Scott Allan and Hannah Donovan on the Salesforce Admins Podcast.

The New IdeaExchange with Scott Allan and Hannah Donovan

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On today’s episode of the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we’ve got two members of the Salesforce team: Scott Allan, Sr. Manager of Product Strategy, Customer & Market Insights, and Hannah Donovan, Product Management Specialist. We’re checking in to find out what’s new with the IdeaExchange and how they’re both working hard to make it even cooler.

Join us as we talk about the changes that IdeaExchange is making to how things are prioritized and why it’s never been a better time to submit an idea.

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Scott Allan and Hannah Donovan.

How IdeaExchange crowdsources prioritization

The IdeaExchange has been around for fourteen years, delivering 3400 ideas that the community asked for into Salesforce products. “But, with the growth of the company, with the growth of our community, with the growth of our product management team, the tool has outlived its usefulness in its current form,” Scott says. To help, their team has been working to reimagine the IdeaExchange to figure out how to bring the community even closer to the process.

One new feature is IdeaExchange Prioritization. Each community member gets a budget of 100 coins to vote on which top ideas they’d most like to see the team work on for the next release. They’re still iterating on that feature, and making it even easier with things like duplicate protection, better search and categorization functionality, and a higher level of communication between product managers and customers.

Overhauling communications with the community

“Every day we feel so lucky we have such an engaged community that is willing to provide us feedback,” Scott says, “but if you’re the person who submitted an idea and you’re very passionate about it and you don’t see anything happening with it—that can be frustrating.” One thing they’re working on with the redesign is to better surface ideas that might not have the most votes but are quickly picking up steam.

“We want to pay attention to if there’s a lot of energy on an idea with what the community is contributing,” Scott says. You can also more easily track ideas you’ve interacted with to see if there have been any updates. There are also some best practices for what makes for a good idea. “It’s the use cases and other community members that add additional layers that really make an idea so valuable,” Hannah says, “not only to the person creating it, but also to the others who might benefit from it.”’

What the overhaul is trying to get to the root of is why certain features are requested. It’s not just about what needs to be done, but how it will best help people. Hannah, Scott, and the team are also working on new ways to communicate with the community about what they’re working on and get even more feedback. If you have a new idea, it’s never been a better time to get it out there.

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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 have two guests on. We have Scott Allen, Sr. Manager of Product Strategy, Customer & Market Insights, and Hannah Donovan, Product Management Specialist. Both are really working hard to make the IdeaExchange an even cooler place. That’s right. This whole episode is going to be IdeaExchange from the multi-year journey to rebuild the IdeaExchange to the new functionality that was just released to, yes, even some forward-looking IdeaExchange and known issues reimagination. Tune in. This a fun episode and there’s a lot of cool stuff you get to hear about. So with that, let’s get Scott and Hannah on the podcast.
So Scott and Hannah, welcome to the podcast.

Scott Allen: Thanks, Mike, for having us.

Hannah Donovan: Yeah. Thanks for having us.

Mike Gerholdt: Yeah. Well, it’s going to be fun. We’ve got a lot of ideas to exchange on this episode.

Scott Allen: I see what you did there.

Mike Gerholdt: That might be the only pun because Gillian’s on leave right now. But it’s all things IdeaExchange on this episode and some really cool stuff. So Scott, before we get started, I’d love for you and Hannah to introduce yourself to our admin community, who may or may not know you, and how you got started at Salesforce. So Scott, if you could go first.

Scott Allen: Yeah. So Scott Allen, part of the Customer and Market Insights team at Salesforce, which is just a fancy way of saying we’re all about listening to our customers. I joined the team just about three years ago to focus on this whole IdeaExchange reimagined effort that was kicked off at Dreamforce 2018, really to engage with the community. Figure out where we were going wrong, where we were going right with the IdeaExchange, and create a whole new experience. And I’ve got to tell you, it was the best introduction to Salesforce because my job when I started was to go out to community group meetings, to community events, and just talk with our community admins, devs across the board, and learn what they needed out of the IdeaExchange. And then I got to solicit ideas from them about how we could improve it. So fantastic way to immerse myself in Salesforce. The Trailblazer community. Couldn’t have asked for a better orientation.

Mike Gerholdt: Wow. Now, Hannah, you’re also doing IdeaExchange. Tell me about your journey to the Salesforce ecosystem.

Hannah Donovan: Yes. So my name is Hannah Donovan and I’m a product manager on the IdeaExchange team and the known issues team. So I work very closely with Scott and customer market insights to communicate with our customers and better understand their needs and how we can map those on to product deliveries and deliverables on the IdeaExchange. And so previous to this, I was actually a developer, but I’ve been at Salesforce now for about six months. And I think the coolest thing about my job so far is the customers and the people that I’ve been able to talk to. And so I’m really excited to be on this podcast today to continue to foster that relationship with our community who is so great and so awesome.

Mike Gerholdt: Boy, six months. That’s a couple years in company terms.

Hannah Donovan: Yeah, exactly.

Mike Gerholdt: Now, Scott, in your introduction, you talked about the IdeaExchange and rebuilding it. I would love for you to give us that journey for new admins that maybe didn’t even know we need to rebuild an IdeaExchange.

Scott Allen: Well, the IdeaExchange has existed for over 14 years, and it’s been super useful in being that always on feedback platform for our community to submit ideas about what they would like to see better in our products. And it’s been super useful. We’ve had our product teams mine the IdeaExchange across those years, and we’ve delivered 3,400 ideas that the community asked for into our products. But with the growth of the company, with the growth of the community, with the growth of our product management team, the tool has outlived its usefulness in its current form.

So what we set to do a couple years ago, which we announced at the True to the Core session at Dreamforce in 2018, was to really re-imagine the IdeaExchange. Modernize the site so it was just a better experience to use, but also try to figure out how do we bring our community closer to our product planning process?

And so what we initially set out to do was we built this new part of the site that’s existed for the last a year and a half, which is IdeaExchange prioritization. And really, that allows our customers to take a set of top ideas that our product managers could start to work on in the next release and apply a budget of coins to them. Feel that constraint that a product manager does. They can’t do all of these ideas, but figuring out which of those top ideas are the ones that they’d actually like to see the team start to work on in the next release. And so we’re trying to bridge that gap of, hey, just submitting an idea, and then, hey, one day that being delivered, to try to bring the customers into the actual planning process that our product teams go through.

Mike Gerholdt: That sounds really… Oh, man. I can only imagine, as Salesforce has grown, the number of ideas and things to fix. I think you did a really good job of catching us up. Hannah, Scott mentioned coins and budgeting. Can you help explain what the new functionality of the IdeaExchange is?

Hannah Donovan: Yeah, of course. So Scott was mentioning earlier what we call our prioritization experience. And so what we’re launching this week is a new experience and a refreshed experience of our voting platform. So with this launch, we’ve made it easier for our customers to collaborate and engage with Salesforce product managers, as Scott mentioned. Bringing them closer to the product delivery life cycle to co-create the future of Salesforce products.
So with this launch, some of the functionality we’ve included is a more simplified idea submission experience. So now users can leverage search as you type duplicate detection to make sure that they’re not posting duplicate ideas, and better find the category that fits their idea while posting. In addition to that, there’s better keyword searching and tracking of ideas. So users can more easily filter by product category, sub category, status, and release. Sort by date created, points and relevance, and track ideas that you’ve posted, upvoted, and commented on in our new my activity tab.

Additionally, there’s enhanced collaboration on idea records. As Scott mentioned, it’s really important for our customers’ voices to be heard. And now users can thread comments, like an app, mention other community members, and communicate more directly with Salesforce product managers. In addition to that, we are also including more information on ideas so that there’s a higher level of transparency with our product managers and our customers. So we’re identifying product managers for ideas that are in development, having clearer statuses, and even including release notes on delivered ideas. So while we launched prioritization in 2019, we’re launching something very exciting and bringing customers closer to the always on feedback platform that Scott had mentioned earlier.

Mike Gerholdt: I think it’s interesting perspective for me because I was a customer for many years. I’ve submitted a few ideas. Thankfully, the homepage is customizable now. That was one. And now I’m on the inside, so I also get to see it. I think from a customer standpoint, it’s always interesting because you submit one or two ideas and those are your ideas. They’re your children and you pay attention to them. But for a product manager, I have to envision they’re getting tens of thousands of ideas funneled to them, each of which, to the person submitting, is super important. So are product managers expected to respond to all of those ideas? How do they keep pace?

Scott Allen: It’s a challenging situation, but also a wonderful situation to be in, because I think every day, we feel lucky that we have such an engaged community that is willing to provide us feedback. But yes, I think if you’re the person who’s submitted an idea and you’re very passionate about it and you don’t see anything happen with it, that can be frustrating.

I think one of the things we’re trying to focus on with this new IdeaExchange is to better surface ideas. And not just the ones that have historically had a lot of points, but ones that are getting a lot of energy, that idea of velocity, and making sure that the community sees it and that our product teams see it. Just because something has a lot of points, it may be because it’s an older idea and it’s just had more time to accumulate points. That’s what I think we’re trying to do, is try to look at how do we engage the community and listen to the community on a couple of different dimensions? The new IdeaExchange experience is going to help a lot with that just because it’s now on a more modern org, it’s a more modern experience.

I think the other thing, too, is I love what Hannah and the team did with the search and filter facets. So you can actually see by the different product categories how many open ideas there are. In the previous experience, you just had a page that listed 10 ideas, and you could paginate through tens and tens and tens of ideas. But in this new experience, you can easily see, hey, my idea in the analytics space is one of 3,000 ideas that are submitted. And so it just brings a little bit of context, and hopefully some appreciation that we’re trying to find those great ideas, but sometimes it is amongst a lot of other ideas that’s hard to sift through.

Mike Gerholdt: I think that’s important to point out. An idea that could be there for five years and have, I don’t know, 5,000 points, that’s a lot. But an idea submitted five days ago that’s already got maybe 2,500 points, that’s really that momentum that you were talking about, right?

Scott Allen: Yeah. I want that to be a signal to say, hey, there’s something there. And the other piece of it is the comments too. We want to pay more attention to is there a lot of energy on an idea just with what the community is contributing? Or has Salesforce put a comment on there and then there’s a bunch of comments coming back? So I think with this new platform, we’re going to have more tools to look at these different signals.

Mike Gerholdt: So I’d love to hear, as the community that’s listening to this, where they can find the ideas that they’ve posted or upvoted, but also maybe one layer deeper. Tell me what makes for a good idea that people can get behind.

Hannah Donovan: That’s a great question. So in the new experience, users can navigate to our homepage and select what are calling the my activity tab. So within that tab, users can view ideas that they’ve posted, upvoted, or commented on to track any future updates that are made either from the community or from Salesforce.

And I think that you’re touching on a really great point there, Mike, about what makes a good idea. And I think it really starts with the creator and the idea behind it. So in addition to having this space for folks to track what it is that matters to them, we’ve also provided some more details on what crafting a good idea looks like when you’re posting it. We want to be there to help make sure that our customer’s voices are heard. And so we’ve included details about the idea’s purpose and impact should be included when you’re writing the idea, and describing really its use case and how it improves Salesforce. Because this is a community engaged platform, and it’s the use cases and other community members that add additional layers that really make an idea so valuable and important to not only the person creating it, but also the others who might benefit from it.

Mike Gerholdt: I think being able to post an idea that perhaps an entire industry or vertical would see as a much needed feature versus you is very different.

Scott Allen: Yeah. I think that’s one of the things that we’re trying to educate folks about, internally as well as externally. And I’m just going to do a quick plug here for the IdeaExchange Basics badge on Trailhead, where we go into some of this detail.
But I think the main thing that we’re trying to ask people to do is describe the objective. What is somebody trying to do? Oftentimes we get feedback or ideas that’s, hey, I want this button to be blue. And we’d rather hear, well, why do you want it to be blue? What are you trying to achieve? And really, that’s the way that our product managers think. They’re trying to assess, hey, what’s the job to be done that this particular feature that I’m going to go spend time and money on, what is it trying to do? And how can we do that for the masses?

And so any idea that’s articulated like that, I think it helps our product managers. But I also think it helps the community think about, well, what would they do if that idea was delivered? And that’s where we see a lot of value in the comments that are added to the ideas of additional use cases, and that brainstorming popcorn effect of somebody puts something out there and then the rest of the community piles on. And it just makes that idea so much more rich for the product team to then consider when they actually go to build it.

Mike Gerholdt: And of course, the goal is getting on the prioritization list. So can you help everyone understand? Everyone wants to submit idea that gets on the prioritization list.

Scott Allen: The building of the prioritization list is-

Mike Gerholdt: A master big gold prioritization list.

Scott Allen: Yes. So what we’ve done with prioritization right now is structure it so that we do it three times a year, and that’s in alignment with the core release schedule. What we’re doing is getting very much in front of the release planning that the product teams go through. So as part of that, we say, hey, product teams, go look at the list of ideas for your area, focusing on the top ideas. And start at the top and go down the list one by one and say, hey, is this something that your team could start to work on if the community prioritizes it? If it is, then it’s a candidate to go on the list.

If it’s not, this is where we’re asking the product teams to also go in and add a comment and explain why it’s something that they can’t start to work on. And there’s often very valid reasons. Sometimes there’s some architectural dependencies that other teams need to work on before a particular team could start to work on a feature. And I realize this is a muscle that we are building, and we’ve luckily had more engagement from our product teams in providing comments and updates. But essentially, that is how the list gets built, is just by looking at which of those top ideas are feasible.

Now, in some cases, we’ve had teams that are working on a particular area and there aren’t ideas for that area, but there’s a related idea. And so they’ve grabbed things lower on the list because they wanted to assess, hey, I’m going to go into the product and work in this particular area, would the community want me to also tackle this other thing? Or should they focus their energy on a completely different area of the product? So there’s a little bit of artistry to how that list gets put together. But we’re really trying to build that rigor so that we use this exercise to really test, hey, are these top ideas still top ideas or are there other things that the team should be focused on?

Mike Gerholdt: I think that’s a good point because every product area might have a different starting number, right? And flow and automation are top of mind for a lot of people. So those are probably getting tons of ideas. Whereas maybe mobile isn’t or dashboards aren’t. And so the top idea may have a very smaller starting number, which would explain the variances in points. I know, speaking of which, when we would do Dreamforce submissions for admin track, you could always tell what was top of mind for the community and what was less top of mind. I still need to talk about these sessions, though. Just have to find the submissions for them.
I think one thing that comes up from the community is they would love to know why they can only prioritize one or two ideas as opposed to more than that.

Scott Allen: I think when we started prioritization, we wanted it to start simple. And so we’ve built it in a way that it happens three times a year, one list with a variety of product areas covered. And that does actually provide some value to us too, because especially when we first started this, analytics ideas, platform ideas, the most popular parts of the Salesforce platform were constantly winning. And I think that’s a good signal when we go into budgeting for the company to say, hey, there’s still a lot that our community wants from these areas. So if you want to think about resourcing, the community wants more. Add it to analytics, add it to platform, as an example.

But we know that there’s going to be tremendous value when we are able to do this exercise that’s focused on a particular product area. Our product teams are asking, can you put together a list for my 10 ideas in my product area so that I can have my customers that are interested in marketing cloud or service cloud really help shape our roadmap? And it is absolutely something that’s on our IdeaExchange roadmap that we’re focused on now that we’ve launched the new posting and voting platform.

Mike Gerholdt: That’s really cool. So why don’t we throw a little bit of a forward-looking statement out there and talk about the future of the IdeaExchange. Hannah, let’s start with you.

Hannah Donovan: I think that the future of the IdeaExchange is really at the heart of what Scott was just saying. We know that it’s really important for our community members to be able to prioritize ideas and communicate directly with product managers on ideas that matter to them. So as Scott has said, we’re really looking to find a way to make sure that customers and our community members can prioritize ideas just for the clouds that matter to them. So we’re calling this platformized prioritization and it’s on the top of our roadmap looking forward. So that’s where our efforts will be in the next couple months, and we’re looking for community support on how to best implement this. So we’re excited to dig in there and continue to build that.

Mike Gerholdt: Wow. That’s really cool. I know at some point, we talked… Well, Hannah, you’re on the known issues team. And I have friends in the community that are usually all over known issues. Do we have anything forward looking that we can talk about in terms of that?

Hannah Donovan: Yeah, absolutely. I’m glad you asked that because known issues deserve some definite love. And so we are simultaneous to working on what we’re calling platformized prioritization for the IdeaExchange. We’re working on kicking off known issues. And so really at the heart of this is we want to make sure that known issues surface the right information to our customers.

For example, I know we’ve heard a lot of feedback about including potentially things like error codes and fields like that on the known issue to make it more specific and useful to when our customers are debugging. Additionally, we know search is incredibly broken on known issues today. And so we’re looking to enhance that experience so that our community can drill down and find the known issues that matter most to them. Additionally, another pain point that we’re looking to identify is to better update our community on the status of a known issue. We know that we haven’t done a good job of that in the past, and that’s a really important area that we’re looking to improve.

And so that’s the short-term plan for known issues, and we’re continuing to build out what the longer term strategy and plan is in the future. But we are excited to relaunch this platform for our community and continue to co-collaborate to build a better experience for our Salesforce community.

Mike Gerholdt: That’s really cool.

Scott Allen: I was going to say, one of the benefits of having this team that’s been focused on the IdeaExchange now work on known issues is we want to rapidly apply some of what we’ve built and learned by building IdeaExchange to known issues. So I would say give us feedback on this new IdeaExchange experience. Does the search seem better? Do the different filter facets that you see get you to the ideas that you care about faster? Because our assumption is if we apply that to known issues, it’ll also connect you to the known issues that you need to be aware of. We’ve got a known issues reimagine group in the Trailblazer community, so please come and join and post your feedback there, in addition to an IdeaExchange Trailblazer community group as well.

Mike Gerholdt: Oh, cool. And I’ll put those links in the show notes so that you can click through and easily join them. I totally was thinking of… I know a lot of people are probably like me and submit ideas around platform features. But I’m guessing, and this feels very meta, I’m guessing you do get a lot of ideas about the IdeaExchange from on the IdeaExchange, right?

Scott Allen: We certainly do. We’ve got a category under your Salesforce experience where, whether it’s known issues or IdeaExchange, if you’ve got an idea, check what’s there, but submit new ones. We’d love to hear.

Mike Gerholdt: I never thought of that. I don’t know why. It seems super cool. I could spend a day digging through that stuff.

Scott and Hannah, it’s been awesome to have you guys on. It’s fun to see how Salesforce is really prioritizing everything that the community is talking about and doing intake on. I selfishly don’t know of another company that has as broad and as open of a pipe to its customer base to influence product that Salesforce does. I’m sure both of you do, maybe. But it seems like we really are just sitting around with the door open and listening as opposed to on our own path, which is very cool. So thank you both for taking time out and being on the podcast, and connecting with our admins and revamping how we’re making the product even better for them.

Scott Allen: Yeah. No, thank you. And I just have to say, we are incredibly fortunate to have such a passionate, engaged community. That’s really what our job is, is to make sure that we bring the voice of our community, the voice of our admins, back in to Salesforce and make sure that our product teams hear that. So keep on talking to us. We’ll be listening.

Mike Gerholdt: Yes. Submit ideas, even ideas on the IdeaExchange.

Hannah Donovan: Yeah. And just to echo everything that Scott has said, we can’t thank our community enough for all the support and feedback that we get from them. We are so fortunate to have you. And the work doesn’t stop here. We’re continuing to innovate and create for our customers. So continue to provide feedback to us on the IdeaExchange and in those community groups. We really love to hear from you. Thank you.

Mike Gerholdt: Well, we’ll have to have both of you back maybe in a year or so, eight months when Hannah has her four year anniversary at Salesforce. Because the timeline grows quick, right? So anyway, that’s a joke. But yes. Thank you all. We will have you back on and look forward to more ideas on the IdeaExchange.

It was great to have Scott and Hannah on the podcast and learn a lot about the IdeaExchange. Holy cow. Of course, if you want to learn more about all things Salesforce admin, go to admin.salesforce.com to find more resources. And hey, there’s new podcast swag in the Trailhead store. Be sure to pick some of that stuff up. The holidays are coming up and I can’t think of a better gift to give than podcast swag. Even the trick-or-treaters could enjoy a nice little Salesforce Admins Podcast mug. You’d be the most popular house. I promise you. There’s a link in the show notes to buy some of that really cool swag. And while you’re at it, check out the links. We have ways to stay up to date with us for all things Salesforce admins on social. We are @Salesforceadmns, no I. My cohost, Gillian K. Bruce, you can give her a follow on Twitter. She is @GillianKBruce. And of course, I am @MikeGerholdt.

Thanks so much. Hope you enjoyed the episode. Please stay safe, stay awesome, and stay tuned for the next episode. We’ll see you in the cloud.

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