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Which track on the Salesforce certification list is right for you?

The Salesforce certification list seems long and complicated. But it's not -- if you break it down into tracks and look at salary data for ROI on training.

If you're using Salesforce, no doubt you've heard of education, certification and credentials. What isn't always obvious when looking at the Salesforce certification list is who should get which certification, as well as the return on investment -- because the costs vary from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

In this new series of articles, we'll drill down into some of the specifics of Salesforce certifications, examining the different tracks the vendor offers for expert customers.

More importantly, we'll find real people who have the certifications on their curriculum vitae and ask them the two-part question on the minds of every prospective student: How much time and effort will it take, and what will it mean for my career?

The tracks

Right now, the Salesforce certification list offers credentials on seven different tracks, which cover high-level implementations down to less technical marketing skills:

  • Administrators
  • App Builders
  • Architects
  • Developers
  • Implementation Experts
  • Marketers
  • Pardot -- marketing automation

Some tracks offer multiple levels of credentials. Marketers, for example, can earn Marketing Cloud Consultant, Email Specialist and Social Specialist certifications. Each involves a multiple-choice test and a $200 testing fee. Passing scores range from 60% to 68%.

Salary data shows some certifications worth more

Foote Partners LLC tracks IT compensation trend data from 3,018 U.S. and Canadian employers -- including 417 certifications -- among more than 250,000 workers. Three accreditations from the Salesforce certification list show up with enough statistical significance to confirm their impact on base pay -- as reported by employers -- versus workers doing the same jobs without certification, said co-founder David Foote.

According to Foote Partners' first-quarter edition of the "2017 IT Skills and Certifications Pay Index Report," Salesforce Certified Platform Developer I shows a median of an 8% boost in compensation, when discarding statistical outliers. Salesforce Certified Platform Developer II results in a median of 9% more compensation. Foote pointed out that there is slight variation among employers: Half of employers report a little more of a premium, and half a little less.

Certified Technical Architects, however, get a median 14% bump, according to Foote's data. He said he believes that's most likely because fewer achieve that certification: Passing involves developing an up-to-four-hour presentation on a hypothetical business situation requiring architecture, judged by a review board. The presentation component alone costs $6,000, pass or fail, and $500 more for a separate multiple-choice exam. That's compared with $200 and $400 total costs for multiple-choice tests -- no presentation required -- for the Developer I and II certifications, respectively.

Even if you pass the test, you can fail [the certification].
David Footeco-founder, Foote Partners LLC

"Usually, the certifications that earn the higher amount are harder to get -- a more difficult test, a lab, a peer-review panel," Foote said. "Even if you pass the test, you can fail [the certification]."

More Salesforce certifications could show up in statistically significant numbers down the road, Foote said. Analysts do see other Salesforce certifications showing up on their surveys, and may add more to future reports as more respondents assign value to them.

"We have to get enough data; we can't just report it if we have five data points," Foote said. "Once we reach a certain threshold, we report it."

For contractors, certifications are essential

Brent Leary, a partner at Atlanta firm CRM Essentials, said some certifications comprise table stakes for getting considered for work on the contractor side. Consultants who don't have certifications appropriate to the work for which they are bidding may be eliminated early from contention.

Leary said having a certification can help get a foot in the door, but it only gets you so far. Far more crucial to winning the business is proving you have real-world experience with similar work, "and not just on paper."

"It's the first hurdle you have to face," Leary said of having the right certifications to prevent getting screened out of contention. "Then, the experience factor, being able to show that you've done it on top of the certification is where you gain ground on the others."

Next Steps

What you can expect in the Salesforce certification exam

How to create a Salesforce training plan

CIO insight into sought-after skills and certifications

This was last published in March 2017

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