This is a publicly shared Knowledge Article from the Power of Us Hub - an online community for nonprofit and higher ed Salesforce users. Join the Hub .
Prepare for Success
Many of the biggest hurdles organizations face when implementing Salesforce are not about technology, they are about the approach the organization takes towards the process overall. Take a look at the recommendations below:
It may sound surprising, but one of the most important steps you can take before you implement Salesforce is to make sure your organization understands exactly WHY you're going to implement Salesforce.
EXAMPLE: We want to become a more "data-driven" organization, and better understand where we're doing well and where we're coming up short. Therefore we need to invest in our ability to track and report our data, so it can help us improve our programs and our impact overall.
When done well, using a robust, flexible CRM system like Salesforce can be transformational to your organization's work. It can help you become smarter about your programs, raise more money, and ultimately have more impact overall. But the hard-earned truth is that "doing it right" is not a small undertaking. It takes a significant commitment of time, money, and continuous learning in order to customize the system, use it well, and be successful in the long term.
It may sound surprising, but in a large study we found that the most significant challenge for nonprofits starting out on Salesforce was that they hadn't clearly understood what they were getting into. And those inaccurate expectations can be detrimental to an organization's chances of success with the adoption of any new system.
Expectation #1: Salesforce is a platform
Salesforce is not a software application - it's a platform. As you probably know from using applications on your smartphone or computer, an application is pre-built for a specific use, like taking photos or listening to music. A platform, however, is a toolset that you can use to build your application. It can do anything you want it to do, but you have to decide what that is. It's kind of like a Lego set: you can build a house with it, or a boat, or a robot. You have to decide what you need, and then build it around those needs. Most organizations can't "switch on" Salesforce and start using it right out of the box.
Expectation #2: Staff Participation and Key Roles
Red flag number one for an organization trying to adopt Salesforce is when the project has been delegated to the "computer guy," the summer intern, or silo'd within one department. A successful adoption requires that the organization views it as a high enough strategic priority that they are willing to dedicate time, resources, and leadership to the project on an ongoing basis. A few staffing-related roles you may want to consider include:
Expectation #3: Cost
So how much will it cost? It can be frustrating, but there's no way around answering this question with "that depends." That's because every level of customization is possible, and cost varies with numerous other factors as well.
Expectation #4: Timelines and Phased Implementation
Organizations who have gone through a complex adoption process often say that they wish they had taken a more phased approach, starting by building a solid basic foundation, and then building on top of that. It's also the case that change is often difficult for people, and change pain is inevitable. So a phased approach allows you to minimize the amount of change pain endured at any given time.
In theory, you can implement Salesforce yourself. In practice, you probably shouldn't. Why not? Because the learning curve is steep, the technology is complex and ever-evolving, the possibilities are endless, and there is a minefield of pitfalls out there. Unless you've got some serious database background, a whole lot of time to invest in learning, and experience facilitating major change inside an organization, you're going to need expert help. In fact, even if you do have those things, you still might need expert help! Bottom line, it's been shown repeatedly that the chances for success increase dramatically for those organizations who use a consulting partner to help them get up and running.
"Data" is consistently ranked as a significant challenge facing any CRM project. The truth is, getting and keeping good data is always a bigger task than people expect it to be. But it's also true that without good data -- really good data -- your system is doomed.
When people talk about a successful data-driven organization, they often refer to the fact that staff "trust" the data in the system. At first, "trust" might seem like a surprising aspect for them to focus on. But the truth is, the vast majority of experience people tend to have with systems has taught them not to trust the data in them. If you've worked at most organizations, you might recognize some common complaints about the database: There are tons of duplicates. There are tons of errors in the data. Not everything is in here. We only use this system for emails because most of the detailed history is in staff's heads or in their email program. The "computer guy" is the only one who can run a report. Donor info is stored in one system, the email list is stored in another, and event lists are stored in another. And the list goes on. Unfortunately, as soon as the trust is broken, the system falls apart. Staff realize they have to create their own workaround systems to get their jobs done, and they don't feel the need to prioritize good data entry into a system with bad data that is useless anyway.
Decide what to use as your technical foundation
One such major decision is whether to start with an existing pre-packaged application from Salesforce.org (Nonprofit Success Pack), or whether to custom build from the ground up. It is best to make this decision with an experienced implementation partner who knows the nonprofit space well, but this article aims to give you enough background and context to make that discussion a bit less confusing!
Option 1: Start with a Application from Salesforce.org