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For many organizations that use Salesforce, especially those that signed up for free through the Salesforce Foundation, there is often a "Now what?" moment. You have this powerful, flexible CRM solution, but you aren't sure yet how to make it do everything you want it to do. You need apps.
The Salesforce AppExchange currently offers nearly 3,000 apps, and consulting firms and vendors offer dozens more that are not listed on the AppExchange. How do you sort through them all to find exactly what your organization needs? And once you find an interesting app, what should you look for before you implement it? Here are a few handy questions to help guide you.
Typically, the Salesforce developer community follows clear guidelines and agrees on best practices, both for setting up an organization's implementation and for developing apps in order to make sure they all play nice together. But if the app you're considering uses a standard object (such as Households) differently than your implementation, or if you have heavily customized your standard objects, the app is likely to not work properly.
While you can't control how an app developer uses objects, you can test-drive apps in a sandbox version of your implementation — a testing version that uses your actual data, but without affecting your actual system. That way, you have to opportunity to see how a new app will handle your data, as well as how well it will work with other apps in your implementation.
If you obtained your licenses through the Salesforce Foundation's Power of Us program, you're using the Enterprise Edition. Before you purchase or install an app, check on the Details tab of the app's listing in the AppExchange to see what editions it supports. You're not likely to find an app that doesn't support the Enterprise Edition, but it's still a good idea to check.
Most apps on the AppExchange are developed and supported by a software vendor or consulting firm that should provide updates to fix bugs, keep up with changes to the Salesforce platform (or packages, such as the Nonprofit Starter Pack), or address other issues. However, if that company goes out of business, will anyone still support the app?
In one example where the outcome was positive, the popular and free volunteer management app Volunteers for Salesforce was originally developed by a now defunct consulting firm. When the firm folded, the person who developed the app continued to maintain it on his own, and is now part of the Salesforce development team.
Other apps may be supported by a community of volunteers. But just as often, such orphaned apps may be completely abandoned, leaving users to fend for themselves.
Do other people use this app? Do they like it, or are there outstanding issues? Have other nonprofits found it helpful?
As with any software, it's good to hear from the people who use it, not just the company providing it. Widely popular apps may have hundreds of reviews on their AppExchange listings. You should also visit the Power of Us Hub to connect with other nonprofits on Salesforce to find out what they like and don't like about a particular app (or even get recommendations for alternatives).
Interested in learning more about what apps are out there? Curious about apps for a particular need? Check out Idealware's free report, The Landscape of Salesforce for Nonprofits: A Report on the Current Marketplace for Apps, newly updated for 2015.
Kyle Henri Andrei is the senior researcher for Idealware, which provides candid information to help nonprofits choose effective software. For more articles and reviews, visit www.idealware.org.