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Take Your Salesforce Administrator Career to the Next Level

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I did not intend to end up in technology. In fact, when I first began, I didn’t even know what Salesforce was. All I knew was, as a recruiter for the power industry, we were doing things the hard way. We hired contractors for short-term projects and kept track of each contractor’s qualifications via Outlook Contact Cards, while at the same time tracking project requirements via Excel spreadsheets. My manager promised an improvement was coming.

Month after month, I heard improvement was coming. Tired of waiting for change that didn’t seem to actually be happening, I went to him to see what this great new program was. My expectation was to get the name of the new system. Maybe the website had some neat screenshots or I’d find a marketing video on YouTube. Instead, he handed me Salesforce Admin credentials and said, “We’ve had this for 6 months but haven’t had time to do anything with it. Can you learn it, set it up, then teach us all how to use it?” And thus, my Salesforce journey began — talk about being thrown into the deep end. That was in 2010. And now, 10 years and 30 releases later, Salesforce has grown a lot since I first logged in. I’m proud to say that I’ve grown a lot, too, and I’m excited to share with you what I’ve learned throughout these years.

Here are three ways to take your Salesforce Administrator career to the next level.

1. Keep learning and growing

Hootie reading a book

First, keep learning, growing, and moving yourself forward.

I began my Salesforce career in an org that had a managed package already installed to assist with our recruiting and hiring efforts — except I didn’t know what a managed package was. I didn’t understand why I had two click paths for updating page layouts: one for Accounts and another for Job Applicants. (This was in Salesforce Classic when custom objects were arranged in Setup, different from standard objects.) I didn’t understand why, for some questions, I could click the question mark icon and access help, training, and support, but other questions had to be addressed by emailing a third party. In short, I didn’t know what a managed package was, what the AppExchange was, or even what a Salesforce Partner was. Basically, I was blindly trying to find a path by clicking around until I figured it out. I broke EVERY best practice rule that existed. And I made it work. Thanks to a little bit of Google and A LOT of trial and error, I was able to set up my system to follow our current recruiting process and even build some cool reports that management loved. But that was as far as I got on my own.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that, through my online searching, I stumbled upon the Trailblazer Community. I got involved right away! I joined my local Wilmington, NC User Group and saw guests like Phillip Southern speak, and started asking questions in the Financial Services User Group, led then by Cheryl Feldman. I’ll never forget the welcoming and openness of the community. It wasn’t just that these groups were full of really knowledgeable people — they were eager to help me make sure I was successful. No gatekeeper to maneuver past, no hidden agenda. Just people helping people.

The Trailblazer Community not only helped answer my questions but also was where I learned of resources where I could teach myself and even become certified! That year, I earned two certifications. And I’ll admit that the certification exams were not easy to pass. Even with several years of hands-on system administration experience, I still learned a lot while preparing for the Admin and Advanced Admin exams.

Salesforce Certifications are important and valuable for a number of reasons, but the two largest benefits to me have been:

  1. Validation: Whether I’m speaking to colleagues, a client, or a potential new employer, having that credential shows that when I speak on the capabilities, I speak from a place of knowledge and expertise.
  2. Knowledge: To maintain my certification, I’m required to stay up to date on all the enhancements that happen with the three major product releases a year.

Certifications are an essential part of growing in your Salesforce journey. As important as they are, they don’t come easy. Raise your hand if you’ve ever failed a certification exam. 🙋🏻‍♀️ Out of the six certifications I currently hold, I failed half of them the first time.

What I’ve learned throughout my years as an admin is not to be perfect, but to keep growing. Study, do trails on Trailhead, apply learnings to your org, and keep moving forward.

2. Be forward-looking

Einstein holding binocularsSecond, be forward-looking. As you keep growing, you need to look toward the future — not just at tomorrow or the next project on your “to do” list. Like our friend Einstein here, get your binoculars out and look waaaaay ahead to the future. In your org, looking to the future means planning and documenting.

Warning: Watch out for temporary solutions. In my origins of utilizing Salesforce for recruiting and managing job applicants, it was important to management that we track which contractors had been certified to work in a power plant within the past 12 months. I could solve this easily by adding a checkbox to indicate this credential. However, a month later, the request evolved; management also wanted to know who had been granted access to a plant in each utility line. But the requirements to get into a Duke Power plant were different than those needed to get into a Florida Power & Light plant. Should I add a checkbox for each utility? Should I create a multi-select picklist? Or should I create a lookup to a related object with records for each plant? In Salesforce, there are often many ways to solve a requirement. But the most simplified way isn’t always the right way for long-term builds.

To mitigate the risk of having a system built with bandages and full of technical debt, begin by digging deep into the “why” behind the requirement. What your stakeholders say they need isn’t always what’s truly needed. A recent client of mine stated a requirement for their new Salesforce org was to have a way to check documents in and out so that they could track who had a file at any point. Digging into the reason for this requirement, we quickly confirmed this was based on a prior process that was paper-based — so this requirement was actually irrelevant.

Once you’ve dug into the true and complete reason for the requirement, and have thought through the long-term implications of your solution, you must document your decision and your build. Salesforce has several ways to document within your org and I encourage you to take advantage of every one available to you. Utilize the details and description fields Salesforce offers for Actions, Objects, Processes, Reports, and many other features.

setup global actions in salesforceI learned the lesson on documentation when I dug into a new client’s setup and saw three similar Global Actions in an org. If I’m able to expand to also see a description, I’ll know what differentiates each action, and which to add to the page layout to get the desired results. One Global Action might include default values and another might have automations attached to it. Without the description field, this can get confusing fast.

Being forward-looking is not just critical to the long-term success of your org — it’s also important to be forward-looking in your career. Having a well-built and documented org — with identified business cases for requirements as well as established solutions for solving, complete descriptions and naming conventions, confirmable regression testing, and release strategy — enables you to bring on additional team members, perhaps a Junior Salesforce Admin. And when opportunity comes knocking for the next step in your Salesforce journey, you’re free to take it!

3. Claim ownership of your Salesforce org

Astro waving in awesome admin sweatshirtThe third major lesson I’ve learned in my decade as a Salesforce Admin is to claim ownership.

When I first began, I wasn’t sure who owned my Salesforce org. I assumed it must be Salesforce, or at least the managed package on which we worked. Or maybe it was the Board of Directors for our company or my manager who gave me the original credentials.

But then I started to realize:

  • Who do they come to when they need something added or rearranged? They come to ME.
  • Who do they come to when they need an update on how system adoption is going? They come to ME.
  • Who do they come to when something seems wrong? They come to ME.

This allowed me to conclude that it was MY org, which meant it was mine to build, nurture, and protect.

I want you to know that it’s okay to say “no” to requests to alter your org. When management asked me to just create a checkbox to identify who had recent plant access, I could say no. No, I’m not putting in a partial solution when I can build a better, more scalable design to give better results than users even knew they needed. It’s my org, and it’s up to me to have that vision.

I also want you to know that it’s okay to ask “why” many, many times, to get to the information you need. My best friend has a young son, and I love going to see them, but I know that not long after Benjamin says hello, he’ll start to ask me questions. A typical conversation goes like this:

Ben: Hi, Ms. Stacey!
Me: Hey there, Ben!
Ben: What are you doing?
Me: Brushing my hair.
Ben: Why?
Me: Because it’s tangled.
Ben: Oh. Why is it tangled?
Me: Because I drove over here with my convertible top down.
Ben: Hmmm. Why did you do that?
Me: Well, it’s so sunny out and I wanted to feel it on my face.
Ben: But why…

You get the idea. I love that his mind works so hard to understand the reasoning and logic behind how the world works. And we should be like that with our Salesforce orgs, which we love and value.

Becoming comfortable saying no, and digging deep into the “why” behind requests, can feel like a lot. I want you to know that you don’t have to do this alone. In fact, you shouldn’t do Salesforce Administration alone. You should have a team. Call it a Center of Excellence or a Change Advisory Board or a Governance Committee. Call it whatever you want, but you need a team of stakeholders walking alongside decisions to make changes to the system. Salesforce has an impact on Sales, Marketing, Support, and IT (likely other departments as well), so there should be a knowledgeable stakeholder from each of those departments helping to guide changes to the org.

Ten years ago, I didn’t set out to be a Salesforce Administrator. Therefore, some might refer to me as an “Accidental Admin.” But I don’t think there is such a thing. While I didn’t seek a career built on Salesforce, I did see a door to opportunity. And I didn’t just walk through the door presented to me — I ran through it and am holding it open for those coming next. I’ve taken some detours along the way, but I’ve learned to keep growing forward, keep looking forward, and to take ownership of not only my org but also my career journey. I choose to be an Awesome Admin.

Resources

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Join us this December for the Dreamforce Trailblazer Experience, aka DreamTX, a virtual space dedicated to demos, luminary sessions, and a whole lot of Trailheart. There will be something for everyone, for every line of business, and for every industry. You’ll see the power of Customer 360, be able to share stories of working in […]

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