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What’s a Salesforce Administrator? Why Do You Need One?

Salesforce instances do not manage themselves.

How many times have we (or you) seen a company build out a software platform (ANY platform) and expect that it will merely run itself? As if it were a car that never needed gas, washing, or an oil change. We all know how that turns out; one word, “expensive!”

Proper administration of the CRM is a simply hard-and-fast requirement for any company, regardless of the scale or complexity of the platform. 

What do they do?

The Salesforce.com administrator “owns” the organization’s Salesforce.com instance. Basic, day-to-day care-and-feeding of the system and the system’s users is the core job requirement.  

General categories include:

  • User Management. Setting people up, troubleshooting their problems, and training them.
  • Reporting & Data Analysis. Getting numbers pulled from the database for managers and users, setting up dashboards for executives, and tracking KPIs.
  • Configuration Management. Managing and modifying the system, adding automations, updating the user interface, creating new fields, etc.
  • Data Cleanliness. The admin should de-duplicate, cleanse, enrich, and standardize your database. Too often overlooked – your database is a valued asset and should be maintained as if it were one!
  • System Maintenance & Vendor Management. Typically, any Salesforce org will grow with time, adding major functionality that is beyond the skills of the admin. And you will have one or more third-party consultants and vendors supporting you. They should have a solid hand in managing this.

What characteristics are you looking for?

From our experience over the years, here’s a set of thoughts on what qualities you should be seeking in a good admin:

  1. Service orientation and a strong sense of ownership. A successful admin has a mindset of taking care of their users while protecting their tool’s integrity and the data within.
  2. Patience and good training fundamentals. You know some of your sales reps are positively Luddites and non-techie. If the admin isn’t up for diligent hand-holding and can’t be a good educator, it’s probably not very satisfactory.
  3. Analytical skills. Managing Salesforce is an exercise in probing and problem-solving and in combing data for business answers. Generally, someone who is comfortable using pivot tables in Microsoft Excel to crunch data will have the skills to manage Salesforce.com data and reports.
  4. Detail orientation. Actions must be taken with care, and the expected functionality and results must be double-checked. It’s easy to overlook minutiae that lead to errors.
  5. Technical affinity and curiosity. Salesforce.com is intuitive and easy to operate, but it is exceedingly complex and deep. Users will always encounter unfamiliar scenarios and must be willing and able to dig in. Salesforce.com does have excellent self-serve online help tools available, so an admin who’s comfortable researching and thinking through to find required answers and solutions will succeed.
  6. Productivity. There’s a lot of busywork involved in Salesforce.com administration. Effective multi-taskers succeed.
  7. Some familiarity with relational dataset fundamentals. A big leap in intuitive competence (and therefore success and productivity) comes if the admin understands relational basics, such as keying, one-to-many structures, queries, and the like. Previous use of Microsoft Access usually adequately checks this box.

What do they NOT do?

They are not strategists. While ideally, they should have some decent basic business analysis chops, they’re more tactical in nature. If you need the bigger picture, that’s a more senior person or an external consultant.

They are not coders. That’s a supporting function from IT. If someone wants to be a programmer, that’s simply a different skillset and delivery model altogether.

Where should they sit in your org chart?

A Salesforce administrator serves the business unit. They should be very well-attuned to the business processes you’re pursuing, and they should focus on the needs of the individual users and business leaders. They should be primarily responsive to them.

That categorically, to us, means that an admin reports to the business unit. Sales operations will be the most natural location if you have that structure. Otherwise, simply reporting to the VP of Sales can work.

They should generally not be part of IT. IT can be responsible for the platform, for budgets, and for delivering major new functionality. But this day-to-day support role is best served from within the business itself.

Do you have to hire, or can you grow your own?

It all depends on what skill level you need out of the gates and how complex your org is. But generally, you can go in either direction.

In point of fact, most Salesforce admins are self-taught. They’re folks who came out of some business functionality and found an affinity for the platform and embraced it. That can work very well.

It’s certainly possible to tap someone for the job internally who has the fundamental skills and interest, have them learn through the course of your implementation, and then place them in the role. If so, it’s healthy to have some backup for them – perhaps level 2 support from your implementation consultant, so they have guidance to fall back on.

If you’re launching a bigger org or need a complicated platform managed, then certainly you should hire a certified and experienced professional who’s done it before.

Is it a part-time job? Or three full-time jobs?

The level of effort needed does vary a lot. And factors to consider include how mission-critical your CRM is to the business, how many applications you’re running on it (full sales, service, and marketing?), how much custom automation is built-in, and how many overall users you have.

But here are some rules of thumb to lean on:

  • <40 users. Part-time. Typically, a competent and knowledgeable admin can maintain a single-instance organization with 10 to 20 hours of weekly effort.
  • 40-100 users. Full-time and dedicated. You’re beginning to get into the realm of needing experience, particularly if your org is complex.
  • 100-200 users. At least one full-time, and possibly a senior and junior.
  • 200+. You’re into the realm almost certainly of a team to manage the platform; otherwise, the admin will be overwhelmed.

You also have choices in leveraging outside support for this model. You can completely outsource your system administrator position; you can lean on a consultant for “adult supervision” of an inexperienced or junior resource who is growing into the role, and then lean on them to serve as 2nd level support to solve/execute hard problems that the in-house person would struggle with.

 

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