Today's post is by Scott Eidle, an evangelist for sales best practices, including sales process, enablement, and operations. He leverages more than 20 years of sales and marketing experience to share insight about the top trends in the software and technology sales space, and is currently a global sales enablement executive for an enterprise software company.
Investing in Salesforce.com has become the mark of a truly committed sales organization. Regardless of the quality of your implementation, or how well your sales team actually uses it, the investment tells the rest of the world (and your reps) that you intend to run a high-performance organization.
What started as a simple premise – providing salespeople with easy-to-access information about their prospects and clients so they can more easily focus on the job of selling – has matured into a complex maze of bolt-ons, point solutions, and customization strategies that have made managing Salesforce.com a complex endeavor. If you live in a Salesforce.com world, you experience the benefits – as well as the pitfalls – of balancing this power and complexity on a daily basis.
The Salesforce.com ecosystem consists of customers, the apps in the App Exchange, partners, and developers. Dreamforce (the annual Salesforce.com convention held in San Francisco every fall) puts the entire Salesforce.com ecosystem on display. What Dreamforce also has done is highlight the complexities of working with the Salesforce.com ecosystem to provide these benefits. Here are some of the best and worst parts of working with that ecosystem to achieve your objectives.
Whatever the hottest topic is – or whatever the newest trend will be – you’ll see it in the form of ecosystem partners. Some of these topics and partners from past years include marketing automation (Marketo), cloud storage of documents (Box, Dropbox), CPQ or configure-price-quote systems (BigMachines, Steelbrick), and a focus on inside sales teams (InsideSales.com). Partners that get promotions from Salesforce.com are usually good investments for improving your organization (depending on your specific needs, of course).
The ecosystem partners can help your company implement these improvement programs at a rapid clip. They have already implemented these programs, and – with that experience – are able to quickly bring best practices to your teams. Most of these best practices are programs and initiatives that sales leaders want to emphasize throughout their sales ranks anyway, but spending money with an ecosystem partner provides a point of focus for every level of the organization to rally around and emphasize their intended results.
Using systems written and supported by the ecosystem – which you can find on Salesforce.com’s partner showcase called the AppExchange – can drastically reduce your dependency on your own company’s IT resources. Trying to replicate the same outcome with your own resources – the time, money, and effort from your IT organization, which also won't have the expertise these singularly focused vendors will have – can be a difficult and painful process. Too often the plans that involve any IT customizations will get caught up in resource scarcity issues, causing delays and headaches to everyone who has to barter for the dedicated focus from the IT department required to implement a new program; and, as with any custom software project, “custom” can also be used as a synonym for “difficult to maintain.”
Spending money with an ecosystem partner places that responsibility with the partner, who has a vested interest in keeping clients happy at the risk of bad publicity.
Salesforce.com implementations are usually not “vanilla” enough to simply plug and play every ecosystem solution into them. While the emphasis for most SaaS solutions is focused on configuration and not customization, it’s the personalization of each company’s configuration that can cause headaches when trying to plug in a complementary product. One of the most common configuration roadblocks tends to be the screen design of system pages – having too many or too few fields or sections can make it difficult to display additional widgets when you are effectively competing for screen space. And the rule of thumb is that, if your salesperson cannot see the widget on their opening display (that is, what they are able to read at their first glance when reaching that page) – they are less likely to leverage that tool.
A new power-broker has emerged as a major gatekeeper for all ecosystem projects: your company’s Salesforce.com Administrator. The “SFDC Admin” has a huge responsibility to your organization – one that is not taken lightly; it’s this person’s job to make sure the system operates as planned and provides you with the results you expect. This has evolved into an almost Herculean task. They have to have protect the overall vision of the system and weigh the requests of different sales team executives. They are also the ones tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that any ecosystem project operates as planned and, more importantly, doesn’t negatively impact any of the existing configurations in your instance. The result is that, while most SFDC Admins can’t make the decision to buy a complementary system, they can absolutely stall or kill an ecosystem implementation if the risks outweigh the reward. (Note: I LOVE SFDC ADMINS! Please don't think otherwise. The point here is that they have been thrust into an unenviable position where they must be the voice of reason to every project being thrown at them – and too few salespeople have the foresight to include them in the discussions instead of hoping they will excitedly approve every project.)
Salesforce.com has a growing focus on providing IT departments with the ability to write custom programs that mimic ecosystem systems. With the introduction of Force.com programming capabilities, it’s become a common “Build vs. Buy” discussion every time a sales leader wants to purchase something from the ecosystem. What was once the cornerstone promise of the Salesforce.com SaaS approach – to “remove the sales team’s dependency on their company’s IT resources” – has come full circle at many companies, where the IT departments have invested efforts into Force.com projects. The question then becomes: “Can we do it? Yes. But should we do it? Well, that depends… .”" As mentioned before, anything “custom” requires a full commitment to the time, resources, and energy of not only writing those programs but also providing ongoing support for them – a commitment that is difficult to maintain for any company.
Do you have questions about the Salesforce.com ecosystem? Stories to share? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.