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The Unexpected Wins of Implementing Salesforce Remotely During COVID

“If you cover these bases for digital transformation, a remote launch won’t hold you back—and it might even move you forward faster.”

Edmunds GovTech had outgrown a legacy system and we badly needed to replace it. Our on-premise CRM was holding us back from migrating other business systems to the cloud and building a sales and marketing function capable of supporting rapid growth.

In the middle of preparing to roll out Salesforce and Pardot, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. At first, putting the project on hold seemed like the best—and maybe only—option, given the many challenges it presented. Not only would we have to launch and train our teams on the new platforms 100% remotely, but the implementation was part of a new sales process rollout and would impose a new, data-driven culture on a team that had previously enjoyed a high degree of autonomy. On top of that, we’d recently completed two acquisitions (Logics and BAS) whose sales teams would be migrating from their own sets of tools and processes to this single tech stack.

But after talking to other sales leaders in the LLR portfolio and conferring with our own leadership group, we decided to push forward. Six months later, we are glad we did. There are always bound to be a few hiccups, but we discovered that digital transformation can move forward successfully, even under less-than-ideal circumstances. In fact, moving forward with a remote team might even have been an advantage. And had we waited until everyone was back in the office, we would be left spinning our wheels until 2021.

Here are four of the approaches that helped us successfully roll out Salesforce in a 100% remote environment and in the first 6 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shift the mindset from change to transformation

We didn’t want new technology to simply accelerate our existing sales processes: we wanted to transform them. We viewed this implementation as an opportunity to transition to a solutions sales approach, create a more coordinated and standardized process, and deliver better visibility into our sales funnel. Technology was a way to bring a new sales process and sales philosophy to life and rewire the thinking across our sales and marketing function. With this mindset, we were able to fully prepare our team, including anticipating the level of resistance they were likely to have and delivering the level of support they would need in order to adapt to new expectations.

“Aim for a minimum viable product and evolve from there, rather than plan for perfection and burn everybody out.”

Aim for a minimum viable product, then learn and adjust

Despite the challenges ahead, we agreed with our Chief Information Officer on an aggressive timeline of approximately four months. At Edmunds, we are fans of “progressive renovation” versus the “big bang” school of implementation and planned to take an agile approach. We knew from our own experience implementing the ERP solutions we sell to local governments that it’s better to aim for a minimum viable product and continue to evolve from there, rather than plan for perfection and burn everybody out with a protracted process. We wanted to get Salesforce out there and in use as soon as possible, and we knew that launching quickly would enable us to learn faster and adjust on the fly.

Carefully partner across the organization to fill critical roles

The roll-out was very much a team effort, but some roles proved to be crucial:

  1. Our CIO was instrumental in evaluating and selecting an integrator and putting the right framework and time frame in place. Without that internal partnership, we would have struggled to achieve the transformation.
  2. Our Director of Customer Success contributed a deep understanding of the legacy CRM data. Scraping multiple years’ worth of data from one CRM platform and dropping it into another is complicated and requires time, effort and knowledge. Had it gone wrong, it could have caused significant disruption to our implementation and, more importantly, our sales pipeline.
  3. Our Director of Product Evangelism brought a deep knowledge of our business processes and helped map them to the system configuration, ensuring that sales resources, dashboards and reports were tied to the right opportunity stages. Without this piece, our sales team would have experienced a lot more friction and frustration during the roll-out.
  4. Our Director of Marketing connected the new sales processes to activities that are supported further up the funnel and ensured that customer account data flowed across these functional areas smoothly. This ensured that our vital sales pipeline was healthy and functional from end to end.

Save system admins from a support backlog by creating a buddy system

Our CIO created a buddy system that paired new Salesforce users with someone in a leadership role who had a deeper knowledge of the system. When we got through user acceptance testing and training, any user who had a question or needed help had to go to their buddy before involving the system admin. This enabled leadership to show their commitment to the process and, most importantly, prevented our system admin from becoming overwhelmed in those first, crucial few weeks.

Six months in, we have no regrets about remote technology implementation.

Despite the challenges and an accelerated timeline, the go-live date in mid-May 2020 was a success. The new system touches about 20 people at Edmunds GovTech, including marketers, SDRs, salespeople, account managers and product evangelists. It has also since been rolled out to a number of others across the company for various other purposes. The day of the launch, everyone gave each other a virtual high-five. But the next day, they were already making tweaks and improvements based on what we’d learned so far. In terms of success metrics, September was our fiscal year end and we hit or beat all sales and financial metrics despite the impact of COVID-19 and the transition to a new technology stack.

“In fact, moving a major technology implementation forward with a remote team might even have been an advantage.”

The experience strengthened us as a team on a cultural level, and the new technology has set us free operationally. We can now focus on the top of the funnel, keep the pipeline engaged and get all the benefits of better tracking and lead management. And with a sales process defined and driven by technology, people have a clearer sense of focus, responsibility and how to handshake with others internally. Having that clarity baked into our cloud systems has been especially valuable in supporting cohesion in a remote work environment.

While this transformation enhanced our stability, it also enabled us to be far more agile, and that, too, has helped us to navigate the impact of the pandemic. With Salesforce and Pardot, we were able to pivot from a planned hard mailing campaign to highly segmented email communications and virtual events, and then pivot back to direct mail again as some of our clients returned to their offices. We know that whatever the future holds, we have the infrastructure to respond rapidly and decisively, and that’s invaluable during a crisis.

Implementing Salesforce during COVID-19 brought unexpected wins

Although it seems counter-intuitive, we think going through a major technology implementation during the pandemic was actually advantageous in some ways. It gave us something to rally around right when we needed it most, and something to focus on at a time when some team members had a little downtime. It also gave us a reason to come together more frequently: in addition to our regular pipeline-focused stand-ups, we held additional stand-ups to collaborate on the implementation.

Going through this process as a fully remote team also leveled the playing field and accelerated the process of strengthening the team culture after the recent acquisitions. Instead of being “headquarters” vs. regional offices, everyone was part of a single remote team that was going through change together, including the challenge of learning a new sales lingo and new sales processes.

“There’s never a perfect time for a major technology implementation, and high-growth companies don’t have time to lose.”

Here’s the bottom line.

There’s never a perfect time for a major technology implementation, and high-growth companies don’t have time to lose. Based on our experience, we recommend finding creative ways to work around the obstacles and just going for it. Be honest about the impact the implementation will have on your processes and culture as well as your tech stack. Focus on launching a minimum viable product and then iterate from there. And make sure you have the right people in key roles such as data management, business-process mapping and cross-functional integration. If you cover these bases, a remote launch won’t hold you back—and it might even move you forward faster.