Salesforce is celebrating International Women’s Month, featuring the game-changers and trailblazers who are transforming the world. Maria Martinez, President of Global Customer Success and GM of Latin America at Salesforce, has been blazing her own trail to the top ranks of technology executives. And today, she was named by Fortune Magazine one of the 50 Most Powerful Latinas in business, after appearing on the list last year as well. Martinez is focused on mentoring women of all ages and all backgrounds. We caught up with her for a Q&A on her background, work and vision for the future.
What originally got you interested in technology and brought you to Salesforce?
In high school, I had a teacher who knew I was good at math and recognized my potential to translate those skills into something else. One day he approached me and told me that I should consider a career in engineering. I immediately let him know that I had no interest in building houses. I didn’t have a clue that engineering extended far beyond that, but I trusted my teacher. I went on to study electrical engineering at the University of Puerto Rico and then got my Master’s in computer engineering at Ohio State University, which launched my career in technology. I started as an engineer and moved up through the ranks by trying new roles on for size. There’s a common thread of technology in my career. I jumped from switches to cellular telephony to software to cloud, and I’ve had the great fortune of working at the companies who were the trailblazers of their time. Salesforce is no different.
Eight years ago, when I left Microsoft, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to be part of something special. Salesforce was a small company at the time that caught my eye as being “different.” I reached out to Marc Benioff directly, even though I had no connection, introduction, or even knowledge of any openings that might suit my skills. I was pleasantly surprised that he responded and, well, the rest is history! All this time later, I still feel like I am in my “dream job” at the best company in the world, at the perfect time in history. I am endlessly in awe of the amazing talent in the teams that I get to work with every day.
When you feel yourself getting too comfortable, purposefully push yourself outside of your comfort zone—that’s where all the learning is. ” Maria Martinez
What are you working on that is helping to drive Salesforce’s technology and innovation goals?
I lead the Salesforce Customer Success Group (CSG) and Success Cloud, and my teams are critical to driving Salesforce’s customer-centric value proposition. From the beginning, 19 years ago, Marc knew that the customer had to be in the center of everything we do and dream and innovate, and today is no different. More importantly, Salesforce has grown on the understanding that customer success is not a one-size-fits-all solution for customers and that there is no finish line for success—it evolves together with customer expectations.
My teams takes over once the customer signs the purchase order to make sure that the customer can adopt and successfully transform their business using Salesforce products. Our Customer Success Managers are the closest to the customers, and we act as their next-level trusted advisors. This means that the CSG professionals need to not only understand but also champion our customer voices so that we can effectively innovate our services and success offerings at the same accelerated pace as the products and technology that underpin it.
And CSG has skin in the game to help our customers drive the outcomes they most desire. We work alongside them every day in their companies to help envision, engage and enable success. We leverage data insights to create intelligent and personalized customer experiences.
From the customer’s first day with Salesforce, through to their renewal, and beyond, CSG uses data to monitor health, drive adoption and usage, manage risk, and ensure their overall satisfaction. Data helps us detect patterns and themes, informing how we innovate—that is, which products, services and experiences we need to build to meet the demand of our global set of 150,000+ customers. Our Success Cloud solutions are available to every customer; they range from self-serve to dedicated, embedded in-house experts and everything in between.
I’m really proud that our Customer Success Group features the best minds in the industry who, with continuous education and the latest certifications, are helping our customers blaze their trails and do more than they ever imagined.
Customer expectations have changed dramatically in recent years. What are some of the biggest changes from your perspective?
Our customers have gone from using Salesforce for a single instance or org to running their entire business on Salesforce, across multiple clouds. More than 150,000 businesses around the world, of every size and in every industry, trust us to help them succeed. They trust us with the privacy of their data, the reliability of their business, and the success (and loyalty) of their customers in turn. This has put more responsibility on us to relentlessly focus on and deliver success for a continually-growing set of global customers, all of which have unique needs and definitions of success.
The CSG teams get to know our customers intimately, aligning with them on a definition of what success means to their unique businesses and, most importantly, works with our customers to help them build a culture that can support and drive that success effectively. One of the things I’m most proud of with my group is that customers no longer come to Salesforce just for the innovation in the products, but also the innovation we offer in our services to help drive their success with Salesforce. The transition from customer to Trailblazer—happens when they engage with CSG to get the most out of their Salesforce technology and discover the amazing innovations that our product teams create that help change business for the better. They’re coming to us knowing that over nearly 20 years we have created best-practice offerings to help them succeed in their markets. It’s truly an honor to co-create these businesses alongside them as true partners, as invested in their success as they are themselves.
Equality is one of our company’s core values, and International Women’s Month is here. What are your thoughts on equality and the opportunities and challenges for women in today’s workforce?
I am proud to work at Salesforce, where our culture of trust and transparency makes it possible to have these kinds of conversations about diversity, equality and gender openly. When something is important to our employees, it’s important to our leaders and we tackle it head on. Does that mean we’ve perfected it? Of course not. But because we place a priority on these issues, we can be open and honest internally with ourselves, our colleagues and on the leadership team, which significantly increases the odds of progress.
We have an opportunity – and a responsibility – to provide more mentorships for women both internally at Salesforce and externally to other women at all levels of their careers. I have personally benefited from having a diverse group of advisors over the years – my own “Board of Directors” as I call it – that have helped me navigate my path and uncover potential opportunities and challenges that I may not have seen for myself. In turn, I take a lot of pride in mentoring women of all ages and all backgrounds and have always made that a priority. When we share our stories, we normalize some of the challenges – a great first step in detecting patterns and finding solutions that will drive change for individual women, and for women in general. I also have several strong female leaders on my leadership team, and firmly believe that the diversity of backgrounds brings a better lens to every discussion we have as a team.
Fortune has once again recognized you on its Most Powerful Latinas in Business list. What does this recognition mean to you?
It’s a tremendous honor to be named on the Fortune Most Powerful Latinas list, and I am proud to be among the many Latinas who are not only successful in business but are powerful forces in the world. It’s wonderful to know that you can work hard and use your career to help others recognize their own potential. On the list, I am in the great company of so many wonderful women – including my colleague Cindy Robbins, who has championed equal pay here at Salesforce. I’m thankful that Salesforce gives me the platform to reach so many customers, employees and partners – and I’m proud to represent them on the list.
What is the best career advice you’ve received?
When you feel yourself getting too comfortable, purposefully push yourself outside of your comfort zone – that’s where all the learning is.
Looking into the future, what are some of the technology trends that you think will drive the most change?
There’s no question that the technology creating the most business disruption and opportunity right now is the use of AI, especially predictive intelligence and analytics for insights and recommendations. When it comes to customers, knowing what they want even before they know they want it is key to creating a relationship as a trusted advisor. Predictive intelligence and insights creates that opportunity for a business to better understand their customers. In turn, that information can make the planning and innovation cycles much more dynamic. Analytics help create that high-level "snapshot" view that companies really need to manage and grow their base, improve brand loyalty and increase efficiencies.
Other technology trends making waves are voice and image recognition, which offer next-level identification for sensitive tasks such as accessing bank records and for common tasks like opening your iPhone. I think there’s a strong understanding in the technology community that this technology is needs to be handled in that way to ensure that it’s used for good.
Finally, internet of things (IoT) doesn’t get as much attention these days, but it’s truly come into its own as a technology that helps businesses become incredibly efficient in terms of planning and servicing equipment. It can save businesses money and potential PR nightmares by identifying those machines that are likely to fail and how, so the defect can be addressed swiftly. We’re living in incredible times, and I’m excited to see these, and the next wave of new technologies yet to be born,begin to shape how we live, work and play.
What is at the top of your music playlist?
I was born in Cuba and raised in Puerto Rico, so music had a huge cultural influence and was present in every part of my life growing up. One of the highlights last year was having Luis Fonsi, who has long been a favorite in the Puerto Rican community, come and perform his chart-topping Despacito on stage at our Success Cloud Keynote at Dreamforce. And yes, it’s still at the top of my playlist!