What Salesforce's Trailhead courses aren't telling you

I’ve never considered a career in sales. 9 months ago, Salesforce was only a vague notion as a sales force.

Then, I started doing marketing with vyn, whose primary target customers are sales excellence leaders, and very soon I had a rough idea of what Salesforce does: Lightning – their new user interface – is more than a natural phenomenon, Einstein – their AI tool isn’t just the physicist, and Trailhead – “the fun way to learn Salesforce” – is more than a hike in the woods, it’s their metaphor for learning.

I knew “enough”, and had little interest in learning more about it.

It wasn’t until I went to do some market research at this year’s Salesforce World Tour London that I even considered using Salesforce’s Trailhead courses.

In the main conference hall at the Salesforce Tour, those who completed a Trailhead course would receive a prize of their choice. These didn’t tempt me – some heavy-looking books I’d have to carry around all day, a sports water bottle, or a stuffed Astro toy (a Salesforce mascot) – I was more fascinated by the massive 6-screen “Marketing Command Centre” at the other end of the room. The Trailhead challenge wasn't too appealing, only I had some time to kill, and my colleague needed another mascot so each of his daughters could have one… The important things in life.

After queuing with my Trailhead leaflet outside the “Camp Quick Start”, which closely resembled an Apple Store, I finally entered the enclosure and sat down at a computer.

The fun way to learn Salesforce?

Now what? Trailhead is marketed as “the fun way to learn Salesforce” – I didn’t want or need to learn any more of it than the little I already knew, so what was I doing here? One of the guides in the enclosure advised what to do next. She showed me how I could filter courses based on my role, skill level and area of interest. I took a wild guess that there might be something vaguely interesting under the “admin” umbrella. I selected “beginner” and “sales cloud”.

The first course in the list was surprising: Data quality. This is a hot topic in the vyn office as we try to ensure the data our users capture, and their bosses receive, is as high quality as possible. On the marketing team, we talk about how to create buzz around our brand in relation to data quality.

I went through this course, enjoying the light tone and heavy use of examples and images to demonstrate what data quality means, and where it can often go wrong. I quickly finished the first section and got myself a stamp so I could trade it for a children’s toy.

How they won me over

Those 20 minutes of incentivised Trailhead work had achieved what Salesforce surely wanted: To make me see the value in their courses – and come back for more.

I realised that Trailhead is more than just specific Salesforce skills, as I had previously assumed. There is something there for everyone.

So, a few days later, I went back on the Trailhead and looked around for other courses that non-Salesforce people like me might be interested in.

It’s a diverse list:

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While these courses start with the basics, they have a practical focus and prepare you to use these skills after the first couple of 10-20-minute lessons. They’ve also managed to take some dry topics and make them bitesize, interesting and largely visual. For example, last year’s Summer Release course somehow involves a cat reference – and is littered with great visuals.

Bitesize, interesting and actionable

There are three reasons why I think this is a great way to teach, or in a broader setting, to share knowledge.

  • Bitesize lessons drive motivation: Information kept in small, snackable chunks is easier to absorb. For every ‘chunk’ you learn, you feel good, and this keeps you motivated.
  • Human insights give you confidence that lasts: Employing different cognitive faculties, such as verbal, visual, and auditory inputs, makes the information both easier to process and more memorable – and, arguably, more human. You’ve created thousands of new connections between different cognitive modules in your mind, automatically forming and combining your own reactions with the new information, and can feel confident that this memory will help you in the future.
  • Actionable information pushes you to find direction and focus: Clear practical objectives enable you to quickly apply and build on the knowledge you’ve learnt.

Having seen lots of different (free and paid) online education platforms, I have to say that Salesforce really has done a great job in creating courses that engage, entertain, and teach with a focus on practical skills... And they're not just "the fun way to learn Salesforce".