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Digital Transformation

25 Years of Innovation: Sales Cloud EVP Reflects on Waves of Change and Looks Ahead

Ketan Karkhanis’ face still lights up when he talks about sales.

An engineer by trade and a sales enthusiast by choice, Karkhanis, Salesforce’s EVP & General Manager of Sales Cloud, is just as fired up about his team’s product innovations as he is about the art of selling. 

Here, as Salesforce rounds the corner on 25 years in business, Karkhanis reflects on the evolution of the industry. He looks back at when Salesforce pioneered the cloud-based CRM model to help salespeople from businesses of all sizes track and manage leads — and at the newly announced AI capabilities of Einstein Copilot for Sales, which are included in the Einstein 1 Sales Edition, and available in the Enterprise Edition.

Q. Salesforce recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. How has sales evolved since those early days?

The sales landscape has undergone a complete transformation over the past three decades, and it’s been characterized by three distinct waves.

The first wave was the age of the Rolodex, spreadsheets, and client server-based apps. Selling was disconnected, clunky, and painful.

Then, in 1999, Salesforce introduced the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. This innovation, moving applications and customer data to the cloud, ushered in the second wave of sales — the digital acceleration wave. At the core of this transformative wave was bringing together data from across the business’s entire business, from sales and service to marketing and commerce, to create an accessible and holistic view of customers. Since that time, customers worldwide have embraced the cloud and Sales Cloud has become the market leader, generating more than $7.5 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2024.

Now, we are on the cusp of Wave 3: The artificial intelligence (AI) Imperative, where AI and data have become indispensable tools for boosting productivity, deepening customer relationships, and achieving better margins.

Ketan Karkhanis, Salesforce’s EVP & General Manager of Sales

Now, we are on the cusp of Wave 3: The artificial intelligence (AI) Imperative, where AI and data have become indispensable tools for boosting productivity, deepening customer relationships, and achieving better margins.

This is one of the reasons we developed Einstein 1 Sales Edition, which bundles the best data and AI capabilities Salesforce has to offer in one streamlined package. This edition includes Einstein Copilot for Sales — a customizable, conversational, generative AI assistant that utilizes an organization’s unique data and metadata to produce powerful customer insights and recommendations directly within Sales Cloud to help sellers close more deals, faster.

Q. How has Salesforce approached the sales industry differently than other software companies?

Salesforce pioneered the concept of a single source of truth, connecting not just sales but service, marketing, and commerce in a single, cohesive platform to get a complete view of every customer. That was a game changer for sales teams. It elevated sales from a transaction-oriented exercise centered around a single sale to a relationship-centered exercise that’s the foundation of the Salesforce Customer 360 experience.

We’re bringing all the signals from across the business together in Salesforce Data Cloud to create a holistic approach to customer engagement, allowing businesses to power AI, automation, and analytics and deliver seamless experiences across all touchpoints.

And Einstein Copilot can put all that data to use, helping sellers answer questions, summarize and create content, interpret complex conversations, and dynamically automate tasks for users — all from a consistent conversational UI across Salesforce’s #1 AI CRM applications. 

And Einstein Copilot can put all that data to use, helping sellers answer questions, summarize and create content, interpret complex conversations, and dynamically automate tasks for users — all from a consistent conversational UI across Salesforce’s #1 AI CRM applications. 

Ketan Karkhanis, Salesforce’s EVP & General Manager of Sales

Sellers can use the AI assistant to better understand their customers and boost sales. For example, using natural language prompts, they can ask Einstein Copilot to recommend a new product tier for a customer. And since it’s grounded in the seller’s unique data, it understands which products the customer currently has, their upgrade options, and how to help move them into a new high-value marketing segment.

In addition, Salesforce has been at the forefront of empowering sales reps with mobile accessibility for sales operations. With mobile applications and tools, Salesforce enables reps to access critical information and collaborate with colleagues anytime, anywhere, driving enhanced productivity and responsiveness. 

Q.  How does Sales Cloud, and all of Salesforce’s apps, bring data together to feed AI, automation, and analytics experiences?

Many of our best innovations began with listening to our customers. And so often what we hear is that they need trusted data to help them sell more effectively. That feedback led to innovations like Salesforce Data Cloud

Data Cloud connects, federates, and harmonizes any data type from any product and system, and connects it back to Salesforce applications like Sales Cloud to deliver a comprehensive, 360-degree view of customers and power CRM, AI, automation, and analytics across any business process. 

For example, by using Data Cloud to connect and harmonize customer data from previously siloed departments such as marketing and service, sales teams have the most up-to-date information on website engagement, marketing, and service all in one place to drive a more intelligent decision-making process for the sales cycle. Imagine getting a holistic picture of a prospect — knowing they visited your website, checked the pricing page, attended a conference, have an open support case, or that they haven’t responded to the latest campaign marketing email — and then being able to tailor your approach accordingly. 

And, with Data Cloud integrated into Sales Cloud, sellers can be assured that AI outputs like an Einstein-generated sales email are grounded in accurate, personalized data about the customer, while maintaining privacy and data governance.

Thousands of customers are also using the AI capabilities in Sales Cloud to be more efficient and in turn, drive more business. Sellers spend countless hours on admin tasks, but with Einstein by their side, automatically taking notes, drafting activity summaries, and updating their CRM, they’re free to focus more on building customer relationships. And sales professionals are hungry for help — 98% of sales leaders say the use of sales reps’ time will be improved by AI, according to Salesforce research

Q. Could you explain the concept of Salesblazers?

Salesblazer isn’t about Salesforce — it’s about sellers.

In an early 2023 product review with Marc Benioff, he asked me, “What are we doing to help sellers become even more successful”? I immediately rattled off all the cool tech we had coming down the pipeline. We realized, however, that the answer wasn’t just tech and product.

We started brainstorming and came to the realization that there wasn’t a trusted source of knowledge for salespeople. There were a few pockets of information, but most of the time, sellers were just Googling their way through life to get smarter about selling — whether it was methodologies to sell, how to organize for success, how to increase sales effectiveness, or how to build customer relationships and advance deals.

That’s when Marc came up with the idea of Salesblazer. He envisioned a digital hub where every sales professional — from business development representatives just starting out to chief revenue officers of Fortune 100 companies — would have a trusted source for best practices and insights to help them learn and grow.

Ketan Karkhanis, Salesforce’s EVP & General Manager of Sales

That’s when Marc came up with the idea of Salesblazer. He envisioned a digital hub where every sales professional — from business development representatives just starting out to chief revenue officers of Fortune 100 companies — would have a trusted source for best practices and insights to help them learn and grow.

We launched Salesblazer later that year, and it quickly became the world’s largest community of sales professionals.

Q. Which Sales Cloud customer success story stands out to you the most? 

There have been so many success stories over the years. One recent story that stands out is from The Commercial Real Estate Exchange, Inc., known as CREXi

Einstein 1 Sales produces intelligence and insights based on historical data like contact, account, and business history so the team can identify patterns and get recommended next steps. The company is also democratizing this data across the team so everyone on the sales team can learn from one another and help close more deals. 

Einstein 1 Sales is helping CREXi’s inside sales team move faster. Leaning into generative AI technology has cut down on writer’s block and time spent drafting outreach emails, so sales reps can focus on the conversation the customer wants to have.

In fact, CREXI’s sales teams now save five hours per day on administrative tasks by using generative AI in Sales Cloud, letting reps focus their valuable time and attention on relationship-building and revenue-generating conversations with customers.

Ketan Karkhanis, Salesforce’s EVP & General Manager of Sales

In fact, CREXI’s sales teams now save five hours per day on administrative tasks by using generative AI in Sales Cloud, letting reps focus their valuable time and attention on relationship-building and revenue-generating conversations with customers.

Today, the confluence of two trends — a generational shift in the buyer persona and advancements in data and AI — is leading B2B sales away from the intuition-based approach of the past to the data-driven strategy of the future.

Buyer behaviors are changing. They’re no longer engaging with companies on a single channel but across multiple channels, whether it’s on their websites and social media channels, in-store, or over email.

Over the next few years, we’ll see buyer engagement driven by conversational AI assistants like Einstein Copilot, which will help organizations move prospects from the awareness stage to making a purchase 10 times faster, curating personalized buying experiences at scale. These digital sales environments will offer more immersive experiences to raise buyer confidence and accelerate the buying journey. A business’s website will become its top sales rep.

All of these customer interactions — from visiting a website to buying a product — create a trail of digital breadcrumbs. Products like Data Cloud will help sales teams follow that trail to provide better service.

All of these customer interactions — from visiting a website to buying a product — create a trail of digital breadcrumbs. Products like Data Cloud will help sales teams follow that trail to provide better service.

Ketan Karkhanis, Salesforce’s EVP & General Manager of Sales

In the next stage of the AI revolution, we’ll see the emergence of digital agents — AI assistants that can go beyond recommendations and insights to autonomously taking actions like helping a business development rep schedule meetings with prospects to amplify seller productivity or automatically creating sales leads based on analyzing public data.

Finally, we’re going to see a massive surge in upskilling entire sales organizations — to ensure they can tap into the power of AI technology for more productivity and revenue growth. Salesforce is poised to support this trend through our AI innovations, investing in sales team skill development, and fostering community collaboration through initiatives like Salesblazers. We’ve also added new AI courses to Trailhead, Salesforce’s free online learning platform, to help over 6 million users get started with tools like Einstein Copilot and Prompt Builder, build skills, and explore new career paths.

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