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What is Salesforce - It's Not What You Think

Updated: Sep 13, 2020

If you think Salesforce is a CRM platform, think again - now for something completely different...

Several years ago, I participated in one of Salesforce’s Innovation Days here in Chicago. These full-day events are community-based learning opportunities for Salesforce pros to get introduced to new or evolving Salesforce tech. Additionally, at this session about 40 of us were randomly divided into teams of four to ideate a business solution, build a demo app, present it, and have our peers evaluate it in competition.

It was during the first part of this day that I had an “aha” moment regarding “What is Salesforce?” The epiphany was that Salesforce is a development platform. It can be molded to support and grease the wheels of any business process. I no longer think of Salesforce as CRM software. That's too limiting. Still, it’s easy to see why Salesforce doesn’t market themselves this way – what sales manager would invest in a development platform?

Here’s how Salesforce describes themselves…

“Salesforce is a customer relationship management solution that brings companies and customers together. It's one integrated CRM platform that gives all your departments — including marketing, sales, commerce, and service — a single, shared view of every customer.”

It’s interesting to me that the description doesn’t mention “customization.” Salesforce un-customized and without business-specific applications is of limited value. I think this is where many businesses and Salesforce pass each other soundlessly in the night.

It seems many organizations believe you buy Salesforce and it just works – you roll it out and your team instinctively knows how to use it and good things will happen. This could not be further from the truth.

Thinking of Salesforce as a development platform altered my approach to weaving Salesforce into my first big client's organizations and the lives of Inside Sales, Outside Sales, Sales Support, and Accounting – as well as for the rest of the Executive Management team. After this Innovation Day, I built an application every quarter for nearly three years – some simple (taking a few days) and some more complex (taking 6-8 weeks). Yes, I was an exec who built Salesforce apps – strange, but true.

The organization benefitted handsomely – the Salesforce processes and applications built enabled the business to drive incremental net revenue of roughly two million dollars in a 2-3 year period. And, I would expect that those applications will live on for many years and continue to drive incremental millions.

Let’s call this victory ROPI (Return on Process Investment) – OK, that sounds a little silly, but it’s 5:30a and that’s what I’ve got right now. Seriously though, the concept of ROPI is rarely or never considered. Something like Return on Process Investment sounds time-consuming, costly, and distracting. Typically, ROI projections and calculations involve what-ifs around increased ad budgets, hiring more sales team members, or a variety of capital investments.

I have never heard of a business thinking about ROI relative to hiring a Salesforce pro or agency to make their sales team and those working around them better, stronger, faster. Maybe those conversations are happening, but I’ve not heard them.

If you’re a Sales Manager, CMO, CEO, COO or other exec, you have Salesforce, and you’re not seeing expected benefits, you might re-imagine Salesforce as a process “machine” and mold it to your specific business needs.

My suggestion – talk to a Salesforce pro with strong business and management background to see what’s possible. Then, consider options from there.

BTW - the team of four I found myself on won the mini-competition at that Salesforce Innovation Day...a small, but proud, victory in my Salesforce career...

Tony Bagdy

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