How to Become a Salesforce Consultant – The Next Step in Your Career Path
Salesforce Consultants implement and optimize Salesforce products in an effective and scalable way that is in line with their clients’ requirements. With a consultant involved, Salesforce becomes like a block of plasticine to an organization, molding to exactly how their business operates.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at what a Salesforce Consultant is, how they operate, the key skills you need to become one, and what next steps you take on your path towards the consultancy life. While we’ll mention admins specifically throughout the guide, Salesforce consulting is a logical career step for multiple Salesforce roles. Let’s get into it!
Becoming a Salesforce Consultant
Becoming a Salesforce Consultant is a career path available for those who are ready for a new challenge. We’ve met many professionals who feel that they are not learning anything new, performing tasks that aren’t challenging, and are feeling ‘pigeon-holed’ in one area of Salesforce (and not ‘spreading their wings’).
“When evaluating whether to look for another career opportunity, I have quite clear criteria. I look at my professional development and decide whether my progression is slowing down – or has potentially completely stopped since joining. I think that in the fast-paced industry we are all currently a part of this point is inevitable to reach at some stage.”Ben McCarthy, Founder of Salesforce Ben, former Managing Director at a Salesforce Consultancy.
Take “accidental Admins”, for example. These individuals had not considered a career in Salesforce until some event brought Salesforce into their work life – most commonly their company has implemented Salesforce and needs savvy power users to learn the tool.
Once the power of Salesforce is realized, these individuals are hooked, and start looking for careers to pursue Salesforce.
Salesforce Consultant: Core Skills
Salesforce projects are an art, with numerous contributing factors balanced to either make or break the success of a project. Organizations won’t trust just anyone with the keys to their Salesforce org (the ‘beating heart’ of your operations), so they will look for consultants that possess a number of skills – including ‘soft’ skills.
- Empathy: Be able to understand clients from their perspective, like you’re spending a day in the life of someone working at that company. One trick is to imagine you’re starting your first day at the client company, asking questions that you would need to learn your new job. This is one of the most valuable attributes, but not one that’s easy to learn.
- Requirements Gathering: Fail to gather decent requirements during the ‘discovery’ phase, the project will be without direction, and the scope of what needs to be done can grow out of control (scope creep). Gather clear, concise, and accurate requirements that the client accepts (signs off on).
- Time Tracking: Part of being organized is to record how you spent your time. Fail to do this, and it could come back to bite you when clients ask why something took longer than anticipated. Tracking is core for project management (to keep project profitability from going ‘into the red’), and also to build your own self-awareness of how long you need in the future. Get into the habit of logging time spent after each activity (even the 15 minutes you spent logging into a customer org to troubleshoot a problem!); if you struggle to establish a habit, set a reminder in your calendar at the end of every day to log activities.
- Communication: Key in so many ways! Convey how Salesforce’s vast suite of solutions is going to tackle the challenges that your clients face, make complex concepts easy to understand, and keep stakeholders across the organization interested in the project. Written communication is fundamental to the role, while verbal communication will differentiate you from your peers.
- Stakeholder Management: Manage your clients’ expectations; it’s incredibly frustrating for a client to have something delivered that’s different from what they were expecting. It’s better to under promise and overdeliver than vice-versa. You need stakeholders’ support as much as they need yours; so, take time to understand their individual goals and aspirations, and you will gain valuable insight to, and keep the project moving in the right direction.
- Salesforce Knowledge: You need solid knowledge of the platform you are advising others on. Add value by reflecting on your previous experiences working with Salesforce – especially what didn’t go well when applied in a specific scenario. The considerations you make while ‘reading’ the situation will help you reach better solutions.
- Personal Development/Learner’s Mindset: Consultants encounter new features and business use cases every day. This means that the right mindset – the way you think, act, and reflect – is key. Not having the right mindset will hold you back from progressing. It’s okay not to know – but you should know what you don’t know (a tricky phrase, I get it!) and have the motivation to research for a solution or reach out to others for support.
Beyond reading about the skills that Salesforce Consultants should possess, read about the tasks Salesforce Consultants do and their responsibilities at each stage of the career path.
Also, you can get a flavor of what a ‘day in the life’ looks like for a Salesforce Consultant:
Why Become a Salesforce Consultant?
Working at a consultancy, you are going to be involved in projects, and typically collaborating with different teams. There are benefits that come with this way of working:
- Working on more complex projects.
- Working on multiple projects, with different organizations, simultaneously.
- Getting hands-on with multiple Salesforce products, not just Sales Cloud, e.g. Service Cloud, Analytics, Einstein.
- Gaining industry expertise. Most consultancies will have defined their industry focus, e.g. Financial services, real estate, retail, etc.
- Collaborate with architects, developers, marketers, account managers – some of which will be the best in the industry.
- Personal development opportunities through formal training and programs. Salesforce consultancies are ranked by the number of certified professionals that work at their organization (i.e. how many people hold Salesforce certifications). All consultancies will encourage personal development, and some will even incentivize you with bonus schemes!
- Higher salary expectations: The technical and business skills required of a consultant mean more $$$.
How Do You Get There?
When hesitating over the decision to try consulting, you should bear in mind that:
- There is core knowledge and skills you should have: Organization, communication, openness to feedback, Salesforce platform knowledge, and an understanding of Salesforce best practices.
- There are concepts that can be learned ‘on the job’, and are not prerequisites for becoming a consultant: Requirements gathering, project management (e.g. agile), project scoping, and estimation.
Speak to recruiters or hiring managers, and they will tell you the same thing. So long as you fully understand that the Salesforce platform is a tool to enable businesses, and solve their problems, you’re already on your way!
“In all honesty, I put off becoming a consultant for a while mainly due to my nerves. ‘How do I collect requirements?’, ‘How do I manage a project? (I don’t know agile!)’, ‘How do I estimate hours for a project?’. These were all questions that I couldn’t really answer, and it made me nervous to join a consultancy and then fail.”Ben McCarthy, Founder of Salesforce Ben, former Managing Director at a Salesforce Consultancy.
Salesforce Admin to Consultant
Many Salesforce Admins aspire to transition into consulting – after all, at its core, a Salesforce Consultant’s role is similar to that of an admin’s, discovering business challenges, and then solving them with the Salesforce platform.
“I always knew I would become a Salesforce Consultant throughout my Admin life. I believe that a good Salesforce Admin wears a consultant ‘hat’ within their organization. After all, an admin is more than just someone who adds permission sets or deactivates users – an admin is the bridge between the business and its technology.”Ben McCarthy, Founder of Salesforce Ben, former Managing Director at a Salesforce Consultancy.
The differences between the two roles (aside from the obvious ones we highlighted in the “benefits” section), include:
- After implementing Salesforce, as part of the project wrap-up, you may be tasked with training an admin (to help them transition into the role) or enabling ‘super users’. You will be able to leverage your previous experience, having ‘walked in the same shoes’.
- Working on multiple projects, with different organizations, simultaneously will likely be more demanding than an in-house admin role. Each client could have different business models and use different Salesforce products. We’ll explore more considerations later in the ‘Things We “Wish We Knew”’ section.
Transition Into Salesforce
There are many other routes people take that lead them into Salesforce consulting; far too many to list here!
To paint a picture of these varied backgrounds, you only need to look at the list of programs that exist to train up apprentices, graduates, veterans, refugees, and moms that are ready to return back to work.
Don’t discount any of your previous experience where you may have built up transferable knowledge – especially from non-Salesforce related roles. In fact, consultancies favor those who have some Salesforce experience paired with industry know-how, as opposed to those who lack the industry aspect. Why? As a consultant, being able to talk the lingo, understand the processes, and empathize with client challenges, will ultimately instill confidence in the client and deliver successful outcomes.
It can be easy to feel like you’re too old for a career change, and even more so if you’re considering moving into an IT role. However, Thijs Vermeulen is here to tell you that you are never too old to pursue a career you feel passionate about. In the space of a year, he became a trailblazing Salesforce Consultant at the age of 38.
The Next Steps
Having taken this career leap myself (as well as Ben, and thousands of others), we’ve compiled some advice for you to use.
To become a Salesforce Consultant, you should have experience configuring Sales Cloud (this is likely the cloud you will start with, unless you want to become a marketing consultant).
If you aren’t already, take the Salesforce Administrator and Platform App Builder certifications.
Seek Out Learning Opportunities
If you are in another Salesforce role, keep project kick-off meetings and training sessions on your radar. How can you push yourself to improve the outcomes of these meetings? How are you currently gathering requirements from your colleagues, and are you asking ‘why’ and clarifying questions enough?
Another way to ‘dip your toe’ into consulting is by doing Salesforce work, free of charge. Volunteering your time to a nonprofit (organizations that are often stretched on budget and are deserving of your skills) is a popular option, however, do not approach a nonprofit if you are inexperienced. Keep within the limits of your platform knowledge, as the last thing you would want to happen, is leave the organization in a worse state than when you started and burdened with technical debt.
Grasp Best Practices
If you know Salesforce best practices, you will be able to configure Salesforce faster, and in a way that will benefit the client in the long run (futureproofing).
This involves using the features how Salesforce intended (when they were initially developed) and sticking with declarative configuration as much as possible.
In other words, avoid over-customizing/adding huge amounts of code to a Salesforce org unless it’s absolutely necessary. As Salesforce makes updates with every release, they deliver enhancements to their standard features, not to customized parts of an org that have veered away from core functionality. The moral of the story? Always think long-term.
Get Comfortable Solutionizing
Solutionizing is all about stitching together multiple features, automations, and often other apps, to build a process end-to-end. Always pause to think about the considerations of your design, e.g. “If I do this, what are the consequences?”, “Should we be processing this much data?”, “Will we bump up against system limits?”.
Research “Quick Start” Packages
Consultancies will sell “quick start” packages (often found on their websites) that bundle together what organizations typically need in a project, therefore will shine a light on the most common requirements (you are likely to start working on “quick start” projects when you join a consultancy).
Understand Consultant Documents and Resources
As a consultant, you will be using a range of documents and resources to convey the project purpose and plan to clients. From workshop presentations to statements of work, you can view samples of these to better your learning:
Read Consultant Job Descriptions
Get an idea of what responsibilities consultancies will ask their consultants to undertake. While the sample job descriptions below are focused on marketing professionals, most of the tasks apply to all consultants. Here’s an example for Marketing Cloud Consultants.
And here is an example specifically for Pardot Consultants:
Attending a job interview can be immensely stressful, but there are many things you can do in advance, during, and after to ace your interview and maximize your chances of a job offer – here are some useful tips and tricks.
What can you expect from an interview for a Salesforce consultant job? It may sound obvious, but the interviewer will be looking for you to describe your experience – so have specific examples of when you have problem solved, solutionized, applied best practices, and communicated effectively (especially with difficult stakeholders).
Here is a guide with Salesforce consultant interview questions, written by someone who has interviewed many consultants through her career:
Things We Wish We Knew
As we mentioned, Salesforce consulting is a rewarding career path for many reasons – but prepare to be pushed out of your comfort zone! Here are some aspects of consulting we discovered, and want to share them with you, so you can make the best decision for yourself.
We covered how stakeholder management is a valuable consultant skill, to manage your clients expectations.
As well as the collective, organization-level objectives, each stakeholder will come to the ‘table’ with their individual goals and aspirations. People are self-interested – it’s human nature – but if their interests are not aligned, it can ‘throw a spanner in the works’.
This could rear its head as being disruptive during meetings – visible cues that they’re disinterested (scrolling through their phone), asking irrelevant questions, or asking questions in an attempt to catch you out or feel inadequate. At worst, if a stakeholder feels dejected and/or threatened, they could attempt to derail the project.
You need stakeholders’ support as much as they need yours; so take time to understand the source of their frustration. Your worst reaction would be to ‘sweep it under the rug’, or back down and neglect your position as a consultant.
Difficult stakeholders are all part of the learning curve. I guarantee you that in the process, you will gain valuable insight to what they truly need and keep the project moving in the right direction.
‘Billable hours’ is the metric that consultancies use in order to:
- Estimate how long projects will take to complete, and each individuals’ capacity.
- Forecast the projects they need to sell, in order to keep their consultants occupied (and employed!)
- Encourage personal development (with dedicated ‘non-billable hours’).
Most consultancies will set billable hours at 70-80%. This is commonly the first KPI you will be measured against, so of course, you should always try to reach it. Salesforce consultants work in a flatter hierarchy than other roles – of course you have ‘senior’ consultants, project managers, etc. but for the most part, a Salesforce Consultant is responsible for their own outputs. And how will you prove you’ve reached the KPI? Time tracking!
Some consultancies have introduced a coefficient, which takes into consideration the time it will take an individual to do a task, based on where they are in their career. For example, an entry-level consultant’s coefficient will be lower (say, 0.5) than an experienced consultant’s (1); someone learning will need longer to do a task (a coefficient of 0.5 means you will take twice as long to do a task).
Working as a consultant, for clients, is different from being an employee of a company. While this is not universal to every consultant out there, projects need to be kept on track (working extra hours, even late nights), clients could become dissatisfied (‘fire-fighting’ you can’t predict in your day), and projects could be located beyond your locality (requires traveling for onsite meetings).
You may find that consulting requires you to adjust your lifestyle to accommodate fluctuating work demands. Again, this is not to every consultant/consultancy. I collated experiences into a comparison guide:
Note: While the guide above focuses on marketing consultants, the sentiments are shared across the board.
Travel requirements are sometimes explicitly stated in the job description, however, for other consultancies, it’s a given that you will need to travel. Travel to client sites would result in disruption to your daily routine, and even require nights away from home. This is especially challenging when you have care responsibilities. Travel expectations are something you should scope out before joining a consultancy, and make your situation clear (i.e. if/how long you are willing to travel).
“Sometimes, my weeks are absolutely occupied by having to travel, while other weeks are quieter. As a rule of thumb, for me personally, I will travel around 50% of the time. It’s an occupational hazard. Our consultancy prefers that we get in front of the client as much as possible. This requires travel.” – Matt Wade, Salesforce Solution Architect.
Some positions can be fully remote, which is something to have a look at when you’re job hunting.
“Personally speaking, when working at a consultancy based in central London, the majority of our clients were also based in London, so travel was kept minimal. I have seen some positions that are fully remote, which may suit you better.” – Ben McCarthy, Founder of Salesforce Ben, former Managing Director at a Salesforce Consultancy.
On the other hand, international travel with long placements may be something you’d choose to look at instead. I was placed on projects that would require weekly international travel, even relocating countries for a couple of projects. I was young and excited for the experience at the time, but I can imagine that this wouldn’t have been easy if I had a family and other care responsibilities back home.
There’s always the option to become an independent Salesforce Consultant (i.e. being self-employed). While you will have more control over your project portfolio, going freelance comes with its own set of considerations to trade-off.
Learner’s Mindset: No Shame in Asking
Consultants encounter new features and business use cases every day. This means that the right mindset – the way you think, act, and reflect – is key. Not having the right mindset will hold you back from progressing.
It’s okay not to know but remember that you should know what you don’t know (a tricky phrase, I get it!) and have the motivation to research for a solution or reach out to others for support.
- Allow ‘handholding’: You’re likely to always have a mentor; while it may be independent working, you’ll be supervised. Absorb from these people who have walked the same path.
- Treat everything as a learning experience: Simply saying “I don’t have time” is not a valid excuse – in fact, a bad fallacy – spend an extra 20% on this task now but it will save you 5% time/effort next time. The cumulative effect is going to add up to having a lot more free time to learn.
- Don’t take feedback personally: The sooner that you can disassociate yourself from your work, the better. Not being defensive reflects back to the importance of knowledge sharing with other team members.
Fake It Until You Make It
We already talked about how communication is at the core of a successful consultant. Good communication takes the form of someone who carries themselves confidently – even if you don’t feel confident, fake it. Body language gives off silent cues. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone stumble through their words in a boardroom (trust us, we’ve been there!) yet it’s all part of the learning process.
Admit when you don’t have the answer in the moment, and do diligent research to find the answer.
Becoming a Salesforce Consultant is a career path available for those who are ready for a new challenge. Do you feel that you’re not learning anything new, performing tasks that aren’t challenging, and are feeling ‘pigeon-holed’ in one area of Salesforce?
For some people, getting ‘comfortable’ in your current job is exactly where they want to be; however, for others who want to strive for more varied projects, higher salary expectations, or specialize faster, getting comfortable often means feeling like you’re not meeting your potential.
Enter Salesforce consulting: a rewarding career path for many reasons – but prepare to be pushed out of your comfort zone! We hope that this guide has given you an overview of what you should expect when preparing to, and actually, making the move.
How nice that you have mentioned me Lucy! Not 38 anymore, but three years later I still enjoy being a Salesforce Consultant every day…
Thank you, Lucy, for the insightful article on how to become a Salesforce consultant. Your article provides a clear and actionable roadmap for anyone interested in becoming a Salesforce consultant. I appreciate your tips on developing essential skills and gaining experience in the field are practical and valuable. Great work!