6 Tips on Choosing the Right (Salesforce.com Consulting) Partner

Dance Partners 2If finding the right consulting partner for your Salesforce.com project feels like an epic project in itself, you are not alone! All around the world people interested in implementing Salesforce.com, or looking to fix/optimize/expand on what they already have, are trying to make sense of their options with what feels like not enough information to select the right partner.  Even if you’ve hired consultants before, unless you also happen to be a Salesforce.com guru, the whole thing can feel like an ordeal instead of a positive step forward for your business.

I know, I talk to folks who are in this dark maze every day. Consider the following as guideposts on your search, and call us if you get lost!

1. It’s the Wild West Out There 

With demand for qualified, experienced resources far exceeding the supply, new consulting shops are springing up constantly. Ask your consulting candidates how many projects they’ve delivered, for how many clients, and for a detailed profile of a few notable ones. Some consultants specialize in verticals and company size, others prefer to work with a broad range of companies and apply best practices across industries. Some specialize in one area of Salesforce.com, such as Sales Cloud or Service Cloud, custom build on the Force.com platform, or integrations with other systems.  Look for shops that value Salesforce.com certifications (Administrator, Consultant, Developer) for their resources. Certification alone is not a guarantee, but it certainly sets a bar and speaks to commitment to ongoing education, critical since Salesforce.com is constantly evolving with new features.

2. Listen for Listening 

Right off the bat, do you like how the prospective partner is listening to you? The pre-sale discovery should be well-paced but not rushed. Their questions should be thoughtful and thorough, giving you the sense that they seek to understand your business – the who, what, when, how, and why. Consultants should express technical expertise, business acumen and operations know-how, and the ability to describe clearly how the system can (and can not) support your business needs and goals.  The right consulting shop will give you the distinct impression that they care about the project as much or more than you do, and for all the right reasons, including a long-term partnership and you as their happy customer.

3. The A-Team (but where’s B, C, D, E?) 

Ask your candidates about their team: are they all full-time employees? Have they all been trained before being assigned to work with clients? Does the model described give you a sense of strong accountability? For example, if the principal who sells the project then sub-contracts the work out, this could impact the quality of the project delivery not to mention the quality of the work itself. Ask too about the structure of the project and who will staff each component. A named resource should serve as your main point of contact from start to finish, and unless you’ve got a massive project involving various teams, should also be a Salesforce.com expert. Even with your in-house, designated lead on the project, having technically capable resources on the consultant’s side is not enough. You’ll want the PM to lead you through the project delivery stages, identifying and resolving risks, and managing to the timeline and budgeted hours.

4. Seek Project Management Heroes 

When you have a Salesforce.com related need, the tendency for everyone involved is to rush in to fix it. As consultants, system design is the fun stuff, as is the problem-solving task of assimilating the new work into the existing context. The big thinking is intellectually challenging and rewarding, and certainly necessary for a smart solution, but the real heroic work is in the more mundane job of leading your project successfully to completion. When you are selecting a new consulting partner, this feels nearly impossible to assess. If the candidates take time with you to create a project plan customized for your project, this suggests they know that careful planning not only instills confidence in all the project team, but is also the needed roadmap to project success.

5. Get a Second Opinion

Prospective consulting partners will be happy to provide references, but there are other places to go for recommendations too. The Salesforce.com online community is robust and active, as are many User Groups around the country. They are usually held quarterly, and have a good mix of prospects, customers and consultants, and time for networking. Guaranteed at least some of your company’s partners or vendors are using Salesforce.com and could recommend a partner. I’ve gotten many emails from new clients that start with “You helped my wife’s (or somebody’s) company implement Salesforce.com.” Your Salesforce.com Account Executive will have local suggestions too.

6. Resist the Lure of a “Bargain”

Ok, sometimes there are two options of the same quality, and one is less expensive. In that case, the choice is clear. In the Salesforce.com consulting world, there are many great partners to choose from, and it’s not true that only the most expensive ones deliver the best work. On the other hand, partners who are considerably less expensive than the average hourly rate mean you are definitely going to sacrifice one way or another: level of expertise, quality of work, business experience, bench depth/resource availability, etc. In some cases the risk might not be so high, such as if you have some simple, straightforward requests. Then again, “simple” is subjective! We have cleaned up enough systems to know that the extra cost of a established, well-reputed company is the real bargain in the long run.

Astrid Domenico is the Vice President of Sales at OpFocus