Choosing a CRM with Jeff Shy and Melissa Kwilosz, Part 1 of In Conversation with John Taylor

Choosing a CRM with Jeff Shy and Melissa Kwilosz, Part 1 of In Conversation with John Taylor
October 27, 2020 James Werner

I recently sat down for a conversation about advancement with two thought leaders in the advancement space- Jeff Shy, Founder and Chairman of Affinaquest and Melissa Kwilosz, Salesforce Consulting Director at Huron. 

The conversation went the full gamut of advancement, from CRMs to updates to implementation. I have split the conversation into three parts:

  • Part 1: Choosing a CRM 
  • Part 2: Implementing Success with Affinaquest + Salesforce 
  • Part 3: Advancing into the Future of Advancement 

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 but for now, read on for part 1 to learn about 

  • Jeff Shy’s extensive experience within the advancement industry
  • Why Salesforce was the obvious choice for Affinaquest
  • Use Case: How Salesforce revolutionized the Arizona State Foundation

John Taylor: My name is John Taylor. I am the principal of John H. Taylor Consulting, LLC, a consulting practice for nonprofit organizations internationally. 

We’re going to discuss the advantages of building an application on the Salesforce platform and what it means as a customer and now integrator.

Jeff Shy, it is great to see you again, it’s been quite a few years since we were physically together. I can’t remember which conference it was, but you have certainly been remarkably busy creating a new advancement solution of Affinaquest. 

Let’s get right to it. Why did you choose to build on the Salesforce platform instead of standalone?

Jeff Shy: I think it was an AASP conference a couple of years ago where we last saw one another.

Interestingly, I was actually working on another platform, Microsoft CRM, and doing some competitive research. Part of that research brought me to Salesforce. One of the things that immediately struck me about Salesforce was the way I could distribute software with Salesforce. 

People who’ve worked with some of the older legacy systems like Advance or Millennium or Blackbaud will remember the pain of upgrading their systems. Lots to do, lots to get straight, lots of things to keep synchronized, make sure that I’m in the best, most recent version of Oracle or SQL server and all the rest of those things. It was a pain in the neck.

For those reasons, many users would not keep up to date with the most current version. 

Salesforce has a tool for distributing their software, literally pushing a button to distribute it. That intrigued me. 

I began to look more closely at what Salesforce could do and how it was different from the things that I had been doing. What I came to realize was that there were a lot of features built into Salesforce, which, in the past, the software vendor would have had to build themselves. 

One example would be page layouts. Back in the old days, we all worked on our own tools to build page layouts. There was a page layout tool built into Salesforce, you didn’t have to do anything. I found that when I entered a field in Salesforce, not only was it immediately available to the page layout, but it was also immediately available for reports, security and the API. 

As I looked into that in more detail, I found that there were just a lot of features and tools that were built into the platform that would save us a lot of time. Features like user management, security and reporting are all part of the platform.

Salesforce has promoted this mantra that they have – clicks, not code.  Basically what this means that via a user interface you can click your way through and set things up. It sounded too good to be true. While you can’t do everything with clicks, there’s an awful lot you can do with Workflows, Page Setups, Notifications and other features using clicks, not code. 

Another thing that was appealing about the Salesforce platform was the AppExchange and the number and kinds of applications already developed. For example applications for Events Management or Online Giving were on the App Exchange and we could leverage those to make a more robust offering without actually having to build them. 

I also liked the fact that Salesforce had a continuous improvement program for their platform with three major releases a year with new improvements in every release. It allowed us to innovate in that same fashion. That was an important feature for us. They also had applications like Marketing Cloud that allowed us to get into email directly from our application. 

The other thing that was, and still is, that Salesforce is the dominant CRM in the space. When I put all those things together I chose to move to the Salesforce platform.

John Taylor:  Given the fact that Salesforce had this robust engine already there for development, how much time do you think you saved by using the Salesforce platform rather than building something standalone?

Jeff Shy: As an example, in one of my past products, Millennium, it took us approximately a year to build the utility that allowed users to layout screens, to put data elements on a screen and to manipulate those data elements.  Then we had to build security functionality. We spent no time doing that on Salesforce, which was a huge difference. 

By building on the Salesforce Platform we were able to build a production ready system in less than two years.  

That didn’t mean it was done, but it was good enough to put out into production in smaller nonprofits. It would have taken probably four or five times that long in the older environments to get that far. We’ve been continuously working since then and always will be adding new features and taking advantage of new technologies. 

Something like this is never done, but in terms of getting to production, it probably was easily a quarter of the time of what it might have been prior to using a platform like Salesforce.

John Taylor: I would imagine because the Salesforce platform is already there and the Affinaquest implementation from beginning to end is going to be more expedited than it might be with a standalone system. Is that a fair assessment?

Jeff Shy: It certainly can be, except what happens in real-life is that people start seeing all the things they can do in Salesforce. 

What we find is that people are doing many more things than they ever imagined doing with older technologies. One of the frequent questions we get during demonstrations, typically from people who’ve been programmers on their old systems is, “what are we going to do now when you don’t need us anymore?” That is almost exactly the wrong perception and the wrong question.

They need to be thinking about what are all the things I can do that I never had time to do before because I was working on nuts and bolts that are just handled by the platform? 

Essentially what happens is that people’s vision sort of opens up and they begin to see all the possibilities of things that they could automate that they never could have automated before. Yes, you can take a product like Affinaquest and use it out of the box and do an awful lot with it, but you also start envisioning all of these things that you could automate that you couldn’t have automated before.

Do the implementations go any faster? They could, but typically what we ended up doing is spending a lot more time on things we couldn’t have done before.

John Taylor: Given your nimbleness with the Affinaquest product and the Salesforce platform, can you share with us a little bit about your philosophy on enhancements and upgrades to the Affinaquest product as it pertains to the rollout and updates of Salesforce?

Jeff Shy: Salesforce now produces three major upgrades a year, and we work on that same rhythm of producing three upgrades per year. This is actually much more frequent than we were able to do in the past for a couple of reasons, perhaps the most important is that Salesforce gives us easy tools to accomplish that upgrade. 

It’s pretty much push a button for us to upgrade the site with new features. Salesforce is constantly innovating, bringing out new technologies and techniques which allow us to focus on those technologies and apply them in the advancement space, and then fairly quickly put those out to the clients.

John Taylor: That three times a year seems to be fairly consistent with your continued development of enhancements and the like with the product.

Jeff Shy: It’s a bit of a change for clients that aren’t used to things coming out that quickly. This is a new rhythm that they have to get used to, but because we follow the same cadence that Salesforce does, they get used to this and they look forward to having more frequent releases.  This is much more agile than we were ever able to be before we had a platform like Salesforce.

John Taylor: From an end user perspective, I think that frequency probably works to everyone’s advantage because instead of having to gear up for the next major upgrade enhancement, you’re almost in a constant mode of implementation.

Jeff Shy:  In the past what would happen is maybe at best, you’d get a major upgrade once a year and it would take months to get it up, running and absorbed by the institution.  In the Salesforce world you’re constantly thinking about that innovation, what’s coming next, keeping up with those things and applying them to what you’re doing.  Essentially absorbing new techniques and functionality in smaller doses.

John Taylor: Melissa, let me turn to you now for a second for more as a customer. What were some of the reasons you chose an application built on the Salesforce platform? Did you consider anything else when you were at Arizona State?

Melissa Kwilosz: I think exactly what we were just talking about as far as the consistent innovation of the platform. That was really a primary reason for us to move to a modern CRM on a platform that we knew would be constantly innovating. We didn’t want to have to rely on our teams internally to be driving the development and the innovation of the system itself, we wanted to be on a platform that was putting a significant amount of effort into R + D and worrying about the innovation for us.  We could then focus on the business of advancement and have our resources focused on things that are very specific to our business, use cases, everything from better functionality for our development officers to true notifications and workflows and the ability to automate our processes as well as connect a number of different pieces of functionality.

As we evolved from thinking about our point solution as our primary system, the advancement ecosystem really expanded for us and we needed to have a platform that was going to and scale with us over time.

Salesforce was the primary contender in that the university had just moved into an enterprise Salesforce strategy. We really wanted to align with that, but we did look at some of the other solutions that were really moving into those more modern CRM spaces. Salesforce was really the winner for us.

Thanks for tuning into Part 1 of our conversation with Jeff Shy and Melissa Kwilosz. In Part 2, we will discuss implementation with Jeff Shy and in Part 3, we will discuss the future of advancement with Jeff Shy and Melissa Kwilosz.

Is it time for your advancement office to adopt Salesforce? Reach out to us to learn how Affinaquest can fit into your new CRM. 

The Affinaquest Advantage

At Affinaquest, we know there have been differences between various generations of donors and how they interact with their schools in the past. However, many of those differences are now being stripped away as we embrace this new normal brought on by COVID-19. 

Comfort levels with technology are becoming stronger as more people acclimate to a more remote lifestyle. That’s why we’re proud to have our CRM built on the Salesforce platform. As Salesforce is constantly evolving to adopt new technology, our CRM continues to future-proof itself through this partnership giving you the tools to be adapt and succeed. 

Ready to secure better opportunities for advancement for your institution? Request a demo and see how Affinaquest can give you an advantage in creating an engagement score system that helps you create and nurture the constituent relationships you need to secure the funds for your school’s future. 

Connect with and cultivate your constituents in one powerful system.