Think like a Salesforce Business Analyst with Tiffany Thomas

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For this episode of the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we’re joined by Tiffany Thomas, Senior Salesforce Business Analyst at New York Life Insurance. We learn how getting your users to collaborate can have a huge impact on buy-in and adoption.

Join us as we talk about why active listening and good communication skills are the foundation of being an effective BA, how that’s changed with more remote users than ever before, and why it’s so important to remind your users that they are the experts on their own business processes.

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

SABWA? More like SABZA.

Tiffany always knew she had an interest in technology, but it wasn’t until she got a chance email from PepUp Tech that she got a chance to make those dreams a reality. “PepUp Tech is an amazing organization that inspires and empowers underrepresented people by teaching technology skills, such as Salesforce,” she says, “and also provides a strong network of support to help people launch a successful career in tech.”

These days, Tiffany is focused on a new challenge: migrating her org from Classic to Lightning. “We’re not just taking everything that was in our old house and bringing it to our new house,” she says. She’s in charge of meeting with all fourteen service teams to go over their business processes—especially in light of more people working remotely—and creating user stories around them. In other words, Tiffany does SABWA (Salesforce Administration By Walking Around) as a job, though these days it’s maybe more like SABZA (Salesforce Administration by Zooming Around).

Maintaining business relationships in a remote environment.

When Tiffany first started at New York Life, financial services was a new industry for her. That meant she had to really understand what her users are trying to do and what their workflows look like. Most importantly, she was able to ask why they do what they do, and understand what’s important and what’s not.

Prior to COVID-19, New York Life already had employees working from home, so Tiffany had experience helping those users through Salesforce. However, one thing that’s been different is not getting the chance to run into people and find out what’s on their mind. “For me, the most important thing was trying to maintain the relationships I’ve built with my users and letting them still feel like they’re playing a part because they are,” she says.

The two skills every BA needs.

Tiffany is a Business Analyst working in Salesforce, and she has a couple of tips for how to harness a little BA magic for yourself. “One of the most important skills that a business analyst can have is being an active listener,” she says, “listen to understand.” You might not know all of the business processes, but being able to hear what your users say and understand the Why behind it can go a long way.

The other key skill is effective communication. “Communicating back what you’re hearing will help when you’re trying to get buy-in,” Tiffany says. “I like to start each meeting reminding my users that they are the experts in that business process,” she says, which brings them into a collaboration with her on how to improve their workflow and, ultimately, helps drive adoption.

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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.

Mike Gerholdt:
And I’m Mike Gerholdt.

Gillian Bruce:
And today we are talking to Tiffany Thomas. She is a senior Salesforce business analyst at the New York Life Insurance Company in New York. And we had Tiffany hop on the pod to talk about how to think like a BA or a business analyst. It’s very helpful for admins. She had some great tips. And so without further ado, let’s welcome Tiffany to the podcast.

Gillian Bruce:
Tiffany, welcome to the podcast.

Tiffany Thomas:
Thank you so much for having me.

Gillian Bruce:
Well, I’m very happy you took the time to join us. I wanted to get you on the podcast to talk a little bit about the idea of being a business analyst and kind of what that means for being an admin. But before we get into that, can you give us kind of a brief overview of your journey to Salesforce?

Tiffany Thomas:
Yes. My journey to Salesforce actually started about three years ago. I was working full time in high education and I’ve always had an interest in technology. During the last year of my Master’s program, I joined some tech mailing lists just to do as much as I possibly can so I could break into this industry. A little while after, I received an email about this program that helps people start their careers in tech. And of course I applied immediately and that program was PepUp Tech. PepUp Tech is an amazing organization that inspires and empowers underrepresented people by teaching technology skills, such as Salesforce and also provides a strong network of support to how people launch a successful career in tech.

Tiffany Thomas:
I was accepted into the program in October 2018 and Selina Suarez, one of the founders was my instructor. I was in the program for about 10 weeks and over the course of those 10 weeks, I learned about the Salesforce platform, I built a recruiting app and really began networking with members in the community. And I learned this after the fact that the reason why I was even able to know about this PepUp Tech is because of a partnership that CUNY and PepUp Tech had. And that was spearheaded by a PepUp Tech alum, Shaquille Cameron. That’s how everything came to life with that. I’m like, oh my goodness. I didn’t know it until I actually heard his story on the podcast. I’m like, wow. It’s just really amazing, things that we can get from PepUp Tech and that an organization like PepUp Tech exists. That’s how I broke into Salesforce.

Gillian Bruce:
I love that Shaquille was one of the vehicles that led you to the Salesforce ecosystem. That’s pretty awesome. I didn’t know that.

Mike Gerholdt:
Yeah. I think it’s really cool also that there was more than one vehicle. I think, hearing that intro, Tiffany, I’m always struck by when you read on the community, everybody’s like, what’s the one thing you did? Well, it wasn’t one thing, it was multiple things and multiple introductions, which is kind of how the community blankets people, I guess I’ll say.

Gillian Bruce:
Right. Blanket is good, Mike, I like that.

Mike Gerholdt:
Well we’re heading into fall so it’s blanket season.

Gillian Bruce:
It is. Tiffany, tell me a little bit, so now, you’ve been introduced to the Salesforce ecosystem in a few ways, by some really amazing people and by amazing programs, what are you doing with Salesforce now?

Tiffany Thomas:
Oh, with Salesforce now, one of the biggest thing is working on the move to Lightning. We’re still in classic and right now I am meeting with the user. I work at New York Life. I’ve been at New York Life for about a year and I’m approaching my milestone, my year and a half milestone next month. That’s pretty exciting.

Gillian Bruce:
That’s awesome. Congrats.

Tiffany Thomas:
Thank you. Thank you. And, okay, so we’re moving into the new org and we’re not just taking everything that’s in our old house and bringing it into our new house. No. I’m actually responsible for meeting with the service users. There’s about 14 different service teams and I would meet with them, go over their business processes, see if anything has changed with the move from working in the office to now 99% remote and just trying to solidify those requirements, create user stories around them and working in concert with the development team to build out some of those requirements in an innovative fashion. That’s the biggest thing that takes up the majority of my time. That’s what I’m doing with Salesforce right now.

Mike Gerholdt:
You do like SABWA as a job?

Tiffany Thomas:
Yes.

Mike Gerholdt:
Salesforce administration by maybe, oh SABZA, Salesforce administration by Zooming around.

Tiffany Thomas:
Yes. Financial services is new to me. Stepping into insurance, specifically, everything was new. And one of the things that I did is I met with my users and just sat with them, show me how you do this. How do you process this transaction? Why are we doing it this way? What is the importance of this? And there was a lot of value in that, in that my team, the users were able to show me how they do their job. And more importantly, I was able to learn from them as well. And it just made for a really great, start off a great professional relationship. I started to build that with the different team members across the service department.

Mike Gerholdt:
Tiffany, I’m curious, was it more important for you to be in tech or more important for you to be in financial services? When you were choosing this as a career and as a path, I think sometimes people try to marry the two, but often one is more important. Which kind of weighed on you as you thought about taking this position?

Tiffany Thomas:
That is a great question. It was important for me to break into technology, but I also have a bachelor’s in finance so it was almost a perfect fit in a sense that yes, here come this bachelor’s degree in finance and this interest in technology and throughout my journey, I’ve actually been doing business analysis, even though I didn’t know it was called business analysis at the time, I was doing it. It just seemed, it was beautiful how it came together. It was a perfect fit. Now I’m a BA and I’m working in technology and financial services. I could pull on those different experiences to help me in my current role.

Gillian Bruce:
It’s amazing how, when you fall into these situations in life, where you get to use both kind of the areas of expertise and what you care about, it’s pretty amazing. Good for you, Tiffany. It’s really great. You did the work to get there. Like you said, you had your bachelor’s in finance and then, you’re really passionate about breaking into tech and kind of did all of the things that you needed to do to kind of open those doors and get there so go good for you. But it does, it takes work to kind of get those things aligned.

Gillian Bruce:
One of the things that you mentioned, Tiffany, on things that you’re using Salesforce for is adjusting to kind of this 99% remote life that all your users are doing. Can you talk a little bit about maybe some of the challenges that you’ve had to overcome to make that happen? It sounds like, as Mike said, you’re doing a lot of SABZA, Salesforce administration by Zooming around, and kind of figuring out what users need to get their jobs done with this kind of new environment. Can you talk maybe a little about a couple of the challenges that surprised you or that you’ve come across in kind of this transition?

Tiffany Thomas:
Sure. One of the good things I would say is prior to COVID, we actually had remote workers. We were using Skype and for users that were working remotely, I would meet with them via Skype to just see what their business processes were. The challenging or the part I had to get adjusted to was users that were in the office because I was headquartered in New York City and we had quite a few people that would work in the office and those random interactions that you would have with people just by seeing them, that is something that I had to adjust to in the now well, 99% remote environment and still building and maintaining those relationships that I have with the users. Now that they’re not seeing me day to day and seeing my face.

Tiffany Thomas:
With Zoom and Skype, yes, we could get on the camera and see each other and go over the business requirements or any new things that may have come up since we moved working remotely. And then of course, with the technology issues, sometimes they don’t always work. That’s always a challenge, but for me, what the most important thing was trying to maintain those relationships that I’ve had with the users and letting them still feel that they are playing a part because they truly are. I value what they have to say and their business processes and any areas that we can possibly improve on. Just making sure that they feel heard in that regard and maintaining those relationships. And we’re doing pretty well, given the circumstances.

Gillian Bruce:
That’s awesome. Yeah. I think, finding a way to maintain those relationships with technology exclusively is a challenge, but congrats to you on doing the work to make that happen. Now, one of the things that you said that I thought was really interesting is having your users feel like they’re a part of it. Can you tell me a little bit more about that? I know your role is kind of a business analyst and realizing that you’ve been doing this for a long, basically being a BA for a long time. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of having your users feel like they’re part of what you’re doing and how you accomplish that?

Tiffany Thomas:
Sure. In order to accomplish that, I think one of the most important skills that a business analyst could have is being an active listener, in that for me, I listen to understand. As I mentioned earlier, I was new to this industry and as a BA especially, you may not know all of that business’ processes, especially if it’s a brand new industry. You’re not going to know everything and just being able, so listen, so what those processes are and listen to really understand what it is and not necessarily to solve for the pain point right there, but listen enough to understand so you could then communicate that back to your users is helpful. And that’s another important skill, being an effective communicator. Now that you have an understanding of your users’ business processes, yes communicate back what you’re hearing and then that will help when I’m trying to get buy in. That’s what I found.

Tiffany Thomas:
And I would say things like, “Well, what I’m hearing is,” or, “this is my understanding of the process, please, correct me if I misstate anything or if what I’m stating is incorrect.” I give them that opportunity. And I like to start each meeting letting my users know that they are the experts because they truly are. They live and breathe this during their workday. They are the experts in that business process or those several business processes. And I say that because I believe it and I want them to feel a part of it. And I appreciate those type of environments where we’re coming together, understanding what the problem is and we’re working together on a solution.

Tiffany Thomas:
And what I found is that that helps with driving adoption, because here you have this subject matter expert who told you what the problem was, worked on the solution with you and now they’re going to train, let’s say their teammates on that new process. And it just, it’s been a really great experience so far and I think it’s important as we’re building out solutions for our users that we remember it’s for a user or for a group of users, for a human I like to say it and not just, oh, this is great for the system, but it’s your users that would have to use it on a day to day. Getting their buy in is important.

Mike Gerholdt:
Tiffany, I’d be curious to know, it sounds like your job was mostly in the office and somewhat remote and now, users are working from home. You’re most likely working from home. What adjustments have you made to be in the Zoom? I think I heard it on the news the other day, the Zoom culture that we live in, what adjustments have you made to show that you’re being an active listener and a good communicator? Because I find that there’s some fidelity loss in a webcam.

Tiffany Thomas:
True. For me, I nod, even while we’re here on this podcast. I nod to show that I’m listening because I am. I’m listening. And then there’s some moments where I may like put up a finger because wait, I have a question. Let’s pause right there. They still get to see, I would say, your personality. That human part of it, even though we’re in front of screen and we’re seeing each other on camera, so trying to keep some of the human elements to it, I find helpful. And then, now they have those, wave or raise your hand, but I actually raise my hand on the camera, if we’re on camera or if we’re not on camera, I will say, “Wait, wait, can we just pause here for a second? And let’s step back for a little bit.”

Tiffany Thomas:
But using language such as that, but when they’re seeing you on the camera, it does help break down some of that, I guess, barriers, if you will, that makes this in a remote environment. It’s not as, I guess, it’s not that it’s not user friendly, but it’s missing certain human elements, but we just adjust. It’s temporary. We don’t know how long, but we just adjust and we’re here for a reason and we’re going to solve it and work toward that solution.

Gillian Bruce:
I think, that whole idea of active listening and letting your users or whoever you’re talking with, we know that you’re engaged. I think it’s really important. I think those are some great tips for how to do that in a remote world. One of the other things that I heard you talk about was getting users to train and enable other users. Kind of creating those kind of those champions or those kind of mini evangelists within your organization. What are some of the ways that you’ve been able to do that? Because I know that’s kind of a secret to success, especially in this world, where it’s all about the relationships and you can’t have Zoom meetings with every single person in your company. How have you been successful in kind of creating those enablers or those implementers, kind of your super users, if you will?

Tiffany Thomas:
I think one of the benefit is this project that we’re working on with the new org. What I would do, I tell the team leads. There is a junior team lead and a senior team lead on this project that we’re working on. And I do let them know their importance, what the expectation is that I have of them, which is they will come to us with process improvement ideas, any problems that they have regarding the current state and any ideas for the future state. And I do let them know that they are the leaders of this. You will be leading this, you will be training people on it. And what I find is it gives people an opportunity to step into leadership in a sense because let’s say your primary job is a call center representative, for example. Now, you’re doing something that’s a little outside of your primary function, but it’s something that you want to do. You’ve expressed interest in it.

Tiffany Thomas:
What I do, I tap into that, I’m like, okay, well, here’s what we’re doing regarding this state. We’re in the initial state of the project. Right now we’re just solidifying the requirements and then building it out. And I let my users know that. The next stage is when we develop and after we’ve tested it, they too, the leaders that we have selected, will be part of that. I do let them know what’s coming and if they have any questions or concerns, I ask them. I answer whatever those concerns may be. And for the most part, the people are excited about this because we’re all in this remote environment. And well, how do I still show up? And how do I still lead when no one can’t see me? And I think that’s what we’re addressing here with giving the team leads this opportunity, because they’re going back to their teams and asking their teams, “Hey, this is what we’ve been thinking about. What other things have you thought about?” Everyone gets to input on that. And then the team leads will bring it back to my team and we’ll collaborate again with it.

Tiffany Thomas:
I think that that helps, building those relationships and making everyone feel included and getting your users to step into those leadership positions in a sense, or those leadership roles that they wouldn’t normally step into in a different environment or if they were just focusing on their day to day. Little projects like this helps. And if you have let’s say, multiple projects happening at the same time, maybe you could pull on a different user. Now you’re giving exposure to other people who’ve shown interest in learning more about technology or just even just stepping outside of their role. That would be my advice to get users to do it.

Gillian Bruce:
I like that, giving other people chances to shine and lead. I think that’s a really good way of framing it. And I like how you say you set the expectations at the outset. Of here’s what it’s going to mean of you and here are the opportunities it may provide for you and all that. I think that’s really great.

Gillian Bruce:
Tiffany, I’m wondering what tips do you have for admins who may be thinking a business analyst might be new to them. What are some things that you have that might help an admin kind of put on or learn about how to use a business analyst mindset?

Tiffany Thomas:
Oh, I’ll have to go back to listening. And it’s a little bit difficult because with the platform, so for example, if the user comments are saying, “I’m getting email notifications from this group, another group and the format is completely different or it doesn’t have the information that I need and I always have to go back or pull it up.” I think when we hear something like that, we’re automatically thinking, okay, this may be a use case for, let’s say an email template or an email alert. That can help standardize that process. But what’s really important here is we need to understand why is this a problem? It’s that why and I think that’s what’s really helpful. That’s what admins can tap into, as opposed to someone coming to us and saying, “Hey, well create this check box and create this field.” And we don’t understand the why or what is this checkbox? Or what is this field going to solve?

Tiffany Thomas:
By tapping into what is it going to solve will help us better understand the business process and what is it we are being asked to do as admin. I think we need to listen and ask them those questions why. Why are we doing this? But ask it in a nice way. and let them know you’re not trying to offend them, but it’s really, I’m trying to understand what we’re solving for here. What is the problem? Let’s step back. Let’s go back to the beginning. What is the problem? And why is this a problem? Because the way I tie it, I will make an analogy here. You wouldn’t want to go to a doctor and they just started prescribing you medication without first hearing what your problem is so don’t do that to your users.

Gillian Bruce:
That’s a great analogy. I love that. I love that. Tiffany, this has been so great. Thank you for sharing on the podcast. Thank you for the expertise that you bring and the real, tangible, tactical tips that you shared, I think are going to be very helpful about active listening, especially in a remote environment, how to empower your users to empower each other and lift each other up. I think that’s these are all really great. I really appreciate your time and sharing with us.

Tiffany Thomas:
Thank you so much, Gillian and Mike, I appreciate speaking to you both today.

Mike Gerholdt:
It was great speaking with you. And turn on your webcams. That’s what I learned. One of the things.

Tiffany Thomas:
Yes. And I would say one more thing here. If you want a webcam enabled meeting, let people know ahead of time, because I think there’s a lot of pressure every time people see Zoom, the expectation is they’re going to be on camera. But if you set it up in the offset, in your meeting invite, hey, I really want everyone to be on camera for this meeting, it gives them an opportunity to prepare, instead of you just forcing this on them when they’re in a meeting. Turn on your webcam. No, wait, I’m not ready yet. That’s one other, I guess, tip.

Gillian Bruce:
Hey, I appreciate that. Especially as a female who likes to brush my hair, maybe put on some lip gloss, that’s fair.

Tiffany Thomas:
I need to know what I’m getting into.

Gillian Bruce:
Excellent. Well, thank you again so much, Tiffany. I really appreciate it. And thanks for sharing all your expertise with our amazing admin community.

Tiffany Thomas:
Thank you so much you guys.

Mike Gerholdt:
It was great to meet with Tiffany and Gillian, thanks for setting that up. I loved the discussion that we had with her. Few things that stood out for me. One, Tiffany did a really great job of combining her education. She had a BA in finance with her new found tech career. And I think as I mentioned in the interview, that’s one of the things that I always get asked and Gillian, I’m sure you get asked as well is, how do we decide what industry we can go into because Salesforce works in most every industry. I like that she found the industry that she was both passionate and knowledgeable about, to combine her tech knowledge.

Mike Gerholdt:
And then the second thing, one of the keys to Tiffany success, as she mentioned, was being an active listener and being a good communicator and even more so in this era, the Zoom culture that we live in, where we have to do a lot of listening. And we also have to do a lot of active communicating. I think it might be a few more times that I’m going to start raising my hand on calls when I have questions to bring up because that’s a good way to get everybody’s attention.

Mike Gerholdt:
And the third thing that stood out and it’s something that we often forget because as Salesforce admins, we’re experts in our field, but remember, when we’re talking to our users, they’re really experts in the process that they’re helping to manage and that they’re helping to make better. As you be a good active listener, as you be a good communicator, this is one of those times when you can sit back and talk with them because this is the process that they work with and that they’re really trying to make better every single day, as are you.

Mike Gerholdt:
Now, if you want to learn more about all things Salesforce admin, go to admin.salesforce.com to find more resources. And as a reminder, if you pop on over to iTunes, please give us a review. Honestly, that helps the iTunes algorithm move the podcast up so that more admins can find this amazing podcast and hear all of the great stories like Tiffany Thomas. You can stay up to date with us on social for all things admins. We are @SalesforceAdmns, no I, on Twitter. You can find me on Twitter. I am @MikeGerholdt and of course Gillian is @GillianKBruce. With that, stay safe, stay awesome and stay tuned for the next episode. We’ll see you in the cloud.

Gillian Bruce:
Let’s do this. Tiffany, Oh yes, Mike?

Mike Gerholdt:
Nothing.

Gillian Bruce:
All right.

Mike Gerholdt:
We’ve been doing this for a while. It’s always funny when one of us is like, okay, we’re getting serious now.

Gillian Bruce:
Yeah. Mike.

 

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