5 Dreamforce takeaways to guide your CRM strategy

With 170,000 attendees, 2,100 sessions and 500 vendors, the signal-to-noise ratio at Dreamforce 2016 was pretty low. Now that the dust has settled, here’s what’s worth knowing.

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If you’ve attended a few Dreamforce events, you know it’s easy to become hypnotized (if not downright numbed) by all the sensory input. There’s a lot of information buried in all the propaganda, and if you’re in the press you get inundated. But a few days later, you realize it’s like fixating on a Twitter feed: In real-time, it’s hard to discriminate what’s going to have an importance half-life of more than an hour or two.

That said, this Dreamforce had some important messages that should drive your CRM planning in the coming months:

1. Corporate acquisitions affect your product choices in a big way. Having been part of nine acquisitions over the years, I can assure you that software product strategies change dramatically the day an acquisition is completed. Some acquirers don’t know enough to recognize that both their product strategy and the acquired company’s will be impacted; they may even insist that “it’ll just be better for everybody,” but there’s no reason for the smart customer to fall into that trap.

Typically, the acquired company’s products will be end-of-lifed (EOL’d) within a year, and their technology will temporarily disappear while (if you’re lucky) it is re-implemented within the technology base of the acquiring company. It is common wisdom that more than half of software acquisitions don’t live up to the expectations set by celebratory press releases (and some industry analysts put the failure rate as high as 80 percent). Therefore, it’s strategically safest for clients to avoid super-hot products from super-small companies because chances are good that either the company won’t grow enough to survive or, alternately, that it’ll grow in a way that makes it an acquisition target.

Either way, its super-hot product will be orphaned over the years. And in SaaS products, there’s no such thing as abandon-ware: when the vendor turns out the lights there is no software for you to run. (An important point here: Salesforce has a much higher batting average in acquisitions than the industry average.)

2. The days of small system integrators in the Salesforce.com (SFDC) ecosystem is quickly drawing to a close. Unless a system integrator is outrageously specialized, the costs of marketing, selling and maintaining all the required technical skills are becoming untenable. An example survivor would be an integrator that is the world-renowned expert in configuring pricebooks with 500,000 SKUs or managing partner networks in Japan or India. Their expertise and reputation will mean that half or more of their business is subcontracting to the Tier 1 integrators, but they’ll still do business directly with customers needing their specialization.

If you are using a 10-person jack-of-all-trades consultancy today, it will likely be gone or rolled up into a bigger firm in the next year or two. If the firm does disappear you should seriously consider hiring the individual consultant(s) who worked on your system. If the firm is acquired, know that the merger will mean that your level of service will probably diminish — unless your level of business is rising (or promises to do so).

3. Technical innovation at SFDC is reaching unprecedented levels. Whether it’s UI or MAS or CPQ or AI or APIs (or whatever other acronym comes up in future press releases), there is a ton of new stuff to learn and use. Your system administrator has a few tough things to learn, but the expansion of APIs over the last year has created a prodigious learning curve for your developers. And it’s not over yet. In terms of your strategic IT planning, you need to budget much more time for the R in R&D: for anything interesting, this next year will be anything but routine coding.

4. Lightning is on your horizon, coming at you faster than you think. So you need to start acquiring some Lightning …err… experience on your very next project. Although SFDC has not made definitive pronouncements, they have strongly hinted that any important new feature will be Lightning first, if not exclusively. While there will be improvements and retrofits to the Classic UI, it won’t be too many quarters before you need to move some set of users to Lightning.

That said, it’s clear that you should not attempt to move your entire organization to Lightning anytime soon — unless you enjoy pain. There are enough third-party products and SFDC features that just aren’t ready today to make the switch. Make sure there’s a solid use case and a budget for developing Lightning components before you switch your first group of users.

Even if you have no intention of switching now, start developing Lightning components and using them in your Classic VisualForce pages. You need to start along that learning curve before the end of this year. While you’re at it, whenever one of your plug-in products comes up for renewal, find out what the vendor’s Lightning roadmap looks like before you sign.

5. Download all of the relevant presentation files from the Dreamforce site. This last one is easy, if time-consuming. Assuming one of your people was a full-conference attendee. Of course “it’ll all be in the reference docs,” but given the volume and detail of SFDC’s documentation (weighing in at probably 15,000 pages), the brevity of slide decks makes it easier to see the forest for the trees during decision-making.

The cost of doing nothing

You can get away ignoring these signposts only if your SFDC strategy is “freeze.” Unfortunately, over the long term that path undermines your system’s credibility, and eventually leads to a user revolt. You can argue whether change is good, but one of the few things I’m willing to guarantee is this: in the cloud, change is unavoidable.

This story, "5 Dreamforce takeaways to guide your CRM strategy" was originally published by CIO.

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