Why You Need a Knowledge Base

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Where does your knowledge reside?

When you are small, you can run and grow your business in your head. In the early days, it’s hard to think that you play many different roles because you do different jobs yourself. You can be the salesperson, accountant, marketer, product development manager, HR administrator and many other roles without calling these out as you move from task to task.

But, when your demand grows, you can’t do it all. You need more people to help grow the business and make your customers happy.

If you are under $1M, most of your effort should be on selling. If you are past $1M, you have to make the business work. Either way, your business is about knowledge. How things get done to create a customer and deliver your product or service consistently becomes harder when you scale up.

A knowledge base is a place that organizes the knowledge that’s in your head. It helps everyone on your team understand how to do their job clearly and interact with other people doing their respective jobs.

Furthermore, a knowledge base has the following benefits to growing a business:

1. Facilitates Onboarding and Training

It is a systematic way to help a new person get started and be productive in their hired job. It also provides professionalism, job satisfaction and clarity for new employees that could otherwise be disoriented, overwhelmed and frustrated in a new role.

2. Makes Information Sharing Efficient: 

A place that is structured and searchable makes it easy for your team members to get what they need, when they need it. If you have to keep answering the same question many times, rather than allowing people to find answers for themselves, you are the bottleneck in your business. It’s not a great use of time. Document it once and let it be consumed many times.

3. Increases the Value of Your Business

If you want to sell your business, what will you sell? Having systems that are clear and a methodology for growing easily and rapidly is extreme value to a buyer who wants to know how to operate the business. If you don’t have a knowledge base, then the information required to execute consistently is in your head. You can’t step out. You are the business.

4. Forces Clarity

How you do things now may change later. Having a system that is continually living and updated helps everyone stay clear for their own job. And information that is documented and does not make sense in context of your business goals or handoffs to other jobs can be debated, clarified and updated. You can push on refining your methodology as new realities emerge during business growth.

5. Helps You Lead

A large complaint of employees is that they see dysfunction from management or ineptitude. You can lead with clarity and conviction when your team sees commitment to systems, process and order. Furthermore, you can open up ideas and ways of doing things through continuous improvement to a knowledge base that should welcome better ideas and ways of executing from the people doing the work. Your leadership can center around knowledge rather than charisma. It takes the pressure off you and focuses it on business systems, where it should be.

Growing Your Business

The more people you get involved the more complexity you have to manage in your business. Clarity becomes a bottleneck to growing your business because you have to take time to explain, manage and oversee how things get done.

Furthermore, the jobs that have to get done are continually changing. You want the best ideas and approaches available and clear for everyone in a system that is repeatable and continually improving.

Here’s a resource to help you get started on building your knowledge base. It can help you start a critical piece to effectively growing your business.

Think Smaller

smaller is better

Everyone is not Elon Musk or Larry Page. In fact, it’s extremely rare to have such a quality of big thinking such as solving “billion-person problems” and sending humans to Mars. You have to have extreme vision and, at minimum, have your stuff together.

If you are stumbling over simple things like getting things done or investing big, you are not even close to big thinking.

Yes, the world is open to everyone with a connection, but that doesn’t mean everyone can make big happen. In fact, it’s a lousy strategy for most people simply because they are in survival mode with health, money, relationships and their own thinking. They can’t get out of their own way.

We are in an ultra-competitive environment and the better strategy for most is to think smaller. Finding niches that match up to what you offer and honing your craft so well that you make people utterly happy and blown away is reachable with smaller thinking and ventures.

Often when I’m dealing with entrepreneurs and owners that are thinking big, they want to scale a good thing they have going. They figure it’s simple arithmetic to add more and grow revenue.

What they really mean when they say they want to grow is that they want more money. They want the rewards, but underestimate the challenge of what bigger means.

Small affords you the opportunity to be intimate, sloppier, and slower. You have more control with less headache.

Bigger means scaling on many fronts. It looks different because growth demands support and efficiency. If you want to grow bigger with scale, it’s entirely different problems that you have to care about:

Are you committed to operational efficiency?

Do you know the ratio of management to line workers that is required?

Are you committed to investing in larger sales pipeline initiatives?

Do you want the stress of overhead?

What’s the end game?

Scale is sexy. But noone lives with the consequences except you when scaling blows up because of mismanagement and underestimation of what is required. The risk/reward makes scaling attractive, but there is a real downside, and if you don’t have the stomach or talent for what is required, then it’s a poor strategy to choose simply for a perceived upside.

Furthermore, scale tends to have much more repercussions when market forces or adversity hits. That’s because the minimal support structure which enables a sales engine to flow has to stay intact.

When you are small, you can move, tact and adjust as you get feedback from reality. The downcycles are not as painful because, if you are creative, your requirements to support the business cycles are not as intensive.

And, if you are truly creative, you can throttle enough to have unlimited upside with small downside.

That’s a worthwhile strategy to consider and pursue. How can you simply get smaller so you can manage less and profit more? It starts with realizing that most things don’t matter and the things that do need to be part of your minimum viable business model.

Simply adding horsepower or size to a venture or idea only means bigger, not necessarily better.

Thought of how to get smaller lately?

Everything is an Experiment

 

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Here’s the simple strategy for keeping you from getting washed away in the tides of innovation all around you:

  1. Observe what’s happening around you in your world and see what people are buying.
  2. Come up with 3 ideas that get people to buy.
  3. Build a solution and sell it to one customer.
  4. Observe their reactions carefully.
  5. Iterate and tweak the customer experience with your offering.
  6. Keep experimenting with new ideas and repeat.

If you are a person that needs the sure thing, go into working for the government or accounting. The marketplace is not the place for you.

With the ease of creating what we want, connecting with the world and trying out our ideas, your ideas will obsolesce at a rapid rate.

But, it’s an exciting and low risk time for entrepreneurs. The tools are there. We just need to see your ideas play out and you have to be committed to the process of idea generation and experimentation.

Some of those ideas will materialize into enterprise plays and exit strategies. Very few will, however.

Most of the ideas you experiment with may materialize into microbusinesses that cash flow and build an audience. From there, you can segue your offering by experimenting further and watching your tribe carefully to meet more desires.

The strategy is not hard to implement. Having the vision and focus to see your ideas through is the hard part. That’s the catch with innovation and uncertainty. While everyone else is waiting for something to happen, you can get the lion’s share reward by making something happen. Then invite those along that are waiting to be part of it.

What idea can you experiment with today? How can you put forth a low risk approach and see what people do with your idea?

Salesforce Project Management Customization

Customizing Salesforce.com for project management allows you to extend your system to manage how you deliver your service and create a customer experience.  Marketing agencies requiring project management and service-based companies that require activity tracking and accountability can have specific requirements which differ from one company to the next.  Here are some customization approaches we have used in our Salesforce.com consulting which can be a framework for customizing your own system:

  1. Customize Subject field values.  Projects are based on tasks.  Use Salesforce.com tasks and keep these tasks associated with the data object you specify as the project record.  The subject field values should be the common tasks related to your projects for easy selection by users as well as easy reporting for measuring effort and progress.
  2. Create project stages.  Use picklist values which reflect various stages.  If you use the Opportunity record, it can be additional values added to the Stages field.  There should be reporting to capture a macro view of the project stages that your team is working.
  3. Set milestone dates.  Milestones can be handled by a custom date field or several if there are multiple milestones in your process.  You can also use Events as part of future Activities and assign these to users.  The way you set this up depends on your overall process and how people will be held accountable.
  4. Integrate document management.  There are various cloud-based document management solutions we integrate depending on the organization and service delivery process.  Your users should be able to move quickly, find information and upload easily.  Relevant documents need to be consolidated in the project data object.
  5. Relate job cost records.  Job costs which are typically part of a project need to be related and customized with roll-up data to account for budgets in a project.  Ensure the overall profitability of a project can be viewed easily.

Every company is different.  How you deliver your service or product entails steps peculiar to processes developed over time.  Customizing Salesforce.com needs to take into account how your culture works as well as be forward thinking about productivity and collaboration.  If your Salesforce.com customization is cumbersome, you will find a challenge in adoption.  Design your project management process with simplicity and elegance and it will become a strategic asset to your business.

What is your project management process like?

5 Salesforce.com Process Mapping Tips

Your Salesforce.com system is only as good as your business processes.  If your processes are not well-defined or controlled, then you will only have a giant database, not a system.  There will not be the thrust you were hoping for to power your various parts of your organization.

Process mapping is both strategy and planning.  It is a way to organize how your people and your customers should behave.  Then it is making Salesforce.com do the hard work of powering those described and prescribed processes.

In our Salesforce.com consulting, we work hard on process first and foremost.  Here are some of the things necessary for Salesforce success:

  1. Capture Action Steps. The specific action steps need to be identified within a process.  These become the respective tasks within Salesforce.com that get tracked for completion and setting next steps.
  2. Identify Roles.  People will come and go.  Roles will remain.  Some people play multiple roles.  Process is focused on the specific roles – who does what and when.  Salesforce.com process mapping helps your team to know what the delineations of responsibility look like when your offense is running in full force.
  3. Segment By Stages. Whether you are managing a pipeline of sales leads or a queue of support cases, there is a process these move through.  The stages which constitute progress need to be articulated.
  4. Key Metrics and Reporting. Effective management means having a dashboard of reports of the progress of your processes being executed by your team.  This gives control which is important for driving execution.  A process without measurement is just good intentions.  Active management and engagement comes from knowing what is happening in real-time.
  5. Training And Documentation. Your team is aligned when they do the steps in cadence with your process.  Your leadership via training and documentation needs to be captured and distributed.  As new feedback is attained, you must update in real-time and have ongoing resources to help your team know what to do.

The art of process mapping helps to introduce efficiencies into your business that create levels of automation and predictability.  It is what helps to brand your business and build trust with customers.

Salesforce.com can run various parts of your operations beyond sales.  The integration of your overall processes needs to be first mapped and then translated into customizations of your system to bend to your process ideals.

What does your process look like?

Salesforce In Real-Time

The point of having Salesforce.com run your business operations is to make decisions and drive actions in real-time.  A login from anywhere in the cloud enables your team to be plugged into the workflow and intelligence of your systems and processes, the backbone of a company.  Bring in any new person and they can execute your offense within Salesforce.com if your processes are controlled and align your team.

To know what is happening, your ability to be plugged into your team’s pipelines, service, or operations a click or login away.  Here is how to ensure you are operating in real-time with your team in Salesforce.com that I have learned in my Salesforce consulting work:

1. Manage By Dashboard Metrics

What you measure gets done.  If your team understands that you are monitoring data in real-time from specific metrics in your reports and dashboards then this reinforces their behaviors towards the actions you want them to focus on.  Be sure to have well-defined metrics that matter on a real-time basis.  This can be anything leads/day/person to completed tasks by person per day.  Ensure your reports and metrics account for your revenue, loyalty and marketing goals.  The right behaviors will follow.

2. Integrate Website Metrics

If your Salesforce.com API is enabled, then your website metrics need to feed Lead and Contact records to monitor behaviors.  This helps to set up your sales response appropriately.  This requires custom software development to drive the right data with the right scheduling.

3. Measure Activities

Every task needs to be assigned and every activity needs to be recorded to drive the fidelity of Salesforce.com as a reliable data source.  Each person who has a conversation or performs an action with an Account, Lead, Contact or Opportunity needs to log this.  By so doing, others on the team can count on the temperature of your relationships and act accordingly.

4. Capture Integration Activities

Any custom or standard software that integrates with your Salesforce.com system likely logs activities.  These are powerful indicators of what is happening as your Leads and Contacts interact with marketing, proposals, signed documents, or the array of other third-party AppExchange software integration options.  Ensure that your integrations are creating the real-time picture of what your customers, prospects and partners are doing with your interactions.

Better Judgment And Actions

We live in a real-time world.  If your organization is using Salesforce.com and your applications are tightly integrated, then your team should know when to act and what to decide.  This helps create an interactive experience with your customers and prospects.  Salesforce success depends on setting up your people for timeliness of information to act as well as providing a way to act in real-time.

How is your organization doing in real-time?  Feel free to comment.

 

Three Business Considerations For Salesforce.com

Salesforce.com is one of many customer relationship management (CRM) systems on the market today.  A simple Google search will reveal the choices which abound.  It can be confusing as you are considering the technology to run your business processes.

In our Salesforce consulting work, many of our customers are seeking advice on whether to choose Salesforce.com or another CRM.  The truth is that there are several systems which will work based on clear requirements around your business process.  Typically, a Salesforce roadmap or Salesforce consulting will help clarify this issue as well.  Multiple software choices can enable the business process which comes from the roadmap.

It is easy to get into a feature comparison between systems.  However, from our work and perspective, the features are abundant.  CRM companies have to be rich in features just to be in the game today.  It is a mature market and the barrier to entry forces vendors to be competitive.

Furthermore, most companies do not utilize the full array of features.  Much like users of Microsoft Word, they use a small subset of what is available.  They use what they need to get things done.  In fact, too many features can be distracting and impede productivity, collaboration and selling.

Where technical analysis is required, we encourage this.  Let’s assume there is parity in features between today’s CRM systems.  Here are three business considerations we would offer:

  1. Salesforce.com is the leader.  The leadership position of a technology is important.  It provides a common platform which has many additional business benefits.  There is not a competitive second option to Facebook.  It is the platform where the world connects socially with friends and fans.  Likewise, Salesforce.com’s scale and user base creates commonality on the journey for business success.  The community around the technology affords a wealth of thought leadership, best practices and consultative advice.  From the user groups around the country to Dreamforce, you have extended support from the community.
  2. The ecosystem to grow with.  When you start, there will be some preliminary requirements which help to structure the system to work the way you need it.  As you and your team use Salesforce.com, there are inevitably new requirements.  You will want new functionality.  The AppExchange contains thousands of third-party applications.  Instead of the old days of custom development of software which was costly and timely, you can access what you need from a marketplace and plug and play.  This is highly strategic for growth.  Apps are available to help you automate more of your business as you use the system.
  3. The platform for development.  As you continue down the growth and adoption path, you may want to integrate with other business systems or websites.  With Salesforce.com Enterprise edition, scripts can be developed which work with the API (application programming interface) to automate your business processes.  This affords you to use Salesforce.com as a platform for integrating your entire business over time.  The opportunity to do this allows you to further leverage mission critical systems in your business to work with your CRM to support multiple processes.  Information can be shared across your business seamlessly this way.

These are some high-level reasons which can help frame your decision for a CRM system in terms of business strategy.  While you might entertain a cheaper option, the hidden costs can surface later as you seek to grow your use of the system without the inherent ecosystem and platform options that Salesforce.com has established as the leader.

We have implemented multiple CRM systems.  The technology is highly similar.  The business factors may be something which has added weight in your decision making.

What are some considerations you have for choosing a CRM system?  Feel free to comment below.

Customization vs. Custom Software

If you are building a business today, you need systems to be able to deliver your value proposition.  You also need systems for selling, marketing, operating and servicing your customers.  Enabling this in the past was heavily manual and process oriented.  As coding became more available, we built custom software for our organizations.

Custom software involved managing a developer or set of developers on a long project cycle.  The coding of software required well defined requirements.  Unfortunately, this takes cycles as well on the front end.

Custom software development is both brittle and expensive.  It is brittle in that when a change was required, which is inevitable with business, then the systemic impacts created work across the system as well as failures if the coding was not malleable to absorb new changes.  Change created ripples in development.  This creates costs in time and money.

Customization With Salesforce.com

Ultimately, the system to run your business needs to capture and enable business process.  This has been the great contribution of Salesforce.com to today’s fast-moving marketplace.  We are able to iterate and make change quickly without the cycles inherent in custom software development.

For example, say that your customer service process needs some tweaks.  You learned this from repeated engagements with your customers and you want to be able to capture more information as well as assign tasks based on certain business rules.

Adding the appropriate database fields and creating those rules can be done with customization in Salesforce.com.  It can be reviewed, tweaked and redesigned easily.  The collaboration and feedback loop helps to drive towards perfection.  Using the system allows for continual refinement.

This same problem would have required exacting specifications in the past.  If you missed, then changing the code was a lot of effort.  You were beholden to the old platforms.

Automate Your Business

You have the opportunity to be in continual discovery and refinement today.  This allows you to get started and be imperfect.  Perfection comes from using your Salesforce.com system and percolating the required changes within a rapid customization cycle.  This allows for more latitude in clarity of requirements which saves cycles and helps to hone your business processes over time.

With such powerful capabilities, we often have to give our customers perspective.  When we build and implement custom software, it can cost tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars.  It is customized and the coding is specific to your business.  The trade-off is that the framework, requirements and build cycles take on a completely different set of costly rules.

If the goal is for automating your business and driving collaboration, sales and execution, then Salesforce.com’s platform for customization saves you massive amounts of time and money.  You can keep pace with the relentless reality of change and manage it with a flexible system that can bend to your requirements. It’s a goal we work towards with our Salesforce consulting clients all the time.

Question: How often do you find yourself changing things to get work done more efficiently?  How do you manage this change?

Salesforce And Legos

Salesforce.com is remarkable for building your business process because of the ability to customize and extend your requirements.  Kids experience this same effect in the LEGO universe.  They often start with a specific kit.  They soon realize that parts are interchangeable, and they are able to add other pieces or new kits to create their own customized work of art.  All of this occurs with an understanding that the pieces work together.

Likewise, Salesforce.com is a platform.  Your initial requirements will likely produce a preliminary business system which is usable.  However, as you become familiar with how the system works, you have the flexibility to add other pieces via the AppExchange, a marketplace of third-party applications developed by other software companies.  This affords you the opportunity to both discover and continue building without feeling limited by the initial pieces you start with.

 

Your Business Process Refinement Is Iterative

There are some amazing structures created by LEGO enthusiasts.  They were not created by someone figuring out exactly what to build with their first purchase of a new set of bricks.  The discovery of what could work and how pieces fit together was iterative.

Genius and clarity arise from the repetition of playing with the pieces.

You have flexibility in how to drive your business processes with Salesforce.com.  If you find that the approach your sales team engages with needs to be changed because the market does not respond, you can remove fields, add new ones and add applications as needed.  Perhaps an autodialer you implemented does not work for your business anymore.  Instead, you may want to integrate an inbound marketing strategy with marketing automation.  You can detach old technologies and plug in new ones, all the while retaining logged information in your data records for continuity. You may want some Salesforce consulting help on such projects for the technical expertise and insights.

The effect is that your system can continue to adapt to the change which is inevitable in your business.  You can build continually.  Salesforce.com is modular and able to be modified as your business model and clarity continues to change.  It is much like building with LEGOs.

What are some things you can anticipate adding to your core Salesforce.com system?


Salesforce Enterprise Edition: When To Upgrade

Generally speaking, we advise our Salesforce.com consulting clients to start with Salesforce.com Professional Edition.  This edition is at $65 per user per month.  You can always upgrade later if you require more features.  However, you cannot downgrade.

Most organizations do not require an upgrade to Enterprise Edition.  Those that do tend to are larger, more-complex businesses, where it would be easier to simplify most complex customer operations with an upgrade.  It can be rapidly deployed across multiple departments and locations.

The Salesforce.com Enterprise Edition includes considerably more functionality which bridges most of the critical gaps found in the Professional Edition. Basic campaign management for marketing activities is included.  The ability to send email campaigns is still very limited without the addition of one of Salesforce.com’s email partners and can add a significant expense to the overall cost per user.

Notable Features

Some of the notable features added in this edition are territory management, workflows, self service portal and web services API for integration.

If integration with other systems or workflow automation is required, then this is the CRM system edition for you. Send emails using Salesforce email templates, update fields, assign tasks, create multiple profiles, and change owners automatically based on any criteria you choose.

Enterprise edition raises the limits to ten custom apps and 200 custom objects to allow for more customization as you grow and want to track more data.

More Features

In addition to the overall enhancements, the following features can also be found in an upgrade:

  • Account and Opportunity Team Selling Client Lifecycle Management
  • Advanced Call Scripting
  • Territory Management
  • Mass Quota Updates
  • Workflow and Approvals
  • Marketing Automation Advanced Call Scripting Workflow and Approvals
  • Customer Service and Support Service Entitlements
  • Desktop and Mobile CRM Desktop Solution Administration
  • Data Model Customization Custom Object Sharing Controls Smart Field Defaulting
  • User Interface Customization Multiple Custom Page Layouts Record-Dependent Page Layouts AJAXToolkit
  • Enterprise Administration Field-Level Security Multidepartmental Administration
  • Profile-Based Departmental Security
  • Delegated Administration Opportunity, Lead, and Case-Sharing Controls
  • Business Process Controls Multistep Approval Processes Workflow Automation Rules and Tasks for Multiple Business Processes
  • On-Demand Database Real-Time Database Mirroring Data Loader Salesforce Sandbox

Primary Reasons Our Customers Upgrade

There are several key reasons our customers tend to upgrade.  Here are some of them which require consideration for your own decision:

Workflows And Approvals

There is built-in workflow software which allows for business process management.  You can design, track and control business processes inside Salesforce.com.  If you want to have a multi-step process where there is an approval from team members before the process proceeds, then these controls are available.

Furthermore, tasks and alerts which are triggered based on process or data conditions can be programmed into Salesforce.com.  An email or an assigned task can be automated.

API And Custom Software Integrations

If you are wanting to create custom developed software scripts that are not available in the AppExchange, then you will need Enterprise Edition to accomplish this.  You have the opportunity to program on top of Salesforce.com as a platform and use their API for integration and triggering scripts.

Stronger Security And Controls

There are security layers based on Roles and Profiles.  These tend to suffice for most organizations.  However, if you are working with multiple processes and teams, then the available security layers can be further defined using the features and toolset inside Enterprise Edition.  This includes defining page layouts for data objects, field-level security (which is also available in Professional Edition), territory management, team management and data object level security.

Depending on your organizational goals, the available methods can vary with the combination of features for security and user access to information within your Salesforce.com system.

Exhaust Your System First

As advisors to our clients, we encourage our users to exhaust Professional Edition first with creative workarounds.  There are many, so the dialogue around specific problems will help to clarify when you should consider any other solution.  Assume there is always more than one way to get things done.

If a feature, process or requirement is important to upgrade, then it would be an appropriate time to upgrade permanently to Salesforce.com Enterprise Edition based on the cost/benefit decision.

What questions do you have about Salesforce.com Enterprise Edition?