Salesforce, Dreamforce & Nonprofits: It always comes back to the data model

I’m back from Dreamforce 2011, trying to process everything I saw and learned.

On a personal level, this was the best Dreamforce yet. I was honored to be selected as a Salesforce MVP last March. This gave me some Dreamforce perks starting with a fantastic MVP-only Introduction to Object Oriented Programming class on Monday before the conference began.

This class was a reduced version of the full 5-day course. I’ve always had a fear of learning Apex/code. I’m not as adverse to it now. The class was structured with lessons, followed by 20 minutes or so to complete an exercise. Unlike the hands-on sessions at Dreamforce itself, the solutions weren’t handed out step-by-step like a recipe. You were expected to use what was taught to write some basic, simple lines of code that when executed didn’t produce errors and showed the desired result. I surprised myself at how quickly I picked up the concepts. During one lesson, not only did I get working code but I did it in a way that the instructor said was “elegant.” Yay me! I never want to be a developer. I just want to understand enough Apex to do simple tasks and recognize when and why something is not behaving correctly. This class was a step in the right direction and I highly encourage folks to check it out next year.

Dreamforce can be a circus. So much going on at one time. So many people (45,000 give or take this year). The Salesforce Foundation has continually struggled with how to make Dreamforce meaningful for the nonprofits who attend. This year, the Nonprofit/Foundation sessions and exhibitors were all on the lower level of the nearby Marriott Marquis. If this was my first Dreamforce, I would probably think it was fabulous idea. For me attending my 4th Dreamforce, I was disappointed that it felt a little second class.

I enjoyed presenting on Tuesday morning on the topic of Nonprofits & the AppExchange. I think it went well considering how much we rattled off in an hour without using a lot of visuals or demos.

The Salesforce Nonprofit community has become a bit fractured in the past few years. When I started in 2006, there was essentially one nonprofit experience on Salesforce. A nonprofit either used the nonprofit template or they went off on their own to custom development on the basic Enterprise edition. Now, I’ve been told that approximately 40% of active Salesforce nonprofits are using the Nonprofit Starter Pack (NPSP). That means that approximately 60% are using other applications such as Convio Common Ground or Luminate, the old template, Affinaquest, Outreach Suite or any number of combinations. It’s no longer variations on a single theme. Each direction is very different, using a different data model (see below for lots more on that) and approach. As a result of all that diversity among nonprofits, the nonprofit track sessions at Dreamforce tend to be high level and program/strategy-driven. I’d love to see sessions that take deeper dives into not just what nonprofits are doing on Salesforce, but exactly how they’re doing it. It’s hard for me to relate to case studies without understanding a bit more about what happened behind the curtain. Maybe that’s just me.

So how is it always about the data model?

Follow along with me. Salesforce was originally just a business-to-business tool. A company sales person connected with an individual at another company in order to close a deal with the company. The relationship wasn’t about the individual. If the person at the company left, the deal would remain with the company. The account is, and remains, the center of the Salesforce universe. Nonprofits typically work in a mixed environment where it has a relationship with companies, but often the relationship is solely with an individual having nothing to do with where they work.

I strongly believe that if you are going to be successful on Salesforce you must understand and appreciate the Account/Contact relationship. It doesn’t matter which application you use, or how your implementation partner has configured your customizations. I happen to think the Account/Contact model makes perfect sense, but I know it’s frustrating for new nonprofits on the platform who don’t understand why they have what they think are two records with the same information.

You also have to appreciate the notion of account ownership. A salesperson in a business doesn’t typically have access to all the accounts and deals in the business. A salesperson builds a relationship with the individual at the company they are trying to woo. A nonprofit typically has a very different ownership/sharing model. A development director wants access to all individuals to target his/her fundraising efforts. Office staff batch enters donations where that person then technically “owns” those opportunities because they created the account & contact, but they aren’t directly responsible for the “deal” or its sales process. A nonprofit Salesforce administrator has to learn to approach sharing rules with a very different mindset than their commercial counterparts. Frankly, I’d love to see a Dreamforce nonprofit track session targeted to administrators specifically on sharing models and the implications of different decisions. It’s complex and widely misunderstood. I’ve seen too many nonprofits just make everyone an Adminstrator or turn everything to “Modify All” rather than really understand what it all means.

Now Salesforce comes along with their big Social strategy. The opening day keynote was all about the Social Enterprise. The idea is that a salesperson can use social media to get to the know the individuals who make decisions about deals. They can use social media to monitor what is being said about their company and provide direct support. I think the new Chatter Now and Chatter Custom Groups will be welcome additions to a nonprofit’s Salesforce org. Before, you could only use Chatter to collaborate with people who shared your email address domain. Now you can bring in outside contacts to Chatter. So that means in-Salesforce collaboration with Board members, or key volunteers, or your organization’s largest donors. Lots of possibilities.

Unfortunately, once again I think nonprofits need to be prepared to flip the data model around. We’ve already successfully flipped around the salesperson-connects-to-organization-through-a-contact model before social media was part of the picture. Wrap your head around this: the Salesforce social enterprise sales model is about a salesperson’s one-to-one relationship with the key contacts at a business. Not organization-to-contact unless it’s about service/support or brand monitoring. How is that a challenge? Think about it. At a nonprofit, do we really care that the development staff member who batch entered those donations so they’re now the “owner” of the account is connected on Facebook to the donor? Maybe. Probably not. A nonprofit cares about how the donor is connected to the organization and those people who are influential to the organization’s mission, staff or not. Are they fans of our Facebook page? How are they connected to other key donors? Are they friends with people who are influential about our issues?

The Salesforce social enterprise push will be wonderful for development directors who want to connect to foundations and corporate sponsors. That most typically aligns with the standard Salesforce Account/Contact model. I don’t see the new social media features as they are being demo’ed as being particularly valuable to the nonprofit using the Starter Pack to engage as an organization with individual donors. I think Radian6 will be very interesting for nonprofits, provided the organization can afford it. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet.

Hopefully, the amazing developers, vendors and partners in our nonprofit community will create applications and integrations that close those gaps just as they did before. I can’t wait.

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