I was given a Rolls Royce, but couldn't afford to start the engine. Recollections on my failed SalesForce implementation.

2018-03-23 11:53
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I admit it. I tried to implement Salesforce. I was just starting Chase the Music and I had big goals. I’d used CiviCRM for a very small community foundation and it had worked great. But, Chase the Music was going to be big. We needed a Rolls Royce to support some very big and important goals. I researched and found that SalesForce was the Rolls Royce of CRMs. The biggest and best of the worlds organizations were using it. When I read that I could get a 10 passenger Rolls (err 10 licenses for SalesForce) for free I thought WOW. I knew that later I’d have to pay, but for now 10 licenses would last a long time. So, I applied.

The fact that I had to apply probably should have been my first warning sign.

It took awhile, but the then the big day came and I was approved! They accepted me. This was right up there with getting my letter from the IRS for our 501(c)3! I was one of them. Crap, now on reflection – I didn’t want to be one of them, I wanted to be me. I didn’t want my organization to look like them – I wanted it to look like what I wanted it to be. But SalesForce had other ideas for me… But, I was young and naive so I followed…


Let’s get started…

I started by importing data that I had. I quickly realized there were things that hadn’t been in even that simple CiviCRM implementation I’d done few years earlier. SalesForce had no understanding of a household. It wouldn’t let me change words for things. It wouldn’t let me create constructs that made sense for my business. They were helpful in pointing me to documentation that told how to work-around limitations. Most of that was suggestions like ‘pretend that households are businesses, and that the members of the household are employees of the business’. Umm, ok… But, unlike CiviCRM – I wasn’t allowed to change the words, I just had to pretend. Ok this’ll work when it’s just me, but when my organization gets bigger – how’s this going to work?

My Org, My App!

So, with basic information uploaded, and an acceptance of making compromises I jumped in hard-core. It was time to make this My App to run My Organization! I wanted to build some structures with custom data. Things for me – custom organizations and individuals. I needed to know in a venue – how many seats, how many wheelchair accessible seats, stage size etc. For bands – what genre and skill level. And for musicians - instruments, proficiency, membership in which bands… Lot’s of important data and relationships that I needed my CRM to help me with.

So, I jumped in. I read, I searched, I played. I couldn’t make it work. So… I decided to reach out to those nice people who had given me the free software and ask them how to make this tool work for me. Everyone I spoke with was very nice, but they weren’t the right person to help. I was forwarded around the corporation until finally I reached someone, who agreed to spend a few minutes with me, even though I didn’t have a support contract. (The free licenses didn’t include any support, at least not until you paid for a support contract). I explained in high level terms what I was trying to do. They explained that what I wanted wasn’t possible ‘out of the box’ and that I’d need someone to customize SalesForce for me. I explained that while I’m not a programmer, I’m mildly technical – that I could do a lot of things myself. “No. No, it’s much too complex. The ONLY way to do this is to have a consultant.” And they then re-iterated that I should probably get a support contract for that, so that the next time I called, they could be more helpful. (More helpful!&$#!!! – all they said was ‘our product doesn’t do that, you can’t make it do that, hire someone’). When I asked about the customizations that I’d described, and what range of pricing that was in in – they stated – well, with a solid understanding of your business – (I was just starting up – there was no SOLID anything!) - they’d lock down a spec and provide me a quote. I pushed, well, for a really well meaning small non-profit, with no assets – how much? “They’d probably be able to do it for somewhere between 20 and 50 THOUSAND DOLLARS (my emphasis). They promised to send me a list of local consultants, and we hung up. The list never came.

I needed flexibility! I was smart. I should be able to figure this out.

While waiting for my list of consultants (who in my head I’d been planning on ‘selling my mission’ to – so that they’d just want to help without charging me). I kept trying. Nothing worked, and the frustration with this for-profit software being pushed on non-profit entities was getting really me down, and getting in the way of my mission. Nothing seemed to make sense for how non-profits run their business – it was all about for-profit entities. (Well, to be fair the name was changed to have non-profit edition in it, but other than that…)


I gave up

So, with a Rolls in the garage that I couldn’t afford to start, and having wasted more than 3 months and innumerable hours , I jumped back into my CiviCRM implementation. Starting from scratch, I was able to get all my customizations done myself. (No code, just out of the box configuration settings). It took me a couple of weeks to import, create those structures for venues, bands, musicians and many more and get to (my) business and start using it. It’s not perfect, and it’s still evolving – just like my organization is. The Rolls sits in the garage, I still get emails from SalesForce. Funny thing is – I don’t think they know I’m gone, or they don’t care… For a company ‘focused’ on customer relationships… they aren’t.


Free lunch

In the CiviCRM community, we talk about no free lunch. Or free like in puppies/kittens but not like in beer. We’re pretty up front about it and try to educate folks on where the costs are. In the SalesForce world – it was pretty obtuse. I still have no idea how much licenses would be. What level would I need? Google says 25-300/month/user. Wow! that’s a lot for number 11. What if I had 100 licenses I needed to buy – I’d guess that’s 30,000-360.000 / year! That’s a lot of money taken from my mission – to support theirs!

And… that’s licenses, not support and consulting fees!


Support your CRM

Your CRM should support your mission, and in return you should support your CRM.

How? – Well, as founder and ED - I’m still unpaid. One of the beautiful things of the CiviCRM community is that I have as much a say as anyone. I haven’t been able to give code back, I’m not an English major, so haven’t helped with documentation. I have done a couple of presentations to others evaluating and looking at the move from Excel to CRM. I talk up CiviCRM whenever I get a chance, attend CiviCon/CiviCamp events and share the joy! I am committed to making my organization an international powerhouse and to contributing in other ways to the CiviCRM community in much bigger ways. But, for now, it’s nice knowing that I’m truly welcome and respected, just for being me.



And, this didn’t fit in the outline, but it’s important - so, where’s my data?

With SalesForce I had no options. It’s in their cloud, on their servers, tied to their systems. To move it would be difficult and expensive. They like that. It ensures that once you’ve started – you’re stuck there.

With CiviCRM – worst case the whole project implodes. My hosting provider shuts down. The Core team gives up and opens up a dive shop in the Caymans. Cats and dogs living together. For me – simple – I simply take my toys (data) and go somewhere else. I can take my CiviCRM and put it on ANY hosting, even my own. I don’t need anyone else. Others provide value, and I enjoy that, but I’m not locked into them. I could run CiviCRM for a long time all by myself. Not an option – when SalesForce sells out – I have to live by what ever they tell me. If they say – you have 30 days to migrate – then we’re shutting down. - I’d have to do that. They have the power, they have MY data!

Hosted CRMs may seem wonderful (they do look awful flashy don’t they? Big marketing budgets will do that). But, what happens when they find out that their business isn’t working any more. They sell out, they change their licensing, the close down. All those are very probable outcomes in the fast changing corporate world and you could be stuck. With CiviCRM – I’m just going to take my toys (data) and go somewhere else! I have a 100 year strategic plan for my business, and it’s not betting on them.

For fun – let’s compare vision & missions:

Searching for “SalesForce Corporate Vision” – it was on their sustainability page. All about moving towards 100% renewable energy. (They didn’t say where they were, or how soon they’d get there). Searching the SalesForce website – I couldn’t find a mission. Apparently others can’t find it either. The closest I found was in their forums. Funny that in 6 years no one in the bureaucracy has had the gumption to step up and address this. (Here's the source - I'll copy/paste the text here so you don't have to navigate...

What is the mission statement of salesforce.com?
Sell more licenses



Two years after the original post -this came up...

Has anyone answered this seriously?  For all the talk about this in Forbe's interview with the big guy, I can not find it on the website.
  • August 27, 2014

This is on the SaleForce website! And, searching today in 2018 - still nothing!



For CiviCRM – it was also an interesting search. For the CiviCRM mission - there was a proposal from the core team, a lot of discussion, and evolving language. The vision:
That all organizations – regardless of their size, budget, or focus – have access to an amazing CRM to engage their contacts and achieve their missions; that they own their data and their code; and that they can modify and extend their CRM without restriction.

I like that. Not only the words, but the process and the transparency. It’s reflective of the CiviCRM community. We all have a say in what we want CiviCRM to look like. It’s not about balancing quarterly stock-holder reviews, bug fixes, feature requests from the biggest noisemakers, employee satisfaction, partner relationships etc. Getting all that into a mission is probably too tough for SalesForce. Each of us taking care of the others, and of our respective individual missions – that’s what CiviCRM is all about.


CiviCRM may not be perfect, but it’s mine. I own it. For me, and my organization, based on a lot of mistakes, and several years of experience – I have an amazing tool to engage my contacts and achieve my mission. I own my data. As I see it, it works, because CiviCRM is in alignment with my mission. Can you say the same about any other CRM?


Hallelujah – I found the light!

I realize that by posting here, I’m pretty much preaching to the choir. But someday, a weary, lost soul, with a great mission, may wander through. Hopefully, this can provide them with a little CRM salvation and insight.


Shameless Plug:

Chase the Music gives children battling critical conditions hope, strength and joy. We do this with original music – composed and performed just for them. Visit us at http://chasethemusic.org or email me at clark@chasethemusic.org or even better use that old telephone thingy… 303.859.3321. If you’ve read this far… may you always - Chase the Music!

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Great article! Thanks for sharing your story.

Clark, this is exactly the kind of comparisons would-be CiviCRM users are looking for. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience. I would love to reach out and learn more about your experience.