Best Practices for Selecting Applications for Salesforce

Best Practices for Selection Applications for Saleforce

One question we are asked all the time is: What is the top App you recommend to do [Insert Need Here] on Salesforce? Where do you go for [Insert Need Here]? This can be mass emailing, volunteer management, merging duplicate records or any number of the things our clients need to do every day. And oh, what a world this would be if we could tell you we had a secret (or not so secret) list of our very best favorites for everything. If we did, we’d probably sell it on eBay, head to the Caribbean for a year, come back next year and see what’s new.

But as it stands, with technology being a living, breathing, ever-changing enterprise (okay, it is at least one of those three things) we do not feel that a life of rest is in the cards for us. And we’d get bored out there in a week or two probably, so it’s just as well. Instead, our answer to the question of selecting applications is the ever-popular: It Depends.

When selecting applications to add to your Salesforce instance, choosing the best one depends on all kinds of important things, which vary from organization to organization and sometimes from department to department. It depends on what kinds of Apps (if any) you’re already running on your system and how “heavy” it is (more on that below). It depends on how tightly you want the data integrated or how long the data will be of value to you. It depends on how many people will need to use it, what your budget is and what level of support you will need. It depends on whether you prefer the tried and true, or like to be on the cutting edge of new innovation.

That’s a lot of information to consider. As is so often the case, home renovation is an apt metaphor here: some Apps are like adding an end table, while others are a whole kitchen renovation. Salesforce is a big structure in which you can put and do a lot of things. So, what you add to it makes a difference with how happy you’ll be. If you’re methodical with your selection, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some key things to consider:

Know What You Want to Do with It

Many a shopper has been wooed by features and disappointed in function before. Don’t be that shopper! Some people list the requirements of a tool and that’s not a bad idea. But sometimes a well-intentioned effort toward collecting requirements becomes and energy-sucking exercise in design. Worse, sometimes it becomes just a list of all things your current system lacks.

The best thing to do when selecting applications is list the things you want to be able to do with it.

Do you want to send emails to targeted lists of people? Report on how many volunteers have put in at least 30 hours of service in the last year? Think about the outcomes, not the process or the features.

Weigh the Impact

Even Apps that do the same things are not all built the same way and how ‘heavy’ they will sit in your Salesforce instance is an important thing to understand. Let me explain heavy as it relates to selecting applications. When installed in your system, some Apps add a lot of Custom Objects, Custom Fields, Triggers and VisualForce operations. Others add fewer elements but make more use of Standard Objects and Fields. Still others add very little to your instance but allow you to access a whole separate tool from within Salesforce. The collective impact of the tool on your existing instance is what we mean by weight. Heavier Apps are going to add more components, which may influence how easily you can additional Apps in the future or they may have an impact on things you’re already doing. This is okay, and natural, but it’s important to understand before you install. If your style tends toward modern minimalism, you’re probably not going to want a marble-topped coffee table with roman pillar legs.

Be Realistic – and Prudent – About Price

Apps range in price as well as functionality. In this day of widely available ‘free information’ and open source options, it can be tempting to slide into an expectation that everything be available for little to no cost. Great no-cost tools exist, but some things worth paying for. There are two things to consider when selecting applications to fit in your budget.

  • First, how important is the function the App will fulfill in relation to all of the work you do? Is it essential to day-to-day functioning and success or is it a widget that would help make a minor process more efficient? For the former, be prepared to make an adequate investment. Easier said than done, I know, but too often organizations get burned thinking they stumbled on a low-cost magic bullet. On the flip side, be tough with yourself about needs vs. wants and don’t overpay for something that doesn’t pay off. A double-oven might be a great feature in a kitchen but probably isn’t worth it if you only use it on Thanksgiving.
  • Second, don’t forget about support, unless you don’t need support. Be sure to check before you buy (or download for free) what support options are available with your App. If you have savvy Salesforce wizards on staff, this may be less of a concern. If not, ensure you’ve accounted for that in your budgeting.

Accept the Idea of Change

Ever bought a big screen TV or a fancy refrigerator only to find out a week later that a newer, better version with some pretty cool features is coming out? It can be daunting to pull the trigger on new Apps when it feels as though the perfect solution for you could be just around the corner. While it’s good to be aware of what might be up and coming, it’s impossible to be on top of everything. The most productive people let go of buyer’s remorse and worry and focus on making the most out of the tools you pick.

If you keep focused, determine what you want and need, and do some research to find expert opinions, your task of selecting applications should go fine and you can get back to delivering on your mission.

Speaking of research, Heller Consulting has put together a few reports to help sort through many of the choices available on the market today.

After the original posting, roundCorner announced their partnership with Salesforce.com and the release of the renamed product NGO Connect. Find out more here.

Have you had any trying experiences selecting applications for your organization? What helped you get through it? Let us know in the comments below.

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The Connected Cause is a place for experts in the nonprofit online space to share perspective, offer guidance and promote best practices for using today’s technology effectively. Our goal is to provide a comprehensive source of collaborative thought leadership for the nonprofit industry.

5 comments

  1. Susan Kenna Wright

    Whenever I commit to an app, I’m sure to connect with peers to see what they use and their level of satisfaction. I read reviews online and seek out additional research to obtain a variety of perspectives.

  2. Another good question to consider when selecting Salesforce Apps is who else will use the system. Particularly “heavy” applications could limit the other Apps that you might want to install down the road and could impact potential future implementations on your CRM. To stick with your metaphor, “Who else needs to use the kitchen?!”

  3. One of the most interesting parts of app selection is how vendors will approach the same business need from different perspectives. When there is virtual feature parity among several potential options, non-functional considerations usually pop to the fore: pricing, support, vendor stability, roadmap and scalability are typical considerations when there are multiple good options.

  4. Audra Smith-Wilke

    All I can say is “hallelujah”! So many cliches are apt here, the first being, “if I had a nickel for every time someone asked me this question”.

    But seriously, when anyone is looking for a magic bullet, they are certain to be disappointed, especially if that bullet is free.

    For example, a lot of nonprofits say that they are interested in NPSP because it’s “free”. While technically that is true, there are a lot of other factors to consider, and as this article points out, if this is something you will rely heavily on (which for a fundraising App you would), you should be prepared to invest. (And yes, it is an investment rather than an expense. Or at least it should be.)

    This investment can be made via product licensing fees for something that is full-featured with customer support, or in services that will gain you thoughtful implementation and functionality enhancements. In many cases you will pay for what you want one way or another.

    As this article states, you want to use the information you have at your disposal to make the best choice you can, recognizing that change is the norm rather than the exception. Products are discontinued, vendors are acquired and functionality can be improved (or broken) over time.

  5. Kim Kupferman

    I completely agree – it’s always important to weigh all of these factors when selecting applications on Salesforce. By entering into the process with your eyes wide open, you’ll have a much higher success rate when it comes to implementation and long-term adoption.

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