By Mike Hepworth, Salesforce Marketing Cloud practice lead
The Salesforce ecosystem provides a dizzying variety of cloud services and tools. This ranges from the most widely adopted CRM, the leading marketing automation platform, analytics solutions, and the list goes on and on. When it comes to taking full advantage of each, it takes a combination of time, experience, and beyond out-of-the-box thinking. This begs the question, when is the right time to work with a Salesforce partner?
The simple answer is now. Now can be when you are ready to integrate a new tool, are not fully using it, or need something more custom to your business needs.
The reason why Salesforce and their accompanying suite of tools are so widely adopted is that they offer robust solutions that can be customized for every business. This also means that the tools are incredibly technical, which requires a specific skill set.
It’s typically at this point when a Salesforce Partner is brought in, so they can share their expertise and guide organizations through the process—be it implementation, custom development, or even stronger reporting—without any of the typical bumps in the road that come from self-implementation. Before we get into the weeds, I have a story around self-implementation that is particularly relevant.
Learn from my mistakes: Why a partner matters
Before joining Ciberspring as the Marketing Cloud Practice Lead, I was at an influencer marketing agency. I was tasked with implementing an email service provider (ESP) into our shopping cart system. Having never done so before, I did what many marketers do today: dig through the how-to guides and implementation docs.
I stood up the platform and built triggers for automated emails around abandoned carts and transactional emails. As I became more proficient with the platform, I built commercial campaigns for lead nurturing, re-engagement, cross- and up-sell. This was with ExactTarget, which became Salesforce Marketing Cloud (SFMC). Over time we began to realize ExactTarget’s promise of revenue lift by sending the right message to the right person, on the right channel, at the right time.
Personally, and like many marketers who self-implement these tools, it’s trial by fire and very much a learn-as-you-go process. However, hindsight is 20/20, and the processes that I put in place then were not as efficient as they should have been.
After my time with the influencer agency, I became a consultant focused on ExactTarget’s platform. I then met another consultant who had worked directly for ExactTarget before joining my firm. His inside knowledge of the platform was extraordinarily valuable, and he knew how to get the most from the platform. It wasn’t long before I started realizing how much faster I could have realized value from the platform if I would have had this guidance from the start. Even with my strong technical background, understanding the true power of the platform only came with the experience and knowledge of a seasoned SFMC professional.
A partner is a guide to help navigate the digital landscape
A Salesforce Partner can help quickly navigate the vast digital marketing and CRM landscape in a fraction of the time when compared to self-implementations. This shouldn’t be confused with a vendor who comes in and simply installs the tool. Many vendors call themselves partners, but an actual partner will help their clients understand the platform better and sooner and align with existing business goals and processes. A partner coaches you along the way. When this relationship is in place, it’s easier to realize the investment sooner.
When you self-implement you get a license, some documentation, and ideally an in-house resource who has done it in the past. Even then, typically marketing resources are just that, folks with backgrounds in campaigns, but not so much on the technical level. There may be some bumps in the process as far as how it works, how it integrates with sales tools or data, and takes some trial and error. The approach is more akin to a one-size-fits-all approach.
However, with a partner, these bumps are easily smoothed over by working with a combination of technologists and marketers who have successfully implemented the platform dozens or hundreds of times and at the same time customize it to align with business processes. It also means that rather than waiting for internal processes to mature around the platform, you can skip several steps and develop solutions beyond out-of-the-box functionality. If you are going to pay for a set of tools, it’s important to take full advantage of them earlier instead of shelving them until a year or more later.
Tried and true campaigns
Right out of the gate, once Salesforce tools are properly implemented and integrated, a partner will also be able to supply templates that expedite a lot of work. The sooner that campaigns are running, the sooner ROI is realized.
Out of the box, there are some solutions available to quickly get started, but what about advance options like nurture or engagement campaigns that have been tested dozens of times? How about automation that keeps your database healthy and data as accurate as possible?
When you self-implement, you are on your own. Important concepts like tried-and-true best practices tend to be glossed over. For example, something as simple as ideal naming conventions could give away something more complex. This also leaves more room for error, potential slip-ups that you don’t want prospects or customers to see, and more time rebuilding campaigns.
Finding the right partner and proving value
Like finding the right marketing solution or CRM, businesses also need to find the right Salesforce Partner. There is a reason that I continue to repeat the need for there to be a shared vision and business process alignment, and that is because it is the key to finding the right partner. So I’ll say it one final time for dramatic effect:
A great Salesforce Partner is one that aligns with your business goals, processes, and culture.
Otherwise, you get a short-order cook—a partner who will execute the project by doing what you tell them and nothing else. However, you should have to be the expert in the platform—with a good partner, you tell them what you want to achieve and they’ll tell you the best way to do in the platform and guide you along the way.
One of the fastest ways to find this out is by looking through the Salesforce ecosystem of partners, reading existing client reviews, and then picking out a few to have conversations with. Ultimately you want a partner with more than just a few certifications.
Lastly, implementation services, although seemingly expensive, pay for themselves in two ways. They are significantly faster and more efficient and add value through expertise and best practices.
Once the system is working, it pays dividends. It returns that value over and over again. You get more targeted marketing, processes are automated, people are not sitting at the console pushing buttons all day, and it’s all done in a fraction of the time.