Focus on People: Valerio Lancia

I recently had a chat with Valerio Lancia, a Salesforce CRM Application manager about his journey with Salesforce, what he has learned and his recent certification experience.

Q: What is your background? Is it an IT background, or a business background, and how did you first get exposed to Salesforce?

A: I have a management engineering degree and my initial job in Italy was as a buyer. After two years I said that it’s not what I like to do, working with sales people and fighting everyday for contracts. So, I went back from Milan to Rome, the city where I studied and lived, I said, okay, let me try to move my career more towards the IT field because I was always passionate about IT and the internet. This was about 2004 or 2005. That’s  how I got into the IT business.

So, I moved from my initial experience as a buyer to a business analyst in the IT department. There I started to learn a lot of IT terms, and with my degree I could because it was a mix between business and engineering. From an analysis and business analysis point of view, it gave me the possibility to form this unique point of view and discover what there is behind, how to solve an issue as well as the basis of problem solving kind of skills that I found very useful as an IT business analyst.

I quickly moved to a role more akin to a project manager. So, I managed projects, and mainly evolved into a role between the business and the developers. So in the beginning I’m working on an ERP system. It was a very complex system for a car leasing company.

My surname is Valencia, so it’s the same as the Italian manufacturer. I had no relationship with the manufacturer, but I started to work in the automotive related sector since the beginning and I am now working in that sector. After three years I worked very hard for this business project as a manager and analyst in this really complex system for pricing and quotation, I asked my boss, because it was really hard working alone on a system that generated revenue of about six hundred million in terms of quotation. So, it was quite stressful. So I said (to my boss) “Can I have a year in Australia with my wife.” We just got married. I wanted to improve my English and understand other business environments. My boss at the time said at the time that yes, that was fine. They found internally a resource that could do my job.

So, I trained him and they were happy about that. They said that if I would be back, they would be happy, and if not, they would be happy for me. Sadly, we came back. Mainly for two reasons. Mainly because it was too difficult to obtain a visa in Australia and the second reason is because my wife got pregnant with our first son. Then, for medical insurance reasons, the delivery was too expensive so we decided to go back.

When I came back, I started to work with Salesforce. It was a project to integrate a mainframe AS/400 with the Salesforce platform. So Salesforce was used for the company for a quite big implementation of about two thousand users. The objective was to mainly to sync the account, contacts and contracts between the pricing quotation system in Salesforce and the financial system.

When I started this project for the pricing quotation I said actually I like this system when I saw Salesforce for the first time. I remember being involved directly, and after a few months I was more and more interested about this kind of cloud technology because I was used to all of the mainframe technology and old style technology.

Then I said to my IT director, “So, about my career. I want to do something different, and I like Salesforce.” He said okay. In a few weeks he gave me the responsibility of the Italian Salesforce implementation. So I became the product manager for sales for the Italian branch, for about four hundred and fifteen users across Rome and Milan and a lot of field sales. It was used mainly for Sales and Service cloud. In a very relative and complex implementation, especially in the Service cloud, with CTI integration and the case management, and especially the web to case and email to case.

The email to case functionality also was quite complex, customizing email to case with keywords in the subject and in the text of the email. The out of the box solution is not perfect. Especially if you need to extensively use it.

So, I was really enjoying Salesforce. Then I did a course in London and then I literally within five minutes with Google I found out the high demand for Salesforce roles in the UK. So, then I said, “So why not?” So I tell my wife, she’s crazy like me in terms of traveling and we decide to mainly say okay. So let’s go. Because we mainly abandoned the idea to go back to Australia, because it was too painful to get the visa.In the UK we could live there straight away without any visa or any issue. And then I found this job in London, or near London. It’s about thirty minutes from London.

As I say, my background is not properly or totally IT. It was more business. But after many years working very closely with the developers with a lot of very good colleagues, and they taught me a lot of IT technical stuff. Stuff like databases, codes. I’m not a developer, but I can read any type of code. Now in Salesforce that I can write some piece of code of Apex if needed, or help the developer to find solutions. This is not my first role or main role to write any code.

I think that it is sometimes important when you manage people to know how it works. It helps to get the right estimation of time, or the right understanding of what they’re doing.

Q: So now, in your current role as a CRM application manager, you have a team that you manage?

A: Yeah. I have a team of two project analysts and one senior developer. It’s a relatively new team because when I started I was alone with the developer who was not managed by me directly.

I have found that Salesforce can bring a change of culture from mainly an IT where you ask something and you get an answer, if you are lucky in six months or one year, sometimes more. With Salesforce you get changes done in a very quick way.

I’m a fan of the agile approach, but I’m not that strict. Sometimes agile could be used if you can if you’ve divided a project into different chunks, different functionalities. I think that every single project or task and needs to be really carefully analyzed and see what is the best way to manage it. Sometimes people will say, “Okay, I’m only using agile. That’s it.” But, I think that it is necessary sometimes to be able to be flexible and understand what is the business’ priorities. So, I always had this kind of focus on the business. I say, “Okay, what is the business.” I am very business oriented, and I think that it is a system has to help and enable the business and not block the business. And in time they determine the balance between these two things of course.

Q: So, in your current role, what are your responsibilities?

A: I work with my team very closely. Before I used the custom PM tool inside Salesforce, but now Salesforce launched Agile Accelerator. The implementation is very nice. Its an app that Salesforce use internally to manage Salesforce implementations. I’m starting to use this application to manage mainly the sprints and all the backlog and the tasks assigned and the works. It uses stories assigned to the colleagues and the senior developers and then mainly I help.

So I manage the day to day project activities and I try to help with more complex solutions. I’m sort of mentoring and training them every day with functionalities. Every day they ask me and I always have to review any solution even if it’s not that complex. I want to review because they’re relatively junior in Salesforce.

I like to help them and control. I need to understand also what they’re doing without me. Otherwise it’s too easy to ask me. I always try to get them challenges to get them to arrive to what is a good solution for us, because what I think is that it’s not easy to say that this is the best solution. It could be the best for us, but not for another customer or another company. As you know in Salesforce there are too many different things sometimes. Not always, but the approach is always a matter of compromising the timing, cost and effort to see if we can.

I tend to try to use configuration as much as possible. So my approach is, as much as possible, out of the box. If this does not fit, try to see if it is possible to customize a little bit. See how it would be something like low impact, and see if there’s something in the AppExchange. If there’s nothing in the AppExchange that meets requirements, from the development point of view, what is the effort? I’m very keen about the cost of the solutions, because funds are limited as with any company.

This is part because I’m mainly a curious person, and I think that curiosity is the main criteria for everything. For me it’s not only work. It’s just my typical day as a sales person.

Q: I think you mentioned that in your previous role you used Service cloud and CTI. In your current role, you’ve mentioned Sales cloud. Do you also use other parts in Salesforce?

Yeah, I think that that is a good example is Finanacialforce or some sort of system that is really key to running the business can really improve data quality. It gives you the three sixty degree view. It reduces integrations with other systems, and at the end of the day, you know, if that’s the system of record used for billing, then the data has to be right.

Q: That’s interesting. So, you’ve talked about some of the successes you’ve had with agile and with working with the business and being able to keep up with the business, because you can implement the changes to Salesforce quite quickly as opposed to the older style. You mentioned how you can easily get into a mess because it’s so easy to customize, and I think it was really quite good how you mentioned the process that you go through for developing and only customizing as the last resort.

Do you have any other challenges?

A: Yeah. As I said the biggest challenge that I got was the adoption and the change management. I think that this personally is not a matter of software, it’s a matter of people. You can evolve, you can develop, you can implement the best system in the world. But if it’s not used or adopted, or if it’s not engaged then it becomes useless and they see it as a pain. I want my users, and my customers to be happy. This is my biggest challenge to get the people to be happy to use the system. So that they don’t see it as “Oh, I have to do this, or I have to do that.”

It’s just funny when they ask you how they can be on the top of the chart on the dashboard because in sales, they are very competitive. They ask if they can get some tips, but they just need to use Salesforce. They ask, “So, it’s automatically there?” I say, “Yes.” As I say, it’s a matter of change management and get them using it more and more. It’s not always true, but it can be quite difficult to engage them or explain to them the benefit. This is what I mean when I say it’s the people and not management.

I think that traditionally that has been the biggest challenge with CRM, but the difference with Salesforce is that it started out as a sales cloud CRM application but now it’s expanded into so many different areas where sometimes there isn’t really a choice to use it or not. It’s in Service cloud and CTI and contact center, then that’s just the system that they use. There’s no question about it. You can build so many different types of custom applications that are solving a very specific business problem that’s got nothing to do with sales cloud.

I agree with you around  CRM and the sales people, and what’s in it for them, and the adoption there. I think we’re moving into a time now where there’s just so many different areas where sales force is being deployed as a platform.

A: Yeah, this is the key concept because when people say that “Sales force is just a CRM”, they don’t know Salesforce. I say, “Do you know what is involved in Salesforce?” and they say “No” and so I say, “Okay, don’t talk about something that you don’t know, please.” I don’t like to be rude but sometimes people talk without knowing something.  If I don’t know something, then I listen. So, when people say this to me, I start to ask them some tricky questions, but I’m not nice, but I also try not to be rude. It’s not my style. I try with these people to make them think. Not to change their mind, because it’s not my challenge to change the other people’s mind. But I try to explain the things, how things are and what is the reality. Sometimes people talk because they heard things from their buddies.

The other thing I’m always fighting about is the price. They say “Oh, that’s too expensive.” I say ‘It’s expensive compared to what?’  They start to ask these questions about the price. To me, compared to what Salesforce is offering and the benefits and the things that you don’t have to pay for like upgrades and maintenance,  it’s absolutely cheap.

They don’t realize that Salesforce is the nightmare of the IT old style management, because they don’t have any server to manage, they don’t have to do any updates. They don’t have DBA or whatever maintenance or cleaning up. They have some, they okay “Okay. What do we have to do?” I had some discussion with this kind of old style IT. They start to discuss about security, it’s not secure, it’s not secure enough. I say to them, “Don’t talk about secure.” There is more risk to keep the data in our network than to keep it in the cloud.

Q: You mentioned that every week you kind of tried to set aside some time to keep up with, and do some health and reading of blogs. What else do you do?

A: I like to be updated, and Salesforce changes a lot. I always try to discover something, always be updated. There are so many resources online.

Q: So you go through the release notes? The three or four hundred pages?

A: Yeah, I’ll try. Sometimes I skip the part that I’m not interested in. Not all at once though. But I try to read the release. Three times a year is not too bad. I found so many nice things. If you don’t read them, then you can’t discover the new functionality.

Q: You recently passed the Admin Certification?

A: Yeah. So thanks to you. So I think certification is important to refresh our knowledge. Especially it forces us to study functionality. As I said, there are things I’ve never used before in my day to day experience. I believe that certification is important as a formal proof of knowledge. But the experience is also very important. Of course the business environment and in the real world can be far, far more complicated than something with multiple choices. So, I feel it’s important to force us to be always updated and not be lazy.

Q: I’ve noticed that more and more employers are requesting certification. They see it as the minimum requirement to be qualified for a Salesforce position. They’re mentioning it more and more in job advertisements. It depends on what sort of role you have, I guess, but I think it’s becoming more and more important.

A: Yes. From this point of view, yes. It helps. The process to get the certification from a formal point of view proof of knowledge is great. Mainly you can see adverts for sales persons, they require at least the admin certification.

Q: So how long did you study for the certification before you took the case. From when you decided that you were going to do from when you actually took it?

A: Three or four days.

Q: Three or four days? Is that all?

A: Probably for studying, yes. Three or four days.

Q: Okay. Well, I know some people who set a date three months in advance. I guess especially for some other certifications like Service cloud or Sales cloud. And as you said, sometimes you’re not familiar with that functionality at all, versus admin where you know, where everything is familiar and it’s more just refreshing your knowledge.

A: That is the reason, with your guide, that is the only way I could do it in three or four days, because all the resources I found online were too easy or too generic. Then when I saw yours, I knew that it wasn’t too easy. With your material, I found that the complexity was much higher, and I found that you had study guides.

I was confident from the many years of experience. Then I filled all the gaps that I had with your exams. And with the study guides as well. I filled all the gaps on things like security and sharing.

Q: I think that Salesforce is becoming very popular and more and more people want to get involved in it as a career. What would you suggest if someone wanted to start getting involved in Salesforce?

A: Well, it’s a career for people who are passionate about technology and how the business works. Salesforce is really the answer for anyone who are trying to find their career path. I suggest that they sign up as soon as possible for a Developer Org and then welcome to Salesforce. You just need to be curious and start to study. Start to understand how it works. There are so many parts to Salesforce. You need to start somewhere, but it’s a process that, if you like, you get more hungry and you learn more and more things.

Also, from a career point of view, there are so many opportunities. There are so many possibilities to actually get a job. In some countries it can be very difficult, but from a career point of view, it will get you a job.

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