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The Case Against a Salesforce AdminForbes.com recently had an article titled “What Salesforce.com Won’t Tell You,” which highlighted three tips on how to better use Salesforce to run your sales management process. While we can agree with tips 1 & 3 (“Focus on the Reports” and “Embrace it or Suffer,” respectively), it’s the middle tip that we take some issue with: “Invest in an administrator.” In this tip, the author describes a “Kathy” that every sales organization should have:

“…Kathy becomes a fierce and vicious defender of her data when it comes to HER system. She owns it. She knows the system backwards and forwards. She is responsible for the data in the system. She is the go-to person for any Salesforce.com question. The system is her baby. She takes full responsibility for its success.”

What’s the problem here?

A single choke point is also a single point of failure

To be fair, we have seen many large companies do well with a dedicated Salesforce admin or two. However, when it comes to small to medium sized businesses and sales teams, it may not be the right way to go. Isolating accountability to one person will lead to the rest of the team being clueless when inevitable questions arise. What happens when Kathy needs to take a vacation? Does Salesforce reporting and any sort of customization cease until she gets back from Hawaii? If no one else is versed in the ins-and-outs of Salesforce.com, what happens when Kathy makes a mistake? Will mistakes even get caught if there isn’t any collective accountability? And will Kathy be solely responsible for staying abreast of Salesforce best practices? What about the wisdom of the crowds?

We understand the sentiment the author is getting at, of course: having a CRM “expert” on your team will smooth things along (though he does say “learning today’s CRM systems isn’t that difficult.”) but in practice this philosophy creates a bottleneck. Kathy will only be able to get to so many questions in a day. Kathy will only be able to run so many custom reports for your sales team. Kathy will only be able to audit so much of your data for erroneous entries. As much as a superuser of Salesforce.com as Kathy might be, she’s still one person, and in a smaller sales team, this will also take up too much of her time.

That Salesforce.com is “her baby” is a nice thought, but in practice it doesn’t make sense. It’s too important a system to just have one set of eyes managing it. Your IT department probably uses an important piece of software, and you can bet there isn’t just one Kathy who’s the only one who knows how to use it. It’s not Kathy’s system. It’s your whole sale team’s system. Everyone is responsible for the data that gets inputted into Salesforce, because it’s everyone’s neck on the line, not just Kathy’s. If Salesforce isn’t working correctly, or if you’re not getting the right reports from it, that’s a company problem.

More power to the people

Avoid the bottleneck when your resources are tight. There are many ways to do this. First, drive compliance in your team when it comes to using Salesforce.com the right way. Each person should be responsible for their own data and know how to fix errors that creep in. A nightly email with a leader board of activities is a great way to subtly do this: seeing wrong numbers next to your name will force you to go back into your CRM to see where the error is, not to mention making it easy for others to be aware of errors as well. The more your sales team is looking at the data, the higher quality your data will be.

Second, don’t “authorize [Kathy] to wipe your salespeoples’ noses,” as the author suggests. Rather, teach them to wipe their own noses. It’s not too much to ask to have a weekly “Salesforce training” lunch where people can discuss better usage, new tricks, and air gripes. You’ll be surprised at how pooling individual pockets of knowledge can lead to, say, an internal wiki of best practices. Imagine, at the very least, how happy Kathy will be to be able to point to a wiki link called “how to pull an X report,” instead of repeating herself for the hundredth time.

Third, if you really want to get the most out of Kathy, give her the tools to oversee Salesforce usage faster and more efficiently. A solution like InsightSquared can not only help Kathy use Salesforce better, it can make your entire team into Kathys.

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Samuel Clemens
Sam is founder and chief of product & marketing for InsightSquared. Previously, Sam was VP Product at HubSpot, VP Product at BzzAgent, and on the founding team at Elance.com. His background also includes venture capital with Greylock Partners, the Algorithms group at Amazon.com, and management consulting with Booz Allen Hamilton. Sam has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a B.S. in Applied Math from Yale. In his off time he dives shipwrecks in the New England area.
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