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For digital native startups and agile enterprises, Salesforce has become ubiquitous in business—even more than the mobile phone. But not everyone uses it to its full potential. And frankly with Salesforce's tangential moves into healthcare, consumer e-commerce, communications and media and other peripheral markets, its core community of cloud users might feel abandoned.

Fortunately, a robust Salesforce ecosystem has sprung up around the cloud CRM Gulliver. Power users and expert consultants continue to innovate Lilliputian growth hacks for this ultimate business relationship weapon. This article explores their best tips and little-known secrets.

Connecting Tools into Salesforce

Using Salesforce as a platform could be quite good because growth hackers can base tools inside the application or attach them to the CRM as part of the API, according to power users. This can allow businesses to grow faster, connect with prospects quicker and close deals earlier. For example, some Salesforce devotees have found that email marketing software can be tied closely to CRM for quick passthrough to relationship nurturing.

“I'm a big user of MailChimp and its cloud-based mass mailing tool,” says Chris Carter, CEO, Approyo, a cloud-based SAP HANA provider. “With anyone who goes to our landing pages, I can add them right to our mailing list and send updated details on our firm by passing their information directly into Salesforce. Then automation kicks in sending that sales lead details on solutions they requested plus we can reschedule follow-ups weekly, saving time and money.”

Online Training More Valuable than Videos or Manuals

Salesforce ultimately offers two functions for business—workflow and reporting. Unfortunately, both can remain useless to sales if the team does not know how to use its critical functions, according to senior business professionals. Because Salesforce only has as much value as users have technical proficiency. And tutorials or text-based documentation can only go so far toward building that technical proficiency in how salespeople make it work.

“Sales has the most competitive—even cutthroat—job in an organization, but within the department every employee needs to pull their weight to meet company goals,” says Rephael Sweary, president, WalkMe, a platform for simplifying the online user experience. “This also means replicating successful strategies and processes, while leaving underperforming ones behind. Rather than using static processes to train sales such as reading manuals and viewing videos you can use tools to walk users through Salesforce while they use it.”

And with the high investment made in training users on business software, companies want to see a result that is tangible, measurable and long-lasting, according to WalkMe. A platform that provides clear guidance to completing Salesforce tasks step-by-step will increase engagement and understanding for salespeople and can ensure they remain inline with company processes, in that view.

Personalized Customer Portals, Saved 'Cases' in Salesforce

One of the biggest mistakes any sales representative can make remains offering generic marketing information to a prospect, according to best practices. Equally sub-optimal, giving out specific sector information but in an overwhelming amount also doesn't help matters much. This has more importance for companies using a third-party sales model. Even traditional companies can benefit by trimming their marketing information and micro-targeting end-users, such as in the case of an international chemical manufacturer, which sells products through a worldwide distribution network and has a wealth of customer information housed in its Salesforce CRM platform.

“This data was invaluable, as the company's market was clearly segmented by geography and which distributors had permission to sell what products,” says Christopher Murray, spokesperson, Engine Room, provider of CRM implementation and integration services. “So the company knew who could and would be selling what, to whom and where. The challenge was supporting the sales team with relevant marketing material and getting the right information—product overviews, spec sheets, marketing collateral—to the right distributors.”

Accordingly, sales portals usually come into play as a standard solution. But in this case, creating multiple portals to satisfy each geographic market would be both time and cost prohibitive, according to Murray. So Engine Room built two custom portals with content filtering and security so users could only access information for products that they sold and not for any other products or SKUs. And the first portal allowed users to submit a question, which gets saved as a “case” in Salesforce and automatically assigned to the appropriate customer service representative, according to Murray. The second portal copied the first without case-submission functionality but with ability to segment content visibility for users even further.

Salesforce Developer Edition Organization Follows the User

With developer communities ranging from those for cloud computing engineers to SaaS SMBs Salesforce has widespread grassroots. This community ecosystem they have built is second to none and the benefits of connecting with other users, developers, professionals and like-minded people is a no-brainer, according to Jyot Singh, CEO, RTS Labs, a software development firm. And to prove commitment to community, Salesforce empowers individuals to take their developer resources with them. Because creating a test bed for code belongs to the users, not the companies for which they work.

“Salesforce allows anyone to get one, or more, free Developer Edition organizations,” says Adam Marks, vice president, Salesforce development, RTS Labs. “Why? First, it's your org—actually yours—not your company's. That means if you change jobs you won't lose access to the environment. Second, it's your place to test new things and explore new features. Your company may have a sandbox, but what if your company is using PE or you want to try out Communities or Service Console. You are not edition locked in a DE, and that's a huge bonus.”

One Formula to Rule Them All

Some of the best growth hacks in Salesforce come from the fields themselves within the application in the experience of CRM experts. For example, power users have created formula fields that they can pull into standard reports to measure performance.

“While you can use formula fields to calculate specific metrics like win rate by rep by quarter, the most useful one in my opinion is Tom Tobin’s Power of One formula,” says Caitlyn Dwyer, Salesforce expert who recently won the title of Salesforce World Champion Digital Marketer. “To use it, create a formula field with literally just a 1 for the formula. Then select a report, add your new Power of One field to it, select Summarize (SUM) and run the report.”

So if you run an Opportunity Summary report, Using the Power of One, you can now see the number of Opportunity Owners, the number of Accounts, the number of Opportunities, the number of Opportunity Products and so on, according to Dwyer. “It essentially breaks out the individual components of each object you include it on,” she says. “Pretty useful.”

Using Excel in a CRM World

Standard out-of-the-box CRM functionality means inputting and updating records one at a time in the browser, according to Salesforce experts. While functionally sound, it's inefficient. For example, take a sales executive, with hundreds of account and opportunity records to update each week.

“This would be a long drawn-out process in the browser, and that’s not a good use of their time,” says Eric Dreshfield, advocacy manager, Apttus, and Salesforce MVP. “They need to spend the bulk of their time making sales calls, rather than updating data. Determining how to drive efficiency into tasks like this is the job of the CRM administrator.”

The CRM administrator wears a business analyst hat and looks for ways to drive efficient processes. Sometimes that involves building automated processes where decision points and approval thresholds are clearly defined. Other times this means looking for other tools to connect to the CRM to help users continue to work as normal and have data flow quickly and easily into the CRM, according to Dreshfield.

Considering that many sales executives grew up in Excel, leveraging their experience with the king of spreadsheets can improve the CRM learning curve and adoption rate. To make this connection to Salesforce, Apttus has a tool called X-Author for Excel that allows Excel to become a complete user interface for CRM platforms. That enables users to add, update and delete records for any number of objects from Excel while maintaining all permissions, rules and security of the CRM, according to Dreshfield.