What makes Salesforce different?

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By: Rob Jordan | 1.12.17

We are frequently asked about what makes Salesforce special, or different. As consultants who have worked almost exclusively with Salesforce for over ten years, we have many opinions on this topic. But really, it all boils down to the fact that Salesforce inhabits two fundamental platforms in the cloud: proprietary and open source. This makes it different from all its main competitors, and everyone adopting Salesforce should go into it understanding the benefits, challenges, and responsibilities that lie with this difference.


Proprietary vs. open source


Proprietary means that the technology is not easily customizable and it’s strictly controlled by the company that owns it. They and they alone decide its developmental path (SAP is an example of this). The benefit of this methodology is that the solution is being monitored by a particular company which means the user has someone to hold accountable should there be a perceived shortcoming in the solution. There is a cost for that accountability however and this cost is established by the market...fluctuating accordingly.


Open source, on the other hand, is very customizable and allows for changes to be made by the user. Moreover, it is not owned by any one company, rather a community that is devoted to building a solution that improves the user experience for all (Drupal is an example of this). The benefit of this methodology is that the solution is being developed by thousands of people rather than hundreds, and the result is greater ingenuity and more features.  Moreover, it is typically free.


So which one is Salesforce?


Salesforce is neither and both at the same time. Most frequently, people observe the Salesforce ecosystem from a proprietary lens. This is understandable considering that this is where technology has primarily lived for the past 40 years. However, it is only half the story.


For years, I have been calling the Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP) a "Proprietary Open Source Environment". I get into trouble using those words together being from open source Linux country (Portland, Oregon), but it's true. Most people have a hard time wrapping their head around this concept, largely because "Proprietary Open Source" is not only oxymoron; it has yet to be defined clearly.


Salesforce has grown so quickly that they have had little time to calibrate and adjust their sales and marketing departments to clearly address this concept. As a result, they have had to selectively borrow from both the proprietary and open source universes to promote the ecosystem. This can cause messaging confusion.


To further complicate things, the message of addressing each of these attributes is split between the partners and the Salesforce account executives. Salesforce partners such as Idealist Consulting take responsibility for defining the “open source” capabilities of the solution (largely because we are tasked with configuration); while Salesforce account executives focus more on informing clients of the proprietary components (because they are tasked with selling the features). Both are honest approaches to the solution but they are different perspectives.


Where this leaves the Salesforce client


Customers are drawn toward the benefits of these two messages, but often have a difficult time recognizing that there is a responsibility that comes with leveraging an “open source proprietary” solution like Salesforce. The responsibility is grounded in the "extreme customization" inherent in a proprietary open source solution like Salesforce.


Here are our top three tips for how to best take responsibility for your Salesforce platform:


1. Educate yourself on the solution

See our tips here on how to approach Trailhead and Salesforce certifications.


2. Have an admin team ready to adopt the solution

Here’s How to be a Homegrown Salesforce Admin.


3. Understand how Agile works and use it to your advantage

Learn Why Agile is a Must for Salesforce Implementations and check out Getting Real.


It is no secret the world is experiencing "extreme customization" on all levels. Nike has a line of shoes that is fully customizable to the client. Which is wonderful, assuming you know what your favorite colors and materials are. With extreme customization there is no one "best practice," rather multiple "personal practices". Salesforce CRM is no different. It has the ability to facilitate multiple "personal practices" in the same solution. Is that confusing to some? Yes, but it is the future and we all need to get used to it.

What should not be confusing is the reasons we gravitate toward Salesforce in the first place...to evolve our business process on our own terms. The benefit of it is that it is pliable. You won't outgrow it and you can adjust later. There is a responsibility to "evolve" your CRM and with that responsibility comes empowerment. Salesforce is a clear leader and has put a lot of thought into how to help you grow.

If you’re considering implementing Salesforce for your organization or business, you’ve got a large technology change awaiting you. We’ve put together a whitepaper to help you find the right people, understand the estimates you’ll receive, and work through the change. Click below to read “Be Prepared, Not Scared: Strategies for Technology Change”.


Download the whitepaper



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