In our most recent #SalesforceQA, we caught up with Christine Marshall, Salesforce Administrator, 4x Salesforce certified and Salesforce MVP. Christine talks about her career in the ecosystem and how she became a Salesforce MVP. Christine also mentions the different groups and schemes you can get involved with, to network and help with your learning.
Salesforce Republic (SR): To start with can you tell us just a little bit about yourself, how you first got into Salesforce, your Trailblazer story?
Christine Marshall (CM): I am an accidental Admin. I bounced around after university, I have an English literature degree which didn’t help me in any way career wise. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had jobs in account management, sales, support management, project management. But I used to get bored all the time, and I changed jobs really frequently. Then I was working for a heavy machinery dealership, and we had a really old CRM tool. It was terrible, and when we got a new one, it was Salesforce. I was like, this is great, this is the best part of my role. So that’s how I really fell into it.
SR: Would you have said you saw yourself being an Admin at a company, in charge of the whole CRM, looking back, or was this a complete dive into the deep end and just run with it?
CM: Complete dive into the deep end and roll with it. It’s always an accident, but I always take on new things and just assume that I’ll be able to work it out. I think I’m a very proficient Googler. The first time when we first set it up, I wanted a new CRM tool to help me do my existing job better. Working in sales support a lot of that was sales strategy, marketing strategy, analytics, looking at our market share, how could we improve our sales, and I needed a tool to help me do it. I was really passionate about getting a CRM tool, and when they said, ‘Sure, but you have to do it yourself’; find it, set it up, train everyone, I wanted to do that to make my own job better. I think most people will agree but initially, as a non- IT professional, you think ‘I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this’, but once you get into it, it feels really intuitive, and Salesforce makes technology easy for us.
SR: Is there any particular groups or schemes that you got involved with, that really helped your learning and powered you through to champion in this platform?
CM: A real key aspect for me was the Answers community. I don’t think I realised it existed for at least 18 months. I remember when I first started using Salesforce, setting up this platform. I actually tried to print off the entire user guide for Admins, which was hundreds of pages, and I didn’t realise there was any other support. It was 2014, so it was just before the dawn of Trailheads, I didn’t know anyone else that used Salesforce, that looked after Salesforce, so I spent a long time trying to figure out for myself literally using the Salesforce guide.
Then I discovered the Answers community, and that’s when it really took off. It’s an amazing place where you post your question, and you’ll literally get an answer within minutes typically, and you’ll get three or four people that will try and help you. People that will take you through how to solve something step by step, send links to relevant help documents, and also tell you if actually, it’s a known issue, which sometimes it can be, and they can be really hard to find. So the Answers community was really pivotal for my learning.
SR: Was there any other groups or schemes that you got involved with that helped you learn?
CM: Unfortunately, not I think I spent the first few years really teaching myself and using the online resources. That’s part of why I try and get involved in things now, like Salesforce Supermums, because I wasted time. It probably took me longer to learn things because I wasn’t part of any programme, because I was learning on my own and I was making mistakes along the way. It’s great, I think now that we have so many new resources, and programmes are making it far more accessible. You’re getting the benefits of professional teaching, but at a fraction of the cost of what used to happen. It used to be that you could only really go into the Salesforce taught courses which were financially quite prohibitive, very expensive.
SR: It’s fantastic, how you’ve achieved so much in a relatively short-time, especially by self-teaching. Out of this whole journey from start to finish so far, what would you say is your biggest Salesforce achievement?
CM: My role before this one was an all-singing, all-dancing, it was the best Salesforce platform I had ever seen, and it was because we’d integrated everything from start to finish. We had DocuSign, we had Congo, we had SurveyMonkey, and I was suddenly working with an awful lot of third party integrations, which was a big change for me. I was used to just working on SalesCloud. I think I didn’t realise that I was going to have all of those things, when I joined the company. I thought it was just going to be SalesCloud administration again, and to find out that actually I was going to be responsible for a lot more than that was a huge learning curve and a big challenge. Now that I’m in a role where I’m back on just SalesCloud, I miss the challenge of other third party tools, working with integrations. I’d definitely like to get back to that at some point.
SR: In terms of teaching and getting involved with different integrations and products, you’re 4x certified. How did you find those certifications? How did you prepare yourself?
CM: When I got my first full-time Salesforce administration role, I didn’t realise that this company had specified it had to be someone certified. I went for an interview, I went for a second interview, no one ever asked about certifications, and I got this job. It was only months later, when I told them, I passed my Admin certification and they all looked a bit stunned and horrified, because everybody thought I was already certified. Then I wanted to do my Advanced Admin as my second one, but that is such a scary exam. It’s got all these features like territory management and it’s really complicated, it is really hard, if you don’t use it, you don’t set it up. So to avoid doing that exam, I went off and I did the Platform App Builder, and then I still couldn’t face the Advanced Admin, so I went off and did my Sales Cloud. Then I finally took the Advanced Admin, mostly because I had a certification voucher, and it was going to expire. That’s how I ended up doing things. I did the Sales Cloud as a beta exam, and had two weeks where I just had to study and then go for it, that works really well for me, I’ve been planning to do my Service Cloud since December, and it’s booked for July, and I’ll probably push it back to September.
SR: Would you advise people to book certifications to give them that goal to aim for and to hold themselves accountable?
CM: I think it is important to book it and set yourself a date so that you’ve got a goal to work towards. Otherwise, it’s really easy not to make time. My job is really busy, I do quite a lot of community stuff, so I can go; ‘Well, I haven’t got time to study’.
What I really find is that I only need a few weeks, in all seriousness, of studying I always use Focus on Force, I think they’re amazing. I get their study guides; I get their mock exams. Then for the two weeks before the exam, I just do mock exams over and over and over again until I know the whole thing inside and out, and then go and do the exam.
SR: You mentioned that you have a lot of community involvement, and you recently got recognised as an MVP. What do you think, out of all your community efforts and what you do, what do you think added up to being an MVP?
CM: It’s been quite hard to know if it was any one thing that’s contributed to being an MVP, and I’ve been really lucky that quite a few people who nominated me, sent me private messages to let me know that they nominated me and why. I had people nominate me for my work on the Answers community, people that nominated me because they came and saw one of my talks, for example at London World Tour. People that have nominated me based on the blog. I do think it’s a combination of things.
I think MVP is quite a difficult thing to achieve. Not that it should be the aim. But a lot of it is about who you know, and who knows you. If you’re contributing enough that people are aware of what you’re doing, because MVP, not only do you have to be nominated, but it then goes through a round of selection by other MVPs, before then going through a selection by Salesforce, so it’s quite a difficult thing to get through. I’m sure that there are a lot of people doing a lot in the local community, that maybe don’t make it through, because the wider community don’t know who they are. I guess a lot of what we try and do in the Salesforce community is champion other people and recognise other people’s achievements, publicise them for it, to make sure that they also get that recognition.
SR: Would you say that being an MVP is not only about giving back to the community, it’s also nurturing others to potentially be MVP themselves or to be group leaders or other kinds of influential members of the community?
CM: Yeah, absolutely. I would say that a lot of MVPs do this because they want to support other people. They run user groups because they want to provide great content to their users. They want to create an environment where others can meet and network. They put people in touch with recruiters, or with people that are hiring. People that write blogs. A lot of these blogs are not about the individuals, they are about teaching and training other people: tips, tutorials. I think that is what makes an MVP; it’s someone that is a teacher. It’s someone that wants to teach others and help them succeed, usually by making it easier. Being self-taught, being unaware of all the things that were available to me, I want other people joining in now to know; come to this user group and come to this community event, here are all the blogs you need, here are the resources you need. Let me save you time. That’s what my blog is all about, like a one-stop-shop. If I do a tutorial, it will always finish with; here are all the resources that I use, here are all the resources I think you’re going to need so that you don’t have to go off and spend that time, I’ve done that bit for you.
SR: Part of your MVP journey, is tailored around your blog, The Everyday Admin. Can you tell us a bit about your blog?
CM: I’ve always loved writing; I did an English literature degree. Have always used it as part of my job, but it didn’t really occur to me that I would use it as part of my Salesforce role. Then I spoke at my first community conference back in 2018, at Inspire East, and Paul Ginsburg from the Netherlands said to me, ‘Oh, you should write a blog. I think you have a style of talking to people that would translate really well and that people would enjoy.’ I thought, well, why not? I love to write. I love Salesforce. I am a little bit introverted, so I am more comfortable behind the screen. That’s why I got started on the Answers community and not in a live community initially. So I went off, I chose WordPress, which makes it really easy to set up a blog and literally within a week had a blog set up and my first blog post going. It’s been going since October 2018, I’ve done 42 posts, and have had almost 40,000 views.
SR: That is an incredible achievement. What kind of content do you put on your blogs? Is there a specific theme or is it everything Salesforce?
CM: My first blog was about Inspire East, because it was the first ever Inspire East, and my first time talking. It was a community post about the events, about how it was being a first time speaker. It’s such a nice thing, blogging, I really enjoy it and it’s been so beneficial. It’s such a nice way to give back to the community.
I like to keep it very focused. It is a blog aimed for administrators. I’m not a developer, I don’t really know anything about that, so I stick with what I know. There’s the occasional post about me and about events I go to, but for the most part it’s top tips or step-by-step tutorials. It’s always things that I’ve discovered, that someone has told me, or that I found in the course of doing my job, and I’ve thought, I wish I’d known. Or if I found something difficult, I’ve tried to put instructions in layman’s terms so that the next person trying to do it doesn’t have to struggle.
SR: One of the other things that you do to give back is you’re a user group leader. How did you come across becoming the user group leader?
CM: One of the things for me, is that I just keep saying yes to things, and every time I’ve thought, ‘I’m not sure if I could do that’, I just do it anyway. Once I started taking that approach, and getting involved in the community, opportunities started to roll into me so I no longer had to go out and find them and apply for things, they started coming to me and the user group leadership was one of those things. I’d probably been active in the community, in person, going to events, speaking at events for a couple of months, when I got a phone call from someone who’s a key player in the Salesforce area in the southwest. He said to me that one of the leaders had stepped down, and would I be interested in stepping up and becoming a leader? I don’t think that he would have known to speak to me, to ask me, if I hadn’t been so active in the community already. I know that the opportunity only came about because I kept saying yes, I kept putting myself forward for things and being public facing.
SR: What kind of format do you have to your user group events? How do you go about planning them? And what do you try and achieve from them?
CM: We are definitely less frequent than others. We wanted to make it manageable, and one of the issues being in Bristol, in the Southwest, is we have quite a small Salesforce community. So when it comes to sponsors and speakers, it can be quite hard to recruit them and get people that are willing to come to Bristol. We do them every two months, always on Thursday, between six and nine o’clock usually, we try to have two speakers, one sponsor. We keep them reasonably short and snappy, 15 to 20 minute sessions, because I know that mostly what the people come for is the networking. But I think, it’s important that we get more out of it than just networking. I want people to learn and I want people to have access to content that they might not otherwise have. If they can’t go to community events, if I can bring those speakers to us, then nobody misses out. We can all learn something. There are so many solo admins in the southwest and speaking from experience, typically we are unaware of certain clouds, certain features, certain best practice. So the user group is a great chance for us to educate ourselves on things that we just don’t come across in our day jobs.
SR: Given the state of the world at the moment, actual in person events can’t happen at the moment. How are you finding being an MVP, a group leader, a really active member of the community? Are you able to do all that community engagement virtually?
CM: All the blogging is really simple to keep doing from home. I attended the London admin user group virtually, and was so impressed, they did such a fantastic job. I think that’s reassured me that I can do the same thing for Bristol. I’m quite nervous. But a lot of that is because I know that the people come for the networking, and they love to be in the same room, and I don’t know how that’s going to translate as a virtual meeting. I suppose the benefit though of this virtual format is we’re going to be able to open it up to a much wider community. Other people are more than welcome to join if they’re interested in the content.
SR: Working at home, obviously now everything is virtual. Have you got any top tips for working at home, just in general working from home or getting involved with the community from home?
CM: I would say being at home, take the opportunity to get involved in other user groups, to join virtually ones that you can’t go to in person. I think that’s a really great thing to do. We’ve still got our Trailblazer groups, we’ve still got Twitter, we’ve got LinkedIn, where people are very active. It is important to stay socially connected.
In terms of actually working from home, I really like it. I’ve done jobs where I’ve been completely remote all the time, so it hasn’t come as a big change to me. I can really concentrate, which I appreciate. I can put my music on which I really enjoy.
SR: Do you think it is more important now more than ever, with us all being at home to stay connected? And if so, how would you stay connected?
CM: I think it’s important to stay connected, especially with friends and family. I think you cannot underestimate how beneficial a video call is. Using something like Zoom or Google Hangouts, or just FaceTime, it’s much better than phone calls when you can actually see someone’s face, it’s a whole different kind of communication. But I also think you have to be careful not to get quite burnt out. For me, I’m very lucky, a lot of people have made contact, trying to stay in touch, and that can actually be a bit overwhelming and distracting. Especially if you are still working, and other people are working less or they’re furloughed. You might not have the same capacity as they do to respond and be very socially active. So I would say it’s really important to stay connected. Don’t be isolated. But if it’s overwhelming, that’s okay as well because we’re in an unprecedented time where you’ll find that a lot of people, need a lot of social interaction, more so than normal.
SR: What would be your favourite function or feature or part of a release that has either just happened or is coming up?
CM: I am just about to dive into the Summer 20. I have just got my pre-release. org. so I haven’t jumped in there. But something I loved from the Spring release was Einstein opportunity scoring. The functionality has been around for a while, but it wasn’t available to everyone, and now it’s free for most of us, so Enterprise Unlimited. It’s genius. It looks at your opportunities, it scores them based on previous win rates and losses and industries, and it’s just absolutely fascinating.
SR: Is there anything to look out for, coming up that you think is worth a note?
CM: Definitely get your pre-realease org. coming probably quite a bit down the line, not for a few releases, but we’re going to start to see some real changes in the user interface and making that a lot more intuitive. In the future, we should see a very different lightening page, where we can make fields appear and disappear based on other options that we’re choosing. I think it’s going to make a much simpler page layout, a much better user interface for our users.
If you’re a Salesforce professional and would like to join Christine Marshall, in our Q&A series, please get in touch with us today!