Our VP of Partnerships Zak Pines recently sat down with Samantha Safin, Senior Project Manager at Arkus. Zak and Samantha had a far-ranging conversation that touched on Samantha’s transition from a 911 operator and fire fighter career to the Salesforce consulting community. They also talked about video games, her polymath persona, and unifying nonprofit data in Salesforce. Here’s an abridged transcript of the conversation.
From Emergency Services to Salesforce Consulting
Zak: You and Arkus are a big part of the Salesforce community. How did you get into this Salesforce world in the first place?
Samantha: I, like many others, am an accidental Salesforce admin. I have had a lot of jobs and careers. I worked in risk management, I was a 911 operator, and I was a firefighter.
I first came into this [Salesforce] when I was working for a logistics technology company, within the managed services portion of the organization. I started off managing inbound trucks for a food manufacturer and focused on transportation technology. From there, there was an opening for a job as a data analyst in the marketing department. My education is in writing and math, and I thought this was a great opportunity to combine the two specialties.
I was transferred internally, and then after I took on this new role, they told me I was going to be their Salesforce admin. So I went home, Googled it that night, and haven’t looked back since.
Zak: Salesforce has done an amazing job at branding that “accidental admin” phrase.
Samantha: Yes, they’re very good at marketing their community.
Zak: Your background is fascinating. So I gotta ask: How is being a Salesforce admin similar or different from being a firefighter or 911 operator?
Samantha: The nice thing about having worked in emergency services is that when others are panicking, I don’t. Having the ability to be that calm person during someone else’s time of stress is a valuable thing. Especially now as a consultant, every day I receive emails or phone calls where someone proclaims everything is broken. I’m able to take a step back and understand there’s a formula to this process — we’ll go down the list one by one until we find the issue and solve it.
Zak: I love that answer. And that must help you manage your team at Arkus?
Samantha:Yes. Being able to support my team in that same way—take a deep breath, bring perspective, make sure everyone is healthy, and walk through the process to resolution—that in itself is huge and helps to calm the team and rally us towards a solution.
Arkus Consulting Background
Zak: Let’s talk more about Arkus. Can you tell us what Arkus does?
Samantha: Arkus is a Salesforce consulting firm—both a consulting partner and an ISV partner. We work with for profit and nonprofit organizations. If you’re familiar with partner labels, we are a Gold partner on the for profit side and a Premium partner with Salesforce.org.
Zak: You’re a project manager at Arkus. What is the day-to-day for that role?
Samantha: Our projects are managed by single project managers, meaning each project has one project manager who manages its entirety. One of the benefits is that each of us gets hands on with all the processes our clients use, and we’re getting experience in every aspect of that process. I tell my clients to think of me as someone they are onboarding to work there. It’s less of a traditional model, where instead you’re wearing many hats—the business analyst, technical resource, designer, and overall project manager are all you.
Zak: And is everyone Salesforce certified?
Samantha: Yes. We require completing six certifications within your first year.
Zak: What are the Arkus products as an ISV partner?
Samantha: Our most popular is Clone This User, which allows admins to take an existing user in your org and clone that user. So their profile, role, permission sets, permission set licenses, group memberships, etcetera can be cloned exactly. This is a huge benefit when you’re scaling a business and adding sales roles frequently, as there’s no need to start from scratch. The second product is The Permissioner, our permissions tool, which allows you to review all permission sets and assign in bulk. This product was built to reduce the time it takes to assign and revoke permission sets to multiple users.
Working with Nonprofits and the Implementation Process
Zak: Let’s talk about for profit and nonprofit experience. Do you have a major focus on one versus the other?
Samantha: At Arkus, we work with clients in every industry when the fit is right, and we can be helpful. The bulk of my customers are nonprofit, and that’s mostly by choice.
Zak: When you think of nonprofit customers, what are some of the common themes? Are there certain patterns you find in the nonprofits you work with?
Samantha: I’ve worked with a lot of foundations lately, but I have clients all over the place. I work with government programs who are doing proposals around a million dollar project and then smaller clients looking to collect $25 donations online.
Zak: Do you find your customers are typically just getting started with Salesforce or do they already have it implemented and you’re helping them improve the way they use it?
Samantha: I’ve done both. I would say it’s probably 60 to 70 percent new implementations and 30 to 40 percent an optimization project.
Zak: Let’s talk about the implementation process. When you’re working with new implementation customers, what are some of the themes you’re seeing in terms of why a nonprofit would take a leap into Salesforce and CRM? What are their reasons for engaging with you and making the decisions to move forward?
Samantha: When we scope out a project, my favorite question to ask is what instigated this process? And generally, their answer is around the need to reduce the amount of silos they have around their data and the lack of visibility into the work others are doing. We hear this from organizations that are very service oriented, with overlapping areas that should be able to speak to each other cohesively.
Another big reason is that they want to get with the times, meaning they have nothing online—whether it be struggling to collect donations online, reaching customers, or reporting and tracking spend versus how much money they made last year.
And a big reason people are drawn to Salesforce is because they do great work with nonprofits, and there are a lot of customization options.
Zak: I like how your favorite question is all about the “why” behind their decisions to move forward in the first place. That’s the right place to start.
Trends in the Nonprofit Space
Zak: I’m curious about the nonprofits you’ve worked with and the processes you tend to help them with around CRM. Are you seeing any major trends in what specifically they’re trying to accomplish when implementing Salesforce?
Samantha: There are three categories. The first is moves management, which is all about how do we get major donors to give. Second, board management which is the ability to lean on boards to identify potential major donors. And lastly, getting that person from prospect to donor. Salesforce is often so successful for these organizations because its sales process is similar to B2B sales.
There are smaller organizations that aren’t as focused on moves management and formalized large donors, but it’s about saving just a little bit of time. If I can enter gifts in a batch and have acknowledgements go out automatically, that’s a win for my business. If I have an online donation page that integrates with Salesforce, and all I have to do at the end of the week is run a report to check donations against my finance system, I’ve just saved hours of my time, and I can focus on something else.
Zak: Which really matters to nonprofits who are always going to be resource constrained.
Samantha: Absolutely. And on the other side of the fundraising arm is where the application and vetting process lives. We need a way for people who need our services to get in touch with us, and we need a consistent shared resource for reviewing those incoming requests. One of the things Salesforce does really well is standardized processes.
If you know what a candidate for your services looks like, and those are boxes we can check off within Salesforce, you can easily identify when there’s a match or not. Again, it’s saving time because you can lean on some of that automation.
Zak: So helping them be more effective with their sales process, which in this case is growing donations, ultimately helps them save time by removing manual processes or the many steps it takes for them to collect data.
Samantha: That’s exactly it.
The Transition to Consulting and the Polymath Life
Zak: Now how did you make the move to consulting?
Samantha: I won’t sugar coat it. I got bored, and I decided I wanted to learn more and do more. I was speaking at Destination Success and, through connections, was asked if I was interested in becoming a consultant, which I was, so I did. And then I made the move to Arkus about a year after that event.
Zak: And how was that transition?
Samantha: A lot of what I was doing before was the same. I firmly believe that a good admin will make a good consultant. However, being a consultant requires a lot more decisiveness. If a client is using a consultant, they want you to be the expert. It’s okay to say I don’t know and get back to them, but when you get back to them you have to have a decision made, which is a big part of the learning process.
You also have to be more clever in terms of how you push back on bad ideas. When I was an admin, it was easier to push back on ideas and be straightforward about it. As a consultant, you have to be creative but also polite in how you say “no.”
Zak: When did you get your first Salesforce certification?
Samantha: Fun fact: I got my Marketo certification before I got my Salesforce certification! I was Salesforce certified within eight months of becoming an admin.
Zak: Fun fact: I’ve been working with Marketo since 2009, so we share that history.
Samantha: I really like Marketo. I have a personal blog and started a Marketo vs. Pardot cage match. Once I became an Arkus consultant, I had to take a step back from that. It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but it’s www.polymathforce.com. If you haven’t heard that term, it’s the gender neutral term for jack-of-all-trades.
Zak: Would you consider yourself a polymath in business or in life?
Samantha: I would say both. I was a teacher in Arkansas, and I moved to Michigan, which has unique teaching requirements, so my actual certifications didn’t transfer. Therefore, when I moved here, I didn’t have a job. The first job I could get was at a Michael’s, and I would buy crafty things and started a craft blog. I was doing everything! And the same thing goes for when I moved into the Salesforce gig; I was wearing many hats, and there are a lot of people in the community who do the same. I can’t spend all of my time on one topic, and I tend to follow whatever is interesting to me in that moment.
Getting Started with Formstack and the Growing Partnership
Zak: Do you recall how you came across Formstack?
Samantha: I think it was through the Red Tab Foundation a couple of years ago. They were looking to better manage their incoming donations, but they really struggled with their application and vetting process. We needed an easy way to create a ton of forms, depending on various circumstances, that we could easily prefill with data. Some of the programs they were running required an annual renewal, and it was a hassle to make a customer fill out the exact same information every year, so we wanted a solution that would allow them to make updates to the data if they needed to, but also kept the main bulk of data the same. I really liked Formstack for Salesforce for that reason. It was very easy for the data to stay in one place.
Zak: We hear that a lot—that the value of our native Salesforce form builder is ensuring you are building a single view of members and stakeholders in Salesforce.
Samantha: That was another big thing for them (Red Tab Foundation). Historically, they would have three or four different systems that they’d have to log into and were managing pieces of the process in so many different places. When they were able to cut it down to Salesforce with Formstack, it saved them a lot of time and hassle.
Zak: Tell me more about the value of data prefill.
Samantha: From my perspective, data standards and defined processes are the two most important things that an organization will go through when implementing a new system. I always like to say Salesforce is the tool, and you continue to find the tools that will help you build what you need in that space. So it starts with data standards, and if you can prefill the data with your data standards and your best practices in place, you’re giving outside influences less of a chance to mess up the data within your process.
Zak: Is HIPAA compliance a growing part of your business?
Samantha: Yes. I’ve had clients who have been very interested in Formstack for Salesforce because they could manage data access in a secure environment.
Zak: That’s the premise of our NativeCloud. Salesforce is the one and only place where your data resides; it’s your single source of truth. And as a bonus, you get security benefits, as the data is right there in one place.
Zak: I’m going to sneak this question into the lightning round. How do you like being a remote team member?
Samantha: I love it. I learned early on that I cannot force myself to be productive. It just doesn’t work that way. There are days I can be up at 6 o’clock in the morning, and I’m ready to go. And there are days when 11 o’clock is too early. Working from home gives me the flexibility to work when I’m in the mindset to work. And I’m lucky to have a lot of clients who are a few hours behind me; it’s rare I have a meeting before 10 o’clock!
Zak: What are some of your personal interests or hobbies?
Samantha: Video games
Zak: Which ones?
Samantha: Mass Effect
Zak: Now I understand the 11 a.m. meeting thing. It’s because you’re up playing video games all night.
Samantha: [Laughs] Well, actually, Friday night is video game night at my house.
Zak: Do you have a favorite productivity tip?
Samantha: We practice the “Getting Things Done” methodology at Arkus. So we’re all very focused on that. My biggest tip is to capture all of your to-do items and put them in one place. Check in on that daily and weekly.
Zak: And where is that place for you?
Samantha: We use OmniFocus, but if I’m traveling, I use notebooks. I went to Europe in April, and I wrote down so many notes wherever we went.
Zak: What’s your favorite TV show?
Samantha: “The X-Files”
Zak: What’s your go-to lunch during the work day?
Zak: We have a debate here at Formstack: Is a hot dog a sandwich?
Samantha: No, it’s a hot dog.
Zak: Good consultant answer. Decisive.
Samantha: Ha, yes. I’ve been working on it.