For 2015, the NFP Partners’ team set an objective to move the majority of our business applications and data to the “cloud.” A big component is our CRM (Customer Relationship Management) application, which is currently “ACT! for Windows.” The application has served us well but it is old technology and slow in adapting. Specifically, it requires having a SQL Server on your personal computer or workstation, which takes up computing resources and prone to slowdowns and lockups. Integration with MS Office applications remains less that smooth and synchronization of contact information with smart phones or tablets is challenging.
We are taking a serious look at Salesforce, the big cloud-based app that purports to do everything required in managing your business relationships. There are others out there, but interestingly enough Salesforce was the only company that responded after we posted an expression of need with a third-party listing service. Our initial concern was scalability and price as we are a very small business with five employees. The judgment on scalability is still out but the price is manageable. The beginner ‘Group’ edition on a subscription basis starts at $300 per user per year, actually about the same as annual maintenance and support for ACT!, and it doesn’t require on-premises hardware and software, just a browser.
As providers of accounting technology (Abila MIP Fund Accounting and fundraising products) and outsourced accounting services to nonprofit organizations, Salesforce frequently comes up in our conversation with clients and prospects. Nonprofit organizations can receive a free license for the software but still have to customize and implement it. Knowing something about the processes involved from our own experience will also make us better will make us better consultants.
A 30-day Trial
We are in a 30-day trial period to learn as much as we can about the application and determine if it’s a good solution for our needs. It is something to get you head around in that short amount of time so we are concentrating on the basics initially, realizing that it is vast and deep in functionality. You get a working tool-set pretty much out of the box, but you further extend and customize records and fields to meet your organization’s unique needs. A good initial exercise was to import a subset of potential leads from ACT! This required adding custom fields and validation tables to Salesforce. The import itself was challenging due to very stringent field-to-field-mapping rules and built-in error checking. After some time and effort the import worked and the results were impressive.
The next test will be to learn and test the email functionality within the application and its integration with MS Outlook. We want the ability to slice and dice data based on the needs of our various constituencies and deliver a message effortlessly while staying legal with respect to spam laws.
So, we are eating the elephant one bite at a time. Our initial experience has been positive despite the steep learning curve. In subsequent posts, I will relate our discoveries and experiences as we move along toward implementation.