Salesforce review: Top takeaways
Salesforce launched in 1999 in a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill. In a year, founders Marc Benioff, Parker Harris, Frank Dominguez and Dave Moellenhoff built a company that grew to forty employees. (And traded their apartment for an 8,000 square foot office. These days, their office is the tallest building in the city. Fancy!)
Salesforce CRM (or Sales Cloud) is just one of several wildly popular platforms they offer, including Marketing Cloud, Service Cloud, Field Service Lightning and Commerce Cloud. And that’s definitely awesome: they have a whole host of solutions you can grow into as your needs evolve, and all are integrated.
Another pretty awesome thing is the customizability. Salesforce fields, page layouts, user profiles and objects can all be configured using clicks, not code.
And Salesforce touts trust as their number one value. They seem to take seriously the responsibility of protecting their customers’ data. They have an extensive list of compliance certifications, and are constantly developing new security features like an upcoming shift to multi-factor authentication. (Yikes, that’s a mouthful. We’ll discuss that later.)
Salesforce is so popular that sometimes people treat it like a magic pill. But the wide array of features and the amount of customization make it challenging to implement and manage without an experienced consultant or admin (or both). This, of course, contributes to cost. And your organization may not use all of the advanced features that result in the best ROI. Sometimes, once a company has invested in the software itself and then in a consultant to set it all up, they fail to get adoption among their staff and the system goes largely under-used…or worse, completely unused.
When getting started, the level of support offered by Salesforce can be limited (without upgrading to higher support tiers). Their standard support does include two-day online help, access to Trailhead and guidance through the online success community. But it can be reassuring (and quicker) to call a support number and talk to someone. Phone support and shorter response times are included in Premier Support, but that may not be in your budget.
My two cents:
Salesforce is a robust platform with a wide array of features. The ability to customize and configure Salesforce (often without needing development) is a significant benefit. Taking advantage of these features often requires working with someone with experience; either a consultant or an expert on your team. This is important to keep in mind.
It may be a strong fit for companies who can really leverage the available features. Others may do better with a different provider whose features and levels of support are more suited for their size.
Easy like Sunday morning?: Salesforce Sales Cloud ease of use
The good: we have a solution for that
With Salesforce, there is a lot of room for growth. As you encounter new needs, you can likely find a solution within their suite of products or on the AppExchange (their marketplace). After implementing Sales Cloud, you may need a platform to support your service team, or maybe you want to build a customer portal. Your account executive can talk to you about Service Cloud or Community Cloud.
As you implement multiple Salesforce products, it gets harder and harder to switch platforms later (hmm, almost like they did that on purpose…). Just keep that in mind as you consider adopting Salesforce solutions. Some of their core products are Sales Cloud (the CRM from the one-bedroom apartment days), CPQ and Billing, Service Cloud, Field Service Lightning, Marketing Cloud and Pardot.
The good: you can make it work for you
With Salesforce, you can really make it your own. That sounds like a tagline for an ad campaign, but there really is a ton of room for customization when implementing this platform. A common phrase used by Salesforce is “clicks, not code.” You may want to run screaming from your laptop at the sight of anything resembling code. Many parts of Salesforce are designed to be configurable without any development, through clicks only.
Custom profiles and page layouts let you alter what users see when viewing a record. Custom objects can be created to store information that doesn’t fit into standard objects. You can also create custom roles and permission sets to manage access across your organization (No, Chad, we don’t want you creating custom objects on the fly. We still remember what happened last time.)
The good: sales process management (it’s more fun than it sounds)
Implementing Salesforce CRM can help you refine your sales process. Their guided selling features make it easier to get everyone on the same page.
When someone first engages with you, they start as a Lead. You can configure multiple lead statuses to indicate where that individual is in their buyer’s journey. You can add guided selling tips for your sales team on each status.
From there, your sales team would create a Contact, Account and Opportunity. Similar to the status on the Lead, there are multiple stages that can be configured on the Opportunity, each with its own guided selling tips.
This functionality can bring consistency and accountability to sales. It can also help ensure that people don’t simply drop off your radar. You can build reports to view Leads at each status, or the number of Opportunities currently in a stage of “On Hold”.
The good: protecting data
Salesforce has trust as their top company value. They maintain a large list of compliance certifications, and, in February 2022, they will be moving to multi-factor authentication (MFA).You probably encountered MFA when your bank (or other top-secret site) asks you to enter a code sent to your email or phone. While this can seem like a hassle, it really helps prevent phishing attacks and unauthorized access.
Salesforce also supports clients with GDPR compliance. Their GDPR training module outlines the basics of the policy and provides guidance for building a compliance plan.
The good: reporting
In Salesforce, you can build reports on any standard object (Accounts, Opportunities, etc.). You can quickly pull a report of all Opportunities over a certain dollar value or within the Closed Won stage.
You can also create reports that cross objects. For example, you could build a report that tracks the number of leads generated this quarter with an Opportunity forecasting chart to get a broader picture of your marketing progress (and the work that may still lie ahead). Multiple reports can then be combined on a single dashboard.
Protip: If you need to move outside the realm of standard reports into the custom world, things can get a little complex. It might be best to reach out to your admin or a consultant for help. Also remember that your reports are impacted by the quality of the data going into them. Consistent processes and healthy data management practices are very helpful for accurate reporting (we’re looking at you, duplicates).
The not-so-good: You’ll probably need a consultant or admin
When implementing Salesforce, you might plan to set the tool up yourself — especially if you have a smaller team. Be aware that, due to its size and complexity, Salesforce is difficult to implement without a consultant or a certified admin. Implementing the platform without this guidance can pull you away from best practices and cause you to use the tool in a way it was not designed to be used.
One example is determining how to leverage the Lead and Contact objects. It might not be clear when to use Leads versus Contacts. Both are records for people who engage with your company. Leads often show some interest in your product, but they are not qualified. Leads can be converted into Contacts once they’ve been qualified. When converting, you will also create an associated Account and Opportunity.
A consultant can help you determine when to use these objects and at what point it’s appropriate to convert a lead. By not ironing out these details, you could run into challenges down the road. Some of your customer information may be stored in Lead records and your lead details in Contact records. Other inconsistencies with your data could then result, affecting your reporting and integrations.
The not-so-good: Can I get a little hand-holding, please?
Many of the resources available to new Salesforce customers are self-led. Trailhead (explored further below) offers modules to help you learn Salesforce features and administration. Getting up to speed on all the platform has to offer can take time. What if you just want to be led by someone else who knows their stuff? This is the kind of personalized support offered by some other providers, like HubSpot.
But this type of help is somewhat lacking in Salesforce, possibly due to their size. With Salesforce, you can get access to implementation guidance from experts on their team and phone support. But it comes at an additional cost.
It can be easy to overlook onboarding resources and access to ongoing support when evaluating CRMs, but it can play a significant role in your success as well as the overall cost.
Start me up: Getting Salesforce
As I mentioned, many companies implement Salesforce with some help from an experienced partner. They can determine how to best leverage the features to meet your goals while also providing training.
A partner will also contribute significantly to your Salesforce investment (read: cost you more money). So it’s important to factor in any consulting costs when evaluating Salesforce. If you have a skilled IT team in-house, you might choose to self-implement. Personally, I haven’t encountered many companies who take this path. But I’ve worked primarily for a Salesforce partner, so the DIY folks weren’t exactly knocking on our door anyway.
When implementing Salesforce, you will likely have many voices with differing needs to consider. One important step is gathering requirements from leaders across the organization. You can take these requirements and identify mission-critical (phase 1) and those that can be left to later phases (but not forgotten).
A Sales Cloud implementation often pushes teams to define their sales management processes such as the Lead Statuses and Opportunity Stages that you use. There may be growing pains as everyone gets on the same page to configure in the system — but you might just clean up and standardize your internal processes at the same time. Score!
This has implications for marketing, raising questions like: at which status should a lead be transitioned to the sales team? In other words, which status represents a marketing-qualified lead, and triggers a hand off to sales?
A little help from my friends: Support & training
Salesforce offers the Standard Success Plan for all editions. It includes online support (submitting a case through their portal), and access to Trailhead and the Success Community.
This support is available twelve hours a day, five days a week, with a two-day response time (max). Their next support level, Premier, offers phone and online support with response times of one hour for critical issues. They’re also available 24/7 at this level. The top level, Premier Priority, speeds the response time to fifteen minutes for critical issues.
Trailhead is there to help you learn the ins and outs. As you complete modules, you earn points and badges. (Ah, gamification. Who doesn’t like a little recognition?) There are hundreds of modules that can teach you more about Salesforce than you have time for, from the basics of using Campaigns to setting up Process Builders and Workflows.
There’s also a whole community of users to offer guidance and answer questions. You can visit the Trailblazer Community to find answers to questions, submit new ones, connect with others and access resources like office hours with long-time users (MVPs).
What’s it gonna run me?: Salesforce pricing
Salesforce offers a few different pricing tiers. For full details on each, we recommend going straight to the source: https://www.salesforce.com/editions-pricing/overview/.
- Essentials: Best for smaller sales teams who need just the core CRM features, this level offers limited automation tools and no web-to-lead forms, multiple-campaign attribution or quotes/order management. You also can’t customize page layouts, user roles and permissions or object record types.
- Professional: This is designed for sales teams needing greater customization and the ability to create quotes and orders in the CRM. You can create custom record types, page layouts and user profiles (limited in number), plus it includes forecasting and the ability to manage quotes, contracts and orders. However, you’re limited to 5 Flows and 5 Process Builders, and no approval processes.
- Enterprise: Best for larger organizations with multiple teams accessing Salesforce and with a greater need for building automation, this level offers unlimited use of automation tools (Workflows and Process Builders), unlimited custom profiles, record types and user roles/permissions. You get access to Salesforce Platform for developing custom apps, and it comes with Web Service API integration at no cost. This tier doesn’t include a Developer Pro or Full Sandbox, and is limited to two-day support (additional support levels available for a fee).
- Unlimited: Pretty much what it sounds like, this level is right for larger organizations with more technical capabilities and skills in development, and includes 24/7 support and expert coaching/guidance, and Developer Pro and Full Sandbox access.
I’m a Midwesterner who enjoys a great book, an afternoon in the woods and a delicious Indian dish. I’m also a music lover. Music is often my pick-me-up on a difficult day. Lately, I’ve been jamming to Fleet Foxes and Blind Pilot. Aside from writing about marketing tech, I’m a freelance Pardot consultant. I write about marketing automation tech features and strategy, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, often about Salesforce.