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What Do You Wish You Knew When Getting Started With Salesforce?

By January 26, 2017

By: Russ Feldman, Chief Executive Problem-solver,

Back in the Fall new Salesforce customer Cari Brown (The Arc of Larimer County) challenged the Power of Us Hub with the following question, triggering an avalanche of replies, awesome even by Hub standards: “What do you wish you knew when you were getting started?” For those of you who missed out on it, what better time to revisit this than the start of a new year?

Picture the scene: Nonprofit administrators now boasting years under their belt, consultants with thick stacks of successful SOWs (Statements of Works), vendors who spun off their rare talents into apps for the sector; everyone remembers their humble beginnings, and with the sweet, sweet benefits of hindsight reached out to share their wisdom.

For my part, though I have years of Salesforce roles behind me, I was new as a consultant on the Hub and wanted to focus less on tips and tricks (so many were pouring in already!) and more on the life-altering personal journey that comes for many after they discover the platform. So what follows is the curated list of actual tips, following my own Based On A True Story tale of faux-woe.

Learning Salesforce May Be Habit-Forming

It starts out innocently enough- you get put on a committee, or a board member says the nonprofit is “implementing” this “cloud” thing. And guess what? You get to administer it! Another tool, another hat to juggle, another future fire to put out. You’d say you know the drill, but that would be like saying Swiss cheese knows holes.

You do some research and discover it’s big with big business, and you’re not overly impressed. You find out there’s an open source thing called the Nonprofit Success Pack or NPSP and you wonder who came up with that acronym. Then you look up open source. Huh. This exists on a corporate product. Interesting.

Eventually you start to use the thing and you’re lost. Or you think you know what you’re doing and then get lost. Or everything goes great then one day you’re alone at your desk and there’s this report your ED needs requiring sailing backwards in time through a fifth-dimensional hypercube, and your name isn’t Matthew McConaughey.

You Google frantically and something comes up. Turns out there’s this thing called The Power of Us HUB, and you go on and someone with a sketchy looking avatar tells you all you need is a formula with a value of “1”. You create a new custom field and add it to your report, then send it to your ED. It’s been fifteen minutes and you’re eating a sandwich and your ED walks by and says, that’s amazing, we’ve never been able to do that before. Go take the afternoon off!

Next time this happens you discover the AppExchange. I can plug in a tool and do a mail merged donor acknowledgment, automatically? Yes. Pretty much exactly that.

It seems like anything is possible, there’s no limit to what you can do, what problem you can solve, if you just turn it this way or that, or ask, or plug something in.

Eventually this online stuff isn’t enough. You want to be surrounded by others who understand what you’re doing. So you learn about your local User Group and it turns out they’re meeting next week. There’s free snacks, and drinks, and people who get your curiosity. You’re insatiable, and there’s an all you can eat buffet, 24/7, anywhere, on any device.

Now the hooks are in you. Custom field with an image indicating happiness level? In your sleep. Custom object to survey your workshop attendees? Customized. Schema builder? Scheming. Hey, we can get our board talking to us in an online community only they have access to! You start to think other departments could use some love, and wonder if you can leverage your 360-degree single source of truth into a targeted journey of drip campaigns with branching logic and automated follow ups each ending in landing pages with customized calls to action that alert your development director when a high net worth prospect enters the engagement funnel at an early stage.

These words start to make sense to you.

Before long you’re travelling across the country to San Francisco annually to attend Dreamforce — the world’s largest nonprofit technology conference –and it’s like you’re sleepwalking in a really comfy hoodie with a hundred thousand people running all over downtown San Francisco. You could swear you just saw your old favorite band play last night.

Then one org isn’t enough. You need more. So you start to volunteer. Willingly. On your time off. Helping others. You think you could do this full time, hey this could really be your job, no office, no bosses, going wherever it takes you. You learn what a trigger is, and start experimenting with raw code.

Where you began is now child’s play, and you want everyone to know it. You take a quiz, you’re certified. You take another. And another. On social media your face is obscured by little blue clouds and you couldn’t be happier.

Years go by and you look where you’ve come and you wonder how you ever got there from that hat you put on so innocently, so very innocently, many years ago.

So yeah. Be careful. And have fun.

What Do You Wish You Knew When Getting Started With Salesforce?

Steve Mollis (SteveMoForce):

Allison Letts (Friends General Conference):

    “Definitely play around in a sandbox or two–I like to refresh one every week or so, so it ‘feels’ like my production instance but I can’t mess anything up.

    Asking and answering questions here on the Hub has been a huge help in my learning process.”

Nick Lindberg (Redpath Consulting Group):

    “Ditto Steve Molis (SteveMoForce)’s comment on Trailhead. One thing I wish I knew was the power of Salesforce beyond the CRM. The first few years I used it I thought of it as mostly an Access like database which I could run some reports out of.

    While that is nifty, I would have loved to fully understood the power of the platform, specifically how I could make staff lives easier via automation. Examples I think of include connecting the donation form or program signups on the website with Salesforce. This would have saved me countless hours of importing data into Salesforce.

    Also, I would have purchased Appexchange apps a lot sooner. There are a plethora of free ones out there which are amazing. Definitely check those out!!! Some of the really cool ones do cost money and I wish I would have been more willing to spend money on those apps as once installed, they did save a lot of time the staff spent working within Salesforce.”

Tracy Kronzak (TK Endeavours):

    “* The difference between trying to solve a problem with technology and solving it with people.

    * How to say no, especially if/when there was only one person driving the request.

    * What data architecture strategies truly scaled over time – there’s an immediate temptation to build many things as custom Objects, which may not serve long term reporting or data scalability needs.

    * Why some data was best stored as fields or types of fields vs. record types – there’s also an immediate temptation to create a lot of Record Types on key Objects such as Accounts, Contacts, and Campaigns when they may only be data categorizations better stored as picklists, for example.

    * The necessity of buy-in and active participation from my organization’s management in Salesforce – mine was very hands-off ‘let-us-know-when-it-works.’

    * Ultimately, when to leave a job when it wasn’t suiting for me, and advance my own needs and career, which caused me to languish more than once.”

Michael Kolodner (Spark Program):

    “I wish I’d fully understood at the beginning that the Salesforce platform can/does replace custom enterprise software. I thought of it as just CRM. In reality, this is access to the kind of custom software solution that only large companies could access, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, just a few years ago.

    So, echoing Nick Lindberg (Redpath Consulting Group, LLC), Salesforce is great for CRM and for Development, which is usually how nonprofits get started. But it’s potentially even more powerful to configure it to do your program management. Track what offerings you have, who shows up, who is working with whom, etc. That’s a much bigger custom build-out than installing the NPSP and customizing a few record types, fields, etc. But there is also huge upside potential.

    I’ll also echo that you’re on the right path: asking here on the Hub is a great way to learn. Don’t be shy–there are no stupid questions!

    Trailhead is phenomenal. Don’t miss installing Apsona for Salesforce App–you’ll never go back to other ways of uploading. And start now on convincing your organization to send you to Dreamforce!”