Salesforce implementation guide: strategies, challenges, and risks

18.11.2019
10 min.
title

Salesforce supports businesses of different sizes all over the world. If you’ve put your mind to joining the Salesforce club, you need to embrace the platform’s double nature.

If implemented right, Salesforce will transform your business beyond your wildest dreams—tedious tasks will be automated, all engaged teams will have a chance to get a complete view of the customers, and the overall productivity will increase.

On the other side, if you take a hands-off approach to the implementation, then Salesforce might leave you with just an expensive fancy system that nobody wants to use.

To help you avoid this worst-case scenario, we’ve compiled a guide to successful Salesforce implementation.

Step 1. Define your implementation strategy aspects

When developing your implementation strategy, you should consider the current state of your business as well as your business goals for the future. Here are three dichotomies you need to solve for yourself:

Scaling vs disruption

You should go for scaling if you are mostly satisfied with your business processes but would rather make them more efficient, yet your current tech stack lacks the functionality and can’t support this decision. In this case, you can try Salesforce to add the functionality your technologies can’t provide you with.

Disruption is your choice when you are dissatisfied with your current business processes altogether and want to rebuild them from scratch. This strategy is full of challenges since the ROI can only be expected when the system is implemented right and backed by ongoing user training and support.

One cloud vs several clouds

You can go for one Salesforce Cloud if you need to fine-tune your high-priority business area, say, sales or marketing, and don’t need to sync it with other areas, such as customer service or commerce. If you need to connect any other priority area, you can implement one more cloud.

If you want to automate and sync the processes of a few departments, then you should implement a few clouds all at once, for example, Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, and Service Cloud. Such an approach will help you break the inter-departmental silos and build omnichannel experience for your customers. Note, however, that multiple integrations in an all-in-one solution increase the probability of failure, including hiccups such as data loss, corruption or duplication.

Hired consultants vs in-house IT team

When you start building your Salesforce implementation team, you need to decide whether you’re going to use your own forces or delegate it all to Salesforce consultants.

Whatever option you go for, you will still need a core team that includes:

  • Project owner who defines the project scope and supervises all the implementation stages.
  • Project manager who understands your company’s processes and can map them to the Salesforce system. This role also includes communicating with different teams and overseeing the implementation through to completion.
  • System administrator who will manage the implemented Salesforce system daily. It’s a good idea to involve the system administrator in the implementation process as well. With SaaS applications, system administrators are not necessarily tech people, as many of their responsibilities, such as system maintenance and feature setup) are a matter of a few clicks, not coding.
  • Power users who know the business processes (including the tech side) of particular departments and can provide feedback at each implementation stage to make sure the new system meets end users’ needs.

This set of roles will be your contact points between your company and the Salesforce implementation team, be it your in-house resources or a consultancy.

If your own IT team and business analysts have never worked with Salesforce, then consider engaging Salesforce consultants for the initial stage of your project. They can suggest a better approach to developing your rollout plan (see Step 2) or advise on the most fitting subscription plan for your company.

If you decide to hire consultants, you have two options:

Option 1. Freelance consultants

If your project is not large, you can hire a freelance consultant. They usually ask for lower rates and specialize in particular implementation processes which can be just the ones you need.

Option 2. Salesforce consulting partners

If you have a large project (and a bigger budget) and want to implement it fast, then it’s better to hire a certified Salesforce consulting partner. There are currently 1,300+ partners on the Salesforce AppExchange partner portal. So, the process of choosing a partner can get rather challenging.

There are three major types of Salesforce partners:

  • Small-scale partners, which usually specialize in one Salesforce product, like Sales Cloud. They can’t handle bigger projects with multiple products and comprehensive business process development. This option is similar to freelance consultants.
  • Mid-market partners, which are usually based regionally and provide multiple services for different Salesforce products.
  • Global partners, which act as Salesforce ambassadors. They usually work with renowned global clients.

When you hire a Salesforce consulting partner from any category, you can expect getting the full team of business analysts, developers, and architects backed by Salesforce’s warranty, which means the team will have all the necessary skills and experience to deliver the project.

Step 2. Develop a rollout plan

Developing a rollout plan is similar to building a chain-reaction machine—if one element is missing or placed incorrectly, it just won’t work. This way, it’s important to define what you need to do in order to prepare for the implementation, adoption, and maintenance of the system.

Data cleaning and migration

Before you launch your new Salesforce system, you need to ensure the quality of the data sourced from your old system prior to its migration:

  • Inspect the data structure, formats, relations with the legacy system objects, and existing business workflows.
  • Map corresponding objects and fields in Salesforce.
  • Run a data quality check to make sure the data is accurate, complete, and not duplicate.
  • Introduce duplication rules.
  • Automate data migration. If you have a few million data records, it’s possible to use ready-made tools, which you can find on the Salesforce AppExchange market. If you have more than a few million data entries, you will need to build a migration tool or create a custom migration script.
  • Build a data model prototype with an entity relationship diagram which will show the relationships between different data types. This way, your power and end users will see how the system will look like and be able to provide ongoing feedback and make crucial suggestions regarding the objects and workflows needed during the implementation, not after it.

It’s better to migrate data closer to the system deployment date because your users will continue to enter data into the old system up to the migration start. Another option is to arrange a separate data set for new records entered after the legacy data is prepped to be loaded into the new system. Prior to the deployment, you will need to import and manually load this data set to the new system.

Consider migrating test data first with your tool of choice, transferring a small part of the records. You need this stage to see whether there are any issues with both your data quality and your tool. When you’re positive about the result, complete the migration and check the migrated data for inconsistencies before you go to the next stage.

Customization and integration

It’s handy to have all business processes and data sources under one roof, with easy access to any of them. Salesforce has a few powerful integration tools for this:

  • AppExchange: a huge marketplace of pre-integrated apps
  • MuleSoft Anypoint: a platform for app integration
  • Heroku: a platform for developing your own apps and integrating them with Salesforce

What’s more, Salesforce has a great customization potential—with the right resources, you can build a system as if developed in-house.

If you need simple customization or, to be more precise, configuration where there’s no need for programming skills, like changing the number or order of fields, you can do it using default point-and-click tools.

Code-based customizations on the basis of Salesforce’s Lightning Platform will help you with a more profound tailoring, like highly customizing workflows or developing custom AI-powered apps. Remember that custom developments are small projects in their own right. So, depending on your Salesforce team resources, you can customize many objects at once or prioritize needed customizations and deliver them one by one.

Testing and deployment

When your data migration and customization are over and your power users have approved the prototype, it’s time to test your solution. First of all, move the entire configuration to a sandbox environment to check how the exact platform copy with your production data works under large data volumes. At this stage, you can spot and fix issues, such as downtime, latency, or heat barriers, prior to going live. While in the sandbox, you can also introduce your end users to the full functionality of the new system. They should confirm if it runs according to their requirements and provide feedback.

Next, compile a go-to-production checklist and prioritize all configurations, data transformations, and integrations to be rebuilt at the production stage. There are many dependencies in Salesforce, and some configurations cannot be deployed before others. So, when you start the deployment, everything will run in a correct order.

Ready? It’s time to roll out your Salesforce to production.

User adoption plan

Once the platform is up and running, it’s crucial to get the actual users on board. Otherwise, all your efforts will be a waste of time and money. You need to develop a plan that will embrace the whole adoption cycle, from the introduction to ongoing training.

There are four important components:

1. User access

Most probably, you’ll have multiple Salesforce users from different departments. This way, before they start using the system, you need to define their access level and fine-tune permissions to ensure high levels of internal security. Ideally, your users should have access only to those tools and data that they need.

Test the security settings before you invite users to the system. Make sure each user within a particular role can see and edit only those data records they’re supposed to. Map all the roles to the users so that you don’t need to set everything anew for each newcomer.

2. Training

Of course, your employees need to learn how to use Salesforce. However, the foundation of the training is to make them understand why they need to use it. Show how their work gets more efficient with Salesforce, and how they actually get more time to do their job because mundane tasks can now be automated. Your employees need to see how the data that they input and regularly update, transforms into useful forecasts.

You can start with Salesforce’s learning center Trailhead, where you can track your employees’ success. There are individual trails for each Salesforce Cloud and various activities. There are also tons of other learning resources directly from Salesforce, like demo videos on YouTube, or from third-party ambassadors:

In addition, your training should be developed based on your employees’ roles. Different departments, including their management, should have separate training curricula developed in line with their immediate needs. Include scenario-based parts in the training, i.e. the situations your users are likely to encounter in their daily work. With the content relevant to their positions, employees will be much more engaged.

Consider running refresher trainings if you see that the majority of users in a particular group, for example, from sales or marketing, have difficulties with some processes.

3. Incentives

Incentives are needed to fuel users’ motivation to adopt Salesforce. In order to encourage this adoption, you can gamify the process with points and competition but try to pursue a ‘sticks and carrots’ policy. While active adopters should be rewarded, Salesforce abstainers should know that ‘if it’s not in Salesforce, it doesn’t exist’.

4. Administration

End users should know who’s responsible for Salesforce adoption, i.e. those who track the adoption progress and decide on the rewards and penalties. Employees should also closely cooperate with admins, who can help them with technical issues, as well as with power users who can influence process changes.

Step 3. Embrace implementation challenges

Salesforce will change many processes in your company, and it’s not always possible to forecast what can go wrong. Salesforce is a complex suite with its own limitations and traps. Check the common challenges faced by Salesforce users.

Time estimates

The implementation timeline heavily depends on the scope of features you plan to introduce. If you need to automate some of the existing processes, it can take just about a month. When you need to build a system from scratch, it can easily take a year.

Each part of the implementation process is a mini-project in itself. Thus, each part should be estimated in terms of working hours. If you haven’t tackled Salesforce implementation before, it will be hard to adequately estimate each project. It’s better to ask an experienced Salesforce consultant how long each milestone can take.

Relying on the defined timeline, make sure to minimize project interruptions, and try to avoid overlapping with other critical projects as well as key staff shortages.

Budget estimates

Estimating budget with Salesforce is tricky: there’re lots of hidden costs as well as costs that you might overlook when calculating the overall spending. With Salesforce, don’t skip any steps to save on implementation but pay attention to the following:

Salesforce budget estimates

Over-customization

With so many features available, you might want to make the system as functional as possible, yet with no real needs defined, you might end up with a pack of unnecessary features. These will make the system cumbersome and user-unfriendly. As a result, you can run into low adoption rates and lower productivity, too.

The trouble usually lies in planning with no finish line in mind. You should think first about the result you want to get and then about the tools you need to reach it. End users are the ones to outline these results, while you need to be flexible and make changes on the fly in response to the users’ ongoing feedback. If your customization plans are huge, you can deliver crucial functionality incrementally and let users get accustomed to it first, with more features added gradually.

Steep learning curve

Salesforce can be overwhelming for everyone involved. But you should remember that your employees are the ones who will actually use the system, so the success largely depends on them. It’s important to engage users right from the prototyping stage and train them up to the moment you see encouraging results.

Also, when users feel they have a gap in their Salesforce knowledge or run into some technical issue, they should always know where to seek support, be it from Salesforce admins or in user guidelines.

Technical limitations

Technical challenges are mostly connected to the following:

  • Technical incompatibilities: some integrated systems can be technologically incompatible with Salesforce, which will require extra customization.
  • Data exchange issues: duplicate records, poor data quality, and different formats will lengthen the implementation and require data audit both prior and after the data transfer.
  • Seasonal releases: Salesforce rolls out updates three times a year. It’s great in terms of innovation, but nobody asks you whether you want these updates or not. You can’t delay or cancel them. This way, you don’t actually own the system, no matter how customized it can be. After the update, there will be forced changes to the UI or functionality, which can require additional adoption efforts on your part.

Are you up for the Salesforce implementation challenge?

Yes, Salesforce implementation is a major challenge. However, when all the pieces of the puzzle are in place, you will get a beautiful result.

You should start with a detailed milestone-based plan corresponding to the goals and needs of both your company’s leadership and end users. To help you with this, there are lots of proven implementation practices and certified professionals who can turn all the associated challenges into a major success.

May Salesforce be with you.

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