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Five ways to cut the risk of Salesforce

Best practices for IT professionals seeking to implement Salesforce’s product portfolio

Salesforce now offers a portfolio of eight applications and application-development platforms that concentrate customer data, insights, operations and engagement in a powerful, unified environment.

However, although the initial rapid pace of innovations generates happy adoption and demands for more from Salesforce, as implementation grows, responsiveness evaporates and value tumbles.

At a large US public sector agency, one department was happily using Salesforce’s core customer relationship management (CRM) application when a cloud-first directive changed everything for the worse.

The directive was: move as many applications as possible to the cloud – including Salesforce.

“The perception was that it almost didn’t matter what we did – if we put apps on cloud and Salesforce, we’d be successful,” recalls the agency’s Salesforce centre of excellence (CoE) leader.

The agency quickly added about 12,000 Salesforce seats in seven separate “orgs” (accounts), lots of customisations, and many custom applications. As this expansion progressed, innovation on the agency’s core Salesforce apps slowed to a crawl, and operating costs rose. Updates and changes to enterprise processes and existing apps were now sluggish, although the agency still could quickly stand up isolated new applications.

“When you start adding custom code [to Salesforce], you need developers to make changes,” says the agency’s CoE leader. “And Salesforce becomes way more expensive to maintain.”

Unfortunately, this situation is not a one-off. We see many IT professionals following similar paths.

This Salesforce customer got back onto a happy path with its implementation by establishing its CoE and instituting governance policies, which many others facing the same challenges can learn from. The agency’s experience illustrates the potential for customers relying on Salesforce as a broad platform to succumb to what we call the Salesforce@scale dilemma: a client chooses Salesforce CRM for its business responsiveness.

Typically, clients are impressed by Salesforce’s CRM applications, which are more modern and user-pleasing than older applications. And they love Force.com’s high productivity for developers to configure the CRM applications as well as create new applications from scratch.

Demands for more

Initial success breeds demands for more and more. As additional departments ask for Salesforce subscriptions, business leaders want to expand initial wins with Salesforce CRM into customer and/or partner engagement, marketing automation and analytics. New custom applications and customisations mushroom.

In addition, the complexity of scale crushes Salesforce’s responsiveness. As Salesforce use grows, innovation slows and flexibility evaporates. Why? Every app change risks breaking one of hundreds of data and process customisations, integration links, and third-party add-ons. The result: every change requires long and expensive impact-analysis and regression testing projects – killing the responsiveness that made Salesforce attractive at the start.

The Salesforce@scale dilemma is a challenge for clients to overcome, rather than an inevitable outcome of large-scale, strategic Salesforce implementations. It is a big issue because Salesforce has become a much more strategic supplier in technology strategies to win, serve and retain customers.

Salesforce’s first phase was as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) CRM supplier and it has built its brand on flexibility, ease of use, speed and innovation in cloud-based CRM. Its focus on serving business needs in the age of the customer made it a multibillion-dollar, go-to choice for a variety of customer needs: sales automation, customer service, marketing, commerce, and more.

Customer platform

Salesforce’s second phase is as a customer platform. Now it promises much more than discrete cloud applications, and customers are listening. Salesforce is the most prominent cloud supplier providing customer platforms – there has been a rise in requests for help from customers taking Salesforce to the next level as a multi-app platform for customer-obsessed operations.

Beyond the value of its SaaS applications, Salesforce has developed compelling potential as a single hub for customer operations, engagement, data and analytics. Every enterprise needs and wants such a platform. The practice leader at a Salesforce implementation partner said: “Consider Salesforce as a platform, not an app. When Salesforce came in five to six years ago, it sold CRM and cost savings. Now Salesforce is something you’ll run a whole lot of applications on.”

Salesforce and many of its customers face a transition. More than 1,000 Salesforce customers spend upward of $1m annually on their subscriptions. A lot of these large, complex deployments grew organically, without strong upfront planning – so these firms are burdened with early implementation decisions that may not translate well to an enterprise Salesforce-based customer hub.

Worse, the business decision-makers at the core of Salesforce’s customer base still see the firm as a provider of flexible, easy, quick SaaS applications. These decision-makers do not understand why they need the architecture and governance practices required to adopt Salesforce’s services as a platform.

Best Practices for Salesforce

By observing best practices in five areas, IT professionals can implement Salesforce@scale without suffering the dilemma:

  1. Determine Salesforce’s best fit.
  2. Architect your platform, not just your solutions.
  3. Dont go vanilla, but use Salesforce’s platforms wisely.
  4. Acquire or develop in-house expertise.
  5. Establish a change management programme.

A food and beverage firm that adopted Salesforce for all its customer operations avoided the Salesforce@scale dilemma with planning and governance for adopting a platform as opposed to a CRM application and associated tools.

The firm set up a CoE and defined a common data model (including built-in and Custom Objects), a master data service, and a process rollout across the world. “One platform for all data and application building blocks means you need to be aligned on how you use those assets,” says a leader of the firm’s Salesforce CoE. “[The assets] have to fit together, and everyone needs an understanding of what is possible and what should be done.”

Negotiating an optimal Salesforce contract is a related challenge that can be eased by adopting the five practices. The practices are not new; they apply years of technology architecture, planning and governance experience to Salesforce’s product portfolio and structure. Salesforce supports these practices, making materials and services available as part of customer subscriptions or for additional fees. Unfortunately, many clients don’t even know what they have access to.

Business responsiveness

Enterprises going all in on Salesforce as their customer platform too often do not follow the practices, particularly those that bypass technology management in selecting Salesforce. Some will see the five best practices as a return to unresponsive IT governance that will ruin the Salesforce implementation. A measured approach to customisation will seem needlessly slow.

This need not be the case if IT teams implement the five practices to preserve the business responsiveness that Salesforce is famous for, even while introducing speedy and sustainable governance, guardrails and grounding for application delivery.

This is an extract of the Forrester report Five ways to cut the risk of going all in with a Salesforce customer platform by John R Rymer, Liz Herbert and Kate Leggett.

This was last published in May 2017

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