7 Insights for Salesforce Success

Azmi Jafarey, CIO & SVP Technology Architecture, Intralinks [NYSE: IL]
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Azmi Jafarey, CIO & SVP Technology Architecture, Intralinks [NYSE: IL]

The purpose of using Salesforce is to sell more products or services to more customers. The insights relied on for this engagement has evolved to become more data driven, but the end game remains the same: increased revenue and customer retention. Success requires a social and adaptable approach: customer discovery, meaningful engagement and interactions, building and nurturing relationships and becoming a trusted advisor. Implementation of Salesforce varies, but beyond deep-pockets and high ambition, here is advice on how to use the platform more effectively:

1. Salesforce is never complete. Plan for constant change.

At a minimum, your business needs and business models will change. You will restructure your territories. How and who you compensate within the sales process will change. Your new sales head will change the stages of your leads and how opportunities are defined. The marketing department will come up with new types of campaigns and restructure how lead scoring is done. These types of changes are inevitable. To accommodate change, you need an in-house core team of savvy Salesforce developers. Good developers are in demand and hard to find—keep them happy and pay them well.

  â€‹Success requires a social and adaptable approach: customer discovery, meaningful engagement and interactions, building and nurturing relationships and becoming a trusted advisor  

2. Salesforce is ineffective as an island. Plan on integration.

Gone are the days of stand-alone customer relationship management (CRM) systems—you can no longer afford siloes. You will be expected to integrate with your corporate website, your marketing systems, your enterprise resource planning (ERP), your tech support systems and your e-commerce system. All of these systems will undergo regular changes and upgrades. Invest in in-house integration experts. Relying on consultants alone is not economical.

3. Don’t force-fit Salesforce into doing unnatural things.

It’s fine to do sales orders from within Salesforce; it’s wrong to try to make Salesforce into an ERP system. Similarly, don’t try to make it into an overly complex, rules-based billing engine, a product catalog system or a compensation system. Create best practices and train users properly. This will also help prevent against hyper-customization, as explained below.

4. The quality of your data matters. Period.

To avoid a “garbage-in-garbage-out” scenario, you will need eternal vigilance. But first you’ll need to build in the smarts: required fields, selectable drop-downs rather than free-form data entry, minimalist, but smartly designed workflows, and so on. These requirements will help prevent bad data or incomplete data and you won’t have to worry about data clean-up downstream.

5. Don’t overdo customization. You will pay for it many times over.

This is advice that you might have already learned the hard way. It is very easy to add, difficult to subtract and easy to get carried away modifying Salesforce. Many times what starts as an optimistic desire for completeness of data with ideal workflows ends up being complex, unused or misused. I’ve seen too many forms with way too many fields. It’s a lot to ask of a prospect to add his or her Twitter profile if even making the address field mandatory scares a customer away. I can also assure you that if your system is complex enough, and enough years elapse, “back-to-basics tech refresh” and “complete overhaul” will be in your future. Your best defense against over customization is an adherence to Salesforce best practices, mentioned earlier. If others can be profitable without hitting the limits for custom code, so can you. But going beyond lip service to best practices is by no means an easy sell. Your business processes will likely need to be simplified, probably as a mandate.

6. You need governance. Stop accommodating those who yell loudest.

Demand will always exceed your ability to meet it. There will be a huge range: from wanting a few fields added to a form, to wanting electronic data interchange (EDI) integration with suppliers. You will have configure, price quote (CPQ) demands that will make your product quoting needs feel as complex as building a Boeing 777. True governance will ensure the right prioritization for your limited resources. You want what is best for your company as a whole, not to waste resources to meet the goals of one person or group.

7. You are locked in. Stop crying about it.

If your Salesforce project is even half-successful, chances are it is a long-term commitment. You can negotiate all kinds of clauses to get your data out, but there is a difference between the house you lived in versus receiving a few truckloads of brick and mortar. Salesforce, and any complex Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product, needs clear long term planning and understanding of risks, pros and cons. However, turning back will be painful; going forward might also be painful, especially when it is time to renegotiate contracts. Once you commit, you’re all in.

Salesforce adoption can be complex, but following the above advice will help you get through it. When in doubt, follow my Salesforce motto: Simplify!

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