Using the Right Tools for the Right Jobs with Salesforce.com [Tech Tips]

Salesforce.com for any nonprofit organization can sometimes feel a bit like the Old Wild West. There are many possible paths to accomplishing what you want, no hard-and-fast rules and guidelines, lots of folks trying to sell you snake oil, and there’s always gold in them thar hills.

So how do nonprofits make the right decisions regarding Salesforce.com? One of the secrets to success is having a strategy and methodology from the start – as I’ve put it to clients now and again, “Plan for a plan, then make a plan.” Jumping in without making a map to how and what aspects of Salesforce.com will be used are sure-fire ways to get in to a dustup.  You’ll be firing in data and processes pell-mell into a platform that requires thoughtful data alignment and best practices for both scalability and reporting. Part of making this plan is knowing what tools and resources are available for implementing Salesforce.com. Using the right tools for the right jobs means acquiring the right resources outside of your Salesforce.com instance, and using the right tools within it.

Understanding how to use Salesforce.com can be tricky for nonprofits, and the first part of a successful strategy is knowing what your users will experience using the tool. Remember, this is a tool that is built around the premise of enabling successful sales for for-profit businesses.  There are always some leaps of faith nonprofits take with Salesforce.com because its fundamental structure isn’t created for their needs: how individual people and donations need to be accounted for, the look, feel and vocabulary of Salesforce.com, and the need to develop nonprofit-specific features. This isn’t to say that Salesforce.com can’t be a success for nonprofits, but rather to say that there have been some commonly-accepted and best-practices uses of its structure for nonprofits that have emerged over the past few years. It serves well to adhere to these, as they are the result of thousands of nonprofits’ experience with the tool.

Some of the right tools for implementing Salesforce.com include things not contained within Salesforce.com at all: user groups, your community and your peers. This is the next part of your implementation plan: educating yourself about best practices for nonprofits. User groups are where you can find field-tested practices, and whether or not other organizations have been successful in accomplishing one of the many paths you want to take with Salesforce.com.

Here are links to some of these resources:

Google Groups:

Salesforce Nonprofits User Group meetings: http://success.salesforce.com/ideaList?c=09a30000000D9xy&category=Nonprofits

 

So what about the guideposts within Salesforce.com to using the right tools for the right jobs?  There are four major areas to cover here:

  1. Salesforce.com Apps – These are the most common use of Salesforce.com, and often provide vendor-supported additions to Salesforce.com to bring it more in alignment with nonprofit business processes. We recently released an evaluation of fundraising Apps, in the nonprofit sector. It’s important to remember when installing and using these Apps that each presents a set of customizations and configurations to meet nonprofit needs, and that each has its own established best practices for use. Before building your own solution, check to see if there is already a vendor-supported application available.
  2. Salesforce.com Objects– How best to choose whether or not to use the standard Objects in Salesforce.com or develop your own custom Objects for use? Perhaps the best suggestion for Salesforce.com standard Objects is to say, “Bend, but don’t break.” For custom Objects, ask, “How far from standard are we?” A substantial number of nonprofit business processes can be built in to Salesforce.com standard Objects, but there are limits to how far any organization should customize these Objects. A strong familiarity with them is vital for long-term scalability in a Salesforce.com instance. One of the deepest rabbit holes I ever saw was a nonprofit that had used Campaigns to represent businesses and organizations, because they showed clearly how many Opportunities were associated with it and the grand total dollar amounts of these Opportunities right on the Campaign record. Custom Objects should represent processes, such as memberships, grant/donation payments, and other organization or sector-specific needs that simply don’t exist in Salesforce.com, or would “break” the purpose of standard Objects. While they’re highly versatile, they can come with a few limitations and implications for reporting, and an overabundance of them in your Salesforce.com instance may indicate a need for better understanding of how insufficient analysis of mapping your processes relate to standard Objects.
  3. Salesforce.com Customization and Configuration, what Salesforce.com calls “Clicks and Code” — This is where Salesforce.com is continually growing and evolving. Back in 2005, when I first laid hands on a Salesforce.com instance, a great deal of what can now be configured today without employing Apex code and Visualforce wasn’t available. While code can be a strong addition to a Salesforce.com instance, once created, it needs to be maintained. Additionally, while using Apex code and Visualforce can open up a world of customizations within Salesforce.com, they also meet a specific business process that may last three months, or three years. Consider the longevity of the process for which your organization is creating Apex code, as future users may be left scratching their heads regarding code-based behaviors in your Salesforce.com instance. A strong CRM Administrator for your organization will consider these advantages and tradeoffs before employing code as a solution.
  4. Best practice use of Salesforce.com, which often requires a meeting in the middle — Your organization may need to adapt its business practices to the tool, and Salesforce.com can be adopted within the scope of best practice to meet your organization’s needs.  No nonprofit need work in a vacuum, and sometimes the best resource for making these decisions is the community at large.

A final tool for using Salesforce.com durably and well is common sense. A successful implementation is based on the alignment of your organization’s processes, data and system configuration. Beware of implementation processes that don’t account for understanding your organization, its metrics and goals. Implementations that are rushed or cut corners have a greater risk of jeopardizing long-term success and scalability, as well as limiting the outcomes from Salesforce.com that can be used to evaluate your mission success.

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *