Innovation is like an iceberg: We get to see a tiny fraction of what’s there, but so much lies hidden beneath the surface. For an easy example, just look to the iPhone. Twelve years ago, Steve Jobs took the stage at MacWorld to announce a device that would go on to change the ways we communicate and access information. Clad in his signature black turtleneck and bluejeans, he played the perfect celebrity prophet-genius — somebody to show us the future. I remember watching the video online and being sucked in by his rhetoric: “Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone.” Here was a true forward thinker, bestowing upon us his latest creation.
Which, looking back on it, was exactly what I was supposed to feel: Jobs was the face of the company, and emphasizing his status as a public innovator (with a great comeback story to boot) helped sell products. His presentation was the tip of the iceberg.
What I wasn’t thinking about that day was all the behind-the-scenes innovation, from countless Apple employees, that made the iPhone possible. From the software engineers that created iOS to the product marketers responsible for the device’s eventual market domination, it took a lot of people pushing the limits of their expertise to make it happen.
My point? Innovation isn’t only the responsibility of CEOs and visionaries, even if it sometimes gets positioned that way — it’s something that should permeate your entire company. As a business leader, you should be doing everything you can to create an environment where employees of all kinds are able to flex their innovation muscles. Large scale or small, it all adds up — sometimes into very big things.
One way to make this goal a reality? Ensure that your internal technologies are designed to support such an environment. In this post, we’ll highlight how the Salesforce platform can enable and encourage your team to be at their innovative best.
How the Salesforce platform helps employees be more innovative.
As we’ve written before, most business activities can be broken into three tiers of mental complexity: Routine, advancement and innovation. Routine activities comprise the most basic parts of the average employee's day: Checking and responding to emails, entering data, etc. The stuff that doesn’t really move anything forward in a tangible way, but that still must be done nonetheless.
Advancement activities, on the other hand, do move things forward: Creating marketing content, moving a deal through the sales pipeline, etc. You can think of these activities as the ones that make up a job description.
Innovation activities are different, however. They’re the game changers — the ones that disrupt the status quo in order to increase efficiency, boost productivity, create better products, etc. These are the activities that can help grow your company in a major way.
The problem? Most employees are so bogged down with routine and advancement activities, they don’t have the time or brain space to innovate. Just take a look at the numbers: 27% of salespeople spend an hour or more on data entry every day. Across roles, up to 40% of productivity is lost due to the human brain’s struggle with task switching. Bad news.
This is where having the right internal technology comes into play. With a solution like Salesforce, employees can automate many of their routine tasks and use other platform features to support their advancement tasks, saving them time and energy.
With the automation tools that come standard with the Salesforce platform, for instance — Workflow, Process Builder and Flow Builder — employees can significantly reduce the amount of tasks they must accomplish by hand.
Workflow, the most basic automation tool, is used to create workflow rules. Workflow rules consist of just two components: A criterion and an action. When a certain criterion is met, the workflow rule will trigger a corresponding action. Here’s a small example: A user chooses a U.S. state when filling out an address on a contact record, and “United States” automatically populates in the “country” field.
Similar to Workflow, Process Builder “is a point-and-click tool that lets you easily automate if/then business processes.” On top of what Workflow can do, Process Builder offers:
- The ability to control the order of your criteria (hence the name). This means you don’t have to worry about one rule overwriting another.
- A graphical representation of your process. This makes it much easier to map out your automations.
- Access to fields on every related record. With Workflow, you can only update fields on a given record or its parent. Process Builder gives you access to any related record.
Essentially, Process Builder allows you to create clean, multi-step automations rather than many discrete automations that could compete with one another. For instance, you might use Process Builder to build a process that automatically updates all related contacts whenever a given field on a particular account is changed.
(Note: Recently, Salesforce made the decision to no longer enhance Workflow. They’ll still support your use of workflow rules, but all new functionality for the Workflow use case will come through Process Builder. That said, Workflow still holds a key advantage over Process Builder: It can send outbound messages. For now, if you want to trigger an update in an application outside the Salesforce platform, you’ll need to use a workflow rule).
Flow Builder, meanwhile, is the tool that provides the most capability and complexity. Flows are similar to processes created in Process Builder, to the extent that they’re made up of a series of if/then conditional statements. However, Flow Builder’s visual interface allows for much more complex branching logic than even process builder, and it’s also capable of searching for and retrieving data from within your database. Perhaps the biggest difference, though, is the UI component. Unlike Workflow and Process Builder, which are meant to work behind the scenes, flows can power significant user experiences.
Call scripts are frequently cited as a use case. Customer service teams can use flows to create branching call scripts for reps to follow as they assist customers with issues. A rep will ask the question that appears on their screen, listen for the customer’s response, then choose a selection that corresponds to the customer’s answer. The flow will then show the rep the next screen based on what they clicked.
Collectively, these tools give organizations of all kinds the ability to help employees conquer their routine tasks in record time. They can free sales reps from having to manually create follow-up reminders and approval requests. They can prevent service agents from asking redundant, time-wasting questions. And they can save users of all types from entering the same data ten different times.
That’s the routine stuff. As for advancement activities? Enter reports. The Salesforce platform offers robust reporting capabilities that can greatly support employees’ key tasks. For example, before planning their team’s next campaign, a marketing manager could use the “Marketing Exec Campaigns by ROI” report to quickly see how previous campaigns performed — response rates, opportunities and revenue generated, etc. This gives them concrete data they can use to quickly build a real strategy for success.
Or how about a sales manager? Maybe they need a holistic way to assess their reps’ activities. They could try to sort through individual sales data and piece together a complete picture. Or, they could run the “Activities by Salesperson” report, which shows all activities (tasks and events) their team has scheduled or completed this month (or over any period), grouped by owner.
Those are just two examples. There are a number of other standard reports you can run with the platform, and your choices become nearly limitless when you factor in all the custom options you’re able to build. True, reports might not help with every single advancement activity, but they provide easy access to the kinds of information that many workers need to do their jobs at a high level. So between the time they’ll save automating routine tasks and harnessing the power of the Salesforce platform’s reporting power, your team will have much more time and head space to devote to innovative activities.
How the Salesforce platform accommodates innovative growth.
The obvious goal of creating a business environment where employees can be more innovative is to arrive at great new products, services, etc. An example from one of my previous jobs comes to mind: After our agency switched to a project management platform that better served our needs, nearly every employee in the company suddenly found themselves with more time. As a result, one of our developers was able to build a custom data management tool that created new opportunities with existing customers. If he hadn’t been freed up to dream up and design such a thing, the company wouldn’t have been able to benefit from the new revenue stream.
With new offerings come big changes, however. Any time you introduce a new way of interacting with customers, you need to incorporate that into your company’s processes and technologies. This is another key way the Salesforce platform can help encourage innovation — it can actually accommodate the results of innovative activities.
How? By being a fully customizable system and existing inside a broad ecosystem. Say your company recognizes an opportunity for a better sales process. Once you’ve got it mapped out on paper, building it out in Salesforce can be as simple as adjusting the fields, automations and validation rules associated with each stage. This is something an internal admin or an external consulting firm could accomplish quickly.
Or maybe you’re planning to open up a new call center — you can integrate Salesforce with your phone system. Need to send and receive packages for the first time as a business? Download a shipping app from the AppExchange. Adding mobile technicians to your workforce? Try Field Service Lightning.
Point is, your business platforms need to support your business processes. If you’re going to innovate and grow, your processes are going to change — and that means your technologies need to be able to change in concert. That’s exactly what the Salesforce platform was designed to do — to help you scale. In fact, its architecture can handle up to millions of users. So start dreaming big.
Want to learn more about how the Salesforce suite of solutions can help your company be more innovative? Drop us a line. We’d love to chat.