Building Automations That Work with Sarah Pilzer

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On this episode of the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we’ve got Sarah Pilzer, Director of Operations at Country Dance and Song Society and Golden Hoodie winner. She tells us how she uses automation to serve her users.

Join us as we talk about why it’s always best to start with standard functionality, how to borrow from what people have already built, and how she checks in with users to make sure she’s building what they need.

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Sarah Pilzer.

How Sarah puts Salesforce to work for her organization.

As Director of Operations at the Country Dance and Song Society in Massachusetts, Sarah is in charge of all office procedures, including running their Salesforce instance. “I am the in-house Admin, as well as doing all of the building and architecting necessary to create the systems we need,” she says.

Sarah’s organization uses Salesforce in a bunch of different ways depending on the department (sound familiar?), including registration and staffing for their arts education classes and fundraising. Making that work involves a mix of using what’s already in the Nonprofit Success Pack and building some custom solutions.

When to use standard vs. custom functionality.

To figure out what will work best, Sarah recommends sitting down with your users to find out what they do now and how it’ll best translate to Salesforce. “I try to start with an out-of-the-box feature if that’s possible,” she says, “if it’s already built, we should take advantage of that. We can save our time to work on other issues at the nonprofit like our mission and vision and really get to the programming if we’re not spending all of our time building tools.”

Sometimes that means trying a standard feature and seeing what the limitations are. For their program registrations, they started out using campaigns to track who was in which program but ran into some limitations when they also wanted to track donations. In the end, Sarah ended up building out a custom camp program object that fit their needs better. “My advice would be to start standard if you can, and if you find that’s not fitting your needs you can go custom,” she says.

Verify that automation helps your users.

One thing that helps Sarah help her team is leaning on the automations already built into Salesforce. Flows are a big part of that, including Screen Flows that walk her users through the automation. For the camp registration example, they have a Screen Flow that they expose to external users to create a self-service feature. This frees up time on the backend as they previously had to rely on paper forms that would be manually entered into the system.

“I think it’s really important that the automation works for who’s using it,” Sarah says, “so if I’m going to build out automation, I need to talk to the end-users first and make sure that what I’m building isn’t going to make their lives harder.” That’s a combination of conversations with her internal people, and beta testing on forms that go out to the community before they go live. Sarah isn’t afraid to call a quick twenty or thirty-minute meeting to make sure she understands what her users want, and she’s established an internal Salesforce user group to check in every month.

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Full Show Transcript

Gillian Bruce:
Welcome to the Salesforce Admins Podcast, where we talk about product, community and careers to help you be an awesome admin. I’m Gillian Bruce. And today we are talking to Golden Hoodie winner, Sarah Pilzer. Sarah is the Director of Operations at Country Dance and Song Society, Incorporated. She is based in Massachusetts and she’s got some great advice to share with us all about how to best use automation to serve your users. Really thinking about how you can harness the power of automation to make sure you’re making your end user’s lives easier, not harder. So without further ado, let’s get Sarah on the podcast.

Gillian Bruce:
Sarah, welcome to the podcast.

Sarah Pilzer:
Hi, Gillian. Great to be here.

Gillian Bruce:
I so appreciate you taking the time to chat with me today. I wanted to get you on the podcast for many, many reasons, but to introduce you a little bit to maybe some of our listeners who aren’t already familiar with you, Sarah, give us a little background of what you do with Salesforce.

Sarah Pilzer:
Sure. I am the Director of Operations at a arts nonprofit called the Country Dance and Song Society. And what that means is I’m responsible for the office procedures, including running our Salesforce instance. So I am the in-house admin, as well as doing all of the building and architecting that we need to create the systems we need.

Gillian Bruce:
Okay. So very easy job, not a huge scope, right?

Sarah Pilzer:
Yeah. Yeah.

Gillian Bruce:
All right. So you wear a lot of hats. I would love to hear a little bit from you about how you approach that because A, what a cool organization that you work for. It’s very rare that we get to talk to admins who work at fun arts orgs. So I would love to hear a little bit about how you use Salesforce in your organization and how you use it.

Sarah Pilzer:
Totally. We use it for different purposes, depending on the department. We have many nonprofits, we have a programs side of what we do and a development side of what we do. So we’re using Salesforce on both of those. On the program side, we run music and dance camps for adults and families. And so all of the registration for that, all of the information about who’s on staff, all of that is kept track of in Salesforce. We built out a whole custom system using custom objects, as well as a Salesforce community to manage all of that.

Sarah Pilzer:
And then we have the development side, which is sort of your more traditional nonprofit use of Salesforce, where we’re tracking incoming donations, grants, that kind of thing. And we take advantage of a lot of the built-in features of the Nonprofit Success Pack to do that development work.

Gillian Bruce:
Okay. So let’s talk about the Nonprofit Success Pack and how you decide which parts of it to use and which parts to build on your own, so to speak, based on the needs of your organization. Because I know, I mean, what you talked about, the use cases for your organization are very specific to what you all do, but then there are some things that are common across all nonprofits, right? I mean, you said things like the development piece of it, right? So can you talk to me a little bit about how you decide what things to use that are out-of-the-box with Nonprofit Success Pack and then how do you decide to build things custom?

Sarah Pilzer:
That’s a great question. Usually the first thing I do is meet with the folks who are going to be using that feature. So maybe it’s the director of development or the director of programs, or it’s the database entry person. And I talk to them about what are they doing now to keep track of that information? And then I sort of start translating that from whatever system they’re using now, whether it’s a spreadsheet or an old database system, translating that into how it might work in Salesforce. And in particular, I try to start with an out-of-the-box feature, if that’s possible, since a lot of the time there’s been…

Sarah Pilzer:
I know the Nonprofit Success Pack is sort of an open source project. There’s a lot of people working really hard to build features in there. And if it’s already built, we should take advantage of that. We can save our time to work on other issues at the nonprofit, like our mission and vision, and really get to the programming if we’re not spending all of our time building tools.

Sarah Pilzer:
That said, sometimes what you have won’t fit your needs exactly. I can think of an example for that. We started off for our program registrations using campaigns to keep track of who was registered for which program, but we found down the line that there were some limitations with that. Especially once we started using campaigns for donor management as well, there was some conflicts happening and we needed a more customized solution for our camps programs. So we built out a custom camp program object that has some of the same features of campaigns, but is a little bit more flexible in terms of child objects that we can have roll up to that and that kind of thing.

Sarah Pilzer:
So I think my advice would be start standard if you can. And then if you find that that’s not fitting your needs, you can then go custom.

Gillian Bruce:
And I think one of the things I heard you say was, even the custom solution that you built was inspired by the existing campaign structure. Right?

Sarah Pilzer:
Yep.

Gillian Bruce:
So I think that I really liked how you described, “Hey, try the existing stuff first because yes, there are tons of things that many smart people have built in there,” but the process of you figuring out that maybe, “Hey, that pre-built thing doesn’t quite capture all the things that we need, but I can use these pieces of it to inform the custom solution that I built,” I think that’s a really valuable thing to think about.

Sarah Pilzer:
Yeah, absolutely. So much of what I have learned as a Salesforce admin has been by looking at what other people have done and modeling my work after that. So I’m like, “Oh, that’s a really cool idea. I’m going to take that piece from this object.” And, “Oh, I really like how opportunities function in this way. I’m going to take that piece and I’m going to combine them in my custom object.”

Gillian Bruce:
You’re like building your own Salesforce Frankenstein, right?

Sarah Pilzer:
Yeah. I like to think of it as bespoke.

Gillian Bruce:
Okay. You have a much more elegant way of thinking about it. I’m still at Halloween mode in my head.

Sarah Pilzer:
Yeah.

Gillian Bruce:
So Sarah, you do a lot with Salesforce for your organization and you’ve got a lot of moving pieces. I sense that you use quite a fair amount of automation. Can you talk to us a little bit about some of the automation tools and features that you use and how you have figured out the best way to put those to use, to help make your life easier?

Sarah Pilzer:
Yeah. We have a bunch of different kinds of automation, most of which is Flow. But in that we have flows that are auto-launched when something happens or we use a bunch of screen flows as well to help walk users through the automation.

Sarah Pilzer:
So for example, going back to our camp registrations, when somebody registers for camp, we have a form on our community that sends data to Salesforce and automatically creates the camp registration object. From there, there’s a Screen Flow that we can actually expose to external users to walk through it. And it asks them, “Who else is coming on your registration? What are your preferences?” That automation then creates the subsequent child objects.

Sarah Pilzer:
So in a lot of ways we’ve been able to do like a self-service for our participants that frees up time on the backend since we don’t… We used to have paper forms that a staff person would have to sit down and enter all that information. Now that’s getting generated based on their answers to this Screen Flow.

Gillian Bruce:
That is awesome. I love any story that you can remove a physical piece of paper from the [crosstalk 00:09:07].

Sarah Pilzer:
Yeah. Yeah. And then in addition to that, we have a whole bunch of record changes that need to happen. Let’s say you fill out this registration and you have three people coming. We want to update the name of that registration so we know how many people are coming. So when you first registered, we didn’t know you were bringing three people, it just had one name. When you’re bringing more people, it can update the name to say exactly how many people are coming. So, that kind of thing.

Gillian Bruce:
That’s great. I mean, it’s a very real vision of how that helps deliver value and make your whole organization become more efficient because I just imagine the time it takes for someone to fill out a physical form, get it physically to the person who then needs to enter the data in the backend and then do all of those subsequent actions. And you’ve been able to automate that all with Salesforce, which is pretty awesome.

Sarah Pilzer:
Yeah. I think it’s really important though, that the automation works for who’s using it. So one of the things I always make sure to do is if I’m going to build out automation, I need to talk to the end users first and make sure that what I’m building, isn’t going to make their lives harder. Right? So, that takes a lot of meetings. It takes a lot of going back and forth of like, okay, I’ve created this automation. Let’s take a look at what it does. Is that what you expected it to do? If not, let’s go back and tweak it.

Gillian Bruce:
So when you talk about end users, are you talking about your actual clients out in the community that are registering for these camps and these classes?

Sarah Pilzer:
A little bit that, more our internal staff members. So I guess it’s like internal-external. There’s many layers. Right? As an admin, I think of myself as the back-back end, like I’m in set up all the time. And then we have our end users who are my internal staff folks who are sort of working in that middle layer. And then we do have our external users who are at the community layer outside of that. So it is important though that we’ve done sort of testing in the community as well. So beta testing of our forms. We do want to get feedback on that before we go live. We have about usually, a couple thousand folks registering for these camps. And so you want to make sure that everything works smoothly before you put that out there to them.

Gillian Bruce:
Yeah. So talk to me a little bit more about making sure the automation works for the end users. You talked about the idea of beta testing with external and actually sitting down with your internal end users and asking them how they do X, Y, and Z. Is there a formalized process that you have for that? Is it like, hey, every time you want to do something different, you check in with a couple people or do you have established, every couple of months we do this process? Can you help me understand a little bit better about how you manage that?

Sarah Pilzer:
Sure. When we were first designing the systems, we had really regular weekly meetings. And sometimes more than that. I would call a meeting if I was working on a new feature and I had a question, I would just quickly call a meeting. Maybe it only took 20, 30 minutes, but I’d asked my questions, get feedback, and then go back and start working on it again. Now that our system’s a little bit more built out, it’s less frequent meetings, but I did establish an internal Salesforce user group basically, so that we try to meet once a month to discuss anything that’s going on. Any issues people are having with the existing automation, any tools that they wish they had, that they don’t have.

Sarah Pilzer:
And to support that I also built out an internal case system that I use for myself using the Standard Case Object that helps me keep track of, okay, I’ve gathered these requirements. I can put those in as a comment on the case, for example, and then go back. And when I’m meeting, when I’m having those meetings with folks, we can look at the case together and say, “Okay, we checked this piece off. We checked that piece off. Give me notes on how that’s working for you.”

Gillian Bruce:
I love that. You are your own end user.

Sarah Pilzer:
Yeah. Oh, absolutely. I’m not only an admin. I’m also an end user.

Gillian Bruce:
You are all the things, Sarah.

Sarah Pilzer:
Yeah.

Gillian Bruce:
All the things. Okay. So you have this internal user group that you’ve created, which is awesome. How do you identify who is part of that and how do you engage them and keep them wanting to participate?

Sarah Pilzer:
Yeah, that’s a super good question. We have a small staff. We have, I think, 12 folks on our staff, all of whom have Salesforce licenses, but not all of them use Salesforce regularly. So for me, it’s really looking at who are the folks who are entering data on a regular basis? Those people I want to have in this group. And then who are the folks who are making decisions about processes, about procedures, about policy? I want to have those people in the group too, because they’re the ones setting the bigger picture. And then the folks who are doing the everyday entry need to be involved because they’re the ones using the system.

Sarah Pilzer:
And in our case, a lot of times there’s overlap between those two groups. Like I said, I’m both an admin, so I’m a decision-maker on that side, but I’m also an end user in that I can enter data as well. In some, I think organizations there’s a bigger divide, especially as you get to larger organizations, but for us, it’s pretty fluid.

Gillian Bruce:
So I think that’s really, it’s an interesting point because you do have a relatively smaller sites organization, which means you all have to work together on a lot of things and everyone wears a lot of hats.

Sarah Pilzer:
Yeah.

Gillian Bruce:
I think perhaps maybe the incentive is a little clearer there because they really understand how this impacts how the organization functions and how you’re better able to serve the community. Right? So I think that’s really great. And I do. When you get to a larger organization, that might get to be a little bit of a challenge because everything is so siloed and separate.

Sarah Pilzer:
Yeah. You might need to have multiple internal user groups, right? One for decision-makers, one for data entry or do it by department. It really depends on how your organization is set up.

Gillian Bruce:
Yeah. That’s great. So I would love to know, Sarah, you’ve described some really great things that you’ve built to help manage, like the camp registration process, your own case management process. Is there one specific thing that you’ve built or thing you’ve implemented that just brings you joy and made you super proud?

Sarah Pilzer:
Yeah. On one hand, it’s tiny, and on the other hand, it’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done, which is I built a flow that you can input a record ID and it’ll open up that record. And that sounds really simple, but what’s cool about it is I’ve put it on the utility bar and this helps me every day because as an admin, if I’m doing any troubleshooting or working on errors, a lot of times all I’ll have is an ID and I won’t know what record I’m looking at. So I can just take that ID, paste it into my flow and bam, it opens up the record, no matter what type of object it is. And it’s so small, but God, it brings me joy.

Gillian Bruce:
I love that. I think that’s so great because it is, it’s simple but so handy. And putting it in the utility bar, I mean, I think the utility bar is one of the most underutilized great tools that we have.

Sarah Pilzer:
Absolutely.

Gillian Bruce:
That’s great. I hope that people listening are going to take a tip from that and they’re probably all going to be like, “Wait, Sarah, can you actually write out how you did that because I want to do that too.” So be prepared to get hit up on the social media today as people are listening to this podcast.

Sarah Pilzer:
Yeah. I actually did a presentation on that very thing for Northeast Dreamin’. So I think that recording is out there if you want to have a follow-along at home.

Gillian Bruce:
Perfect. We will definitely include that in the show notes so everyone can access it.

Sarah Pilzer:
Yeah.

Gillian Bruce:
Well, Sarah, I so appreciate your time today and I just, I love all of the cool innovations that you’re bringing to your community through your organization and definitely appreciate the advice that you’ve been sharing with us today on the podcast.

Sarah Pilzer:
Yeah, my pleasure. I’m a huge podcast fan. So it’s a thrill to be here.

Gillian Bruce:
Well, I mean, that just always makes me happy. So, that’s great. Thank you for listening. Any last little tips or pieces of advice you want to leave the awesome admin community as we wrap up?

Sarah Pilzer:
I’d just say get involved, ask questions. We didn’t talk that much about the Trailblazer community, but it’s been really important to me to have support from other admins since I’m the only one at my organization, talking to folks at other organizations has been vital for my learning. So get on Twitter, get on the Trailblazer community forums, connect with other folks.

Gillian Bruce:
Great advice. The community unlocks so many possibilities for admins, for developers, for anyone in the Salesforce ecosystem. And to your point, if you’re the only one at your organization, really in that role, it really helps connect with other people so you can commiserate, get ideas from each other, all the things, right?

Sarah Pilzer:
Yeah, absolutely.

Gillian Bruce:
Well, Sarah, thank you so much, again, really appreciate all the great work you’re doing and for sharing with the community.

Sarah Pilzer:
Yeah. Anytime.

Gillian Bruce:
Big thanks to Sarah for joining us on the podcast today. Really enjoyed chatting about all things automation and how to best serve your end users and learned some pretty fun things along the way. So for some of my takeaways with Sarah, number one, start with standard objects and standard functionality in Salesforce. And then if you learn that they don’t work exactly for your specific use case, don’t just build completely from scratch, borrow and get ideas from what other people have built and what the other standard objects and standard functionality are so that you aren’t starting from scratch. So I called it Frankenstein. Sarah had a much better word for it, a bespoke solution. So don’t be afraid to look at what other people have built and incorporate those ideas and those structures into what you are building as well.

Gillian Bruce:
Secondly, make sure what you build does not make your end users’ lives harder. So Sarah had some good tips for how to accomplish this and that included creating an internal Salesforce user group so that they can discuss issues and potential solutions together. And to make sure she had the right representation in that group, she wanted to make sure she included people who were actually entering data on a day-to-day basis and people who are making decisions about how the company is run, how the organization is structured. Having those two types of stakeholders involved in her Salesforce user group has really made it a lot easier for her to understand which functionality to build and how to make everything easier for end users, because as an admin, that’s our goal.

Gillian Bruce:
And then I really loved how she shared her joyful moment in Salesforce, which was using the amazing utility bar to put a flow she had built in there to look up a record by record ID. Now this may sound a little bit simple at face value, but if you dig into it, it’s so powerful. She says it saves her so much time every day. So if you want to learn more about that, I put a link to her presentation at Northeast Dreamin’ this year in the show notes. Make sure you watch it. It’s a great solution, a fun way to incorporate flow, to help make your life as an admin easier.

Gillian Bruce:
So with that, I want to thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. As always, you can find all things Awesome Admin at admin.salesforce.com for blogs, videos, and yes, even some more podcasts. Also, would love for you to connect with us on Twitter. We are @SalesforceAdmns, no I, and you can look at #AwesomeAdmin to keep up to date with all of the cool things happening in the Awesome Admin universe.

Gillian Bruce:
You can find me on Twitter @gilliankbruce. The other amazing host of this podcast is Mike Gerholdt. He’s @Mike Gerholdt. and our guest today, Sarah Pilzer is on Twitter @silzer. That’s S-P-I-L-Z-E-R. All the links, again, are in the show notes. With that, everybody, I want you to stay awesome and tune in for the next episode. We’ll catch you next time in the cloud.

 

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