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In an industry filled with computer science and engineering degrees, Eric Berridge is a believer that those with an arts and humanities focus can succeed. He’s an entrepreneur, a techy and literary believer all wrapped in one.
In December of 2000, Eric helped start and build a consultancy firm known as Bluewolf. Today, that same company has been acquired by IBM and is a leading consultancy firm, known for producing its yearly report, The State of Salesforce.
On this episode of IT Visionaries, Eric tells us why he values those with humanity degrees, the initial pushback he received about the State of Salesforce reports, and why the cloud has created a passion for successful IT all over the world.
- Companies were in a denial phase with the cloud, which helped Bluewolf get off the ground and establish themselves as a power in the professional-services space.
- Bluewolf’s process of hiring people with humanities degrees allowed them to grow and interact with people they couldn’t otherwise.
- State of Salesforce is a very honest report Bluewolf publishes every year, which details where customers are having success within Salesforce, and where they are struggling.
For an in-depth look at this episode, continue below.
Eric Berridge is far from a traditional CEO. He’s a two-time author, a TED presenter, an entrepreneur, and the co-founder of Bluewolf, an IBM company. Berridge was the architect behind establishing Bluewolf in its infancy and helping build it into a leading Salesforce consultancy company for over two decades.
On this episode of IT Visionaries, Berridge discusses how Bluewolf established itself in the marketplace, why he values non-traditional degrees in an industry filled with computer science majors, and how an annual report changed Bluewolf’s trajectory.
“Our original idea was to disrupt the professional services industry,” Berridge said. “Organizations are interested in time-to-value and they’re less interested in spending millions and millions of dollars on these software projects that appear to be never-ending.”
Out of that simple notion, Bluewolf was born. Their strategy in those early days was simple; to conduct at least 50 calls a day asking one important question: “What do you need?”
In 2000, the internet boom was in the midst of its rise, and what they learned from those early calls were two key factors that would mold their business and the industry. While companies were trying to get a grasp on the internet, they were also 1) mired in multi-year contracts with a handful of vendors and 2) ignoring the infancy of the cloud.
“The incumbent CIO, their world was completely ignoring what was going on with these future cloud companies because they just had so much stuff on their plates,” Berridge explains.
From there, Bluewolf set forth a path of action. They hired consultants — many of whom were the brightest in the industry and were looking for work courtesy of the dot com crash — and turned Bluewolf into a boutique consulting firm.
“The CIOs just ate them up because they were out trying to sign these multi-year agreements with the big firms and they wanted to work with boutiques,” Berridge said. “And Bluewolf came to market as a boutique at the perfect time.”
Companies began to buy into the idea that they could pick a product and have it quickly go to market — most of the time within 90 days. What’s more, they were buying the idea of Bluewolf’s expertise and abilities, which Berridge called his David versus Goliath approach.
“We would go in front of CEOs and say, ‘Look, let’s pick something where I can get you live in 90 days,’” Berridge said. “And what they were buying is that message, but they were also buying the fact that we had the best experts that we could get in front of them. At the end of the day, customers want to buy expertise, they don’t want to necessarily buy scale. Sometimes they have to buy scale, but if they have to pick between expertise and scale, they’ll typically lean toward expertise.”
While Bluewolf was building sustained success, the biggest change within the ecosystem became the adoption of the cloud — particularly Salesforce. Projects that took 90 days to go live were suddenly taking mere weeks. And while this was revolutionary from a production and efficiency standpoint, many companies, still spurned by the complexity of software and trying to implement it, were in denial about its benefits. This allowed Bluewolf to cement themselves within the marketplace even more.
“I think initially CIOs were in denial,” Berridge said. “They just didn’t believe that the cloud could be as productive and as quick of a time-to-market engine as it really was. But then the good ones woke up and said, ‘Wait a minute… This thing is going to completely change the arc of my career because it is going to be so much easier for me to prove value in front of the business.’”
In that same vein, one of the biggest lessons Bluewolf learned was the role it played as the trusted middle man.
“A good services firm absolutely takes ownership of that ongoing translation that happens between IT and the business because there’s always a little bit of a language disconnect,” Berridge said. “The IT organizations that can work with someone to take ownership of that conversation and provide transparency back to the business, and continually prove that they’re providing value, those are the ones that really help organizations grow and be innovative.”
As Bluewolf continued to grow in the consultancy space, one of the non-traditional aspects of the company became its hiring and recruitment practices. Silicon Valley and tech start-ups across the globe are littered with computer science majors and engineering PhDs, Berridge shifted focus and placed an emphasis on people with humanities degrees, often citing their creativity and conversational skills as points of emphasis — something that would become a company staple.
“The irony in the technology marketplace is the most expensive skills to hire are the ones that have all of the badges and credentials,” Berridge explained. “It’s the computer science degrees who you know put the hard work into figuring out how the machine works. Those are the hardest skills to hire and the ones that you’re gonna spend the most money on. But to me, the skills that were the most valuable were the skills around things like teamwork and collaboration and creativity.”
From there, Bluewolf began hiring from all walks of life. They hired artists, musicians and even a bartender, but the biggest commonality between all of them was their ability to lead.
“They’re not writing code necessarily, but they’re taking this configurable cloud world that we all live in and they’re making sense of it and then familiarizing themselves with the technology to a point where they can take a business idea and they can replicate it in these applications,” Berridge said. “And that became a big piece of what we were doing.”
As the company’s hiring practices evolved, so did its purpose. Bluewolf wanted to market itself similar to a product, and its brand and its story became a focal point. With a renewed voice and marketing emphasis, an idea was fostered to become this unbiased voice of reason within the Salesforce community, thus came the birth of The State of Salesforce Report, which wasn’t initially perceived well by Salesforce.
“Here I was running a business that was extremely dependent upon [Salesforce’s] product and their success and we needed their endorsement,” Berridge said. “Yet, we published a report that was somewhat controversial in its early days. And I remember getting phone calls from [Salesforce] telling us that we couldn’t publish this.”
Bluewolf persevered, though, and as years went by, The State of Salesforce became Bluewolf’s biggest lead generator. Eventually, Salesforce came around to the idea that the purpose of the report was to provide the truth and provide the best advice to its customers, which helped grow the Salesforce ecosystem.
“When you compare the Salesforce partner ecosystem to any other ecosystem as an example, it’s the Wild Wild West, right?” Berridge said. “If you’ve got expertise around Marketing Cloud, or Service Cloud, or if you want to build a product as an ISV on the app exchange, the barrier to entry isn’t that high. And they do that purposely because they want to create this ecosystem that has scale and that can feed this industry that has an insatiable demand for knowledge and resources around whatever Salesforce product you’re implementing.”
If there’s one thing that Berridge has learned through his 30-year odyssey, it is that the customer is always the focus. And if you can come up with solutions for your customers and continuously get in front of them, then you’re always going to have a business. So what does the future of the consulting industry look like?
“For consultancies, for companies that are building consultancies, it’s about having your own unique way to go to market, to behave, and to create tools and approaches that your customers can use to think differently and to collaborate differently and to move in the direction of innovation,” Berridge said.
Berridge left Bluewolf in 2019 and since has taken a step back to contemplate his 30-year career in the industry, while also consulting with companies and keeping an eye towards what’s next. You can connect with Berridge here, and learn more about Bluewolf here.