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If you have never implemented a new database system from scratch, or migrated from one to another, you might find yourself thinking that it ought to be a fairly simple and straightforward process. After all, all the pieces are already there, and all you really need to do is import your data and log in – right? Well, not really.

We like to use analogies at the Lab, so we’ll stick with the kitchen one we've used before. Completing a Salesforce.com implementation (whether it’s a brand new system or making modifications to an existing one) is a lot like rebuilding your kitchen. You know that your current kitchen has issues – perhaps your family has outgrown it, or there’s not enough storage, or the cabinets are so old that your dinner guests think they've wandered onto the Brady Bunch set. And you know that your new kitchen will be amazing – making your whole house seem bigger and brighter and more efficient, giving you amazing super-chef powers, and turning Alice’s meatloaf into an epic culinary delight.

But at the same time -- you’re replacing every appliance, the countertops, the cabinetry, maybe even the electrical work and plumbing. And yes, you may get a few surprises along the way – that hidden water leak you didn't know about, or the 20-year old termite damage the previous owner didn't mention and you didn't budget for. It can be a lot of work, and it creates both stress and a LOT of dust -- so much that at times you’ll most likely start having second thoughts.

Just like a kitchen is not a “thing,” a Salesforce implementation is not a “product.” Just like no two people use a kitchen in exactly the same way, no two organizations have exactly the same requirements for their CRM. All things considered, starting a Salesforce implementation is not like moving into a prefabricated kitchen with everything selected for you and already built. It’s a lot more like a kitchen remodel, dust and all. It can be a daunting process – but just like the kitchen remodel, if everything is planned and executed properly, the results will be well worth the effort.

Here are four ways a Salesforce.com implementation is a lot like remodeling a kitchen:

1. You have to answer a lot of questions

For many, this is the most frustrating part of the process. With a kitchen, you have to decide where to place the stove. You have to make sure it is properly spaced with the dishwasher. You have to decide cabinet colors, wall colors, flooring selections, and appliances. Sometimes you’ll have to answer questions you didn't know were questions. Maybe you've spent the last many years wanting to replace your electric stove with a gas one, and then the builder starts talking about new-fangled induction cooktops that you've never even considered. Or maybe you go to the paint store for “white” paint only to be surprised that “white” comes in 20 different shades and four finishes.

When making decisions about the new kitchen, it helps (a lot!) to think about the old one. What things work well? What things don’t work? What things are you unable to do in it, that you want to be able to do in the new one?

The same is true for a Salesforce.com implementation. You go through discovery and business process reviews so you can decide where data goes, what applications to install and what new fields and workflows are needed. Every organization has different ways of doing things and your CRM is no different. You want it done right -- and you want it to be built around *your* answers to all those questions.

2. You are unable to use your current system temporarily

When you are performing a complete kitchen remodel, there will probably be a period of time where you will have to live without using your kitchen for a while. Maybe you’ll have a bare-bones temporary kitchen, where you are forced to cook on a small microwave or hot plate in the corner.

With an implementation, there may be a period of time that you are unable to use our current solution or your new Salesforce.com instance while we are making the switch. Some clients have even captured some temporary data in an Excel file during the transition -- much like using a microwave while you wait.

While this inconvenient period can’t always be avoided, it can be minimized with proper planning and scheduling.

3. You can still make modifications once it’s ready for use

Once the crew has left your house and proclaimed victory with your kitchen remodel, you can move all of your pots and pans back to where they belong so you can start using your kitchen to make some good meals. But that’s not the end, you’ll always tweak, improve and substitute equipment in your kitchen as your needs evolve or new products become available. The same thing happens your Salesforce.com CRM.

After you have your data in place and everything is set up, you may decide there are some small tweaks that need to be made to make the solution more useable. The great thing about Salesforce.com is that it grows with you. As your business changes and needs change, it can be configured to update you needs. This could be as simple as creating new reports, page layouts or fields; or as complex as swapping out an application for an alternative, or creating custom objects to store new types of data. You’re never “done,” you’ll achieve milestones and keep evolving.

4. Your partner can make (or break) the project

Imagine you are half way through the install of your new cabinets and you realize that the contractor you picked has never actually installed cabinets before and now you are left with cabinets that don’t close just right. Or worse, they aren’t even lined up correctly. Now you regret picking them because he was the one who was available that same day, promised he had kitchen experience and you wanted the project done before the big party.

Implementing Salesforce.com, or any CRM, has its challenges. It can be frustrating. It can take longer than expected. That’s why it is really important to have a partner that you can trust, who can give you best practices and tell you why a purple island just doesn’t make sense. Or that the solution you are using may not be the best for your organization. In the end of it all, you will have the solution of your dreams – a kitchen that makes you proud to show it off.

Having Salesforce.com experience alone does not make a partner qualified to help your nonprofit. Understanding how nonprofits use salesforce.com is critical. And the best part is that once you have the new structure in place, it is easy to change out the components. The fancy new dishwasher is a lot louder than you anticipated? Replace it. Your email system requirements changed? Get a different app. You will always have a lot of choices in the marketplace.