Behind the Return to Work TDX Session with Sonia Flamm


For this episode of the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we’re joined by Sonia Flamm, Salesforce Practice Executive Director at Advanced Technology Group (ATG) Cognizant. She’s doing a TrailheaDX session on June 23rd with LeeAnne Rimel, and they share how admins can help organizations return to the office safely.

Join us as we talk about how to get started with returning to the office, how to set goals, and how to keep everyone’s perspectives in mind.

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

Be sure to Register NOW for TrailheaDX on June 23 – TrailheaDX Registration Page

How Sonia found Salesforce

Before working at ATG, Sonia managed a health clinic. “It was a great job and lot of great experience, but I knew I was ready for a career change,” she says. It was then that she found ATG, which was looking to hire folks from nontraditional backgrounds and train them as consultants.

While Sonia’s initial assignment was delayed, she was shifted to a team that needed her to get started with Trailhead to have some familiarity with Salesforce, and it was love at first sight. “It was the first time in my life where I had that ah-ha moment of, ‘Oh my gosh, I think I found that thing that I really like doing and it makes sense.’” For the past five and a half years, she’s made it her goal at ATG to grow their Salesforce practice, starting as an Admin Implementation Consultant and project manager and eventually becoming an Architect, a Trailhead Certified Instructor, and the Salesforce Practice Director.

When ATG was acquired by Cognizant, Sonia got to grow her career even further. She’s currently focused not just on how ATG’s clients use Salesforce, but also how they use it internally, including implementing solutions to hep the organization safely return to work. “I feel very lucky to be speaking with you guys today and be here — it seems like just yesterday I was new to Salesforce, listening to these podcasts, and getting really excited about the ecosystem,” she says.

As restrictions are lifted across the country, employees all over are concerned about how to return to work safely. ATG added over 80 employees during the pandemic, but how do they make sure they feel taken care of when they can’t connect in person?

One thing that has helped is and Salesforce Surveys. Combined with Tableau, they’ve been able to get a better feel for how their organization is doing as a whole and give employees a different way to communicate questions or concerns.

“When you’re entering into a project that’s implementing, or you’re setting up Sales Cloud, you have a map or a guide to do that,” Sonia says, “but the return to office implementation was ours to develop” So the first thing she recommends you do is determining your scope. For ATG, that meant starting with one Missoula MT office as a pilot program.

Next, Sonia recommends identifying key project stakeholders to help you identify what exactly you need to do to make reopening possible. “The great thing about Salesforce and is there’s lots of different components within it, so you can find the solution you need,” she says.

One thing that surprised them the most when they started implementing a plan was the number of employees who wanted to have a blend of staying home and working on location. They actually needed to plan their implementation with three pools of people in mind: those who wanted to stay remote, those who wanted to return to the office, and those who wanted a blend of the two. For Sonia, the focus is on the people behind the technology, and her and LeeAnne’s TrailheaDX session will show how you can have an impact with real-life situations and solutions.

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Full show transcript

Mike Gerholdt: Welcome to the Salesforce Admins Podcast, where we talk about product, community, and career to help you become an awesome admin. This week, we’re talking with Sonia Flamm, Salesforce Practice, Executive Director at Cognizant’s ATG, and LeeAnne Rimel, you know her, she’s on the admin team, about their upcoming TrailheaDX session and how Salesforce Admins can help organizations return to the office safely. So, let’s get Sonia and LeeAnne on the podcast. So Sonia, welcome to the podcast.

Sonia Flamm: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Mike Gerholdt: Why don’t we get started off. We’ve got TrailheaDX coming up on June 23. And you and LeeAnne are doing an amazing session, but kind of a record scratch before we get that far. Let’s rewind the clock a little bit and tell everyone how you got started with Salesforce and got to your current role.

Sonia Flamm: Yeah. I love to tell a little bit about my background and how I got to where I’m at today and how that ties into our TrailheaDX session. So, a little bit about myself. I have been with ATG, which is a Cognizant company for just around five and a half years. I come from a non-traditional background where before working at ATG, I actually managed a health clinic. So I worked in the back of a clinic, making sure patients were taken care of and our operations were running smoothly. And it was a great job and a lot of great experience, but I knew I was ready for a career change. I wanted to grow my career. And I was lucky enough to find a company called ATG in Missoula, Montana that was looking to hire folks and take them from non-traditional backgrounds and train them up to be consultants.

When I first started at ATG, I was actually intended to work on an SAP project as a quality assurance tester. And lucky for me, that project kept getting delayed. And so I was told to go into, at the time SteelBrick CPQ training, now Salesforce CPQ, Salesforce Revenue Cloud. And so the Friday before that training, I was assigned various Trailheads. I sat down. I started doing them and immediately fell in love with Salesforce. I actually could not believe that they were paying me to do that and learn Salesforce. And so, it was the first time in my life where I had that aha moment of, oh my gosh, I think I’ve found that thing that I really like doing and it makes sense. So for the past five and a half years, I’ve really made it my goal at ATG to be a key part of our Salesforce practice and grow our Salesforce practice.

I started off as an admin implementation consultant and project manager. So, I was working on fairly small Salesforce CPQ projects, working with clients, implementing the solutions for them, and working really closely with them on training and user adoption. And I was able to grow my career into an architect, which I really loved solving those hard problems, being able to help that customer realize the value in Salesforce. And just kept growing my career. I’ve had various roles. I actually was a or am a Salesforce Trailhead Certified Instructor for Salesforce billing. I’ve been very involved with the growth of Salesforce Revenue Cloud. And so through that, I have been able to really grow my career as our Salesforce Practice Director at ATG. And two and a half years ago, ATG was acquired by a small company named Cognizant. That’s a joke. They’re massive. I obviously coming from Missoula, Montana have not been exposed to a lot of corporate culture, corporate lifestyle up until this point.

And so, it was exciting. It was also a little scary being acquired. But for the past over two years now, it’s definitely been really fun rocket fuel for my career. And also for how we get to use Salesforce not only we’ve historically as a company helped other customers use Salesforce and adopt it and implement different solutions, but we have also been a Salesforce customer. And for the past two years, I’ve been also really focused on how we use it as a customer and helping implement solutions internally like what we’ll be talking about at our TrailheaDX session. So I’m very excited to be here, very excited to probably dive into more areas of my career and growing within the Salesforce ecosystem. But I feel very lucky to be speaking with you guys today and being here because it seems like just yesterday I was new to Salesforce listening to these podcasts and getting really excited about the ecosystem.

Mike Gerholdt: That’s really cool. And I almost have to chuckle a little bit when somebody says a non-traditional background because I feel everybody that comes to Salesforce for the most part comes from a different background. And the economy of work that we live in today, everyone is massively switching jobs or doing gigs. And so any more if you’re in a career or a job two or three times, you’re coming from a non-traditional background. So, every background to me feels traditional now. Maybe that’s just me. But that’s a amazing story. And I love when companies focus on bringing people into the ecosystem. That wouldn’t normally be an obvious choice, right? So, you came from healthcare. Let’s dive into that TrailheaDX session because I know I was super excited when you came up on our radar and as was LeeAnne to kind of talk about what you were working on. And of course, probably what’s top of mind to everybody and that’s getting back into the office.

Sonia Flamm: Yeah. It’s a very top of mind especially since… Here in Missoula, Montana our offices are open at a limited capacity. So, I actually was just there two hours ago. So it’s top of mind and it’s been a really fun journey in the past year being able to explore as somebody who really enjoys Salesforce. I was very excited to be able to be one of the first customers to start using it. And as we’ll talk about, there’s a lot involved with, which gives you the opportunity as an admin to really tinker around and get to know a lot of different parts of Salesforce that come together for a very specific solution.

LeeAnne Rimel: One thing I was so excited to see when we started kind of talking about how ATG got back into the office and what that’s looking like for your teams and for your colleagues was really that focus on talking to all the ATG employees. Do you want to share a little bit? I know that’s been something that’s really can [inaudible] for yourself and the other executives at ATG really thinking about connecting with your employees and using tools to make sure they have these avenues to share feedback and to share questions. Can you talk a little bit about that? And maybe as a leader at ATG, kind of what those conversations look like?

Sonia Flamm: It’s been interesting the past year going through what we’ve gone through, because one of the things that I’ve always really enjoyed as part of my career at ATG is the communication and openness and that comradery between our team members looking out for each other. One of the things that actually drew me to ATG initially was these things that they call walk and talks, where you’re encouraged to put 30 minutes on somebody else’s calendar and just go walk around. We live in a beautiful place. And so, why not go outside and take your meetings on a walk? And so with that being so much part of our culture, I think we immediately saw or felt a really big impact when everybody had to be remote. And a great thing that happened to us during COVID, but it has been really challenges, we’ve grown a lot. Even since the beginning of this year, we have 80 new employees that are mostly remote.

And so, how do we make sure that those people are still doing okay? And we don’t have the time obviously to meet one-on-one and do walk and talks with every single person. So we had to start figuring out different ways to be able to have those touch points, feel like we have make sure that employees feel like they have a path to raise concerns, get the help that they need, or hopefully at times, even to be able to just celebrate celebrations that we used to celebrate within the office. So we really… One of the main things that we used was and Salesforce Surveys. There are lots of different survey solutions out there, but Salesforce Surveys with the solution and using Tableau has really given us that ability to check in with each individual. It is opt-in. And so not everybody has to respond, but we do see quite a few people choose to respond.

And it is our way to keep in touch with our employees and gauge how people are doing. And the number one thing that we see in the open-ended feedback is that they appreciate that they do have that as an option to communicate. And I think this will be something because we are growing and scaling really big, and we have a lot of folks, and we want to make sure everybody has a great experience working at ATG. Regardless of COVID or not, I think this is something that we’re going to have to adopt and figure out at some point. So, Salesforce Surveys has been our solution.

Mike Gerholdt: That’s cool. I want to know for admins listening to this where you got started. I mean, I think you were really essential to the fabric of ATG. So, it was probably very natural for them to have a conversation with you. For an admin listening to this saying, I want to help my organization get back into the office. I want to help them use Salesforce to do that. I’m listening to what Sonia had to say. Where would they get started? What would your advice be for conversations they should have, things they should be looking at, thinking about?

Sonia Flamm: It’s a fantastic question. And it’s a hard question. Something that LeeAnne and I had talked about in preparation for the session is… Commonly, when we’re entering into a project that’s implementing or you’re setting up sales cloud, you kind of have a map and a guide to do that. And when we entered into this, okay, we’re going to do this. What do we need to do first? It was very much like, gosh, I don’t know. No one’s ever really done a what we call RTO, return to office implementation. Just putting in that perspective of the Missoula office because that’s where we’ve been really focused. The first thing I would recommend is finding your key champions within the organization. And maybe one step right before that is determining your scope. So for us, it made sense having the Missoula, Montana office be the office that we decided to pilot our return to office effort and using

We were lucky enough last year, July 2020, when we started implementing, Missoula was in a unique position where we didn’t have as many cases. And so it was the right fit for us to choose Missoula as the office that was going to return to work sooner than the other ones. So identifying that scope is really important, make sure what makes sense to you and your company. There’s no reason at this point, because it’s people’s lives, to overcommit. And I think that’s something that we had to really be realistic on what can we really commit to make sure that our people are safe and are getting what they need. That was of course the number one important, the safety. But from there, once we realized that it was going to be Missoula, we needed to find those champions. And those are typically your project stakeholders that we were going to work with to identify what do we need to do.

I don’t think we knew at the very beginning that the solution or answer was Salesforce Surveys, We knew that we needed to check the status of people and that we needed to make sure that people felt safe returning to the office, but we didn’t really know a lot of the other components and what we needed. So it was just starting to have those conversations, started with conversations with our team leads, the people who are helping and make sure our resources are doing okay. And so we talked with those people, those were our primary stakeholders, just make sure and understand they have the best pulse on the employees. So, what do they need? And so every business is probably going to be different. I say that ATG has been really utilizing Salesforce Surveys. It might be something different for another company. And that’s also the great thing about Salesforce and is there’s lots of different components within it, so you can find the solution that you need.

Mike Gerholdt: That’s great. I think having conversations absent of the technology that you need is one of the things that people forget. Sometimes they lead with the technology first. And if you start with a hammer, everything’s a nail. To use the old adage, right? What would be in terms of rolling this stuff out, what was the biggest surprise that you had?

Sonia Flamm: That’s a great question. Biggest surprise. Well, something that probably surprised us and continues to surprise us today, and looking back, this shouldn’t surprise us, but the number of people that do want to have a blend of staying home versus returning to the office. And with that created challenges for how we implemented the solution, because you have to have those two different perspectives in mind in terms of what does somebody who’s working from home need versus what does somebody from return to the office need versus what does somebody who needs that blended approach. And so, that was an interesting… I think in looking back, probably shouldn’t be that surprising. But I think we had almost expected more people to want to return to the office. And then, what are some other surprises?

I was speaking more towards the solution in I was really interested to see the emphasis and collection from different clouds within Salesforce. And there was field service lightning component, and so health cloud component. And so, it was really interesting to see how all those pieces put together created this very cohesive solution. It also kind of blew my mind at times, just in terms of how thoughtful somebody would have to go through to think of all, you really have to know Salesforce. So it’s like if I looked at is like, gosh, if somebody had the rights to every single license and every single little feature and knew exactly how to do every single thing, that’s what somebody did and pulled it all together. So that was a surprise, but a pleasant surprise.

Mike Gerholdt: I’m sure in all our heads we know how all of that works and we love to have all the rights as an [inaudible]. That’d be great. So, let’s focus in on TrailheaDX as we kind of wrap up. I know you’re presenting there with LeeAnne. Your session is… You’re working on the recording now. So obviously, it gives away when we record these things. But absent of that, it’s few hours in the day. It used to be an in-person event. Well, the world is getting back to in-person events. From your perspective, Sonia, I’d love to know as an admin whose maybe on the fence, should I spend some time streaming some TrailheaDX? What should I do? What is kind of your input on reasons people should tune in for TrailheaDX?

Sonia Flamm: Well, I mean, besides being corny and saying, it’s an awesome conference. And of course, you need to tune in.

Mike Gerholdt: We don’t mind corny.

Sonia Flamm: Salesforce, I mean not to put other companies down, but Salesforce does conferences the best obviously. We’ve either attended them virtually or we’ve been lucky enough to go in-person. And so, I mean, it’s an obvious that the sessions that Salesforce delivers and provides in these types of conferences are really amazing. And especially as somebody who’s again, been lucky enough to now be a part of it and see a lot of the work that goes in the background, I understand how much work that’s put into it and the thoughtfulness that’s put into it. And specifically, I think there’s going to be some really great content specifically in our session, talking about real life things. And not to say that’s not what we discussed before, but I think the past year has taught and kind of expose this different side of technology to us. And I’m excited that a lot of sessions I keep seeing are really about the people behind it and not just the technology, which is always impactful.

Mike Gerholdt: That’s a great way of putting it. Sonia, I’m super excited to have you and LeeAnne at TrailheaDX this year. And see all of your sneak peek of your solution that you put together. I think you really helped admins out. I know I learned something in this conversation, so I’m very excited to see what we have in store for TrailheaDX. So, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today.

Sonia Flamm: Thank you so much. This was great.

Mike Gerholdt: It was great to get Sonia and LeeAnne on the podcast. And be sure to tune in to TrailheaDX later in June to see their entire session. It’s going to be amazing. So big things I took away from our discussion with Sonia is think about when you’re returning the office, where do you want to get started? Realize not too many people have done a return to work. So determining scope, finding key champions, and then having an honest conversation about what you need to do absent of the technology. I love that idea. And then, also think about what some of the surprises were that Sonia ran into like the number of people that wanted a blended solution and really making sure that you’re keeping all perspectives in mind in terms of your employees. So, that was great. I can’t wait to see their TrailheaDX session.

Now, if you want to learn more about all things, admin, go to to find more resources. You can stay up to date with us on social. We are @SalesforceAdmns, no I, on Twitter. Of course, you can find our guest Sonia on Twitter. She is @SoniaFlamm. Gillian, who is also a co-host of the podcast is on Twitter. You can follow her @gilliankbruce. And of course, hit that follow button for me as well. I am @MikeGerholdt. So with that, stay safe, stay awesome, and stay tuned for the next episode. We’ll see you in the cloud.

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