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Appearances Do Matter…in Your Salesforce Org! A Tale of Configuration

Often times with Salesforce I find that art imitates life.  For those of us with large families, we know that the most common story goes something like this:

  • First child – Bureaus and closets full of cute new outfits complete with matching tops, pants, tiny shoes, socks, outer coats and, typically, various coordinating accessories such as hats, ties, mittens/gloves, purses, jewelry or stuffed animals. Everything within each coordinated outfit has a theme – cartoons, sports, cowboys, flowers – they are generally functional, but, equally satisfying, they are precious!
  • Second child – Several new outfits just for him or her but many hand-me-downs where various components of the coordinated outfit are missing or damaged due to use by the first child; very few of the outfits have themes – they need to be functional after all!
  • Third child and beyond – Nearly all outfits are hand-me-downs, very little coordinates, let alone matches, and almost all is purely functional – you have 3 or more kids and you can barely get them and yourself dressed and out the door on time in the morning!

No real damage is done to anyone (full disclosure, this statement is being made by a first child) and the important goal has been met – everyone has clothes which are functional and which solve a basic need.  But is everyone happy?

This same pattern can be seen over time as Salesforce organizations grow and expand.  As your business grows and evolves, so too do the influences on your Salesforce organization such as change of staff for administration, change of leadership within the organization, change of business processes, change of customers and/or partners and changes in technology.  Each of these influences can impact the growth and evolution of your Salesforce organization in very subtle and gradual ways, but more often than not, the impact is in very rapid and hastened ways that can cause your Salesforce story to go something like this:

  • First objects (Accounts and Contacts) – when we first implement Salesforce, it is nearly ingrained in us to follow best practices and leverage strong use of record types, page layouts, picklist values and dependencies among fields to foster and drive automations when creating or editing records, instituting complex hierarchy and relationships among records, developing a detailed strategy and solution for imports, integrations or web inserts of records, implementing customizations of cross-object lookup “hovers”, search layouts, related lists and Chatter feeds, creation of publisher actions, creation of list views and visual alerts (such as image formulas to indicate “Do Not Call” or “No Longer Active at this Account”) and a broad library of reports and dashboards
  • Second objects (Opportunities and Campaigns) – as we begin to leverage additional features and functionality, our configuration can oftentimes become more expedited.  We make a few page layout and stage customizations, maybe add a couple of picklists or checkboxes, create a little bit of automation (particularly to notify someone if an Opportunity or Campaign has been sitting for a while without activity), add a couple of list views (mostly for management, but everyone else can clone them and customize to their own needs) and we likely create some reports and dashboards (again, mostly for management, but staff can clone and make their own customizations) but, for the most part, no real customization is made to any of the remainder of these objects’ metadata such as search layouts, cross-object hovers or related lists on the page layouts
  • Third objects and beyond – once we are in the thick of things and racing to manage day-to-day requests (or in some cases demands) for changes to the system, this is where we typically see the most hastened configuration.  Other than the name field on a new custom object, there are usually a handful other fields added to capture the data points for various metrics or automation and, usually, one or two lookups to another object.  Unfortunately though, what we see most often at this point, is that not much else is done in the way of page layout customizations and certainly not in the way of hovers, related lists, custom tabs, list views nor search layouts.  The unspoken message is that these objects are here to serve at the pleasure of the standard objects – they just need to be functional!  By the time these custom objects come along, not much is done in the way of analytics either – when the custom objects are created and enabled for reporting, Salesforce will auto-create custom report types for us and, since these objects connect to other objects, well, there are just so many different ways that reports and dashboards could be created, so why not just let our end users create their own analytics?  End users going it alone is not always a bad thing, the Salesforce reports and dashboard modules are extremely user-friendly and intuitive; however, without a plan for managing public reports in place, I can honestly share that I have said, on more than one occasion about a Salesforce organizattion, “Wow, seriously, that organization I was just in has over 5,000 reports in their public folders – and they have less than 30 users!”

Just as with our kids, in most of these Salesforce scenarios, no real, long-lasting damage is done; however, the overall look, feel, flow, automations and analytics in our organization do have impact on end users’ experience, their perception of Salesforce’s value to them and their general satisfaction.

So, what is the solution?

The first, and most important, aspect of the solution is awareness.  Simply keeping our core best practices front of mind every time that we approach a configuration or development effort is critical to successful outcomes.  As an exercise, plan a review of your existing standard and custom objects; look at your list views, page layouts, search layouts, hovers and Chatter feeds for the objects.  Do the configurations make sense for your current end user population and their business processes today or do they need updating to meet new users and process needs?

The next aspect to the solution is consistency.  As an example, when a page layout is created or updated, think about how your users who click the “Edit” button on the page will most likely tab through from field to field populating and updating data.  As a system administrator, you can change the tab direction within each section of a page layout so that it either flows left to right from top to bottom across columns 1 and 2 or flows top to bottom in column 1, then top to bottom in column 2.

There is also something to be said for soliciting help.  No more than with our kids, there are many scenarios where we simply cannot do everything in Salesforce, meet every request, requirement or demand, solely on our own.  At home, we solicit the help of friends, neighbors, family members and others whom we trust with the care and safety of our beloved.  Within the Salesforce community, we also have many venues for support that we can turn to including traditional (directly from Salesforce), peer-to-peer (Success Community, Power of Us HUB, local user groups and a host of social media channels) and professional services from partners.  If one venue is unable or unavailable to support you in a particular scenario, in my experience, they can still typically provide you with recommendations for other venues to explore.

The final aspect to consider is your end users and the diversity among them.  As administrators and developers, we have to constantly consider that our users will not approach a task in the same manner that we would ourselves and technology grandly supports these differences among us.  To illustrate, I refer you to WikiHow’s article 8 Ways to Copy and Paste.  Our end users are potentially accessing Salesforce from a wide variety of devices and browsers – some are on computers, others on tablets and still others on smartphones.  They also may be a combination of Windows, MAC/iOS and Droid users.  As end users ourselves, we likely have our swipes and keystrokes already committed to muscle memory so we may not even think about how a task is performed as we transition from our computers during the day to tablets and phones at night, but we have to consider these differences to ensure that we are delivering the most thoughtful look, feel, flow, automations and analytics for our end users.  Appearance drives the experience!