Why You Keep Failing At Salesforce


If there is one piece of ‘must have’ software in the marketing industry, it’s Salesforce — at least that’s what can be assumed based on the fact that companies are dumping 10s and 100s of thousands of dollars into licensing the tool every year. But what we’ve found over and over again is that despite the huge price tag, very few companies are actually confident in their use of the tool. More accurately, many companies literally have Salesforce ‘sitting on the shelf’, being severely underutilized, or not used at all. Does this sound familiar?

Why Companies Buy Salesforce

The cynical answer to the question, “Why companies buy Salesforce” is: Salesforce has brilliantly persuasive marketing and sales techniques. They are able to convince marketers that the software is critical to business operations, whether you’re a solopreneur or a Fortune 500 company.

Cynicism aside, companies buy Salesforce because it promises to modernize their marketing program. By serving as a ‘brain’ behind their marketing efforts, Salesforce’s CRM consolidates and leverages customer and sales data, and makes them available to integrate into marketing and sales activities.

And depending on your industry, Salesforce may even have a ‘cloud’ just for you (Health Cloud or Financial Services Cloud, for example). These vertical offerings add even more context and value to the already powerful CRM capabilities of the tool.

Specifically, companies tend to expect the following from Salesforce:

  • Better customer insights
  • Marketing automation
  • 360 degree view of the customer
  • More leads
  • Sales automation
  • Seamless cross-departmental account management
  • Data, data, and more data

This all sounds great! So, why then, do so many companies struggle to build or maintain momentum with the software? Why does it often feel like you have a high powered sports car permanently parked in the garage? The short answer is that Salesforce is not a plug and play solution (at least not at the enterprise level). To truly achieve the benefits promised to you every year at Dreamforce (you know, between the all you can eat breakfast buffet and the Green Day concert), you have to treat your Salesforce implementation like what it is — a digital transformation initiative.

4 big reasons Salesforce initiatives fail

The following are some of the most prominent, high level conditions we’ve seen that cause clients to fail (or at the very least, underperform) with their company’s use of Salesforce. 

They lack real expectations & strategy

If you ask the average executive why their marketing team *needs* Salesforce, chances are you’ll hear some variation of “Because we need to modernize our marketing & sales.” That is, it’s seen as a tool that — once licensed — will *cause* the modernization of their program. This is the first (and biggest) reason Salesforce implementations fail.

The tool itself is no more valuable to your company than a blank Excel spreadsheet. It’s an empty database with a bunch of bells and whistles bolted on (obviously an oversimplification). But what makes the tool valuable is *how it supports the processes and operations of your teams*. If you don’t already have a modern approach to sales and marketing, Salesforce can’t help you.

It’s like giving a 14 year old a Lamborghini on their first day of driver’s training — the car can be amazing with the right driver on the right road, but the student has no idea how to get the best out of it (and will most likely crash it into a tree because they were taking Instagram selfies behind the wheel).

“Modernize marketing & sales” is not nearly specific enough to be a legitimate strategy. Instead, you should think much more granular: “We want to improve our customer service experience by creating a single record for each customer that allows representatives to quickly review and reference a customer’s relationship with the company while supporting them.” Or “We want to track individual customer responses to our direct marketing campaigns so that our regional sales teams have more insightful information about the potential customers they will be calling.” Or “We want to build detailed profiles for each individual customer based on the campaigns they respond to and content they interact with on the web so that we can more accurately target them with helpful *and relevant* email marketing campaigns.”

If you don’t already know what your needs are, your chances of failing are significantly higher. You’ll find yourself (or your team) spending hours upon hours “poking around” in the Salesforce system simply to stumble upon ways it could possibly help you.

Our advice: Do not buy Salesforce until you have a thoroughly fleshed out strategy for *exactly* what the tool will do for your company. Then, when you begin implementing it, avoid the temptation to enable every shiny bell and whistle available to you.  Start by only installing/using those features that you defined in your strategy. This takes a surprising amount of discipline, but if you can *really* focus, and perfect your use of the small sliver of features you need, I promise you will be 100 miles ahead of the typical Salesforce user—who tries to ‘get the most out of the tool’ by trying to use all the features, only to realize 6 months later that they have wasted thousands of hours and have no business value to show for it.

They expect Salesforce to shape their sales processes — not the other way around

Salesforce is often viewed as a savior for sales teams. For some reason, companies assume that the availability of a modern CRM will “force” their sales teams to advance their processes, and take advantage of the leverage the tool can offer. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen this approach fail.

If you have an experienced sales force, they bring with them *years* of “doing things a certain way.” They like the outdated PowerPoint template they’ve been using (because it works); they like their personal Rolodex (because it works); they like calling their clients rather than using another form of communication (because it works).

So, when you give them access to Salesforce without first effectively implementing new sales processes, they react in a couple of ways: 

  • Best case scenario: They see it as a digital version of what they’ve already been doing, and hopefully move their Rolodex data into the CRM. But nothing *really* changes about the way they sell.
  • Worst case scenario: They feel like management is trying to shove a fancy new tool down their throat, and they resist change at all costs.

Implementing Salesforce within a sales team is more of a people/process initiative than a technology one. Starting from the ground up, the sales team must be built or rebuilt in a way that sets them up for success. They have to see value in consolidating their operations in a CRM — which will never happen if your messaging is “Do what you usually do, but do it in Salesforce.”

They aren’t ready or willing to invest in development and admin

As I mentioned before, Salesforce on its own is akin to a blank Excel document. It *can be* an amazingly powerful tool to help revolutionize your business or it can be a glorified contact list. Companies who succeed in their use of Salesforce recognize that it is not just an ‘install and walk away’ system. Instead, they understand that ongoing resources must be devoted to maintaining and optimizing the tool. This can include: 

  1. Salesforce Administrator — This is a fully trained and certified role, and every Salesforce client should have at least 1. This person understands the settings, configurations, structures, and admin environments of your Salesforce organization, and is your resident expert for making updates. This is not the same as a power user. I repeat, this is not the same as a power user. You may have one or more tech-savvy employees who can navigate their way around in the admin panels of Salesforce, but we strongly encourage you to formalize the responsibility of the Salesforce Administrator. Salesforce offers training and certification courses regularly, and they are worth every penny.
  2. Salesforce Development — If your organization is going to customize Salesforce in any way, or connect it to other systems via API or otherwise, it is very important to realize that these are development efforts, and require development resources. While you may not need a full time Salesforce developer on staff, you should absolutely identify a vendor partner who can actually write code for Salesforce.

They think Salesforce is Salesforce

As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of components within Salesforce. There are dozens (maybe hundreds?) of products and variations within the system. There is Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Commerce Cloud, Pardot, Social Studio, Heroku, Community Cloud, Health Cloud, and Financial Services Cloud, just to name a few. And within each of those products are a number of add-ons and configurations. 

Why is this important? Because it means that the way you talk about “Salesforce” matters. To one person, “Salesforce” means CRM. To another person, “Salesforce” means Marketing Cloud. To yet another person, it means the e-commerce platform. We’ve seen conversations go on for far too long before the parties realized that they were discussing different components of the tool — all because they weren’t specific about their unique Salesforce perspective.

Even though they are (usually) made to work seamlessly with one another, each ‘cloud’ or product within Salesforce has to be treated uniquely. The training for your power users of each cloud should look different, and the business processes you build for each area should be tailored. You may be able to get up and running on Salesforce Marketing Cloud without development support. But to use Commerce Cloud is an entirely different beast. Salesforce isn’t Salesforce — make sure you understand the language of the ecosystem, so you can effectively communicate and support each unique area.

How to revive a flatlining Salesforce implementation

In an ideal world, any organization looking to implement Salesforce would think through all of these things *before* signing the license agreement. In reality, we know that’s not the case — companies are currently limping along with non-optimized, non-strategic Salesforce installations, and wondering what they can do to right the ship. If this is you, don’t worry — there is hope!

  1. Step 1 - Map out your Salesforce ecosystem. Take note of all of the Salesforce products you have implemented and any existing integrations or customizations. This gives you a bird’s eye view of the tools you have to work with. 
  2. Step 2 — Formulate and document your expectations of Salesforce. This works well as an afternoon workshop that includes all stakeholders. After this step, you should have a clear idea of what each stakeholder *truly* wants from the system.
  3. Step 3 — Align stakeholder requirements to Salesforce features & identify gaps. Since you already have Salesforce installed, you may simply need to document how the current configuration solves your company’s problems (as defined in step 2). However, you’ll probably also find gaps — problems or expectations defined by stakeholders that are not addressed in the current state of Salesforce. 
  4. Step 4 — Prioritize those identified gaps in a development roadmap and enlist *expert* resources to get to work (This is where your Salesforce Admin and Developer partners come in).

To close (and to repeat myself for the millionth time), companies who are successful with Salesforce are those who have a strategy and process in place that is detached from the technology itself. They have their plays drawn out before they hit the field. That way, when the implementation begins, they have a clear and focused vision of exactly how the tool is going to be most valuable.

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About the Author
Justin is the owner/founder of Fox Consulting Group, and a lead consultant for strategy engagements.

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