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Best-kept secrets of large-scale Salesforce implementations

Global enterprises say that while large Salesforce implementations are challenging, there are best practices to observe along the way.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- For large organizations saddled with the burden of history, Salesforce deployments can present unique challenges.

Older, large enterprises that are global and far-flung often have lots of legacy applications and data --often inaccurate and disorganized -- as well numerous siloed departments, local practices, and languages to accommodate. So implementing a back-office application like Salesforce customer relationship management can seem like a nightmare.

Jason Summers, director of global CRM at Verizon Communications Inc., said that companies like his have a wall of history to jump over. After years of working with on-premises back-office systems, the transition to the cloud is challenging.

"You face an ocean of policy, history, organization that wasn't built around cloud systems," Summers said in the session "Best Kept Secrets of Large Enterprise Deployments" at Dreamforce 2014 this week. "It was built around a data center we own, with locks on the doors that only we have the keys to."

Victoria Willis, director of technology projects at Condé Nast International, said that her "very international" company also struggled with the burdens of a presence in many countries, coupled with many systems. Condé Nast produces such magazines as Vogue, GQ and Condé Nast Traveler.

Local practices had to be tempered somewhat to accommodate a more centralized approach. "Before three years ago, all technology decisions were made locally," she said. "Now, we're trying to implement systems across the global company."

While large companies including Verizon and Condé Nast say that implementing Salesforce is a challenge, they note that the cloud-based platform also shatters key problems of the past, where on-premises back-office deployments cost hundreds of thousands, took many months or years to implement, and generated many missteps along the way. IT pros say that Salesforce's cloud-based CRM is part of the equation, but so are some best practices for implementation, which they shared in the session.

Best practices for large Salesforce users

Enforce a timeline. Summers said that the first important lesson was to impose a deadline -- and stick to it. Verizon decided to move its Enterprise division that handles larger customers and 7,000 users over to Salesforce between October 2011 and January 2012. It also gave executives new perspective on the turnaround time of deployment. "It changed a lot of doubt," Summers said. "It prompted us to think, 'Maybe we don't need eight-month development cycles; maybe the technology can be more responsive to an iterative process.'"

Get the attention of the business side. Summers cautioned IT pros not to embark on an implementation at a time when the business side is preoccupied with other things, such as at year-end when closing sales are the focus. Choose a time of year when executives can focus on the decisions that invariably need to be made.

Use the 80/20 rule. Summers also counseled that CRM experts ignore warnings about implementation that urge waiting until all problems are solved. "You can get it in there at 80% accuracy and then fine-tune to get to perfection quickly," Summers said. "That adds a lot of value."

Develop internal champions. Summers described the strategy to create 200 Verizon employees, or "heroes," who would become internal champions for Salesforce within their respective departments. They received extensive training to in turn help other users learn the application. "Having that support throughout the organization was a huge difference maker," he said.

Resist customization. Summers said that in the first two years, Verizon relied on the tools in Salesforce rather than customizing the application, which can hurt your implementation long-term as the business grows and makes changes. "It will pay dividends in flexibility to move with the business," he said. "If you write a lot of modifications, all your movement down the road will be much more complicated."

Consider global design. Willis noted that globalization and centralization of IT required two-sided thinking. "Think globally and be clear on the goals," she emphasized, to encourage some consistency of practice. At the same time, she said, "For users, the deployment should feel local. Deliver training in those languages." A Deloitte consultant and session attendee who spoke on condition of anonymity echoed this notion. "Make sure that you take into account different locales: time format, date format that vary between geographies," he said.

Remember change management. Willis noted that dramatic changes like centralization, globalization, and moving to the cloud require companies to think about how to help users adjust.

Give people time to reflect on business impact. Willis noted that the breakneck speed of the Condé Nast deployment over the course of six months created havoc. Stakeholders need time to reflect on changes. "We arrived on-site, we created a lot of chaos, then we left," Willis said. "People felt that was too little time to think about what we were doing to their business."

Use continuous improvement approaches. Willis and Summers encouraged attendees not to boil the ocean. "Start small, do some development and go back and iterate," Willis said. "People will have time to think about what they want to do and how they can add it into their processes."

Institute formal support processes. Willis also noted the importance of educating users on where to get help. "Let people know where to get support: through on-site teams, technical in-house teams, and the Success teams at Salesforce."

It all comes down to training

Companies in the audience were bracing themselves for some of the challenges of moving a global enterprise to Salesforce. One CRM expert at a global manufacturing company based in the Midwest, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that after a "misadventure" with an SAP implementation, the company was about to embark on an enterprise-wide Salesforce implementation over the next 24 months. Another executive at the company expressed her concerns about training such a large workforce and how to account for global differences in language, culture and practice. "We have a lot of users in a short period of time and around the globe."

At Verizon, there were several phases of training. The first phase involved "heavy-lifting background knowledge, then in-region classes led by the 200 champions from Verizon; they got together and led video sessions as well as on-premises training," Summers recalled. Willis noted that training can also take shape in different ways based on different country requirements and business needs.

In Spain, Willis said, "they went big bang and used a train the trainer approach" whereas in the U.K., which is a larger market, the training went title by title. But Willis noted that sometimes the first round of training isn't sufficient and teams need to return to reinforce the knowledge and provide support. "We have found we have to go back and retrain people," she said.

For more on the Salesforce conference, check out our DF14 guide here. Share or retweet this story at #DF14.

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