What I Learned In My First Year of Consulting

The following post was written by Irene Frank, Senior Technical Developer at Kennedy & Company. This is part of our team series, One Year in, in which our team shares experiences transitioning from higher education to the world of higher education consulting, and to life at K&Co.

Phase 2

A little over a year ago, I left my position on the Salesforce Administration team of a large public university in order to become a higher education consultant and technical developer at Kennedy and Company. I had joined the team at my previous institution after using the system as an end user, so by the time I had access to the Setup gear icon in the upper right corner of my Salesforce screen, we were far past our initial implementation. As such, I often found myself mystified by decisions made (or put off) during implementation. Why had the data architecture been set up so that it was impossible to pull the report that our users were asking for? Why was adoption so high among some groups of users and so low among others? Most of all, why was so much of the functionality our users clamored for left to implement during “Phase 2” – postponed until an indefinite “later?”

As a consultant, I’ve now participated in many Salesforce implementations and I’m starting to see the answers to those questions I asked myself as a new administrator in the thick of user requests. I’ve seen some patterns as to what makes for a successful implementation and I’ve even developed an appreciation for Phase 2. Here are  some of my observations.

You Need a Specific Vision of How You’re Going to Use Salesforce at Your Institution

As awesome as Salesforce is, it’s not magic. Simply having Salesforce at your institution won’t make everything better. It’s an incredibly powerful piece of CRM technology, but a piece of technology is useless in the hands of someone who doesn’t know what they want to do with it. Before embarking on any Salesforce implementation you should know what goals you’re trying to achieve. Not “increase enrollment” – that’s a given – but how you want to use Salesforce to achieve that goal. What groups of users will be in Salesforce? What kinds of business processes will they complete within the system? Will they be doing things they’re already doing more efficiently, or are they going to start to do something they’ve never done before? If the idea of things happening “automatically” excites you – what kinds of things do you want to do automatically? Knowing the answers to these questions focuses the build during implementation so that your Salesforce org does what you wanted it to do. 

Get the Right Combination of Technologies

You’ve probably figured out by now that things are more complicated than “let’s get Salesforce.” There are editions, packages, add-ons, third-party tools, etc. to consider. If you have your specific vision in place, that will guide you in selecting the right combination of tools to purchase. If you’re envisioning Admissions Counselors sending texts to students to remind them to get that application in – well then you know you need a tool that will send texts. As you’re going through the pre-implementation process communicate your vision often and make sure that the tools in question will get you what you want – and also ask for details on how they will do that so you have a good understanding of the effort your institution and/or implementation partner might have to put in to get the tool to do what you want.

Top-Down with Lots of Input or Bottom-Up with Lots of Leadership Support

At Kennedy and Company, we like to say that the best CRM is the one that you will use. And whether or not users at an institution use your Salesforce CRM is used depends on two things: Will it make their life easier? Are they required to use it? So, if the decision to implement Salesforce came from the top, make sure to get lots of input from users who will be in the system day in and day out. They’ll know they have to use the system. If you get their input in the design so that it is useful to them, then they will want to as well. If it’s the other way around and the impetus to use Salesforce came from your potential users, then they will need lots of leadership support to bring Salesforce into the fabric of the institution, allocate the resources needed to implement and maintain the system and make sure the system can grow beyond the initial use case.

You Will Need People to Fly This Airplane

You need at least a Salesforce administrator. You need someone who understands what the system was designed to do and how that relates to your institution’s business processes and goals. That person can help users out when they’re stuck, and onboard new users. Their job is partly to maintain what was built originally and troubleshoot issues as they come up. More importantly, their job is to think about how to improve and expand your institution’s Salesforce org and spearhead changes going forward. And yes, unless you’re content just maintaining where you were the day you went live, this is a full-time job.

You Do Need Phase 2

This has been a really hard thing for me to concede as it was what frustrated me most in my previous position – but it’s best to keep it simple at first. Stick hard to that initial vision and don’t get caught up doing more just because you could do more. Leave it for phase 2. If you don’t – it’s too much change all at once. Your users need a chance to be in Salesforce, to start finding their way around, to see how well it does the things you envisioned, and to start wondering if it could do other things. Once they’re hooked, once they start asking for more, once they start suggesting ways in which Salesforce could be even more useful, you’re over the hardest part of implementation – adoption. Now you can tackle the next big change. And the next one, and the next one.