Founding, and growing a Salesforce Consultancy is a very lucrative and rewarding experience. It’s also a logical step for Salesforce professionals that have that entrepreneurial itch, and want a low-risk way to start building their own business.
This is why I’ve written the “Secrets to Building a Salesforce Consultancy“. An eBook & Template Pack designed to fast track you to success through my learnings growing a consultancy to $2,500,00 in revenue in only 4 years.
To support the next generation of founders, I carried out a Live Q&A on YouTube a few weeks ago to answer some burning questions. This article is a write up of the Live Q&A, but you can watch it on YouTube below…
What skills are critical when starting up a Salesforce Consultancy?
There are a few skills I would regard as critical when starting a Salesforce Consultancy. Luckily most of these skills will be easily transferred from previous Admin, or Consultant jobs, but others may need to be learned as you go.
The founder of a Consultancy needs to be a good all-rounder, as at the start, you will most likely be the sales manager, pre-sales engineer, consultant, and project manager.
Technical Expertise – No surprises here, if you are trying to sell your time to clients at high hourly rates, you are going to have to know what you are talking about when it comes to Salesforce.
Communication Skills – A vital skill that any customer-facing professional needs to have is clear communication skills. This is vital when trying to sell projects, and when running them. If a customer of yours feels lost at any stage in the process with you, then it won’t provide them with the confidence that you’re the right partner for them.
Commercial Awareness – A skill that a lot of consultants might not have coming from non-sales backgrounds, but an absolutely critical skill when building a consultancy. You need to understand how to run a sales cycle in order to ensure you close deals, as well as understand the actual business benefits of your projects. Other skills such as how to negotiate, and how to apply a bit of pressure to get a customer to sign, all come into play here.
Industry Expertise – All Salesforce Consultancies are encouraged to specialise in an industry niche. This means that the greater experience you have working in a particular industry such as media, or financial services, the more you can specialise, and the more valuable you can be to the customers in that vertical. We will talk more about this later on…
When should you become a Registered Salesforce Partner?
This really depends on your ambitions with your Salesforce Consultancy. The most successful Salesforce partners will all have very close relationships with Salesforce, so if you are serious about founding and growing a consultancy, then you should look to become a partner ASAP.
Becoming a Salesforce Partner gives you access to the Salesforce Alliances team, that are incentivized to see you grow. They will support you with sales and marketing materials, as well as introduce you to Salesforce AE’s who can provide you with Leads.
There is a cost to becoming a partner, and a minimum certification requirement.
What should I name my Consultancy?
I’m a big fan of unique branding. I see a lot of Consultancies that have similar names, branding, and USP’s. They will either be called something CRM or something Cloud. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this, I think that your name, and your brand is your chance to have fun, be unique, and stand out from the rest of the crowd.
Half of the battle when it comes to marketing your Salesforce Consultancy is staying top of mind with the people that you speak to. Prospects might not have a project available for your right away, but if you impress, and you’re memorable, people will always come back.
What channels are the most effective in building up your first clients to create growth momentum?
Landing your first clients in any business can always be a challenge, if you have no previous customers to talk about, then you really have to work hard to get the prospect to trust you in delivering. Of course, if you are a competent Salesforce professional, and have X years of experience working with clients in other organisations, you should have no problems talking the talk and walking the walk.
A lot of Salesforce consultancies will get traction early on through the founders personal network. This might be an existing client you are already working with freelance, a company you have previously worked with, or maybe a friends company that is using Salesforce. These options give you the advantage of having already built trust.
In tandem with the above, LinkedIn is a fantastic channel to start engaging your first customers. It’s a great channel to reach out to people you already have a relationship with, as well as sending out cold messages to those that are in your network, or you target as suitable prospects.
As mentioned above, if you are serious about building and growing a consultancy, then it’s best to engage Salesforce as early as possible. Just because you become a Salesforce partner, does not entitle you to any Leads, but you can start learning how to use Salesforce as your biggest Lead source.
Lastly, start creating content. Content has been king for a long time, and will continue to be a fantastic channel for you to market your services. Whether this is on your companies blog, creating LinkedIn articles, or videos, you can really show off to prospective clients that you know what you are talking about.
Why is a niche so important, and how do you start getting traction?
A niche, industry, or vertical is a core part of founding your consultancy, this is something that I talk about a lot in Secrets to Building a Salesforce Consultancy.
A niche is important for a couple of reasons…
Firstly, you will provide a huge amount more value to your clients if you understand their industry inside out. Implementations for media companies Vs financial services companies will differ dramatically in terms of the solutions you can provide. If you were a customer evaluating different Salesforce Consultancies, would you rather use the one who works across all industries with no speciality? Or the one that knows your industry like the back of their hand.
Secondly, everything Salesforce does is now verticalized. This is primarily based around their sales teams, who will all hold a single, or multiple verticals in their patch. It’s very common for consultancies to align to teams, and therefore, verticals within Salesforce. If you are an expert in a certain industry, this is going to increase your chances of sourcing and closing deals with Salesforce.
If you don’t feel like you have a niche, don’t panic, vertical expertise can be built up quickly. I would recommend looking at the landscape of projects you have worked on previously, as you will most likely find that you do actually hold some specific industry expertise that will help you start aligning to Salesforce teams.
Vertical expertise does tend to matter a little bit less when you are just starting out, as basic salesforce implementations won’t tend to differ too much from industry to industry. But this is a great chance to start defining where you want to specialise in.
Remember, no one likes a jack of all trades, master of none.
What are some tips to start acquiring new clients?
The playbook is very similar for most people who are founding Salesforce consultancies, and there are common ways to increase your chances of winning those first deals.
Pricing – As overheads for new consultancies will be lower than established ones, then your pricing will most likely be cheaper. In my experience, average pricing for consultancies in the UK are around £1000/day, new consultancies will tend to charge around £600. This gives you an opportunity to beat the more established consultancies.
Give a little, get a lot – It’s common for more established consultancies to charge for any pre-sales work. For smaller consultancies that are getting traction, you might need to give a bit of your time away for free, to increase chances of winning the project. This can include free workshops, health checks, or demos.
Support Salesforce AE’s – When you start engaging with Salesforce AE’s, you will quickly learn that they don’t have a huge amount of technical resources in the form of Salesforce Solution Engineers. This can slow down Sales cycles if Salesforce AE’s can’t get someone internal to run a discovery, or perform a demo. This is where you can step in to support the deal. This will not only help you win deals, but builds fantastic relationships with Salesforce AE’s that will want to work with you again and again.
Name drop – One of the most powerful sales tools you have at your disposable, is the ability to reference successful customer stories in the sales cycle. Explaining what you can do for a prospect is great, but if you have references to back it up, then this makes your story more compelling. In the customers eyes, it also reduces the risk of working with you if you’ve done it before.
How do you establish a consistent lead source from Salesforce?
Now, this is the million-dollar question. I would say that most established consultancies that I’m familiar with get around 80-90% of their Leads directly from Salesforce, so this is an important point. The general process is that when a prospect is looking to buy Salesforce, or an existing customer is looking to buy a new product, Salesforce will introduce one, or a few, Salesforce consultancies to carry out the implementation work.
Just because you are a Salesforce partner, does not entitle you to any Leads from Salesforce, only the opportunity to network with people inside the organisation. The ability to establish a consistent lead source from Salesforce is mostly based around one topic, how likely are you to increase the chances of Salesforce winning that project. If you start working with a team inside of Salesforce, and word gets around that you are a fantastic partner to work with, the leads will continue to flow in. This is based on a few factors…
Pricing – Your pricing needs to be accurate for the deal and the customer you are working with. If the customer has a £20k budget for licenses, and you completely outprice the deal for what is needed, this has the potential to sour the deal.
Technical Expertise – Salesforce are relying on you as the technical implementation expert. As well as potentially doing demos yourself, Salesforce will often rely on the partner to answer the more technical questions. If you come across as someone who doesn’t really know what they are talking about, this could harm the deal.
Commercial Awareness – All Salesforce AE’s are roughly paid with 50% basic salary, and 50% commission. If you can increase the chances of winning the deal, you are literally putting money in their pockets. If you aren’t savvy when it comes to winning a deal, and are delaying it, or putting the customer off, you can safely say that an AE, or whole team won’t want to work with you again.
Lastly, you need to be an absolute pleasure to work with. You might be the best Salesforce consultant on the planet with all the above skills. But if you are not likeable, people probably won’t want to do business with you.
Salesforce Alliances is arguably one of the most important points, and I have a whole chapter dedicated to this in my book.
People & Culture
Should you perform recruiting efforts yourself or rely on recruiters?
A very important question in the world of Salesforce Consulting. Recruiting is often one of the hardest factors when it comes to scaling your consultancy. Hiring skilled professionals in any industry is notoriously hard, and it can be even more challenging in the world of Salesforce consulting
Firstly, unless you have a huge amount of cash, your strategy should never be to rely on recruiters. While they provide a very valuable service within the Salesforce ecosystem, they are expensive. You could be paying $15k-$20k in recruiting fee’s per hire.
Your strategy should be to create a company that people want to work for. This is easier said than done, as there is a lot of competition out there, and creating a great company culture is something that takes time and thought.
While I did use recruiters many times, we also did a lot of outreach ourselves. Although it’s a bit hard to dedicate time to anything when you are a busy consultant, spending an hour a week sending emails to candidates that look suitable on LinkedIn is a small price to pay compared to recruiting fees.
How do you determine when you need to hire additional employees?
If you’re just starting out and bootstrapping your own consultancy, then hiring additional employees needs to be carried out carefully. It’s basically a huge balancing act, you need enough in the pipeline to be sure you’re going to close some deals, and you need to ensure that the people you hire are nicely utilized so they are paying their way in the business.
Unfortunately, hiring can take months. Which makes it even more complicated to line up your Sales pipeline, with when you are looking for new hires to start.
Once you are confident of your ability to sell deals, and you have a regular lead source, with strong traction in a particular niche, then it will be time to scale your team.
A lot of consultancies will have flexible alternatives on hand in order to scale their team up and down on demand. This could include using contractors, or nearshore/offshore services. A lot of consultancies will also hire junior employees at the start of their journey, which can keep costs low, and also provide a great service to those starting their careers.
How can I make sure that employees stick around?
Another very important question to consider. You might think your consultancy is the bees knees, but you are competing with a lot of others out there. So the bottom line is your consultancy has to be a fantastic place to work.
This will include focussing on a few factors…
Culture – Of course one of the biggest factors is culture. This should be defined early on, and you need to be sure of the values, and the type of company culture you want to create. If you have no culture, employees will join a company that does.
Training – Most Salesforce professionals I’ve met are very ambitious. They want to learn, train, and progress their career as fast as possible. If you can expose them to interesting projects, mentor them, and provide internal or external training, then people are less likely to look elsewhere. This must be a core part of your business.
Benefits – Whilst benefits are important, culture and training should always be the priority. Have a look at what other companies offer so you can get an idea of the package you can create for your prospective employees. Small gestures such as providing an extra holiday for peoples birthdays goes a long way.
Compensation – No surprises here. You need to be paying people enough so their eyes don’t wander to other opportunities. It’s very common for employees to be paid way under their market value and will jump ship as soon as they can. Keep an eye out for what average salaries look like so you ensure employees are paid competitively.
When to position a Quick Start Vs Bespoke Implementation?
Quick Starts are a fantastic way to package up a Salesforce implementation into a pre-defined project. You could create a quick start for pretty much any Salesforce product, but commonly you will see them for Sales or Service Cloud & Pardot.
The tend to be offered by smaller consultancies, to the smallest Salesforce Salesforce customers sitting in the SMB (Small Medium Business) segment of the market. They will usually range from $5-10k in price, and cover off all the main aspects of these products. For example in a Sales Cloud Quick Start, you can expect Leads, Opps, Accounts to be setup, with some reports and dashboards added in for good measure.
Quick Starts are attractive for smaller customers, as they tend to be fixed price, and cheap. When a customers requirements start to deviate too far away from a standard, quick, implementation, then you probably shouldn’t position this as an option. When you start talking about integration, Apex, custom Lightning Components, or implementing for a larger user base than 10, then it’s best to position a bespoke implementation.
To get you started, my eBook & Template Pack includes a Sales & Service Cloud quick start Statement of Work.
Fixed Cost Vs Time & Material Billing
Fixed cost projects are a common ways for consultancies to start selling projects. It lowers the risk on the customer’s side as they understand the financial commitment upfront. It also helps you when selling alongside Salesforce, as quite often customers can get spooked at the idea of a project which doesn’t have a cost cap.
As seasoned Salesforce professionals will understand, projects will rarely stay within their allotted time. So if you are planning to run fixed cost projects, then it’s important to ensure your SoW’s are full to the brim of assumptions and limitations. This is to protect both you and your customer, so in the event of a disagreement, you can refer to the signed document of what was agreed.
As consultancies start selling bigger projects, fixed cost billing will be seldom used. Some consultancies might not offer fixed cost at all, as they completely understand that they are taking on a huge risk. It’s not uncommon to hear of a project go badly, and hours going 2 or 3 times over what was allocated, which causes it to become completely unprofitable.
In my opinion, fixed cost billing can be a great way to get started with smaller customers. But you have to be confident in your ability to scope.
Should I bill for all my time after a client has signed a proposal?
By definition, consultants are paid for the time they bill against a project. So if there was a rule of thumb, the answer would be yes, you should bill for all your time after a client has signed a proposal. Larger consultancies will stick to this rule relgiously.
When you are starting out and working with smaller clients, I think there is a bit of give and take. You will usually be working with smaller budgets, and a client that needs a bit more hand holding. You always need to be conscious of your bottom line, and how much time you are spending with a client, but billing for every phone call, email, or chat could set the wrong impression.
To ensure that expectations are set before the project kicks off, it’s best to explain to the client how your billing model works. If a customer needs more handholding than you have budgeted for, then it might require a phone call to explain that a bit more budget may be needed.
How should I support my clients after the project has closed?
Most consultancies will offer a “warranty” period. This gives the client confidence that they can use the system for a week or two, and be sure that any major bugs will be fixed. It’s important to set the precedent that this will only last for X weeks, and any requests out of this time period will need to be billed for. It’s unrealistic for you to keep making changes for an indefinite time period.
For maintenance support, it’s very common for consultancies to offer a support package, often referred to as managed services. This will tend to be a monthly, contracted service where the client gets X hours a month, over the course of several months. Some customers might be put off by a monthly contract, but it’s good practice to educate them on the value of constantly innovating on the platform. If the price is too much to justify, then you might want to look at them buying an allotment of X hours that can be used over a few months.
I hope this Q&A has been useful for those looking to start their own Salesforce Consultancy. This gives you a bit of flavour of what’s included within my eBook & Template Pack, Secrets to Building a Salesforce Consultancy.
“This is most important document I’ve read since specialising in Salesforce consultancy 6 years ago!”Mary Butlin, Tonica