15 Steps to Creating the Perfect Salesforce Implementation Project Plan

VennScience_Salesforce_implementation_Salesforce Implementation Guide

You’ve seen the press — headline after headline touting Salesforce as one of the best CRM systems on the market — and now you’re ready to see for yourself whether Salesforce really has the power to transform your business. But where to begin?

We’ve put together this comprehensive, 15-step implementation guide to help business leaders and decision-makers such as yourself develop a seamless project plan that’s guaranteed to succeed. From planning to execution and everything in between, we’ve got you covered every step of the way.

Before You Get Started

Before you complete any of the other steps in this Salesforce implementation guide, partner up with an experienced consultant.

You might be thinking to yourself, “I don’t need a consultant — my organization can handle an implementation, no problem.” That may very well be true, but unless you have the internal expertise and resources to handle a large-scale Salesforce implementation, it’ll likely take you a lot longer and cost more to self-implement. And, should things go wrong along the way, you won’t have the professional support you need to get your project back on track. All of this could result in a faulty implementation and a low ROI — so, why take the risk?

When looking for the right partner, you have two options: Work with a freelance consultant or a registered Salesforce consulting partner. Freelancers offer a greater degree of flexibility as far as costs are concerned, as well as a reliable point of contact, but might struggle with a larger project such as a Salesforce implementation, which means you might not get exactly what you want out of it. That, and it’ll take longer for a single freelancer to complete your implementation than one cohesive consulting team.

A registered Salesforce consulting partner, by comparison, has the verifiable, Salesforce-certified expertise and experience to tackle any project, no matter how extensive. A registered consulting partner also brings a diverse team of qualified professionals to the table that can resolve any potential challenges you might encounter during your implementation. You’ll pay more to partner with a registered consultancy but, ultimately, you’re paying for a better-quality implementation experience.

Not sure what to look for in a Salesforce partner? You’re in luck — we wrote the book on it.

Step 1: Establish a Project Timeline

When establishing a project timeline, there are a few things to consider, starting with dependencies. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what other initiatives you

have going on at any given point in time so that you don’t schedule your Salesforce implementation to overlap with any other major projects. Take stock of when key members of your implementation team will be out of office to ensure that you aren’t short on staff. Think through the optimal timeline for the project that will minimize business disruptions for go-live.

Once you’ve settled on a timeline for your project, mark key milestones on your calendar, such as business process mapping, alpha, beta, and pilot testing, and kickoff on your calendar. If you choose to work with a consultant, articulate all deliverables (on both the consultant and client side) up front to keep thing moving according to the established timeline.

VennScience_Salesforce_implementation_Project Timeline-100

Step 2: Set Metrics for Success

There are any number of ways to define goals for your Salesforce implementation project. For example, your goal might be to reduce case time resolution by 30 percent, or your customer churn rate by 10 percent. Maybe your goal is to increase your average deal size by a certain dollar amount, or your lead flow by 20 percent. By defining goals and metrics, you can give yourself a tangible way to gauge the overall success of your implementation.


Step 3: Define Your Communication Channels

It’s helpful to have a project manager on-hand to oversee your implementation, address concerns as they arise, and keep your project on track. Most Salesforce implementations are a team effort and require clear communication not just between implementers and constituents, but within the implementation team itself. You need to be asking important questions such as:

  • How are we documenting changes based on user feedback?
  • How are we implementing things so that we aren’t running up against obstacles?
  • Are we starting work that we know will take a long time sooner in the project so that it doesn’t hold up the end of the project?
  • And so on

Step 4: Build Your Implementation Team

Your Salesforce consultant — should you choose to work with one — is an essential member of your implementation team, but they’re far from the only one. For your Salesforce implementation to be truly successful, you’ll need to designate an executive sponsor, a project owner, a project manager, a system administrator, and a power user. Some of these roles will overlap — for example, the project manager might also be the

executive sponsor or the system administrator — but each plays an important role in your Salesforce implementation project plan:

  • The executive sponsor is your champion and is responsible for the business success of the project. Their responsibilities include advocating for the project to stakeholders, ensuring alignment with strategic direction, chairing the steering committee, and motivating other team members. This person is typically a senior executive in your organization.
  • The project owner is, effectively, the implementation project team leader. They’re responsible for defining the scope of the project based on your organization’s business processes and seeing the project through to completion. This person is sometimes the head of the business unit receiving the implementation.
  • The project manager plays a part-time role that varies based on the size of the project or the implementation. They’re responsible for holding people accountable, keeping the project on track, and consistently checking in with different teams for status updates. If you choose to partner with a Salesforce consultancy, the project manager will also act as the single point of contact between your organization and the consultant, providing insight into who is involved in the project and into company politics.
  • The system administrator is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the system and making new functionalities available. A system administrator can come from any level of business and any department, provided they have an in-depth understanding of business processes, are familiar with your business’ organizational structure, and possess excellent communication skills.
  • The power user provides valuable feedback at every stage of the implementation process to ensure that the system meets the expectations of management and end users alike. This person should be a tech-savvy team member capable of quickly identifying potential challenges in the implementation.

Step 5: Define Your Constituents

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The success or failure of your Salesforce implementation is largely dependent on your end users. The Salesforce platform is incredibly powerful and has the potential to transform your business from the ground up — that is, if people actually use it. Change management can go a long way in terms of ensuring user adoption (more on that later), but another key element is to implement solutions that your constituents actually want to use.

That’s why the best way to start any Salesforce implementation — any implementation, really — is to figure out who you’re implementing for.

Who are your users? Are they:

  • Your sales team?
  • Your marketing team?
  • Your project management team?
  • Your operations team?
  • Your finance team?
  • Your customer service team?
  • Your customer success managers?
  • Your development team?

The list could go on for days, so we’ll cut it short there; more often than not, your constituent base will belong to more than one of those categories.

Step 6: Define Individual Roles

Once you’ve determined which teams are a part of your constituent base, you need to figure out which of those team members will use Salesforce. At the sales level, does your organization have an inside sales function? Do you have a sales operation function that’s responsible for data quality? Do you have more than one sales manager who’s responsible for different sales territories or sales representatives? Is there executive oversight that crosses different teams?

Essentially, this exercise will help you understand which implementation tactics you should use to meet the specific needs of your ultimate end users.

Step 7: Define Process Requirements

Once you’ve defined individual roles, the next step is to interview a subset of those team members, so you can gain a greater understanding of the pain points they experience on a day-to-day basis. These interviews will also give you an idea of what these teams want out of a Salesforce implementation — in other words, what features and functionality they think will bring them the greatest value. These interviews should occur at every level of business, from managers and stakeholders all the way down to end users.

Let’s say, for example, that you talk to key members of your sales team and learn that they struggle to effectively qualify leads due to a lack of insight into each lead. As a result, your sales representatives consistently pursue the wrong leads, wasting time and resources in the process. Based on this conversation, you can identify both the problem and a potentially workable solution, such as implementing — or, if you already have one, upgrading — a customer relationship management (CRM) system so that your sales team can gain a true 360-degree view of each lead in the pipeline.

Interviewing key team members is a simple, yet effective way to figure out which business processes your Salesforce implementation project plan should focus on, as well as to ensure user adoption further down the road.

Step 8: Choose Your Salesforce Cloud(s)

When putting together your Salesforce project plan, don’t forget to choose which Salesforce cloud (or clouds) you intend to use, whether that be Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Pardot, Heroku, CPQ, etc. Each cloud comes with a unique set of constraints, as well as a unique set of features to execute, so it’s important to consider which ones you’ll need prior to starting your implementation.

Step 9: Understand Your Solutions

This next step represents the first part of the design phase. Once you’ve established process requirements, you’ll want to lay them out and determine whether any of them conflict. If you identify any conflicts that could potentially inhibit project success, you’ll need to bring them to the implementation team’s attention, so they can decide how to proceed.

Once the parameters of the project are established, you want to start solutioning. “Solutioning” is a term we use at VennScience that we use to mean “developing recommendations for customized configurations or changes to the standard Salesforce application to meet the client’s business process needs and requirements.” Solutioning requires the assistance of a Salesforce architect or a subject matter expert on a particular Salesforce cloud; you’ll also want to loop in your internal IT operations team to address governance policy concerns.

Step 10: Set User Access and Permissions

Ideally, multiple constituents across multiple departments will make use of your Salesforce deployment — this is an exciting prospect because it prompts collaboration between teams and has the power to break down silos. That said, since so many people will have access to the system, it’s in your best interest to define user access and permissions and create internal security models — and the sooner, the better.

Salesforce’s security model is highly complex, so, if you choose to work with a Salesforce consultant, be sure to choose one that takes a highly constituent-based approach to setting user access and permissions. The ideal consultant will lock down your organization to the lowest common denominator and open things up as necessary to the individuals you’ve designated, so that your users only have access to the tools and information they need.

Step 11: Design a Data Model

This step is closely aligned with solutioning features and functionality. As an administrator, it can be challenging to implement robust automation, user-friendly page layouts, or general scalability without a well-architected data model. In order to design an appropriate data model — also known as a system architecture — you need to find the right mix of standard and custom objects in which to store the data from your company’s business processes.

For example, if you intend to use Salesforce to track customer support requests, you’ll want to include a standard Cases object in your data model, but you might not need the standard Leads object. To take this example a step further, if you need to store child data against a Case — such as timesheets to track hours spent on case resolutions — you might consider creating a Timesheet custom object and relate it to Cases. One of the most powerful tools Salesforce offers for administrators is the ability to build out this architecture with clicks, not code, in a quick and scalable way.

When designing a data model, don’t forget to investigate the various relationship types, including Lookup, Master/Detail, and External. Also, be sure to ask yourself whether a data point belongs as a field on an existing object or as a child object related to a parent object. By keeping these paradigms, you can ensure that your data model grows along with your organization.

A great way to keep tabs on your data model is to create and entity relationship diagram (ERD) that explains the relationships between different types of data in a way that is accessible to stakeholders, end users, and other collaborators. You can create an ERD with the Schema Builder in the Salesforce Setup menu, though most administrators will use a diagramming tool such as LucidChart to create a more aesthetically pleasing ERD, such as the one shown below:


Step 12: Build a Working Prototype

It’s hard for users to provide feedback if they have nothing in front of them to comment on, which is why it’s crucial to provide your constituents with a working prototype as soon as possible. Start by collaborating with your Salesforce partner to build and execute your preliminary solutions and architecture. Once this is complete, build out custom objects to manage data that isn’t handled in Salesforce out of the box, such as invoices or project deliverables, enter test data into the new fields you’ve created, and invite your constituent group to help refine your requirements. Pay careful attention to their feedback, particularly their thoughts on what makes sense and what doesn’t.

Prototyping limits the amount of downtime between when you first engage with your constituents during the business process review and requirements-gathering stages and when you go live. It’s also a useful way to keep your user base engaged and show them progress so they know their time has been well spent.

Most companies have their own unique terminology for prototyping. Some refer to it as “user acceptance testing” or UAT; at VennScience, we use the terms alpha, beta, and gamma testing. No matter what you call it, prototyping should always take an iterative approach. As you go through the testing process, you should add in more functionality from your solution plan or refine existing functionality for which you’ve already received user feedback. Continue to do so until the system meets the needs of your constituent groups from both a functionality and a data architecture perspective.

Step 13: Define the Right Level of Customization

Figuring out the right mix of out of the box (OOTB) configuration features and custom development work is a key element of any Salesforce implementation plan; this should

start early on and should run parallel to every other stage of the project. This is incredibly important because custom developments are miniature projects in and of themselves.

Say, for example, that you require a custom homepage that will show a project snapshot to every project manager the first time they log into the system. In order to create this custom experience, you’ll need to create wireframes and mockups, send logic specs to and confirm requirements with your dev team, and undergo iterative quality assurance testing before you can show the prototype to your constituents.

Though less labor intensive, OOTB configuration options need to be up to date on the latest Salesforce feature releases (which occur three times a year). Salesforce sometimes releases functionalities that can meet user requirements or resolve existing issues with OOTB features without the need for customization. Enhancements to the Salesforce platform are essential throughout the entire implementation process.

Step 14: Prepare for Go-Live

Once you feel confident in the solution and the architecture, and your users seem to like it, you’re ready to prepare for go-live. There are a couple of optional — but recommended — steps you can take as you prepare for final testing and go-live. Although they are sometimes limited by timeline or budgetary constraints, these steps are highly beneficial to creating a seamless finished product:

  • Move your entire configuration to a full sandbox environment to see how it performs under large data volumes. A full sandbox — as opposed to a partial or developer sandbox — is a test environment that contains an exact replica of your production data (customer information, deals, and so on). This enables you to simulate how your configuration will run in a production environment, so you can identify and resolve potential issues such as heat barriers, runtime errors, latency, and downtime prior to go-live.
  • Develop a go-live checklist. This list should include all of the pieces you’ve configured, all of the data transformations that need to occur, and all of the integrations that need to be rebuilt in your production environment. Ascribe an order to this list so that when the time comes to deploy the implementation, everything is deployed in the correct order. There are a lot of dependencies in Salesforce, and certain configurations can’t be deployed before others. The go-live checklist should also identify the method of deployment you intend to use.

Step 15: Develop a Change Management Strategy

Change management is an essential part of any implementation because it tells your constituent base what to expect, invests the in the project, and empowers them for success. For example, if you’re making upgrades to your existing Salesforce implementation, your change management strategy should communicate to end users how long Salesforce will be down — or, better yet, eliminate downtime entirely — and how they should track data until they’re able to log back in. If you’re deploying Salesforce for the very first time, your change management strategy should explain to end users how they’ll benefit from the new systems and which training courses they should take to get up to speed.

It’s also essential to get executive leadership involved in the change management process.

Executive oversight plays an important role in change management. Executives can make Salesforce implementation and adoption a corporate initiative and make a compelling case as to why the change is necessary — for example:

  • “We need better data around how customers engage with our sales and service teams.”
  • “We need greater insight into our win/loss analysis to understand why we’re losing business to competitors.”
  • “We need better reporting so that we can provide greater transparency to our investors and our board.”

It’s valuable to involve executives who is invested in the success of the project when crafting your change management strategy. It’s also important to clearly communicate a support strategy to your constituents, to keep them informed about:

  • What day they can expect the system to go live
  • What training you’ll provide
  • Where they can find documentation for different tasks
  • When you’ll be holding office hours
  • How long they can expect to receive live support
  • Which of their colleagues are power users
  • Where to go if they have questions
  • And so on

This all culminates in executing the go-live checklist. You’ll want to perform the go-live in a way that limits end user impact — in other words, ensure business continuity so that it doesn’t affect normal operations. Conduct a final quality assurance test once your deployment is in production and support your users as they work through any questions they might have.

VennScience: A Cut Above the Rest

Now that you’ve made it through all 15 steps of our Salesforce implementation guide, let’s go back to the beginning.

As far as registered Salesforce consulting partners go, VennScience is small, but mighty. Our consulting team is made up of top technologists and leading Salesforce-certified experts in their field and is capable of handling any Salesforce implementation, no matter how complex. We like to think of ourselves as a firm for discerning clients because each and every one of our clients expect nothing less than the very best — which we’re more than happy to deliver.

About to embark on a Salesforce implementation journey? Let us guide the way. Contact us today to get started!

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