Our VP of Partnerships Zak Pines recently interviewed Seamus Ruiz-Earle of The Carabiner Group as part of our ongoing Partner Interview Series. Zak and Seamus had a conversation about Seamus’s path to building a Salesforce consulting business and the opportunity for financial services businesses to improve the speed at which they engage customers. Here’s an abridged transcript of the chat.
Origins of The Carabiner Group
Zak: I want to start with your story, and the story of how we started to work together. Can you share that story as far back as you’d like to start?
Seamus: I guess the logical first step, and sort-of disclaimer, is to say that I grew up in Silicon Valley. I started thinking about business at age 16 as a junior in high school, and I thought I wanted to be an investment banker and social entrepreneur.
As part of that goal, I started cold calling banks that I wanted to try to work for in nearby San Francisco. They weren’t really used to answering phone calls from a 17-year-old, so I’d get the obligatory “You’re too young for us” speech and the “FDIC regulations say minors can’t manage investments” speech quite a lot.
I eventually connected with an investment bank that was willing to give me a shot. They told me that they couldn’t have me work with clients but that they were transitioning from Salesforce Classic to Lightning and would let me manage it. As they say, the rest is history.
Zak: That’s incredible. It’s one of the things that drew me to you because I was also a teenager willing to do anything to get started in business. I love that you got to an opportunity for yourself, and it’s incredible that first opportunity then brought you to Salesforce. What happened next?
Seamus: At that point, I had not heard of Salesforce. I spent six months in my college dorm room learning about Salesforce through Trailhead. Over the next three years, I worked with that bank and other clients as a freelancer when I wasn’t in class.
When I got to the point of interviewing for jobs as I approached graduation, I started by talking to financial institutions, still going down that investment banking route. But I kept hearing the same advice—that based on my background and interest, I should really look into consulting. I made that pivot.
Zak: That’s where our paths crossed. I shared out some of that story on LinkedIn. It was clear we shared common interests in entrepreneurism and Salesforce.
Seamus: Yes, and fast forward to today, we’re growing quickly. Our approach is spreading like wildfire.
Zak: What is it about your approach that is getting so much interest from financial services customers?
Seamus: The Carabiner Group is filling a gap in the market as consultants who are with customers for the long haul, mainly in the professional services industry. We have a background in both CRM and financial services so that we can bring custom solutions to bear using the Salesforce and Formstack platforms.
Zak: Are you focussed on specific sub-verticals within financial services?
Seamus: Financial services are a diverse world, and we try to serve all that diversity as best we can. Wealth management is a focus for us. We’re also working with customers in real estate, mortgage issuance, insurance, and consumer/commercial banking.
Immediate, Personalized Interactions in Financial Services
Zak: What are some of the specific opportunities you’re seeing for financial services businesses to leverage Salesforce and Formstack?
Seamus: At a core level, there’s the potential for highly personalized connection points between advisors and their clients and target clients. Salesforce and Formstack can help build those relationships further. There’s an opportunity to foster a more intimate connection between the advisor and the customer, and if maintained correctly, the advisor and client relationship can last for decades. Formstack and Salesforce solutions make this process much easier to manage.
Zak: What are some of the challenges you’re seeing to capitalizing on that opportunity?
Seamus: In the financial services space, there can be an attitude of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” Historically, there have been concerns that implementing new technologies will be too expensive and not worth it. Good financial advisors can tend to be risk averse, and so presenting a clear value proposition is essential.
In our business, we focus on conveying the value that the Salesforce/Formstack combination can have to driving an improved customer experience.
Zak: Like you, we are seeing more and more customers using Salesforce Financial Services Cloud. What have you found about Salesforce’s increased focus on financial services?
Seamus: At present, financial services is about 10% of the Salesforce ecosystem. It’s growing, but it is still only a fraction of a sector like software companies, which is about 40% of the Salesforce ecosystem.
Like us, Salesforce came to the same realization around vertical-specific opportunities. Financial Services Cloud provinces out-of-the-box functionality for financial institutions. So for example, for financial advisors, it comes with the structure to support households and individuals and manage service requests in a streamlined way.
Zak: What percent of your customers are using Financial Services Cloud?
Seamus: About 40% are on Financial Services Cloud. We also support Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, and Pardot, particularly for our non-FinServ clientele.
Zak: How are you finding and attracting new customers for The Carabiner Group?
Seamus: Up until now, it’s mostly been through word of mouth. We take great pride in our work, so we do a great job for a customer, and they are telling those in their network about us. There is a growing gap in the market for great Salesforce resources, so we get recommended to fill that gap.
Our partnership with Formstack provides a great first project. We have a solution for a problem we know clients have that we can apply quickly. It’s a great foot-in-the-door success for a new customer.
Zak How are you thinking about growing The Carabiner Group?
Seamus: There are a combination of things we have to take into account. The Salesforce market is growing exponentially. The limiting factor for growth is the lack of talent to manage that system once it’s been sold.
Our focus right now is growing sustainably. I think one key to doing that is to develop a talent pipeline. I’ve been working in the Salesforce ecosystem since I was 17, and based off of my experience, we are putting a training program together so that students can work with us over the course of their college career. By the time they graduate school, they will have the equivalent of two full-time years of experience. They will be ahead of that steep learning curve and ready to start adding value from day one of their full-time careers.
Another key to our growth is the partnerships we develop. We like working with teams and software providers like Formstack, and we take partnerships seriously. We only partner with companies with whom we believe in the vision.
At the bottom line, we like to do good business. I come from a family whose heritage is linked to small-scale Irish agriculture and construction, selling cows and laying concrete for 10 generations. There is a certain ethic to doing business. A lot of that is lost in larger corporations. We are taking care of customers in a special way.
Partnering with Formstack for Salesforce
Zak: You have quickly become a Formstack Platform partner, getting certified in all our Salesforce products—,digital forms, document generation and digital signature. How have you been applying Formstack as a solution for your financial services customers?
Seamus: The beauty of the Formstack Platform is that it can be applied in different ways to different industries. A key pressure point in financial services is the client acquisition and onboarding process.
You want your customer to become a customer quickly. No one wants to have to fill out 12 different paper-based documents anymore. That just slows down the process of onboarding and starting to work together.
Now, with Formstack, we move all that to digital, and it happens much more quickly with less manual work or errors. Advisors can collect data through digital forms, automatically generate the documents that customers need to sign, and get them signed digitally via Formstack Sign. So instead of taking days or weeks, now you can get started instantly on a cell phone or tablet.
And in the Financial Services Cloud, NativeCloud provides an extremely high security option for customers.
Zak: Immediacy is very important in financial services, isn’t it?
Seamus: It really is. Immediate gratification is critical for the customer experience. Speed is the name of the game.
In commercial real estate, for example, I’ve seen the traditional, manual processes take five to seven days to get a proposal drafted and delivered to a customer after showing a property.
With Formstack, we can now set up customers to get that proposal automatically built and emailed less than an hour after the showing. It’s a far better experience for the customer and gives them something immediate to act on.
It’s one of the reasons we got into this space—this intersection of CRM and financial services. In general, the industry hasn’t changed much, and now it’s ripe for change.
These kinds of capabilities that we are talking about have become a way for our customers to differentiate themselves vs. their competitors. It’s a new era of competitiveness.
Zak: That is high impact—if you are helping customers to differentiate on the experience they are delivering for customers and the speed and personalization with which they are engaging.
What has your experience been like working with the Formstack partner team?
Seamus: I couldn’t have asked for a better team to work alongside when serving clients. We got our partnership kicked off with a high-intensity, quick-turn project. Everyone did the work, without even knowing each other that well.
It was a massive, very public project, and it worked flawlessly. It was a great foundation for the working relationship moving forward. It’s a true partnership that benefits both companies. Everyone at Formstack I’ve worked with has incredibly high character.
We believe in the Formstack Platform and the value every customer gets from it.
Zak: Time to wrap up with the lightning round. What are some of your personal interests or hobbies?
Seamus: I’m a photographer—astro photographer, star photos. I like to collect old things. I’m an antique guy—Life magazines from World War II, coins, scout books.
Zak: Do you have a productivity tip you’d like to share?
Seamus: I like to intermix exercise throughout the workday. I work at a standing desk. I like taking breaks when I need them. I may work from 8 a.m. to midnight, but I’ll take breaks when I need them throughout the day.
Zak: Do you have a favorite TV show?
Seamus: “The West Wing”
Zak: What is your go-to lunch during the workday?
Seamus: Peanut butter and honey sandwich
Zak: Speaking of sandwiches, is a hot dog a sandwich?
Seamus: That is a complex, historically linked question. You see, the Earl of Sandwich created the Sandwich. The sausage existed before then, and people were eating sausages in buns. Therefore, I have to say a hot dog is not a sandwich.
Zak: That has to be the best answer I’ve gotten to that question.
Looking for your next step? Check out Formstack’s partner program for consultants, agencies, and tech partners.