Hey Salesforce Admins and Business Analysts! There’s no doubt you all know the importance of understanding the innards of Salesforce, and how to wield it effectively to support business processes.
But here’s the thing – in technical training, communication skills are often overlooked. Critical, non-technical skills include the ability to listen and tease out the backstory from business stakeholders so that you can address their true needs. This will allow you to work proactively rather than in reactive mode.
I’ve spent most of my career in software development, product management, and strategic consulting. Everything I’ve ever done has involved putting myself in stakeholders’ shoes – whether they were business users, customers, or consulting clients. As a newcomer to Salesforce, I immediately see the same need to gather information, empathize, and build a convincing case for change.
This article reveals tips and tricks for working with stakeholders to understand business requirements, pain points, and goals. So, if you’re interested – keep reading!
Why Are Stakeholders Important?
As a Salesforce Administrator, collecting information from multiple stakeholders with varying levels of knowledge is inevitable. Knowing this, it’s important to be aware that the information you require may not be thoroughly documented or even held by a single individual in their head.
Although it may appear that the necessary information is readily available, it’s advisable to broaden your search beyond the Salesforce business process. Ensure that you engage with individuals who are not your primary users — people on the periphery of the business process, such as supply chain and training.
If you execute these conversations successfully, you will be exposed to various stories and concepts that – when combined – will assist you in delivering valuable insights and suggestions to your stakeholders.
Remember, everyone’s time is valuable – especially when it comes to your own and that of your business stakeholders. Maximizing your time with every interaction is crucial for seeing results.
How Many Stakeholders?
When planning a new project, it’s important to consider how many people you should speak to. This number is typically dependent on the scope of your project. Some of my most successful benchmarks resulted in:
- A 3-month discovery across a global procurement organization – required 40 hour-long interviews.
- A 6-month implementation cycle for a national retailer in a supply chain improvement project – required roughly 10 conversations.
- A 3-month project sprint with roughly five conversations resulting in 45 minutes of interviews.
Identifying Stakeholder Groups
It’s important to consider who you should be speaking with. Think about this in four directions – upwards, downwards, inside, and outside. To get a fair picture, you will need to speak with stakeholders in each group:
- Upwards: Any changes you make to systems or processes will need to be approved by someone – as subsequently, the cost will come from someone’s budget. The chain of command is what I consider upwards, which could include all the way up to the project executive sponsor.
- Downwards: The people that will be impacted by the changes.
- Inside: Individuals that will be involved in operating whatever new systems are being implemented (e.g. the call center agents or sales reps using the Salesforce app).
- Outside: Customers that are serviced by the processes. Note that customers can be both external and internal. Take customer support as an example – external customers need support for customers who have purchased products/services. On the other hand, if we’re referring to an IT Helpdesk, the customers are internal teams.
The 3 Types of Stakeholders You Need to Involve
- Change Advocates: The ones that are advocating for change, who will provide you with a source of ideas and innovation. They are potential champions of whatever you are trying to achieve.
- Status Quo Defendants: The ones that are defending the status quo. They will give you a measure of the obstacles you need to overcome either to gain final approvals or to make sure the new processes are adopted.
- The Keystone: Everybody’s go-to person who knows all about the systems, including the skeletons – and just makes things happen. This person (there is usually one) can be the keystone to your project, so capture their expertise and opinions – they can be a powerful advocate for any changes.
Where to Find the Stakeholders
If you have been in the organization for a while, you will likely have a good network. But if you’re new in the role or hired as a consultant – you’ll need to navigate the terrain to find your stakeholders.
The project sponsor is a good place to start – they will give you direction and should know whom to speak with. At the start of an investigation, you may not have a definitive list. However, at the end of each conversation, ask your stakeholder whom you should speak with next to ask about a specific item. They will likely point you to the right person.
Preparation and Respecting Stakeholders’ Time
The more useful a stakeholder is going to be, the less time they will have to spare. I tend to request meetings of 15, 30, and 45 minutes depending on how busy the stakeholder is and how little time I need.
However, I block out an hour in my calendar for all stakeholders. So, if they find the topic interesting and want to speak longer – I don’t have to stop. If the conversation is not providing me value, I can always say I have another meeting and bring it to an end.
Preparing to Speak with Stakeholders
To get the best use from stakeholder meetings, it’s also important to have done your homework. First, know whom you are speaking to – which organization they belong to, what their charter is, if they are in or manage a team, and how big it is. If you have a good understanding of the system or process being discussed, then you are able to validate what they are saying.
I have found that being able to give your stakeholder something can work wonders – in particular, providing factual information that they may not know. This was the motivation for building a process analytics tool – to provide a deep insight into the business processes enabled by Salesforce Cloud.
Summary: Saying Thank You
As children, we’re taught to say thank you. Something we might not have been taught is how to leave the door open for future conversations.
On closing the meeting, let your stakeholder know that if they think of anything else, they can contact you – and if you think of anything else, ask if you can send them a quick note. Drop them an email to say thanks and offer a three-bullet summary of the most important things you learned from the conversation.