How to Choose an Appexchange Tool: Browse the Marketplace the Right Way

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If you need to cover a need in your organization, whether that’s for users, administrators, or clients, the AppExchange is undoubtedly one of the first places you should look. Not only it will give you ideas, but it will also show you how the Salesforce world extends beyond what you know. With more than 3000 applications, you will be able to know what solutions other companies use and advocate through ratings and reviews.

This post will guide you through selecting one of these many tools based on a few pointers, in order to provide an effective solution to your needs.

What Is My Current Situation?

Before starting to look for and compare solutions, it is important to know what your problem is, and what problem you want to solve, because:

  • It is difficult to find a tool that covers your needs 100%, and even more challenging if you are not clear about the problem in the first place.
  • Packages and Modules: the tools usually have modules or packages with different functionality and costs. My recommendation is to find the tool according to your needs, which is allows you to install only what you need.
  • Tools evolve through updates: it’s important to know this in advance and keep any in mind that could impact your future plans.
  • Available budget: there are free tools, but as a general rule, they will only cover simple requirements. Depending on your problem, it’s likely that the choice you make will mean licensing costs per user, usage, or installation costs.

In response to the above points, I recommend you assemble the following:

  • Use cases: what you want the application to do. It’s the best way for you and the tool provider to understand which part of your CRM the application begins and ends.
  • High-level Product Backlog: it’s enough to list those requirements that are mandatory, to then be able to group them and determine what features you need.
  • Maximum cost: define the maximum cost that you’re willing to spend. To get a more accurate estimate, record the:
    • Number of users that will use the tool
    • Number of uses of the tool (eg. number of documents to be digitally signed, number of deployments, etc.).
    • License type required
  • Key points: aspects of the tool that are not directly related to the functional coverage and costs (eg. it can be consumed by other systems of the company via the API, it has easy installation and configuration, it’s a managed package or unmanaged, etc).
  • Security and technical architecture requirements: ask others in the business if the tools need to meet certain requirements. Normally, if these technical requirements exist and the tool is a package that is installed in Salesforce, this will not be necessary since it does not add another software to the company. But be careful, some AppExchange solutions are systems external to Salesforce that are integrated with your organization and you may need to validate their security level.

These are only suggestions – the important thing is to be clear about your requirements and your current situation before choosing an application.

Search, Search and Search

This is a tedious task in the evaluation process. In any search, the number of results is usually high, and reading or looking at all the applications that we find is no quick task – be patient and be consistent. Do not despair! Here’s how I recommend you carry out the search:

  • Search by keywords: you can use the section titles or related requirements that you generated in the Product Backlog. Above all, find the right technical terminology for what you want to do, learning acronyms, and enriching yourself with the vocabulary of your need or problem.
  • Search on:
    • The AppExchange (obviously!)
    • Google, always adding the word Salesforce
  • Look for projects or success stories.
  • Search in English (most app vendors are US-based, or have otherwise written their listing in English).
  • Ask colleagues, connections, or in your purchasing/procurement department for their second opinion.

As you find tools, read about them in the AppExchange and on their website; if there is one that catches your interest do not hesitate to contact them. You will have the opportunity to resolve doubts, request a demo, or you may even start a trial version of the solution. In the case that the tool is free, do not hesitate to install it in a Sandbox to play with it.

Narrowing Down

Time is a very valuable resource. Choose a small number of them to compare them with each other – I recommend choosing between 3 to 5.

To carry out this first filtering, it’s best practice to rely on the key points that you defined earlier; stay focused on who meets them or, who comes closest.

The Finalists

Keep communicating with the suppliers of these tools or to have access to good documentation. As I mentioned before, you can also guide yourself through a trial/sandbox test. Although be careful – you may discard a very good application because you haven’t uncovered all of its capabilities of the tool.

To collect the information you can follow these steps:

  1. Refresh your memory on your pain points.
  2. Request a demo: the vendor will show you the use cases that you have defined – the perfect opportunity to take notes and ask all your questions.
  3. Collate all of the answers, because new questions may arise.
  4. Schedule a final meeting with the provider, where they can address your objections. Send them all the questions before the meeting, to keep the meeting efficient and focused.

As these are guidelines, you can remove the ones you consider unnecessary. What is important, however, is that you follow the process with all the providers at the same time, controlling the timing in such a way that you are always at the same stage with each supplier; this way, you can give feedback at each stage with all of the new information you are learning as you go along.

Time To Compare

How do you compare a car with a truck? Or a truck with a motorcycle? They all take me from one point to another, but they do it in different ways.

You may find yourself in this situation, just with applications.

Before starting this step, look for how these tools are positioned in a Gartner chart (known as ‘magic quadrants’), if one is available. If any of the tools you have selected have a good position, you are well on track (but be ready to invest budget!). If it doesn’t appear, it may still cover your needs, but bear in mind their experience and support standards may not be ‘best-in-class’.

Now for the fun part. It’s time to rate each application relying on the information we collected:

  • Score each of the Product Backlog Assign higher point weighting to the sections that interest you.
  • Score how the application covers each of the key points. Define what is a 10, a 5, a 0, for each of them.
  • Value the financials: from the cheapest to the most expensive, depending on how it fits your budget, payment methods, type of contract, licensing form, etc.

Using these scores, you can now evaluate each tool and make a final decision based on numbers.

Justify The Result

An evaluation has to be justified, so my final recommendation is that you document the entire process in case you need to explain the decision you took. The first thing that everybody will do is look at the scores, but eventually, they will ask the “why?” behind the numbers.

I hope that with this process you can not only answer that question but also install and use the solution that everyone will eventually say: “I don’t know how we lived without it!”.

5 thoughts on “How to Choose an Appexchange Tool: Browse the Marketplace the Right Way

  1. What sort of due diligence do you recommend in selecting an app? I had a horrible experience with an app that had 5 star ratings on the app exchange – it was an integration app but after days and days of implementing it, we realised it was missing a really important data field in the connection. The appexchange provider then proceeded to say if I gave them a 5 * review and paid them more money, they would unlock that data field. It was a nightmare situation for me as a consultant and the client. The appexchange company then insisted on having a login to our Salesforce instance (which was populated with a lot of client data) – obviously I refused, but the company said if I gave them a login and did a video testimonial they would unlock the field for free. It all felt like blackmail and so disappointing. Of course, we walked away, lost around £500 for the app and I recreated the whole integration using Zapier which was about 9 days of my own time which I zero rated for the client. I’m interested in what steps other people take to check any apps they purchase – other than the appexchange ratings.

  2. This is a great review with very practical guidance.
    In response to Mary Butlin. We’ve been burned before by review rating inflation too. If this is a free developer tool, it’s no big deal. Try it in a sandbox, and if you don’t like it, uninstall it or delete the sandbox.
    But where money, time, or reputation are at risk, we insist on talking with a customer to get a more objective (non-salesperson) opinion. They are imperfect, but better than the sales person.

    1. Thanks David that’s really good advice, thanks for being honest that this has happened to you too. I’d always talk to a customer for more costly apps but probably worth doing for all that involve significant set up time and aren’t well used in the ecosystem. In the case of my bad experience I hadn’t expected the app to involve so much set up time (which will now be a red flag to me earlier on in the process). My other takeaways were to be wary of apps that don’t offer fully functioning free trials and those that are a one off up-front price (I always feel those aren’t well supported in future years anyway).

      I’ve had lots of positive experiences too where the apps really deserved their high ratings and have excellent customer service. I wonder if there is anything more that Salesforce can do to moderate the reviews. I struggled to find a way to report the disreputable company other than leave a negative review (which the client was reluctant to do as they attempted to get a refund on the app which was a drawn out process and was ultimately unsuccessful).

      Thanks Carlos for a great article and creating a discussion around appexchange choices, lots of brilliant practical advice for everyone here. And thanks as always to Salesforce Ben for keeping us all educated and informed with the latest industry advice.

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