TiHS Episode 36: Alexander Lapa – how you can use a CRM to further your work

Welcome to episode 36 of the Technology in Human Services podcast. In this episode I speak with Alexander Lapa.

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You’ve heard about CRMs (Customer or Constituent Management Systems). You may even have one at your organization. But few of us use them to their full potential. In this conversation Alexander provides useful information about CRMs, with a focus on Salesforce. We talk about why, even if you use outside consultants to develop your CRM, building internal skills, staff roles, and capacity is essential for success. While Alexander is a Salesforce consultant, our conversation covers general CRM concepts, strategies, and topics. If you’re interested but unsure about the place a CRM can fit into your work, I think you’ll find this a useful and practical conversation.

Some questions we discussed:

  • Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and what brought you to the work you’re doing now as a Salesforce Architect & Advisor?
  • What is a CRM and what should folks know about them?
  • How can a CRM be the digital front door for an organization providing community and social services?
  • What staff skills or roles should an organization be thinking about if they want to make full use of a CRM?
  • How can CRMs be used to gather and analyze useful data and information about clients and communities?
  • Some CRMs like Salesforce are more than just client and data management and tracking systems. How can someone use Salesforce or another CRM to track a client journey through the organization, include case management, community management, volunteer management, even marketing and social media engagement, and have features that allow you to automate prompts and notifications for both staff and clients to take specific actions, interact with other systems in their organization, etc.? What is the benefit of having all of this in one system?
  • Interoperability is something we hear a lot about. Can you tell me a bit about what it means and how it can and should be used with a CRM like Salesforce. For example, sharing data between systems within the organization, but also with external referrals, as well as easily sharing information or reports with funder systems. How can a CRM be implemented to create warm referrals and share data with partner organizations so clients don’t have to tell their story again and again?
  • Many CRMs offer nonprofit pricing and discounts. But what kind of budget, initial, development (no CRM comes perfectly out of the box), and ongoing costs (licensing, development, etc.) should organizations plan for and funders expect to see in budget requests?

Some useful resources:

Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript of our conversation using Otter.ai. The transcript has not been edited. It may contain errors and odd sentence breaks and is not a substitute for listening to the audio.

Marco Campana 0:00
Welcome to Episode 36 of the technology and human services podcast. In this episode, I speak with Alexander lapbook. You’ve heard about CRMs customer or constituent management systems, you may even have one at your organization, but few of us use them to their full potential. In this conversation, Alexander provides useful information about CRMs. With a focus on Salesforce. We talked about why even if you use outside consultants to develop your CRM, building internal skills, staff roles and capacity is essential for success. While Alexandra is a Salesforce consultant, our conversation covers general CRM concepts, strategies and topics. If you’re interested would unsure about to place a car and can fit into your work, I think you’ll find this a useful and practical conversation. welcome Alex to the technology and human services podcast. To start with, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and what brought you to the work that you’re doing now as a as a consultant, Salesforce architect and advisor.

Alexander Lapa 0:54
So Marco, thank you for having me. As you said, my name is Alex, I go by the name Alexander when I ever written it down. But in conversation, I prefer Alex, much more informal. And yeah, I’m a Salesforce architect and advisor. I’ve been doing Salesforce for about 10 years now, CRM and general client relationship management for about 20 years. And my origins began, let’s start at university, I was doing a computer engineering program. So I’ve always had that technical engineering type of mindset. Even though my mum used to be a fine arts teacher, I tend to say I’ve got the creativity from my mum, but then the technical side from my dad, who was also an engineer,

Marco Campana 1:38
perfect combination.

Alexander Lapa 1:39
I don’t know if it actually is true or not, but I definitely like saying it. So I started with him graduating with a degree in computer engineering. And I did like hardcore software engineering type work for the first six years. And when I mean hardcore, I mean, like building software for very specific devices, 16 bit microprocessors, device drivers, all that hardcore, low level type of coding, they call it. And then sometime around 2003, I was introduced to CRM, and the most popular one at that time was Siebel. Definitely, we don’t hear about that anymore. But at that moment, it was very, very popular, um, then started as a developer. And then people started noticing my talents for being good with the customer good with a client, whether they were internal or external. And then I was moved up then to a business analyst, a BA. And then over time, I went up to an architect. And it was 10 years ago, I said, I was born into a client that was working with Siebel, and they went through a huge digital transformation to switch from Siebel to Salesforce. And that’s where I found really my home for the last few years. Great platform, great CRM. And I really, really enjoy what I do.

Marco Campana 3:01
Awesome, I always love hearing people’s journeys into into the work that they do. It sounds like you’re in some ways versus linear, because you come from a technical background, but obviously you sort of you’re discovering as you go. And and when you find something you love, you kind of dive into it, which is which is great to hear about Salesforce, and we’re going to talk a good chunk of time about Salesforce, but in the sector that I work in an immigration refugee serving sector CRMs are still I would say, in their infancy in some ways. So I’m wondering if you could sort of just even give people kind of a background or or, or a one on one about what a CRM is and what people should know about them and why and how they’re useful.

Alexander Lapa 3:38
Sure. So a CRM is really a place to store information about people, about companies, and about your interactions with them. A CRM probably wouldn’t make sense, if you’re a one person, the solopreneur, or freelance type of guy that has interactions with various people, you know, a Google contact manager will be probably sufficient for that. Taking notes, you know, last time we spoke, maybe birthdays, various pieces of contact information. But the minute you get to a certain level, certain size, if you have more than one person working with more than one contact, then it makes sense to have something more central, something that multiple people can access, multiple people can interact with, you know, people come and go churn within companies. So having a persistent area that’s consolidated, where you get to see that holistic picture, they call it in Salesforce, that the 360 perspective of your customer, is a huge advantage. And I mean, Salesforce is one of many CRMs. It’s the one of course I’m most familiar with, but it’s not always the right CRM for clients that I work with. So I mean, but all these principles apply to you know, whether it’s Salesforce or something more simple.

Marco Campana 4:52
It’s a good point about, about the right choice and the right software because I think so often I find amongst Hume In community and social service organizations, they’re not sure how to make technology decisions, which is in part why, for example, maybe they’re using spreadsheets instead of instead of a CRM, even when even though it could be a fit. And so they hear about, oh, you should be using Salesforce or you should be using, you know, some other CRM, and they’re not sure even how to make those kinds of decisions. So when when you’re thinking about it, for example, you’re focused on Salesforce, but it sounds like for some clients, that might not be the right choice. How can how does how do you? Or how can someone make help someone make that decision about understanding? What’s even the first step? Okay, I’ve heard about the CRM, it seems to make sense for the work that we’re doing. But how do I decide what the right platform or approach is for us?

Alexander Lapa 5:45
It’s very common for people to pre CRM start with spreadsheets, because it’s simple, it’s easy to use, you know, it is can be a bit cloud based, you know, you can use Google Sheets, or Microsoft teams to be able to modify, you know, SharePoint, to be able to modify certain documents in the cloud. But it’s very simplistic, and it’s very difficult to build any kind of reporting, for example, out of these kinds of spreadsheets. So what is terms of the initial questions? What I like to focus on and focus on is the goals and the gaps. You know, what is does your current system do? Or what sorry? What does your current system can do that you want it to do? Where is it missing in its functionality? And then the other one would be what is your goal? What would you like to be? Where do you want to see where would you see yourself or your business? How is it growing? In which direction is it growing, to be able to start doing some kind of technology assessment? It got that step usually happens before I get on boarded before I’m engaged. Usually, when I’m called upon it, we’ve already made the choice of Salesforce is the right choice. Now we need someone to help us get us to the proper way of implementing it, customizing it, personalizing it, and you know, advising us how to use and get the most out of our investment. So there’s some questions that I probably don’t know exactly the best way to answer but I would stick with those first two, where are the gaps? And where do you want to go?

Marco Campana 7:08
Excellent. And so once someone has made the choice for Salesforce, and they’re bringing you in, one of the things I noticed about Salesforce is that it’s not it’s not just a CRM, it’s so much more than that. So it’s got the client and data management, it’s got the client tracking. But a lot of folks are also looking at some system and preferably one platform above them all, if you will, to track their client’s journey throughout their entire organization, but also to track their communities, their their do volunteer management, even, you know, marketing and social media engagement, as well as to have, you know, automated messages, notifications being sent out to staff and clients, as well as to interact perhaps with other systems within and outside of the organization. So I’m wondering if you can speak to how Salesforce is, I guess, for lack of a better word, an ecosystem, rather than just sort of a CRM and what that looks like.

Alexander Lapa 8:06
There are a lot of CRMs out there, and various other joint type platforms that do things really, really well. Right, if you want to do fundraising, for example, there might be a platform that does fundraising really well. And you wouldn’t need anything, any kind of add ons or extensions to that. And then you might need another platform or another system to manage your volunteers. And another one to handle major donors, for example, the benefit of Salesforce is that it can do everything, it’s a platform. So it has multiple possibilities. And it can be and it is meant to be customized, which means it comes out of the box with certain standard features, certain standard tables, let’s call them or objects or, you know, places to put data. But it also has the possibility of expanding it. And when I say it can do anything, that’s a positive and a negative, you need to have a lot of, you need to have the proper knowledge basically, to be able to know what you should do and what you shouldn’t do, right, with great power comes great responsibility. And Salesforce is definitely one of those tools that you can, if you don’t have the right skill set, or if you don’t have the right people who have the right skill set, find yourself that you know, you have a lot of technical debt, a lot of bad code, bad functionality, not from a lot of foresight, and build something that over time becomes harder and harder to use. But aside from that, Salesforce definitely is like you said an ecosystem you can have. It has the platform itself. It has add ons you can do whether it’s the add ons from Salesforce or from a third party. And you can extend it to in any direction that you really want. I’ve seen real estate agents, for example, using Salesforce, I’ve seen healthcare professionals, obviously nonprofit industry as well. It’s not bound by any kind of limitation. It’s just more your imagination more of your scope, your budget, and where you want to go.

Marco Campana 9:54
So I wonder internally then, because I mean, it sounds like And my experience has been with CRMs is that it Some, it’s never a one time investment. Obviously there’s the there’s the initial choice, the development, the customization, of a CRM, but then there’s there’s going to be your as you’re learning what’s possible, as you’re learning how to use it, you’re going to be wanting to develop and tweak it and things like that. And I’m curious if, if you can speak a little bit to what the kind of staff skills and roles an organization should be thinking about. If they want to make full use of that CRM.

Alexander Lapa 10:28
There’s basically two options. Depending on the size of the of the organization, they can decide to gain the knowledge in house either to hire people full time, or to increase the skills of their current employees in the direction of Salesforce. And Salesforce has some fantastic learning resources out there called trailhead, for example, totally free learn on your own pace. It’s designed for people who don’t have a lot of technical knowledge. And it will take you from ground zero all the way up to a, you know, certified technical architect, which is the highest level in terms of technical skills within Salesforce. And the new direction would be to hire a partner or a consulting agency to guide you direct you and build it for you as well. And those cases it works. Finding the right partner is key, making sure that they have references, and they’ve done it before. And this is should be more or less cookie cutter for them to do. But even in that case, there should always be my recommendation is at least there should always be at least one employee within the organization that has a certain level of Salesforce knowledge or CRM knowledge, to be able to manage basic stuff, it’s like having a general contractor come to your house to renovate your house, right? You probably don’t want to do all the work yourself. But you want to be able to change a light bulb on your own right, you want to be able to paint the wall on your own, you don’t have to call the contractor every time you want to make a single change to your system.

Marco Campana 11:53
So it’s important to have that internal capacity. And obviously there’s there’s the, I guess for for an organization, there’s the free resources like trailhead, and the learning. But would you recommend that an organization that is working with a CRM developer or someone like yourself, build in some of that training in particular, I guess if there’s a lot of customization that happens with the system,

Alexander Lapa 12:15
yeah, I’m a big proponent of teaching a person to fish. So you know, let the let the partner and let the the partner basically, when we say it again, so I’m a big proponent of teaching people how to fish, you know, you can let the partner do all the heavy lifting. But it’s important for you to know and or at least understand what is being built and how it’s being built. Maybe not all the details or the technical levels, but the basic concepts so that you can make certain changes on your own, again, without having to lift your hand every single time you want to change. But again, you have to have the right skill set to be able to do that making sure that you are building things in the right way.

Marco Campana 12:56
Yeah, so it obviously helps to have some some internal knowledge and capacity, which is obviously an ongoing issue for nonprofits in a lot of cases, just finding funding for those positions or changing someone’s job description. But without it, I assume, I mean, I guess I wonder when when that isn’t the case, if you’ve had experiences where a CRM has been fully developed, fully customized, but an organization hasn’t committed to that kind of eternal capacity, what that can look like, in the outcome.

Alexander Lapa 13:25
Sure, I mean, it’s definitely a doable model, you can have a nonprofit that has managed resources completely outside. And there are agencies that do that they will take care of you like they call it a white glove type of approach, where any issue that you want, or have, you just call upon them, you know, they’ll create a support ticket of some kind and take care of it. But you’re at the mercy of their of their team, you know, the, you have to make sure you’ve got a very strong agreement with them, that they saw and solve urgent issues in a timely matter. But it to me, it’s, you’re not missing out, but I’m not sure where the right word is for it. It gives you definitely peace of mind. And if you have the right partner, it can work, I just find that it’s a missed opportunity, in a certain sense not to have at least someone that has some basic level knowledge, like even user creation, for example, right, you have a new employee that comes to your organization, there’s a small few steps that you need to set up to be able to have instead and correctly give the permissions for that user username, password profile, and so forth. To have to rely upon an external company every single time that happens, whether someone comes on or someone comes off the company, it just it seems like a waste of money to me. It’s something that can be learned very quickly. You know, they call it in Salesforce, a Salesforce administrator. It’s not so difficult to become certified as an administrator and to be able to manage these kinds of simple interactions.

Marco Campana 14:54
It’s, it’s I feel like increasingly we’re seeing positions like these become do is a normal part of the day to day work of organizations, because CRMs are core type of technology. And I wonder if there’s additional benefits from having internal capacity when it comes to data analysis. So for example, one of the big reasons that people want to use CRMs is for the reporting function and what you can learn what from the information and the interactions you have with clients. And I wonder if that’s another part of internal capacity. But also, if you can speak to sort of this CRM is being used for that kind of data mining and data intelligence gathering.

Alexander Lapa 15:34
And definitely, one of the advantages of a proper CRM is good reporting. And again, it’s something it’s something simple that administrator can do on their own. Salesforce, for example, has a very graphical way of building reports, drag and drop type of functionality, simple filters, and more than likely you’re going to want to make, you’ll probably start with a base level or base number of reports at the beginning of a project. But those 10 those chances are they’ll, they’ll be modified over time. So again, having that administrator on site to be able to do those things is a great idea. It’s kind of like the idea of a doctor’s these days have to have certain level of skill with using computers, right? It used to be in the past, where they would focus on you with the patient. And any notes they would take would be on a piece of paper and pencil. Today, when I go for an appointment, I you know, the the doctor is always in front of a computer tapping on a keyboard, they have to learn a certain system to be able to enter their notes. And that knowledge has to come, you know, they can’t outsource that. So it’s kind of the same model with a nonprofit in that you want at least someone there who has some technical level to be able to make these changes and use your system and leverage its functionality without having to go every time outside.

Marco Campana 16:51
Just to shift. So I guess actually before I shift gears, a lot of CRMs, including Salesforce offer nonprofit pricing, and discounts, which I don’t think everybody’s always familiar with, but can be really, really important in particular, getting getting started, but also over the long haul, because most CRMs have licensing costs, you know, user costs, things like that. So I wonder if you can kind of give a ballpark sense of of what what someone should expect to be to be paying what kind of a budget they should be looking for. Building in sort of the initial costs of either buying or, or licensing the CRM, the development because no CRM obviously comes perfectly out of the box. And then the ongoing costs, like licensing and development, like, you know, again, funders are, I think, are also grappling with this. So what’s uh, what’s in order to do something effective with all sorts of those bells and whistles that I mentioned earlier? Right, not just CRM, but but the volunteer management, the case management, the marketing, social engagements, social media engagement and things like that. Is it possible to get a sense of, let’s say, for a small to medium sized nonprofit with, say, 50 employees? What kind of costs are looking at on a regular basis or a monthly basis?

Alexander Lapa 18:09
It’s a great question, what I like specifically about Salesforce, and one of the things I like about Salesforce is that they offer 10 free user licenses to nonprofits. So if you are a small nonprofit within 10 people, then Salesforce itself has no monthly cost. So there’s obviously going to be some kind of initial implementation costs, whether you do it internally or externally. But once that’s complete, month, over month, your cost is zero. And most other CRMs, I don’t think there’s any other CRM, at least that I know of, that has that model, they’re always a not pay per month, or pay per year type of subscription, you have to pay you have to engage in. So if you’re a very small nonprofit, Salesforce could be a good fit, if you can find a partner to build that initial implementation for you. Because again, you’re good to go after that. For medium sized, I’m not so sure, I tend to notice that medium sized nonprofits tend to stay away from Salesforce for one reason or another. But I have seen larger ones. Definitely celebrate and cherish Salesforce. In terms of what I’ve seen, Salesforce seems to be the end of a food chain, meaning you if you’re a small nonprofit, you’ll start with something simple as simple CRM. But as you get more evolved, you end up going toward Salesforce or you know, Microsoft Dynamics, which is another great system for nonprofits. But usually people will work their way up so organizations work their way up to Salesforce. Once they get to the top. There’s nowhere else to go but down. So I’ve never seen organizations move away from Salesforce. At that level, of course, costs do go up because you probably have more add ons. And some add ons are free and some add ons are paid, again depends on what your functionality is, what you want to achieve, and what if it can be done with standard Salesforce functionality? If it needs to be an add on costs could be an implementation costs could be in the millions and millions, depending how big you are, you know, you’ve got some of the largest nonprofits in Canada, for example, you’d expect in a one to $3 million project, initial implementation, and then maybe, you know, 1000s and hundreds per month in reoccurring costs. But to answer your question about 50 people, that’s really that middle spot where you’ll get the 10 for your licenses, but you have to pay for the additional 40, which is about $35 US per month per user. And that changes, so don’t don’t quote me on that one. As soon as today, that’s what we know that exactly, it is discounted, they do offer discounted licenses, because the normal Salesforce license is about 135 US dollars per user per month. So you’re getting a 80% discount, because you’re a nonprofit, and you get all the benefits that additional that full user license would have given you like if you were a corporation, that’s the price you pay, and you’re getting the exact same functionality for a fraction of the cost. So there are a lot of benefits to that. I imagine that other CRMs would offer discounts as well, but I couldn’t really speak to those.

Marco Campana 21:13
Oh, no, fair enough. Yeah, I mean, I think it’s, it’s useful to know about Salesforce, but also just for people to know in general, that that there are nonprofit and charity pricing, and discounts out there. Which which can be really helpful.

Alexander Lapa 21:26
Not just just not just for the platform itself, but also for the add ons.

Marco Campana 21:30
Right, which is really important to point out. Yeah, it is.

Alexander Lapa 21:33
So Salesforce has its own app store, which they call App Exchange. And there are basically 1000s of apps published there for various reasons. And there’s a whole category, just for nonprofits. And by far and large, most of them have obviously a discount for nonprofits, or you know, the profit or the the app was designed specifically for nonprofits.

Marco Campana 21:55
Interesting. So I mean, I guess that’s a whole other learning curve as well that either someone internally would need to kind of be able to navigate and assess. For example, if you’re looking for a particular add on, maybe there are three or four of them. So figuring out what the right one is for them, either internally or through a community or with someone like yourself,

Alexander Lapa 22:13
yep, that’s where the visor part of my title comes in guiding organizations on, you know what, based on their requirements, based on their needs, based on their projections, the future projections, which app is the best choice,

Marco Campana 22:26
it is a successful interaction with you, getting someone off the ground, and perhaps providing all of those initial kinds of support, and then they’re off and running on their own, because they’ve made the commitment to that internal skill building and, and staff role, the component

Alexander Lapa 22:41
of teaching a person to fish. So I really want to guide people in the implementation, you know, teach them and show them how I was doing it and how I did it. But then once the project is finished, to give the keys back to the organization, make them ownership again, give them the ownership again, happy to be there, if any additional functionality needs to be added, but be able to give them enough tools and enough confidence to say, Yeah, we got this we can handle changing the light bulb, so to speak, or what painting the wall on her own, building the reports, adding users and so forth. But anything more complex, I’m here to help

Marco Campana 23:17
you that’s great. So I mean, even for someone who’s more self reliant, from a budgeting perspective, because I’m always thinking practically, in terms of what what an executive director will think about and how they’ll approach this from a budgeting perspective, is that, you know, you may be a year in and you will have had possibly zero costs if you’re, you know, 1010 licenses or below. But a fixed cost. If you’re, you know, regardless if you’ve got, you know, you’re paying for that monthly app license, or maybe you’ve got those other 40 staff licenses. But from time to time, you may need to bring someone in, you may need to sort of Spike the budget, either for for some additional development based on what you’ve learned of the system. And so I guess that’s that’s a question I guess, for people to or that’s a, that’s something for people to be aware about is that there are there are initial costs, there are potentially ongoing costs, but then there are potentially spikes and costs as you’re moving down and developing more. So it’s kind of like any technology. And I think funders also need to be be aware of that, you know, in year two, you may suddenly say I need, I’m getting a request for $50,000 for this development, or I thought we already did that. And being able to help them and their literacy around this to understand that in the tech cycle that that that’s just normal development happens from time to time. Even though there are sort of sunken fixed costs, there’s going to be something that comes up every now and then

Alexander Lapa 24:37
I was reading a book recently talking about how life is about sustainment. Okay. Life doesn’t live on its own. You have to keep adding to it, you have to keep on feeding it or, you know, paying for it. Otherwise it just will crumble. So it’s the same thing with technology, right? You have to keep it alive and sometimes you have to keep on enhancing it. And even websites get stale after a certain number of years. Do you need to keep pumping new life into it to keep it going and to, to increase it to make it better, stronger, faster,

Marco Campana 25:06
that’s a great way to look at it, you’ve got to feed it and nurture it. And as it grows, it changes. And so you have to be able to change with it.

Alexander Lapa 25:15
Change is the only constant.

Marco Campana 25:17
Absolutely. One of the things that that’s important. And you probably deal with this a lot with organizations in the nonprofit world. I’m working with organizations who, you know, may have one large funder, but they may have other funders as well, they may have other relationships in particular, you know, referral relationships with other organizations. And we’ve started to hear and when it comes to data, data portability, system interoperability, these are not new concepts, but they’re, they’re somewhat new in the conversation among a lot of nonprofits that I work with. So I’m wondering, because my sense is that a lot of the, quote, good CRMs are built with with that in mind, the idea of how can we share data between systems, whether they’re internal systems, or external systems, in safe, secure private ways? So I wonder if that’s something that you work on, like, how can a CRM be implemented to create that data sharing, in particular, so clients, for example, who might be getting referred from one program to another don’t have to go through yet another intake, but the data goes with them, so that the the frontline worker on the other side can see that oh, 80% of what we need is already done, I’ll just ask them the other 20% of the questions that I have, or we can submit reports up to funders, and they’re, you know, interoperable with their systems. And we don’t have to do manual interventions and things like that. I wonder if you can speak a bit to where, where CRMs or Salesforce sit when it comes to that kind of interoperability and data portability.

Alexander Lapa 26:53
So in this scenario, is it a partner of the initial organization? Or is it a separate legal entity?

Marco Campana 27:00
It’s usually a separate legal entity, but it can also be interoperability within this the organization systems. So let’s let’s think about it as a separate legal entity. So it’s another nonprofit entirely, or a government institution.

Alexander Lapa 27:15
Because that raises a bunch of more questions about PII and stuff like that, and sharing data, the whole legality of it, which is in a hole, I mean, that we couldn’t talk about that part. But the technical side of things, it’s relatively straightforward. Salesforce offers multiple ways of sharing information, getting the why and the how, or the should I question is, Is it much more important one that then the technology one. So I mean, Salesforce itself as a CRM is designed for people inside a particular organization. So it’s the employees at an organization. And there are various add ons provided by Salesforce. Excuse me, provided by Salesforce that allow you to expose this data in a kind of a self serve portal. And that portal could be either for people themselves like a volunteer to sign up and to indicate their availability or their skill set. Or it could be for various partners, what I mean by a partner, meaning a legal or separate, the same legal entity, or I guess even a partner to you could expose certain data to them through this, what they call experience, cloud portal. Permissions are very important, making sure you share only what you’re supposed to share. There are ways also of communicating from a Salesforce instance to another Salesforce instance, a kind of integration between these two systems. And then various other types of API’s integrations you can add to Salesforce to share it with with other people. But the should I and you know, what should I share? I think is a much more important question.

Marco Campana 28:51
Yeah, no, that’s a really interesting point, or an important point, I think, because it’s sort of the below the iceberg stuff. So technically, we’re not dealing with as much technical challenges the systems are set up to be able to share. But you need to have those processes those agreements, those privacy constraints in place, and understanding exactly how things let’s let’s imagine for a second that I have a relation, I’m a settlement sort of immigrant and refugee serving organization, a settlement organization and I have a relationship with with with a legal clinic, that we refer clients back and forth to, and we’ve gone through the processes of ensuring that we have the the right constraints in place, the way should ice are all answered, we understand what we’re sharing and why our clients are giving consent. You know, we’ve we’ve we’ve dotted the I’s and cross the T’s, as they say, Can this is the system is a system but say the legal clinic is using a legal CRM and we’re using Salesforce, but we want them to speak to each other in some way so that I can send data from our Salesforce instance to their system. What are the I guess the The Security Privacy constraints, or systems in places, that’s something that’s built in to that kind of interoperability to be able to do that technically,

Alexander Lapa 30:10
the way that I would approach that would be using some kind of middleware. And the middleware has its own technology and interoperability to be able to manage data securely in passing it back and forth. Salesforce, for example, has bought a company called mule soft, which is a fantastic but very, very advanced in middleware system. And there are other ones like Bumi, and so forth, that allow you to to extract data in real time and share it with another system. There are other ways of doing it too. I mean, you can just, you know, have much more simpler systems where you batch download certain data, securely transferred across some kind of FTP site or whatnot, to the other system, and back and forth, it depends, again, on the requirements, you know, how fast does the data need to be sent back and forth, how accurate or how accurate but how, I guess how fast it needs to be sent, and whether and how ill managed duplicates in conflicts of data.

Marco Campana 31:09
So that’s, again, part of that process. But once it’s in place, you’ve got the system set up. So again, there’s theoretically going to be additional costs either at the beginning stages in the customization and development stage. But then if there’s middleware involved, if there’s other software and and then it probably becomes even more important to have staff at both sides of that relationship, who can understand how those systems are working in manage the data that’s coming and going from from within their different systems.

Alexander Lapa 31:35
Exactly. And I would also add, you would need to have someone who’s technically knowledgeable in that middleware system. So some kind of integration architect or integration developer.

Marco Campana 31:44
So this can get this is totally possible, but can get quite complex quite quickly. It sounds like

Alexander Lapa 31:50
it depends how advanced you want it to be, maybe there are a simpler solutions, but they’re not as responsive, not as not real time, they might not handle certain conflicts, or redundancy, or retries, you know, re queuing, the more advanced middleware, it has all of that, and especially if you need to do any kind of transformation of data, right? Salesforce stores the data at a fundamental level in the database one way, which probably is gonna be different than your legal systems database. So you know, just changing the first name, last name into full name, for example, that’s a type of transformation. middleware can do that, you know, released you probably straightforward, especially most apps can do it really, really easily. But, you know, the, the the more simpler types of middleware can’t, so there’s more or maybe I’m have a manual operation that has to happen between those two systems.

Marco Campana 32:38
Gotcha. But that’s also been part of that initial conversation of what do we need to be able to accomplish? What can we need the system to be able to do? Because you wouldn’t necessarily want to start with a more manual approach? If that’s actually not the right solution? Just because it’s cheaper initially? Right. Interesting, so much to think about around that. I want to go back to someone. Yeah, no. And I think that’s that that sort of, I think is where it freezes a lot of people is just the idea of a CRM makes perfect sense. But then the possibilities of that CRM, around the dream of of sharing that client data, or even having the client have access to it themselves. Like you mentioned, volunteers being able to fill out information, but clients being able to go in and see the data and the information that is being collected about them by the organization and being more transparent with them. Is is something that people are also talking about when it comes to this kind of conversation about data.

Alexander Lapa 33:32
Usually, it’s not a technical challenge, there are there’s always a solution, right? Almost always, let’s say there’s always almost always a technical solution for any problem. The more important questions are, Should I do it? Why should I do it? How much it’s gonna cost? And how do I maintain it? Those are the those are the more important questions. The the technical ones, you know, they sell themselves?

Marco Campana 33:54
For sure. Yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense. It’s, it’s the usual sort of Digital Strategy and just understanding why you’re making those choices and what the benefits are and how they’re going to either help you, your partners, your clients, or your funders and other other partners through the process. This is great. This is super interesting. I want to go back to something you said. And I want to make sure I under I heard it correctly that you when we were talking about costs and budgeting and things like that you had mentioned that for you know, under 1010. And under Salesforce is free for the licenses and you see a lot of large nonprofits using it. But the ones in the middle you don’t see Salesforce being used as much Was that correct? Did I understand that correctly?

Alexander Lapa 34:33
Yeah. And it’s not because they went from Salesforce to something and then we would go back to Salesforce as they grow. It’s more like they’ve, they found another niche. They found a combination of various other systems that work for them. That is at a price point that works for them. The functionality works for them, and they’re just happy in the in that middle middle zone, let’s call it I don’t have a lot of experience with it. But I’ve noticed time and time again, more people talk about This, you know, these middle sized. And I don’t know exactly what that means, I imagine maybe 52,000, or 500 would be maybe middle vitae, and off the top of my head, come up with some numbers. There are some really good CRMs really good platforms for various tools, that for some reason, Salesforce just doesn’t seem to fit well, it’s either too expensive for them, they can’t leverage, they don’t have the funds, basically, to be able to hire a team or an architect to build the product system properly. You don’t have that internal staff to do it. And then they just rely on on simple systems that are no more pre built than Salesforce is.

Marco Campana 35:38
I’m curious if you know of or are aware of what some of those CRMs are for those kind of middle, mid mid sized nonprofits just because I think it would be interesting for people to know what’s out there.

Alexander Lapa 35:50
So I know they do exist. The thing is that the note the names that come up, come up with the top of my head are not ones that I would recommend. And I wouldn’t want to do your listeners injustice, I only want to recommend the best of the best. So I don’t know what are the best CRMs. In that level, I just can think of names that I know of. But I wouldn’t personally recommend.

Marco Campana 36:12
Yeah, I think that’s totally fair. I mean, I think one of the things we don’t want to do is just to give people names that they suddenly start investigating, because that happens too often with technology. They hear about a piece of tech or a software, or a CRM or a database that someone else is used, and they sort of start going down the wrong rabbit hole. It’s something I’m definitely intrigued to find out about. So I’ll say to my listeners that I’m going to try to find out some of the what that lay of the land looks like. Because I think it’s it’s interesting to sort of expand the search into other areas and see even why some of these CRMs are being used for more differently sized organizations, but But I totally respect that you don’t want to send people down the wrong path.

Alexander Lapa 36:56
I’ll be happy to do some research on my own as well. And I can share that with you. We can collaborate if you’d like.

Marco Campana 37:00
Sounds great. Yeah, we can add it to the show notes and the episode, and even a blog post down the road. Again, it just when you said it was really intriguing to me. And I’m like, Okay, that’s interesting. So there’s Salesforce at the beginning or the end of a size but not in the middle and curious, curious about whether that’s just a cost issue or, you know, different different promotion, or just different experiences. So and it could also be different sectors to like, that’s one of the things that we’re learning in our sector is there’s a few CRMs that have been created specifically for immigrant and refugee serving organizations. And then there are CRMs that are built off of Salesforce and Microsoft product and things like that customized in unique ways. And then there are people who simply are using their own in Salesforce instance and customizing it in their own way. So there’s such a lay of the land in that way that that people are are relicensing, if you will a Salesforce kind of repackaging as a service versus an organization that might have the technical capacity to just do what we’ve talked about throughout this conversation of learning how to use Salesforce, bringing into the organization, having staff who are who are kind of dedicated to that staff. But to that to that to using and administering Salesforce. So it’s an interesting set of possibilities. And it’s

Alexander Lapa 38:15
an enormous number of possibilities, I can understand how organizations can be overwhelmed by the number of choices that they have. And it helps to have a consultant that comes in and helps you evaluate what is the best CRM for your particular needs? Because there just there is too many choices out there.

Marco Campana 38:33
That is a great segue to is that something then that people who are listening to this, obviously, you’re you’re a Salesforce architect and advisor, but if they had general questions or wanted some guidance, is that something that a person like you could do? Or would you recommend a different path?

Alexander Lapa 38:50
If it’s Salesforce, I’m happy to help. But if they haven’t made up their mind yet, and they really want to consider other options, I wouldn’t be their best choice, I would be too biased, unfortunately. And I’m not ashamed to admit that. But there are some great people out there who are pure CRM agnostic advisors, who will sit with you and figure out on your needs based on your needs, you know, what’s your end would fit best. If that choice ends up being CRM, then you can give me a call.

Marco Campana 39:16
If it ends up being Salesforce, Salesforce, you know, that’s great. And maybe I’ll get some of those names off off of our call off our conversation to add sort of give people some starting points to say like, you know, because I think again, that that is an important starting point for people who, who we don’t want them necessarily, Oh, I heard Salesforce is cool. So I’ll try Salesforce. We want them the wrong approach. You don’t want to do that. We want them to explore.

Alexander Lapa 39:44
You got to pick the right tool for the job, right? You can’t just share a tool like you said, and then run with it, assuming that it’s going to be best for you. You have to spend it’s worth spending the time doing the research, evaluating and then making that decision. So it’s an over informed decision not a I heard this, this really cool podcast and they spoke about Salesforce, we must get it now.

Marco Campana 40:07
Absolutely. Well, listen, is there an I always like to end with this question Is there anything I haven’t asked you about CRM or Salesforce that you want to let people know that you think it’s important to mention?

Alexander Lapa 40:18
So yes, there is something I can think of. The critical part I’ve noticed for any kind of project with a CRM is not the technology, as I mentioned earlier, it’s the process around it. It’s the adoption of the system, it’s making sure that you your team is ready for this change. Because usually it is a big change, right? To go from Excel sheet, to a CRM, there’s going to be a change, people are going to be uncomfortable, they’re going to resist the change. So the what I would make sure to, to make sure that people need to pay attention about is be ready for that, be ready for this call change management, be ready for helping guiding people, reassuring them that yes, there is going to be a moment where things are going to be uncomfortable, you’re not going to be sure about what to do and how to do it. And that’s just an interim state, you know, you’re going to get past it, and things. Hopefully, if they’re built well, we’ll be better on the other side. And the benefits should always outweigh these kinds of uncomfortable moments. I would make sure that you know, just to you know, be aware that that moment does happen. As you as you learn a new CRM.

Marco Campana 41:27
That’s a fantastic bit of advice to end on. I feel it’s full circle from where you started, in this conversation actually focusing on the why should I hire? Or should I even do this, that it’s about the strategy. It’s about thinking about the organization and why you want a CRM and how you might use it is to think about the people who are going to be using it and how you bring them into the fold as well change management around technology, I think gets gets forgotten a lot. So that’s such an important reminder. So thank you for making that. It’s a great way to close the conversation. So I want to say thank you. But before I do that, where can people find you and find out more information about your work and your services?

Alexander Lapa 42:05
Yeah, so the best way would be my website. It’s called the Dryad consulting, dry ad consulting. It’s kind of a nod to my childhood when I used to play Dungeons and Dragons. Nice. And then LinkedIn, Alexander Alaba, LA, PA.

Marco Campana 42:19
Perfect. And we’ll link all of that in the show notes. There’s an Alex, thank you so much for this conversation. I really feel like I’ve learned a ton. And I think there’s a lot of useful information here for folks who are thinking about CRMs aren’t sure where to start some really good foundational recommendations and insights. So thank you for taking the time to spend with us today.

Alexander Lapa 42:37
Marco, thank you for having me.

Marco Campana 42:39
Thanks so much for listening. I hope you found this episode interesting and useful for you and your work. You can find more podcast episodes, wherever you listen to your podcasts are also on my site marcopolis.org. I appreciate you listening and if you have any tips, suggestions, ideas or want to be interviewed or know someone who wants to be interviewed, please drop me a line through my website, or marco@marcopolis.org Thanks again.

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