New Manning School Program Teaches Students In-demand CRM Technology

A business student gets started on Salesforce's Trailhead Image by Ed Brennen
A Salesforce Student Ambassador, left, helps fellow students get started with Trailhead during a training session in the Pulichino Tong Business Center Trading Room.

By Ed Brennen

In a world that’s becoming increasingly data-driven, consider these numbers: There were more than 2,000 Boston-area jobs recently posted on seeking applicants with skills in Salesforce, the nation’s leading customer relationship management (CRM) platform. And in the next five years, it’s projected that more than a half-million new jobs will be created across the U.S. that leverage Salesforce platforms.

“No matter what your area of concentration is – business, sciences, engineering, health care – learning about Salesforce will help you prepare for co-ops, internships and jobs after graduation,” says Manning School of Business Dean Sandy Richtermeyer.

To give UMass Lowell students hands-on experience with the CRM platform – and get a leg up in the job market – the Manning School recently partnered with Salesforce to train students using Trailhead.

“We’re excited to integrate Trailhead into our curriculum and educate our students about the amazing opportunities in the Salesforce ecosystem,” Richtermeyer said as the Manning School kicked off the program with a “Salesforce Day” featuring executives from the company and corporate partners that use the technology.

A Salesforce representative teaches Trailhead Image by Ed Brennen
Salesforce Global Director Shirlene Chow leads a Trailhead training session for students in the Manning School's Trading Room.

While the Manning School is the driving force behind the partnership, Trailhead is open to students from any academic discipline who want to access Salesforce training and certification. Once registered, users choose from hundreds of gamified “trails” that teach the core CRM application, as well as other products such as app building and digital marketing. Every time a user completes a trail (some take a few minutes, while others take several hours), they earn an online badge that can be added to their LinkedIn profile.

“It’s a fun and engaging way to take bite-sized chunks, absorb the knowledge and build your mastery,” says second-year MBA student Barry Pease, who already has 50 badges on his LinkedIn profile. After seeing how many companies are seeking candidates with Salesforce experience, Pease enrolled in Trailhead on his own last year. He’s happy to see the Manning School formally introduce the program to all students.

“Salesforce is going to become ubiquitous throughout most jobs,” Pease predicts. “You need to understand the platform, just like you understand Word and Excel. You have to know what Salesforce is running to help you be productive.”

Among the Salesforce executives to visit campus for the kickoff was alum Vala Afshar ’94, ’96, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the Francis College of Engineering. After 20 years in software development, customer support and marketing, Afshar became chief digital evangelist at Salesforce in 2015.

A student gets up to speed on Salesforce Image by Ed Brennen
Students began earning badges and working toward Salesforce certification during a Trailhead training session.

“Data is the new oil,” Afshar told students during a talk on digital business disruption at a packed Alumni Hall. “Regardless if you’re taking classes on North Campus or South Campus, software is eating the world – and data and artificial intelligence are eating software. … There are technology megatrends that are going to impact every industry, every business. It doesn’t matter what you study; you are going to be exposed to these technologies.”

Bianca Corey, a sales and marketing operations specialist at Burning Glass Technologies in Boston, had to take a crash course in Salesforce when she joined the job-market analytics firm. She says students should learn the CRM platforms “as fast as possible” – before entering the workforce.

“It’s a newer thing to expect job candidates to have,” Corey says. “If you can show that you have these tools, then we can throw you on projects right away.”

To help introduce newbies to the technology, the Manning School created a team of eight Salesforce Student Ambassadors that got a jumpstart on Trailhead over the summer. Students were also invited to participate in a Manning School social media contest (grand prize: the chance to co-author a Huffington Post blog with Afshar) and a nationwide Salesforce student competition (grand prize: a free trip to the company’s “Dreamforce” event in San Francisco).

One of the ambassadors, senior management information systems major Pranav Nagrecha, got Salesforce experience last year through his co-op job with the university’s Information Technology office.

A career panel talks about using Salesforce Image by Ed Brennen
Amanda Matczynski, center, of Wolf & Company, P.C., and Bianca Corey, right, of Burning Glass Technologies, were among the career panelists at Salesforce Day.

“I consider myself lucky to have had my hands on it before everyone else did,” says Nagrecha, who already has 49 badges and is aiming to become Salesforce-certified by December. “There are so many ways the software can be used and molded. Hospitals, colleges … anyone uses it.”

Thanks to the university’s CRM strategy, there are already more than 200 Salesforce enterprise users across campus. As an IT co-op, Nagrecha helped the Undergraduate Admissions office integrate the CRM into its work.

“Beyond just how we use it as a connected campus, it is by far the leading CRM software out there,” says Michael Cipriano, associate vice chancellor for information technology and chief information officer.

Associate CIO Lori Dembowitz, who organized the Salesforce Day along with Senior IT Program Manager Nancy Fowler, says integrating Salesforce into academics is a “perfect fit.”

“Having our students learn this cutting-edge technology really powers innovation,” she says.