Hiring a Salesforce Admin

Hiring a Salesforce Administrator (aka “Admin”) is tough. Their technical talent often means nonprofits are competing with companies to hire. And the Admin skillset is often unique among existing staff and so, difficult to evaluate. We’re answering the common questions we get from nonprofits hiring Admins.

Do I need an Admin? 

Yes, in some form. Admins play an essential role in the health and long-term success of your CRM. We explain more here.

That said, not every nonprofit team needs to staff full-time Salesforce talent in-house. See this article on small orgs’ success with Salesforce and the “Build or Recruit” section below for more on alternatives to full-time Admin roles.

What skills are the most important?

Usually what people really want to know when they ask this question is whether they need someone with direct Salesforce experience or someone with a highly technical background. We answer this question with more questions, because frankly, it depends (I know, *groan*): 

  • How many Salesforce users do you have? How complex is your system– how much data are you managing, how much automation is in the CRM, is there much custom code in the CRM, what systems integrate to it? 
    • The more users, data, automation, customization, and integrations, the more technically skilled the Salesforce Admin needs to be. 
  • Will they have people they can go to– internal staff or contractors/consultants outside your organization– for help with hard technical problems or technical skill development? 
    • If so, you could hire someone with little prior Salesforce experience who’s enthusiastic about systems and data. 
    • If not, you likely need to look for someone with more Salesforce Administration experience. 
  • Will they have a role in defining your organization’s strategy for CRM? 
    • If so, this is a more senior position that might require prior experience leading technology initiatives in addition to experience managing CRMs and related technologies. 

Aside from technical skills, Admins also need:

  • A curious mind: Admins are continuously asked for things– new features, more training, different reports. They need to be comfortable asking why and getting to the root of these requests so they understand the business needs. Otherwise, the system and the Admin will become overburdened and still won’t quite meet users’ needs. And, Salesforce and related technologies are changing all the time–Admins need to keep on top of these changes. 
  • Strong communication skills: Admins engage people at all levels of an organization. They need to be able to adapt their communication style easily, translate technical concepts for non-technical people, and influence people they don’t have direct authority over.
  • A knack for problem solving: Keeping a CRM healthy and effective means constant problem solving. The Admin needs to take a methodical approach and find answers through creative means.

Should I build within or recruit?  

Finding new talent is time-intensive and recruiters are expensive, so if you have the option to look in-house, it’s a great one. This route becomes less viable for teams that need an Admin with advanced technical skills (unless you happen to have a bench of tech whizzes on your team). 

For teams that are considering hiring from within, look for these characteristics: 

  • Someone who jumps to learn new technologies– who’s among the first to learn or tell their colleagues about a new system? The one that people go to when they have a tech question? 
  • Someone with a knack for process creation– who’s the person who turns a long Word doc into a project plan or turns the monster Excel into a readable sheet? If someone new is brought onto the team, who does the team rely on to train that new person in the “right way” to get things done? 
  • Someone looking to advance in their career! Salesforce skills are marketable. The chance to develop highly transferable “hard” skills can be a very strong selling point. 

Consulting firms like North Peak also offer Admin development services to help get new Admins up to speed. But be prepared: a lot of Salesforce learning is self-directed– they need time in the system and space to figure stuff out. Cut it short, and you’re setting this Admin and your system up for failure. 

For many small and mid-sized organizations, Admin roles can be hybrid ones, where a staff person is partially focused on Salesforce Administration and partially on some other business area. This can be tricky– Salesforce work and learning is easily de-prioritized. It’s essential to have clear expectations and strong support & accountability for CRM-related responsibilities. 

If your team is having trouble hiring or can’t accommodate the headcount, it might be efficient to outsource Admin responsibilities to companies that offer Salesforce managed services. But keep in mind– this stuff can’t be outsourced: 

  • CRM strategy: Someone internal needs to set the vision for the CRM and make sure the technology aligns with organizational priorities.
  • CRM governance: Someone internal needs to establish and help enforce expectations for system use, determine the process by which changes and improvements are identified prioritized, manage budgets related to technology and resourcing, and determine how new staff are onboarded to the system and how existing staff get ongoing training as things change. 
  • Knowledge of business processes: CRMs reflect teams’ business processes, and your outsourced Admin won’t be able to advise on the best way to manage your team’s work. Internal subject matter experts need to inform the system design based on what’s most important to their teams and the way they work best. 

What interview questions should I ask? 

Specifically, teams often ask us how to assess technical skills. Salesforce Ben shared some questions that help uncover candidates’ experience with Salesforce features and functionality. These are good examples for how to gauge Salesforce knowledge. 

At North Peak, we also recommend giving candidates assessments based on real-world scenarios, asking them to solve and present on a Salesforce problem that actually came up for your team. This makes it easier for non-technical staff to gauge the effectiveness of their problem solving, and provides a more realistic window into how they’d handle the work you throw at them. Are they clear about assumptions they’re making? How well did they articulate their approach and was it a coherent way to solve the problem? How do they handle it when people question their ideas?

Prepare for the future 

Salesforce Admins have valuable expertise, and the turnover for these roles is often high. Start thinking about retention early. More on how to support Admin success here

And, to prepare for the case that a Salesforce Admin moves on to a new opportunity:

  • Document your approach to hiring 
  • Set clear expectations with power users (staff who are good at using Salesforce and engage in discussions about how to improve it for their teams) are backups to the Admin for their team. 

We hope this helps your team craft a successful hiring strategy! If you are thinking about your next CRM project, reach out

About North Peak

About North Peak

North Peak helps nonprofits and foundations increase institutional intelligence through healthy CRM (constituent relationship management) and/or GMS (grant management system) systems and practices. Contact Us to learn how we can elevate your organization's impact.