Salesforce Consulting Partners: How to Hire an Expert Partner Today
You’ve just spent months researching solutions, fighting for budget, and evaluating your options to decide that Salesforce was right for you. As part of your research you knew that going with Salesforce meant working with a Salesforce consulting partner to actually get all the shiny things you saw in their demos, but how hard can that be?
A quick search on the AppExchange for consulting partners and you find out there are 783 registered Salesforce consulting partners! How long is it going to take to find the right Salesforce consultant for our company? Should I just go with a simpler CRM solution? How do I evaluate these partners?
Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be so hard. Let’s take a look at how you can find, evaluate, and choose a Salesforce partner that will put you at ease and confirm that you made the right decision.
Step 1: Finding Salesforce Consulting partners
Let’s start all the way at the beginning: identifying a list of “possible” partners. If you really want to, just head to the AppExchange and create a list of all 783 Salesforce consulting partners and skip to the next step in the process. But I’m guessing you’re not insane, so you want to start with a smaller list and then start cutting it down. Let’s build that list.
All you have to do to get a short-list of consulting companies is answer these questions:
- What consulting companies have you ‘heard’ of?
This may not return the best list for you, but it’s a start. Chances are if you have ‘heard’ of a company it was in a positive light. Maybe they wrote a blog post you liked(like this one!), one of your connections was praising them on twitter, or they gave a talk at a conference you attended. Regardless, add them to the list.
- Do you have any connections that use Salesforce? If yes, ask them for their partner’s name.
With Salesforce powering thousands of businesses worldwide, chances are you have a connection or two working at one of those businesses. Reach out to them and ask who their consulting partner was/is and add them to your list. Note: Don’t ask them for a referral. You should wait until after you’ve had a chance to do your own research before contacting the company. More on this later.
- Are you working with a Salesforce Account Executive? If yes, ask them for their ‘preferred partners’.
Unless you’re deploying the lightning essentials package, you are probably speaking with a Salesforce Account Executive to negotiate the terms of your deal. Remember the person that talked you through all the awesome things you can do with Salesforce? That’s them!
Your Account Executive is deeply invested in your success with Salesforce. Think about it: If you don’t get a ton of value out of Salesforce it would make sense to cancel your licenses, meaning your AE doesn’t get a commission. This is actually a great thing for you. Salesforce AE’s want you to be successful with Salesforce, so they tend to take note of consultants that have helped their other accounts. For this reason, they are an excellent source for your list!
Ask your Salesforce AE for their ‘preferred partners’ and add them to your list.
By this point, most people will have at least 3, if not 10+ Salesforce consulting companies on their list. If you do, you can feel free to move onto step #2. If you don’t know anyone else using Salesforce, you’re not working with an AE, and have never heard of any Salesforce consultants, there is another option for you..
- Last Resort – Ask the community
Although this method is inherently biased, it’s still better than searching through that list of 780 companies! A lazy way of going about this would be going to forums like Reddit.com/r/Salesforce, Facebook groups, or LinkedIn groups and asking for recommendations. You will get recommendations, or even statements that “X is the best company to go with” from almost every person in the group. But after a quick search, you will realize that each one of these people works at the company they recommend!
So how do we get better results? Twitter. I have recently fallen back in love with Twitter because of the ability to strike up conversations with anyone you want to. Even if you don’t use Twitter, you should make an account just for this exercise. All you have to do is head to this list of extremely kind and helpful people known as Salesforce MVP’s.
Click the drop-down next to a few of these people, and click “tweet to @_____”.
And send a tweet like – “Hey Amy, I found you on the Salesforce MVP list. I’m in need of a Salesforce consulting partner, and I’m looking for recommendations. Is there anyone that you would recommend?”
(I didn’t actually send this tweet, but I recently started following Amy and I’m sure she would have some great recommendations for you!)
By this point, you should have a list of 5-10 consulting partners to work with. Now you’re ready to start cutting that list down.
Step 2: Narrow Down Your List With Research
Before we move on let me clarify one thing: you’re right – this list of companies is not perfect, you may find a ‘better’ partner by going through all 780 partners. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: most registered Salesforce consulting partners are damn good at what they do. That’s really the point of this step – to weed out the companies that aren’t good for you.
This section isn’t intended to have you pick your partner, but rather bring your list down to 2-3 companies before you move onto step #3. To make things easy for you, I’m going to list out a few things that you should pay attention to along with those that you shouldn’t, and let you know where to find them. From there you will have a good feel for which companies you want to include in the next step.
A company’s ‘experience’ can be taken in a bunch of different ways. To keep things simple, just think:
- Has this company implemented a similar solution to what I want to implement?
- Have they built this solution in my industry?
These two questions are basic but they can tell you a lot. If the company has implemented a similar solution (sales cloud, marketing cloud, communities, custom Heroku apps) then you know that they are capable of handling your project.
The second question will tell you if they have an understanding of how your industry works. Yes, they may have implemented a Salesforce Community for one company that looks amazing. But if you’re a healthcare company you don’t want to spend time educating them on government regulations, privacy standards, etc…
The best place to find this information is on a company’s website. There should be a section for “Customers” or “Case Studies” or something similar where you can review projects they’ve worked on in the past.
Take note of any of these customers that are in similar industries or completed a similar project. You’ll need them in step #3.
Something that you may have noticed is that I haven’t listed the total number of projects as a measure of experience. Now, of course, you may not feel comfortable being someone’s second-ever implementation, but after 3, 5, 10 projects they will have a system in place to get your project done right and on time. This leads well into my next point.
The Size of The Company
I was tempted to add this to a section of “Things that don’t matter” but I decided this is really important. So, please, don’t be talked into paying $250+ an hour for a salesforce implementation simply because a company has a big brand name. We all know that Deloitte, Accenture, and many other top-tier consulting firms seem like they are the right choice, but they’re probably not.
I don’t intend for this section to be a dig at big-brand consulting companies. To be fair, they do great work and have paved the way forward for the Salesforce consulting industry as a whole. I just want you to be aware – there are plenty of small to mid-sized Salesforce shops where your project will be a priority.
The key takeaway here? Don’t discount companies because of their size – big or small.
Point and click (declarative) development is one of our favorite things about Salesforce. It gives us the ability to construct complex data models and automate business processes without touching a line of code. Although as wonderful as this is, there is a limit to what you can do on Salesforce without custom development.
It’s important to keep in mind that your needs of Salesforce will ultimately grow as your company does. You want to select a partner that has the technical know-how to keep up with you as you grow. You can screen for this by reading the content of a company’s website and it will also come through in their customer stories.
Reviews – better known as ‘testimonials’ to some – are a tricky thing. Take for example the testimonial on our home page:
Now I can assure you that what we built for grid is indeed awesome. But does this really tell you anything about us? I don’t believe so but to each his own. If you want to find reviews on Salesforce consulting partners you can go to their listing on The AppExchange or find testimonials on their website.
Advice from Community Leaders
To make this guide as valuable as it could be, I reached out to some experienced members of the Salesforce community to see what they had to say about choosing a consulting partner. First up is Eric Dreshfield. If you don’t know Eric, he’s a Salesforce MVP, Advocacy Manager at Apttus, and Founder of Midwest Dreamin’. Here’s what he had to say:
“You should look for a company to partner with that is well respected in their specialty, provides great customer service and is a trusted advisor who will look out for the best interest of YOUR company, not theirs. Remember you are the customer – the decision on who to partner with is yours. Price shouldn’t be the only deciding factor. There are plenty of studies out there that indicate most people will buy from someone they trust, even if it means spending more. Cheap solutions, are generally only cheap in the short run.”
I also reached out to the host of the SF Campfire Stories Podcast, Salesforce CRM Consultant and Professional Speaker, Justice Sikakane:
“When considering who to partner with; take into consideration the reputation, collective years of experience and willingness to collaborate towards the betterment of your organization. As the consumer you are in the driver seat.”
“Be transparent and objective in what you are seeking with the long term vision for your organization in mind (forward thinking). That said, by identifying the right partner you are. Establishing trust and a transparent understanding on a deployment strategy based on a methodology that aligns with your organizations culture is key!”
After digging into each company’s AppExchange listing and their website you should have a few companies that really stand out. These companies are the ones you’re going to want to set up an introductory call with.
Step 3: The Introductory Call
At this point, all of the companies on your list look great. You may even feel comfortable choosing one of them if you had to. That’s why this introductory call is the most important piece to this whole puzzle – you can finally do some active research.
You’ve probably been on one of these calls before, so you already know the type of questions they are going to ask. Questions like:
- What does your company do?
- What do you want to use Salesforce for?
- What are your expectations of Salesforce?
- Have you used a (CRM, service console, marketing automation) tool in the past?
At some point, they’re going to ask about your budget. You may think you can gain some negotiating power by withholding your budget but that would be a mistake. As I mentioned before, some companies have higher rates than others, and some companies can simply do things faster than others. This means that if you tell them you have $15,000 and you want to be able to do X, Y, and Z then they should account for that in their proposal.
Once you’ve discussed your company, the project, and your budget, it’s your turn to ask some questions. Here are some things you will want to ask:
- What is your implementation methodology?
- What sets you apart from other implementation partners?
- What experience do you have working with (Salesforce cloud you are implementing)? And, can you tell me more about that project?
- What expertise do you have outside of Salesforce?
- Do you have a standard rate for this kind of work?
- Most importantly – Can I speak with (1-3 companies you found in step #2) about their experience working with you?
To be fair, some of these questions may be better suited for a second or third call depending on the scenario. Nonetheless, these questions will give you a complete picture of how they will handle your project, what it will cost, and get you access to valuable references.
Making The Final Decision
By now you have spoken with 2-3 different consulting partners, they’re drafting up proposals for you, and you’re reaching out to the references they have provided for you. Unfortunately, because things are so nuanced at this stage I can’t provide any valuable information for making the final decision.
If you’ve followed all of the steps up until this point, you shouldn’t have to worry too much. The work you’ve done up to this point will guarantee that whichever partner you ultimately decide on will do an incredible job.
I want to remind you that we are a Salesforce consulting partner too! Take advantage of our free consultations and get on a call with us today.
About Shane Rostad
Shane Rostad is a marketing manager for TriFin Labs that loves to share his knowledge and learnings about tech through writing. When he's not reading you can find him exploring Florida's parks or loitering in a local coffee shop.