Preparing for a Salesforce implementation

enterprise planning2

Over the past decade, I have seen more than 1,000 Salesforce implementations deployed to a wide variety of organizations. I have learned that it does not matter if you are a small nonprofit or a Fortune 100 enterprise company -- one of the best investments you can make in your Salesforce implementation process is to have a clear plan.

Do Your Homework

You may never be able to debate the merits of Apex code (the programming language that executes on the Salesforce platform), for example, and that's OK. However, before you start your migration to the cloud, figure out what you want and what is possible. Reach out to other organizations in your sector, consult with volunteers and board members, and read related publications.

Build Your Team

To a small organization with limited resources, the term "project team" may sound intimidating. But it does not take a large team to oversee the process -- you just need to cover the following key roles (keep in mind the same person can cover more than one role):

  • Executive sponsor -- The executive sponsor lends his or her influence to the project by becoming its champion. Having this person's full support and participation -- from the planning stage to go-live and beyond -- is absolutely critical.
  • Project manager (PM) -- The PM will own the implementation process and guide the project to successful completion. He or she will be responsible for holding both your internal team and the consulting partner accountable for the scope, timeline and budget. I have seen projects where the PM was a great communicator and had deep understanding of the organization's requirements but didn't have authority. The executive sponsor should make sure that the PM has explicit authority or enough influence on the project to speed up the decision-making process.
  • System administrator -- The administrator will be managing Salesforce day to day, so it is a good idea to have the administrator involved early on during the implementation project. I previously wrote a post about what makes a Salesforce administrator successful.

Review and Define Your Business Processes in Advance

A colleague who builds websites told me once that for many organizations, building a website is often the catalyst for defining vision and mission, because the organization needs to put that information on its "About Us" page. In my experience, the implementation of a CRM is often the first time organizations stop to think about their business processes (and finally begin documenting those processes).

Many times, consulting firms find themselves facilitating business process discussions that should have been hammered out prior to the implementation. Below are some suggestions to get you thinking about your processes.

Put technology aside and try to address the following questions:

  • What does your company do?
  • What is your mission?
  • What kind of products or programs do you offer?
  • How do you market/sell/service to your customers? How do you measure the success of your programs?
  • How do prospects hear about you and how do you track their levels of interest?
  • When do you consider a lead/donor/participant "qualified"?
  • How do you work with partners?
  • How do you onboard a new customer?
  • What is your customer/donor cultivation process?

Your existing technology:

  • What systems do you currently have in place?
  • Will any of your existing systems need to integrate with Salesforce? If yes, what is the direction of the integration, what is the frequency and what information should be integrated?
  • What do you like about the system(s) you are about to replace?
  • What would you like to maintain from your current system(s)?
  • What are the top 10 reports you use most often?
  • What don't you like about your current technology?
  • Where does your data reside today?
  • Who owns the source data?

Your new technology:

  • In a world with no budgetary or time constraints, what would the perfect CRM look like?
  • What reports would you like to run that you cannot run today?
  • How can the new technology create more value?

Distinguish Between Need and Want

Indicate what your most urgent needs are, what is important to have, and what would be nice to have in a world with no budgetary restrictions. For example:

  • Must-have: Track every gift we receive, including grants, single donations and major gifts
  • Important: Capture donations from the website
  • Nice-to-have: Integration with our volunteer management system

You Need a Timeline and Budget

"We would like to have this project done as soon as possible" is the second-most common answer I receive when I ask clients about their timeline. The next-most common answer is "two years ago."

A lack of timeline may indicate to the vendor that the potential client did not do any preparation and/or that the organization does not have a budget approved for the implementation. Your timeline should indicate the following:

  • Deadline for choosing an implementation partner
  • A date for beginning the implementation
  • Ideal go-live date

When you define your timeline, take into consideration existing contacts, bug events and planned time off by key users.

In addition to preparing a timeline, you should also have a budget. Your budget will indicate what you can accomplish with your implementation, and it is a good idea to share it with your consulting partner.

You may be thinking that you should not disclose your budget to the vendor because it does not leave room for price negotiations. I disagree. A budget estimate allows a technology provider to evaluate whether or not it can work with your organization. Furthermore, it shows you are serious about the project, aware of its complexity (you did your homework!) and that you have the budget to execute it. I advise strongly against creating your project's budget based on the proposals you receive.

Take small steps; don't try to do too much all at once. Getting carried away in the midst of the excitement of building a new system happens, and with Salesforce there is always a risk of the "shiny object syndrome." Maintain a calm, level-headed outlook on the project, while sticking to your timeline and budget. Remember that complex projects should be broken down into manageable and measurable phases. Execute slowly to maximize all the benefits Salesforce has to offer.

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