Grant Ongstad on optimizing your Salesforce org

Grant Ongstad on ensuring your Salesforce org is optimized to it’s full potential

In Podcast by talent-hubLeave a Comment

In this week’s episode, we’re joined by Grant Ongstad. Grant is an experienced Salesforce professional based out of Phoenix, Arizona, and he is someone we reached out to having seen his content on LinkedIn. In the episode, we explore Grant’s early career, how he came from a non-technical background but found his way into the Salesforce consulting space, and what he recommends non-technical people learn or focus on if they’re looking for a Salesforce career.

Grant shares why he spends a lot of time fixing Salesforce orgs, what he looks for when he starts with a new customer and when companies should look for external support if their Salesforce platform isn’t functioning smoothly.

We hope you enjoyed the episode and you can find Grant out on LinkedIn here:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/gongstad/

 

 

Ben:

Grant, welcome to the show.

 

Grant Ongstad:

Thanks, good to be here.

 

Ben:

Really great to have you. I’m really keen to unpick your journey, hear a bit more about you and uncover some of the stuff you’ve been doing in the Salesforce world. We may have some listeners that have been following you on LinkedIn, and if not, I recommend people do. I think you’re putting out some great content, but we’ll get to that. What I’m keen to understand first is a bit more about your early career, your journey, and the early career path that you followed.

 

Grant Ongstad:

Yeah, absolutely. So, 10 years ago, right. I’m stumbling around the professional world and I was sort of lost. I had my degree out of college in English Literature. I didn’t want to be a teacher though. And that seemed to be the only path that people were taking. So at that point, I’m just really kind of stumbling around. I don’t know what job I’m going to take. I’m also a personal trainer at that time. So things were a little uncertain. But I knew a little bit about Excel. So I took a temp job doing just data entry and data cleansing. And what I didn’t know at the time was for account data, and it was going to be for Salesforce implementation. So just going through Excel sheets of Salesforce data. And I found myself really liking coming up with ideas on how to clean data. And actually ended up becoming friends with a Developer there and came up with these, and this is with SQL server, but it came up with some store procedures. I would sort of riff off what I think the logic was, was right. I’d talk to the business and come up with some logic and then he would come around and create these scripts or store procedures to clean up this source data and put it into Salesforce. And that was my introduction to the technical world. I never thought that, “hey, logic is involved in creating something technical” right? Like, you don’t have to have this coding experience to be able to contribute something. So that’s the first role I took. And then fast forward, we were working with the Salesforce partner. Post implementation, the partner leaves and they’re without a Salesforce resource. So at that time I’d been on the platform for like a year. So I figured it wouldn’t hurt to get the certification and it worked out great. They gave me a raise, a big raise and offered me a job as a Business Systems Analyst. So that was my introduction to the Salesforce world coming from an English major to a personal trainer to the Salesforce world.

 

Ben:

Yeah, nice. And in that first year, then were you like, mainly manipulating data and on the business side, did you get hands on with the platform? Did you kind of crossover to the implementation side?

 

Grant Ongstad:

Yeah, so a lot of times it was just coming through customer data in Excel files and then in SQL Server and sort of understanding data modelling and the database side, which I think ended up serving me really well later. So before it was really like not even touching Salesforce at the time. And then I actually shared at that time when people worked in offices, I shared an office with the Technical Architect and one of the consultants who were there as well. So I picked their brain, like, “what are you doing? What’s that? Oh, it’s an object. Oh, you can just drag and drop the page layout”. So I kind of leaned over their shoulder and learned that. And then when they left, I was pretty much the accidental Admin and just kept learning more and more. My boss would be like, “hey, do you think we can do that?” And I’m like, “I’ll figure it out”, right? Something I wouldn’t do today, but yeah, so it got gradually more hands-on and then kind of just went all into it, became obsessed and joined the Ohana.

 

Ben:

Yeah, nice. So one thing I want to focus in on, because I think there are lots of people in the world now that are trying to make that step into the Salesforce world. I think, you know, obviously there was a benefit in the fact that you were in a business that were implementing Salesforce and then that’s how you got the opportunity, but a lot of people are maybe unemployed now looking to make that transition and don’t come from a technical background in the same way that you didn’t and you mentioned they’re like focusing in on like data modelling and things like that, what are some of the kind of key areas that you would recommend someone that isn’t technical focuses on in order to become more technical? Not just like Salesforce related stuff, but things that like an IT background or IT skills that are useful in the Salesforce world?

 

Grant Ongstad:

Yeah, so that’s a great question and everyone has a different path. Like whenever someone asked me how I got into it, I just say I was in the right place at the right time. And I do think a lot of it is attributed to that. Serendipity, like putting yourself out there, getting yourself in that mental mindset where you’re just you’re putting it out to the universe. But besides all that, like magical things that might not occur, I found that I was pulled a lot of directions early on. Like I said, I developed a good proficiency in data modelling and SQL Server. On the other hand, I was interested in development, so I went into a YouTube rabbit hole. I was kind of pulled all different directions. I got some really good advice from another recruiter actually, his name is Chris Hopper. 

 

Ben:

He’s a good friend of ours. He’s often on the podcast. He’s a great guy.

 

Grant Ongstad:

Right. And I said, “hey, Chris, man, I’m struggling. Like, I don’t know if I should go the development route. Do I need to go to a coding bootcamp?” And he quoted Earl Nightingale who tells us an allegory about the gold mine. Basically this guy sells his gold mine or he sells his land and goes to look looking for gold, right? And so he travels all around the world and he never finds it and dies. And then they find that he had a gold mine at his house on his property under where he lived. So the point is there’s so many skills, if you sit down and take inventory of the skill sets you have, I’m sure you’ll find that you have a lot more value than you think, and there’s something that can translate into Salesforce, whether it’s like, “hey, I love talking to customers and understanding their problems”. Business analysts, I think, I mean, there’s, it’s never a bad idea to get your Business Analyst or and go down that path. Or maybe you like testing things and you’re breaking things. QA, right? That’s a great entry level to start doing QA. If you like managing projects, right? There are Salesforce Project Managers. I mean, there’s just such a wide range of not specifically technical things you can do. And if you want to do technical things you can, but don’t feel pressured like you need to go that route or be technical. I even hate, you know, all looking at job descriptions I’ll see like must come from a computer science background or have your Masters in Computer Science to be a Salesforce Admin, right? And certainly you want to learn and you’re motivated, like just go where that’s taking you is what I would say.

 

Ben:

Yeah, it’s really good advice from Chris, I think, and then from you, obviously. But I get a lot of people that approach me and say, “I’m an Admin now, but there’s so many more jobs for Developers. I’m thinking of becoming a Developer”. And I’m like, “do you actually enjoy coding? Because if you don’t, don’t just become a Developer for the sake of it. Become a Developer if that’s what you want to do, if that’s what you’re passionate about, because if you’re not passionate about coding, then you’re not going to enjoy coding for eight hours a day.”

 

Grant Ongstad:

Right, exactly. I would definitely, I second that. And I’ve had conversations with other people about that too. They’ll be like, “I want to be a Developer”. And I’m like, “why do you want to be a Developer?” And it’s the same thing like, “oh, they pay more, and yeah, you know, there’s more jobs and it’s just not that straightforward”. And I find like if pay is your concern, you can get there in any, any work stream, right? Any career path within the Salesforce. We’ll say like the pyramid, right? If you’re Architect or Admin, Admins can make great Consultants, great Senior Consultants can go into management. Project Managers can become Portfolio Managers, right? So if you follow that, like you said, that interest, and do something that’s what you actually want to do, it’ll take you somewhere.

 

Ben:

Definitely. Just on the topic of like the different paths you can go down now, would you say the requirement to be an Admin is more technical now though than when you became an Admin?

 

Grant Ongstad:

So it’s interesting because when I hear technical, I wouldn’t really call it technical because it all sort of lives in the Salesforce box, right? So there’s certainly more things you have to know, but there’s also less. I mean, what we were talking earlier before is with Flows, Flows used to be really annoying, like all you can do is screen Flows and the way to assign variables was much different. It was very clunky and now it’s easier than ever as far as being able to declaratively build Flows and do things like loops. But then also because it’s so much more robust, there’s more things you have to think about architecturally, like will this scale, is this going to break? Am I handling faults? Are there any other processes that are firing that are competing for resources, things like that. Is it bulkified, right? And so I think Admins need to be more architecturally minded than they used to be. I would say that. Maybe not technical, but thinking big picture.

 

Ben:

And would you say that’s easy to not easy, but that’s achievable for most people?

 

Grant Ongstad:

Anyone can do it, right? It’ll take you longer. And I really would, I push new learners to really focus on the platform basics before jumping off into different paths, right? Master security, learn the object model really well, be able to talk through master detail, lookups, pros and cons, be able to talk through sharing, sharing settings and profiles, permission sets, all those things, like it’s boring, but if you kind of focus on those core features and you focus on the platform, I think it’s going to serve you well. And I don’t think it’s hard necessarily. It just takes focus.

 

Ben:

So when you made that step from being on the end user side working for a customer to then going into consulting, what was it that appealed firstly and secondly? Was that quite a steep learning curve for you?

 

Grant Ongstad:

Yeah, there was always a part of me that wanted to go into Salesforce consulting, even from the moment when I started learning about Salesforce at my first role. And so the idea of being an expert in the room, solving business problems, just like really motivated me. And I can’t ignore the salary aspect either, they pay well. I mean, no one can argue that. And a lot of times being a Salesforce consultant is gonna be the best pay you can get in the Salesforce world. So I knew that I wanted to get really good at Salesforce and the best way to do that was Salesforce consulting. The hesitancy for me was at the time is I had two kids and the idea of getting on a plane every week, which was the reality for many consulting firms, the big fours, the crazy hours getting on a plane. I just couldn’t make that sacrifice. And then eventually had conversations with the recruiter. He told me about this consulting firm, they’re all remote and this is before COVID, they’re all remote. They love work life balance. And I’m like, “yeah, let’s do it”. So I threw in my hat, got denied, right? Threw in my hat again, same company, got denied again. And then they came back to me a couple of months later, and I got the role.

 

Ben:

Third time lucky. What would you say the biggest learning curve for you was going into consulting?

 

Grant Ongstad:

The biggest learning curve, well, there’s a couple aspects. One is you’re pressured to be the expert, right? People are paying you a lot of money, the client side, to be the expert. So there’s definitely this sense of pressure on you to know everything. So you’re shifted from Salesforce as being part of the job you do, to it being your job and your job is to be an expert at it. So definitely more involved in the Salesforce world, thinking about certifications and my learning path. That was one change and a learning curve. The second part was, I would say time management, for consulting because everything’s billable or you need to build a client for the work you do. So sort of thinking strategically about the work I’m about to do and coming up with a plan or following a project plan to do it was, was new. So all these things, SOWs, these big project plans, forecasting, all of that was new to me. And so those are probably the biggest learning curves. Other than that, I loved that you’re incentivized to learn Salesforce, your training’s paid for, your certifications are paid for. So I love the fact that you’re encouraged to learn. And if you’re a Salesforce professional and you just want to keep learning, I highly recommend consulting.

 

Ben:

So if someone looks at your LinkedIn, I think the strap line is around you fix Salesforce orgs or that’s the area you play in, which I think a lot of consultants that I speak to, they want the new greenfield, like big shiny implementations. Why do you enjoy fixing orgs?

 

Grant Ongstad:

Yeah, I don’t enjoy it.

 

Ben:

Hahaha

 

Grant Ongstad:

But, I really see, there’s always going to be Salesforce implementations and I do those, but where I see equally growing demand are organizations that have implemented Salesforce in the past. Or maybe they never even went through a proper implementation in the first place. And now they’re sort of staring at this mess of an org that seems unmanageable, you know, years later, they’ve got automation that’s broken, objects and fields that aren’t used, low adoption rate. There’s yeah, there’s a ton of companies like this, and probably anyone who listens has worked at a company like this or has seen an org like this. So it’s like a home renovation, right? A lot of companies don’t realize that they don’t have to sell their home and buy a new one. They can renovate and upgrade their current one. So for me, I just see such a big demand for people that need guidance and Salesforce orgs that are underperforming. And so that’s where the fixing an org came from.

 

Ben:

So what do you do when you go into a customer and they’ve got a problem? How do you identify what’s the fix? What are the initial things you do when you get into a customer site and go, “right, I’m going to work out where things have gone wrong?”

 

Grant Ongstad:

Yeah, so the interesting thing is it’s not always a platform problem necessarily. It could be on the process level. They don’t know how to manage changes. They don’t know what changes to prioritize. They don’t have a solid deployment process. They have documentation or no one is trained properly. Or maybe they don’t have the resources. They didn’t have the recess resources to support their implementation in the first place. So wasn’t ever really finished, so usually it’s owning in on the business frustration and finding things and finding those processes that aren’t working and sort of reining it in and making a plan to address those things first. And then it’s looking at the system architecture. But it starts at the processes and it starts at the business.

 

Ben:

I imagine that there’s so many leaders out there that have invested in Salesforce and just think it is what it is. This is how Salesforce works. This is just Salesforce. It’s been done. It’s working. It’s maybe not as fast or it’s not solving any problems that they don’t know could be solved by Salesforce. So what are some of the things? And I guess if you’ve got an Admin in the team, they’re looking at those things, right? They should be looking at best practice and making recommendations around automations and all these things. But if a company doesn’t have a dedicated Admin that’s taking care of that, they probably don’t even know that there are better ways of doing things or there are things that aren’t optimal at the moment that could be changed. So what can a leader of a business look for in their org to, to know that, “right, maybe we do need to get someone in to fix up some of what we’ve got.”

 

Grant Ongstad:

Yeah and I don’t think there’s this moment that just appears, right? I think at any point your org can be disconnected from its business process. And that’s where an org breaks and it’s time to make some changes. And also those changes don’t have to be massive, like grand gestures. So I think every organization, regardless of size needs to be actively architected. So meaning someone should be looking over the system architecture to make sure it scales and you know that it serves the business and you have a roadmap. And I think if you don’t have that guidance your org is broken right or it’s not living up to its potential and if you’re the product owner or if you’re responsible for Salesforce, it’s in your stack, there’s something that’s like I’m pretty sure Salesforce can do that It’s so much money. We pay so much money every month or every year. I think Salesforce can do that. So that’s why I’m such a huge fan of what I do and what I’ll call fractional architecture as a service, right? Someone that can provide guidance, help manage work streams. And so I would say if you don’t have that oversight, you’re probably missing something.

 

Ben:

So when you say fractional architecture, you mean like not having a full-time Architect but calling on someone as and when needed for these big improvements or just even little tweaks that can make a difference to the customer.

 

Grant Ongstad:

Right. Because my assumption is if you’re this person, you feel your Salesforce isn’t working optimally, you might not have these resources at your disposal that bigger companies have, like a seasoned Product Manager and a Technical Architect and a Solution Architect and an Admin and a Developer, right? And so having someone, an expert, that can sort of scale up and learn your business processes, take a look at your org holistically, and figure out what can be changed, what can be optimized, what can go, and just provide making sure that you’re doing things right and that you’re that you’re on the right track, that you’ll scale, that nothing’s going to break down the line, that users are adopting Salesforce, that you have a roadmap, that backlog items are being added and prioritized. I think that definitely makes sense.

 

Ben:

So if you’re doing a lot of these kind of advisory refreshes, like if you’re going into a lot of these orgs and picking up sometimes the mess from someone else, what they’ve delivered, like are there any real bad cases of people not following best practice that jump out to you from a technical system perspective?

 

Grant Ongstad:

Yeah, and from the technical perspective, there are certainly a lot of things that you can find. And the trouble is when you go into a new org or an org you’ve never been in, you can make a lot of judgments and assumptions, but who knows, there might’ve been a business reason for someone doing something at some point, right? Maybe Sales Managers have access to delete opportunities and you’re thinking, “that’s a bad idea” or whatever it is, right? So, I mean, it’s easy to point fingers, but I think it all stems from lack of control and the lack of a plan. So, whenever these orgs break, it’s usually because someone was inundated with requests and they simply end up taking orders from the business and they follow into status quo. So one thing that I encourage is you need to know what changes are being made, right, in Salesforce and who’s making them. You need to have a process for managing change. You need to have a roadmap and you need to understand, most importantly, understand the problem that you’re trying to solve. So again, I think it all goes back to process. If you can figure out the problem you’re solving and you have the right processes. you’re much less likely to fall into those sort of destructive patterns and habits.

 

Ben:

What about the business that doesn’t have that internal capability, right? So they don’t have a Product Owner, Product Manager, they don’t have anyone that knows Salesforce, how can, if they’re working with a partner to do an implementation, how can you kind of make sure that people aren’t cutting corners, right? And aren’t, you know, delivering things quickly and sub-optimally for ongoing scalability and stuff. How can you be aware of that if you’re not a Salesforce person?

 

Grant Ongstad:

So you’re saying, if I’m, let’s say I’m an Admin and I have a partner come in, how do I know that you’re doing good work?

 

Ben:

Yeah, or even like a CIO or a business systems manager or something, you know, you’ve outsourced this work to a partner because we hear horror stories all the time around, you know, partners doing implementations that are suboptimal and ultimately it’s handed over to this customer to then support and they’re not getting ultimately what they think they are. But if you’re not technical, if you’re not going to go in and read the code and look, it’s, it’s built the correct way. Like are there things that you would recommend? That a customer is kind of aware of or questions that they ask or what they look to see or ultimately just to kind of safeguard them against bad practice.

 

Grant Ongstad:

Yeah, so first I would say if you’re going to invest in a Salesforce implementation, you need to make sure on the business side that you’re all in also, that you’re equally committed. So a lot of times you kind of give the reins over to this implementation partner or this consulting group and they don’t know the business and you can’t assume that they know the business. So you’ve got to have someone on your side who is a subject matter expert, who’s working closely with them, who’s holding them accountable, and you just have to have good project management. And you need to be actively, have someone or be actively involved the entire project, right? You just can’t let them run loose and then here it is, right? Go in, go UAT, “oh, it looks good, okay, see you later.” You know, you need to be co-creators and I think good partners will push that and they’ll really work to manage that expectation. Hey, you need to be in this with me. You know, we’re building this together and that means we’re going to, you know, build a lot of documentation. That’s another thing is, I would highly recommend, I mean, it’s non-negotiable. You need documentation. So that’s, that’s one way is, you know, the CIO or whoever, should make sure that they’re getting plenty of documentation that the implementation partner can reason through their approach, that they can walk them through design specs, it’s all those things. But I think most importantly, it’s that co-creation, creating that relationship early on, where both sides are working closely together.

 

Ben:

I always brings me back to a memory I have of, I placed a candidate in a role and they’re a Technical Architect and this was like several years ago, but they joined just after the project had started so they came in and the partner had already kind of started building stuff and they reviewed some of the code that the partner had written, and they said “this is terrible, this is really bad code” and the person that was responsible for it turned around and said, “oh, that was only a small piece of work. We didn’t need to write good code. It was only a small piece, just to ship it. We just needed to get it done”. And he was like, “so if you, for a small piece of work, if you’re writing bad code, why do you think we’d give you a big piece of work?” But the thing is had he not joined the project, then I can only imagine what would have been delivered because you know, without that technical person actually reading code, how do you know that they’re actually doing the right thing? It’s such a difficult thing, right? Even if you’re partnering with them and being on that journey with them, if you don’t know Salesforce, you don’t know what you don’t know, right? It’s a really difficult one to make sure that they’re doing things the way they should.

 

Grant Ongstad:

Yeah, absolutely. And as a consultant, I’ve been in plenty of orgs where you go in and you definitely scratch your head like, “why did they put this here? This makes no sense”. But I think, really you don’t know what you don’t know. It is a risk. I would say again, just close coordination and you need to show me a working product often. Give me demos, impress me. We’ll run UAT, right? And a really well-defined UAT and a UAT that, and this is so important is active business participants.

 

Ben:

Yeah, 100% and it all comes back to collaboration. And also, doing your background checks, on the partners and working out who are the right ones who, what have you delivered before, can we speak to people that you’ve delivered work for in the past, there are ways of finding out the quality of a partner if you if you’re thorough enough.

 

Grant Ongstad:

Testimonials are great, referrals, great way. AppExchange reviews are sort of one sided because as a partner, you’re incentivized, highly incentivized to get five star reviews so you might push questions, you might push surveys to people who are going to respond positively and be like, give us five star reviews because if you get a four star review that messes with our recommendation score, which is kind of backwards. I mean, you want honest reviews and you really want to know what you can improve.

 

Ben:

Yeah, I think if that process was automated, it would be better. Like once a project was delivered, there was some way of like in the Salesforce partner community, like you ticket it’s done, they automatically get a survey, whether it was a good project or a bad project, I think that is true, you see people celebrating how many five stars they’ve got, but they’re in control of over who they ask for the, the reviews.

 

Grant Ongstad:

Right, and you can ask as many times as you want. I mean, you can create a project and send it to them, but they’re incentivized to, right? I don’t blame them.

 

Ben:

100%. Well Grant, you’re here today because I’ve been following your LinkedIn posts. So for anyone that’s listening that wants to reach out, is LinkedIn the best place to find you?

 

Grant Ongstad:

It is. I’m on it way too much as my wife will attest.

 

Ben:

Well, thanks so much. I’ve really enjoyed the chat and looking forward to seeing more content from you soon, so thank you very much.

 

Grant Ongstad:

Absolutely, it’s been a pleasure.

 

 

You can visit our Salesforce jobs page for up to date opportunities. If you’d like to become involved in the Talent Hub Talk podcast as a guest, we’d love to hear from you.

 

 

Leave a Comment