Scaling Salesforce as You Grow, Part 4 [Tech Tips]

Scaling Salesforce as You Grow

In the previous post, I covered picklist collisions and properly matching the function of Salesforce.com fields with the time and granularity of the data in your instance. Today, I’ll conclude with a few notes about Activities, namely when they’re helpful and when they can bog you down.

Activities

Activities, as literally defined by Salesforce.com, is a “special” Object.  I’ve learned over time not to trust anything that’s “special” when it comes to my clients’ data.

Here are a few things to know about them that I’ve learned the hard way:

  • Have you ever tried reporting on the Activity Type field? That simple picklist of “Phone Call,” “Email,” etc.? Under some circumstances, it’s unavailable, and you need to re-create it as a text field on the Activity record via Workflow for it to be fully available for reporting.
  • Have you ever tried to run a report of Activities (Tasks and/or Events) over a year old? Information in the Activities Related List “archives” after slightly over a calendar year by default and stops showing up in reports.  You’ll need to file a ticket with Salesforce.com to make it available for reporting longer than this timeframe.  But here’s the rub: Making them last more than a year can mean substantial increases in your required data storage, which is why they archive in the first place.
  • Have you ever tried to create cross-Object Activity relationships?  You can’t put a custom Lookup field on the Activity Object; it’s designed to be related to only one other Salesforce Object at a time.  And, until very recently, you couldn’t relate an Activity to more than one Contact in your data.
  • Never attach documents to Activity records. Never.  Not only are they buried in the Activity History Related List, but they also become quickly lost in your instance.  If you’re attaching documents in Salesforce.com, find a strategy for naming them and categorizing them, and attach them directly to the record to which they pertain, and not the record’s Activities. Chatter also now offers a very robust document attachment and versioning system to explore.

So where do Activities work best?

I tend to recommend them for capturing the “moments in time” important when they’re happening and immediately thereafter, but not as a long-term analytic component of understanding the relationships with people and events and your data.  Here are a few examples of successful Activity use:

  • Setting up reminders to finish that important Grant Report under deadline, and assigning various components of the work to other Salesforce.com users.  Don’t store content such as, “The Foundation has changed its giving strategy to focus on lower-level interventions.”
  • Making note of the date and time of that important donor phone call as it relates to a specific cultivation. Once the status of the cultivation (hopefully successful) is known, the call becomes irrelevant.  Don’t store legitimate long-term cultivation information here, for example, if in the course of the call the donor says, “I really care about the fate of the Orca.”
  • Noting the day and participants of a specific meeting related to an organization so that follow up Tasks and Events can happen.  Don’t store the outcome of the meeting here, such as, “We decided the next three steps in moving forward are…”

Where I see nonprofits struggle with the information kept in Activities (Tasks and Events) is when Activities become a substitute for tracking donor or organization portfolio information, instead of the activities and meetings related to this portfolio information.  Or, to put it another way, we’d never keep meeting decisions and donor profile information in our Google Tasks/Calendars or Outlook Tasks and Calendar would we? So why do this in Salesforce.com?  This kind of information requires long-term strategic architecture and placement so that it isn’t lost or buried.

Lastly, some integrated email tools will offer the option to sync every email sent as a completed Activity/Task record to your Salesforce.com instance. Please don’t do this. Most of the best email analytics are uncovered within the tools that send them, and not within Salesforce.com, and you’re paving the path for adding tens of thousands, and potentially more, records with little analytical value to your instance over time. And, what goes in must eventually come out.

Do you have any other tips with Activities? Let us know in the comments below.

Be sure to read the other 3 parts to this series:

Tracy Kronzak

About Tracy Kronzak

Tracy is a CRM implementation strategy, change management, and organizational leadership and technology adoption expert. She has more than 15 years of experience in the nonprofit sector and its related industries, including philanthropy, activism, research, technology management, and Salesforce CRM platform consulting. She holds a Master of Public Administration degree from New York University, and is a Salesforce.com Certified Administrator and Developer. Tracy frequently presents on CRM selection/implementation and technology strategy, and is a proud member of the NTEN Community, serving in an advisory capacity to the NTC and Leading Change conferences. In August 2014, Tracy was recognized by the Salesforce Foundation as one of 30 Community Heroes for her contributions to the advancement of nonprofits using Salesforce.com. In her free time, she is a ceramic artist and potter, avid bicyclist, and burgeoning markswoman.

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