5 Dreamforce 2017 takeaways to guide your CRM strategy

Dreamforce is the largest single-technology conference in the world, and it’s complete sensory overload. But there are some messages you need to pick up, loud and clear, for your CRM planning assumptions.

As a technology conference, Dreamforce's 2,000+ sessions is cacophony. As a marketing event, nobody knows how to turn up the volume like Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.  And as a party venue, who could beat Alicia Keys and Lenny Kravitz in San Francisco?

If you sent someone to the conference, make sure they download all the presentation files, even for the sessions they didn’t attend. Some of those 1500 or so documents won’t be available until around Thanksgiving, and downloading them individually is a chore best done during football games and parades.  But that couple of gigabytes will come in handy to quickly find the hot technical items in the coming year.

That’s great for the microscopic view. But let’s look at the Salesforce ecosystem “top down.”

1. Like it or not, this is probably the year you need to migrate some of your users to Lightning. If you don’t talk to a salesmen, most practitioners will advise you not to do a wholesale “slash-cut” of your user community. Move a group of users when there is a specific reason to do so, a business process that will be measurably better with the new UI’s capabilities. The good news is that Lightning is prettier, it’s recently gotten faster, and all the bright-shiny-object features are available only on the new UI.

The less good news is that the transition from Classic UI will require rework, rethink, and likely recode. The reason you want to make this change incrementally is because SFDC continues to deliver features incrementally (welcome to Agile!), so if you move too quickly you’ll have a bunch of idiosyncratic workarounds and code that you’ll want to jettison soon enough.

2. Pay attention to what’s going on in the App Exchange. The exchange itself has been updated, but what matters is the availability of more products that look like solutions, rather than just tools and frameworks. When evaluating App Exchange packages, pay attention to recent user ratings – it’s a bit of a red flag if a package has been out for 4 years and hasn’t had any recent user input. In most areas, there will be a couple of available solutions – you’ll need to do your own evaluation of which fits better for your use case. However, you can’t expect the vendors to spend a bunch of time with you on that: they don’t have the margins or the pre-sales staff to hand-hold you through your evaluation.

3. Pay attention to the consulting companies. The days of the small, generic system integrator are coming to a close. For a number of reasons, the SFDC integrators are consolidating. More importantly, consulting clients are growing more hesitant about using small consulting companies. There’s plenty of business out there, but it’s getting a lot more time consuming to win the deals. In the long run, that means prices have to go up. So it’s more important than ever to shop for value, not price points.

4. The hottest topic of the conference is AI, Einstein and big data, but beware the hype. Sorry to be a killjoy, but apply heavy filters to this trio of not-very-closely-related topics, and know that really leveraging these technologies this year will not be cheap or easy. There are plenty of extra fees to be aware of, and more than a few discovery-and-coding cycles to experience. To be clear, there are some features that are truly valuable (one of my favorites is Inbox), but don’t swallow big lumps of marketing whole.

5. The unspoken topic. SFDC, when outfitted with all the bells and whistles, is a huge system. Actually, it’s not a system but a federation of web services and features that cooperate to provide value to your business. In that federation are some lessons:

  • The best CRM systems are built, not bought. SFDC is a toolkit disguised as an application, and the SFDC platform is a very solid toolkit indeed. I believe SFDC management when they say that 80 percent of the records in customer systems are stored in custom objects, which means customers have been extending their systems like crazy.
  • Use only the parts of it that really make sense for your business now. Too-early adoption involves wastes license and implementation cost. If your people or the underlying technology aren’t really there yet, you’ve wasted the most expensive asset of all: the system’s (and the IT department’s) credibility.
  • No one vendor can get their mind around the whole footprint of SFDC technology. So if you’re planning to use disparate parts of the system federation, you’re going to need more than one consultancy (if you want to pay your single vendor to subcontract out the specialized stuff, be my guest…but make sure your contract has teeth).
  • Because SFDC is a federation of home-grown, acquired and partner services, the sophisticated SFDC implementations don’t have a single database or unified API. The components range from highly integrated to nearly standalone, and they evolve at different rates (welcome back to Agile!), so learning curves can be an unexpected challenge for projects.

The overwhelming impression (which just happens to be accurate) from Dreamforce 2017 is that SFDC is the undisputed leader in the CRM space. But don’t let their market power influence your decisions: you need to plan for your priorities, not theirs.

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