There are plenty of reasons to consider Salesforce for your association management. Before you begin the journey, consider what the job entails.
There are few digital tools in the world that enable companies to understand and connect with their customers better than Salesforce. Now associations have started to realize that the same software-as-a-service application can help them connect more effectively with their members and provide much of the same functionality as an association management system (AMS).
The advantages are numerous, according to Jake Fabbri, chief marketing officer at Fonteva, a company that specializes in producing solutions for associations, professional societies and public agencies that run on Salesforce. “Salesforce is the number one [customer relationship management] platform in the world,” Jake says. “It invests billions of dollars in research and development each year. And the association professionals and executives that do very important work have the right to use the best available tools out there. For managing members and the relationship with members, that means Salesforce.”
Salesforce out of the box provides the basic CRM functionality, but going beyond that requires configuration, Jake notes. That’s where a company such as Fonteva comes in. “We’ve taken Salesforce and made it purpose-built for associations.” For example, he notes, Fonteva has created modules that add e-commerce features to let associations sell products and services online; event management with registration; community participation; and membership engagement.
Why One Organization Chose Salesforce
The Association for Molecular Pathology was using a traditional AMS, but the organization’s leaders were concerned that data “was going in all different places” and couldn’t be easily integrated, says Eriko Clements, senior manager of educational programs at AMP.
A technology auditor brought in to help AMP work through the selection process to replace its AMS eventually recommended the use of Salesforce as AMP’s CRM. “That was the driving force for trying to get all the data together,” she explains. “And knowing that we needed a new AMS, the recommendation was choosing one that sits top of Salesforce.” That’s where Fonteva came in.
Now AMP is in the process of learning about its new combination of software — Fonteva running on Salesforce and Web Courseworks providing support for its education programs.
Before jumping into choosing your next AMS, here are five things you’ll want to understand about putting Salesforce at the heart of your solution.
- The Secret Weapon: Trailhead and a Trained Workforce
There are a lot of people trained in some aspect of Salesforce, including customers, administrators and developers. While the company doesn’t provide specific counts, in 2014, Salesforce reported that it had 1.5 million registered developers. An IDC study in 2018 reported that by 2022, the Salesforce ecosystem would create some 3.3 million jobs and $859 billion in business revenues worldwide.
How do these experts gain their mastery? Through Salesforce’s secret weapon: Trailhead. Introduced in 2014, Trailhead provides free training on Salesforce itself as well in-demand skills, such as leadership and management, artificial intelligence, and others.” As Jake observes, “There are a multitude of people who are trained in administrative functions. Or if you if you want to build an extension for your organization or configure or customize that system, pretty much any Salesforce partner can assist you with that.”
Compare that level of access to talent, Jake adds, to the many AMSs in the market with their own proprietary coding language. “Think of having to hunt down one of 100 people who know how to code your proprietary system versus the hundreds of thousands who can do that with a Salesforce system,” he notes.
- Extensibility to the Extreme
Salesforce has a well-earned reputation for supporting customization. You can point-and-click through options to set up the configuration the way you want, or you can use coding.
Jake says he finds the automation configuration especially helpful for users as they’re setting up workflows — automating the various steps required to accomplish a given activity, such as registering a new member or handling billing operations.
When more is needed, Salesforce’s built-in coding language, Apex, uses a Java-like syntax to enable developers to execute flow and transaction control statements on Salesforce servers in conjunction with calls to the application programming interface (API). Apex lets coders add business logic to most system events, such as button clicks and record updates, and the Apex code can be initiated by web service requests and from triggers on objects.
As Jake explains, “A developer who knows a good base of code, whether Java or something else, could easily adapt to the Salesforce coding environment.”
His own company’s developers at Fonteva have used a combination of the two — automated and code — to build applications on top of the Salesforce platform that use the same data structure and interact with core functions in the Fonteva program.
“With enough time and money you can do whatever you want in Salesforce,” he says.
- A Modular Design Gives You Precisely What You Need
However, rather than starting from scratch with their Salesforce-based solutions, most customers prefer to go to the Salesforce AppExchange, a marketplace for extensions that can be installed, according to the company, “in just a few clicks.” As an example, a search on “Fonteva” pulls up listings for the company’s modules for membership, events, ecommerce, public sector and others. All of these modules have gone through a rigorous vetting process before being certified as Salesforce-ready and added to the AppExchange.
The modular approach offers some big benefits. For one, it allows Salesforce to focus on the CRM elements that are important and Fonteva to focus on its area of expertise. And Fonteva chooses what functionality should be built next by crowdsourcing the choices and then posting extensions in its own Marketplace.
“We don’t have to worry about trying to make the best CRM in the world. That’s done for us,” Jake explains. “We can focus on membership and association needs. That actually makes us more agile in our approach, because we can do different things like crowdfund a new app extension for different parts of our customer base.” He offers the example of a certification app. “Maybe that’s something not 60 percent of our customer base would need, so it’s not going to be in our core application. But for the 40 percent that do need it, they can add that app on by getting it from the Marketplace. We can crowdsource modules like that to get a little bit more agile in our approach to solving the problems of associations.”
The modular design also allows associations to plug in what they need for additional functionality — such as the learning management system. “We want our customers to be able to select the one that’s best for them. And that’s where partners like Web Courseworks comes in, because they’re going to be much better at building and maintaining that kind of software than we are,” declares Jake. “And for the majority of customers, you’re a very popular choice.”
- The Right Partners Simplify Complexity
There are two main types of partners representing Salesforce: systems integrators (or consulting partners) and independent software vendors. The first are experts in services — training, configurations, development, coding, and integration with other systems in use in the organization. ISVs are product companies; they take Salesforce and build on their own magic. Fonteva addresses both categories, but it’s best known as an ISV. In fact, the company is in the top 15 of all Salesforce ISVs and the number-one ISV for Salesforce.org, the company’s nonprofit division.
As such, Fonteva’s own licenses embed Salesforce platform licenses. What that means is you get access to all the Fonteva features as well as basic access to the Salesforce system for the price you pay Fonteva.
Then, based on the individual association’s needs, your organization’s license may be upgraded from the Fonteva platform license to include licensing for any of Salesforce’s different clouds — Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Service Cloud, or Engagement Cloud — for an incremental cost. The advantage of that approach, adds Jake, is that it keeps expenses down for the customer. “You don’t pay the full price; you only pay the difference in price.”
The important point is that working with the right Salesforce partner allows you to simplify the process of adopting Salesforce within your association, to make sure your total-cost-of-ownership is as optimized as possible.
- Yes, Adopting Salesforce is a Significant Project
When an association decides to adopt a new management system, it can often cost two to three times the price of the software to get it up and running, according to Jake. That sets up a big hurdle for organizations that want to replace their system. At the same time, adopting SaaS instead of traditional on-premise software has its own barrier: Associations may be using legacy or outdated business processes that they don’t want to give up or don’t have time to rewire because they have day jobs — running their organizations.
Driving down the cost of implementation and speeding up the process — a big goal for Fonteva — often requires telling a customer, no: No, you can’t keep doing things the way you’re doing them now, not if you want to adopt modern technology and a modern user experience. “That means saying to the customer, ‘You really need to reconsider those customizations you’re asking for. We believe we’re 90 percent of the way there with the configuration out of the box. Is that additional 10 percent really worth the extra effort?'”
Besides the “no” conversation, Fonteva has also produced more wizard-based configuration for its extensions and streamlined training. “Say they have 50 price rules in their business analysis,” says Jake. “We’ll show them how to set up two or three of the rules and let them set up the rest on their own. Then we’ll go in and check their configuration.”
Ultimately, Jake admits, the pain of keeping what’s in place has to be greater than the pain of change.
Not Easy, but Essential
When associations do get past the hump of change, however, users respond well to Salesforce. “It’s easy to use, it’s intuitive, it’s mobile, and it works like any common business software,” Jake points out. “And that makes it easier for the adoption to the point where everybody will be using the new system the way they should.”
Learn more about Fonteva here.
Next time: Fionta CEO Mark Patterson explains what to do when your association management needs go beyond “branded” solutions, such as Fonteva.