialized experiences for a global set of customers. These have led to better customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Considering all that success, what are you most proud of?
Growing a global organization rapidly can pose its share of challenges, but it can lead also to some really amazing things. I’m most proud of my customer success team, who has maintained a relentless focus on the customer throughout every change and every product release. I’m proud of the relationship and the reputation that we’ve established as advocates and advisors for our customers. Being close to our customers has allowed us to build a large portfolio of services offerings that meets the specific needs of our customers. Being able to deliver an amazing customer experience, regardless of size, type, or location is something I am also extremely proud of.

You mentioned earlier how others took a chance on you earlier in your career. Do you mentor others now?
Yes, both formally and informally, because I believe it’s an important responsibility of all leaders.  I am also the executive sponsor of a leadership development program within Salesforce that fosters many of our high-potential female employees. I believe that formal mentorship and development of any under-represented group is  critical to creating a next-generation workforce that brings a more holistic perspective to the workplace and
the world.

What is your advice for any Latina considering a career in a STEM field?
Anything is possible; don’t limit your thinking. Expose yourself to as much as possible and build a large, diverse network. Both will open up possibilities that you, yourself, may never have imagined alone.

Where will you invest your energies next?
I’m passionate about developing the next generation of our workforce.  I’ve been fortunate enough to explore and realize several of my own passions and believe it’s my duty to support others in doing the same. With the right access and support, the ideas that will be brought to life by this generation are endless.