Implementing Salesforce? Here’s what you need to know

In recent years Salesforce has developed into a comprehensive cloud platform to rival the offerings from SAP, Oracle and Microsoft. However, while those established products are generally designed and implemented by large, well-trained technical staff, the Salesforce marketing literature stresses its ‘out of the box’ functionality and the reduced need for skilled technicians in managing its configuration and implementation.
It is certainly true that Salesforce – when implemented by people who thoroughly understand the product – can deliver extensive functionality without the need for significant amounts of custom code. That is one of its key strengths. However, technical problems do arise in Salesforce implementations and they need to be addressed properly to ensure the new system delivers the anticipated value to the business.
In our experience, the 4 Technical Success Factors for Salesforce implementation projects are:
• A clear, strategic vision based on how the company’s operations will be improved by the new solution and how this will translate into business value.
• Knowledgeable, cross-functional teams made up of technical experts, business stakeholders and Salesforce specialists
• Sound Project Management, Change Management and Release Management practices and a simple set of KPIs to keep things on track.
• Good quality data
Projects that lack a clear strategic vision often find it virtually impossible to create sound project plans that everyone can align with, simply because of the level of uncertainty surrounding the objectives of the project and how it will affect company operations. This often results in projects that have vague, possibly unrealistic deliverables, and a lack of support from the top level of the business. By contrast, projects that are clearly focused on delivering a specific, short-term business outcome – say, for example making a specific change to the customer’s purchasing journey, are more likely to receive the support they need to succeed.
It is important that companies implementing Salesforce recognise the value of creating cross-functional teams that include the relevant business stakeholders, technical IT staff and Salesforce specialists. Business stakeholders are necessary to ensure the project delivers real business value. Technical staff are needed to create the necessary integration between any new system and the existing IT estate, and Salesforce specialists are needed to ensure that the required functionality is delivered – so far as is possible – using Salesforce core functionality (rather than developing custom code)
Of course, there is no substitute for sound Project Management – and in Salesforce implementations this must include Change Management and Release Management. Not only will this increase the probability that the required functionality is developed within the required budget and timeframe but, equally important, it makes it more likely that the users will adopt the new solution and use it to realise the intended business value. Too many Salesforce implementations are executed in such a way that the users of the resulting system find it difficult to work with, thereby compromising its business value and reducing the company’s return on its investment in Salesforce.
Finally, any system solution can only be as good as the data it uses. In cases where a Salesforce implementation is replacing a legacy CRM system that has been in place for some years, or a manual process, quality of data is likely to be low. This is because data has been entered and managed in different ways by different personnel over a considerable amount of time, degrading the quality of the data. Those using the system at present are often aware of these data quality issues, and have developed work-arounds to cope with them. For the new Salesforce implementation to be successful, this data must be cleaned and migrated to the new system in such a way that it does not compromise system performance. In most cases, data migration will require proper planning and may account for as much as 20% of the overall project budget. This may seem excessive, but failed data migrations are often the cause of project overruns that cost many times more than a sound data migration strategy.
Salesforce is the pre-eminent cloud CRM platform and is set to revolutionise the way companies interact with their customers. It’s a great product that is considerably easier to implement and maintain that its competitors. However, it needs to be implemented with due regard to the 4 technical success factors outlined here if it is to deliver the business value customers expect from it.

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