Talent Hub is proud to introduce the eleventh episode of the Talent Hub TV podcast series. Here, Talent Hub Director, Ben Duncombe meets respected Salesforce professionals and thought leaders to learn more about their fascinating stories and industry insights.
This month’s guest, Salesforce Solution Architect, Hiral Sawla, joins Ben to share the path of his own Salesforce career, his many achievements, and how the platform led him to relocate from India to Sydney as his career accelerated. Hiral has grown incredibly successful Salesforce teams in recent years, identified and nurtured upcoming talent and led large and complex Salesforce implementations through the region, using a blend of both onshore and offshore teams.
Talent Hub Director, Ben Duncombe asks Hiral for his views on how best to approach developing an offshore component to your Salesforce team, his advice on interviewing for the best Salesforce talent, and how to avoid the common pitfalls of approaching Salesforce projects.
We were thrilled to get the chance to talk with 11x Salesforce certified, Hiral, given his deep experience in the Salesforce ecosystem, and find out what excites him the most about the ANZ Salesforce region going forward.
This inspiring and educational podcast is one not to be missed, and if you’d prefer to read this insightful episode, you can find the transcribe below.
Ben: Welcome to Talent Hub TV Episode 11. We’ve here with Hiral Sawla today. So we’ve got a number of different topics to talk about. Hiral has played a number of different roles over the years in the Salesforce ecosystem. So can you tell us a bit about your career before Salesforce, and then your career in the Salesforce ecosystem?
Hiral: Definitely. Thanks Ben. Thanks for inviting me. Yes, I just finished my last role as a Delivery Director just two weeks ago, but I started my career as a Hardware Engineer, so I was actually assembling computers, I was putting up the lan systems for media companies. This was before engineering actually. After my engineering, I actually moved into software engineering. So I started my career with Infosys, one of the largest GSIs back in India, and then I kind of slowly moved into Java. So back at Infosys we used to work for a company called AT&T which is one of the largest telecom providers in the US. And we were working on primitive technologies like C, C++, Java, Unix and some of the code was written in the early 1980s. Just after event C++ was invented, and we were actually kind of maintaining and enhancing that code from 2005 onwards, so the code base was twenty five years plus old and it was an interesting, challenging project as well, because we were working on a lot of on premise legacy applications. Black box applications low UI asset, and we had to do a lot of screen scraping to pull the data. So as part of that particular role, I got an opportunity to work with the customer in the US. I spent about three years in the US working with the customer as well.
I remember in about April 2011, I actually met a friend in Chicago who actually introduced me to Salesforce, so we spoke about Salesforce briefly. I did not have a kind of inclination to move on Salesforce immediately as such, but what happened is fast forward three months, I moved back to India, and Arxxus approached me. So one of the Founders at Arxxus was my first manager at Infosys. And that’s how I actually kind of got introduced to Salesforce, through Arxxus. I joined Arxxus in 2012.
Ben: Ok. And then obviously you have since then, played a number of different positions, so can you tell us a bit about those roles and how they came about?
Hiral: Yes, so when I started with Arxxus I joined their India team on the offshore team. I was a Technical Lead back then. I was leading a team of Q.A.s and Developers but I would used to frequently come to Sydney to meet the customers, gather the requirements as such, and then go back and pass it on to the wider audience, so because of the frequent travel to Sydney I decided to actually move to Sydney permanently in 2013. And since then I have played numerous roles. So my last role obviously was leading the entire delivery practice for the organization. But throughout these last six years, I have been an Engagement Manager, I’ve been a Solution Architect on a lot of projects. I’ve got an opportunity to set up and build an entire Managed Services practice for the organisation as well. I was part of the sales team, pre-sales, responsible for hiring and recruiting as well. Sure. So I’ve played multiple roles, but always my motto has been to be the ‘customer advocate and customer trusted advisor’. So what I wanted to do always, was the best solution for the customer, and throughout all my kind of tenure at Arxxus, I have been kind of in touch with the platform as well, even if I was not kind of day to day involved with the customers as such, I always wanted to be on top of the platform and hands-on as well. So throughout this particular period, I have accumulated about eleven certifications, and I’m preparing for more certifications as well. So hopefully in the next few weeks, I will get more certifications under my belt as well. But yes, it has been more of a customer trusted advisor and customer success or advocate.
Ben: Sure, and I think that obviously you’ve performed lots of different roles that each have different challenges, so part of that was recruitment, part of it’s presales, and so on, so I think you’ve got a really good view of the different aspects of a Salesforce project from beginning to end, and challenges of that. So when you first started in the Salesforce world, what was a typical project? What would it look like?
Hiral: So yes, when we, as in at least when I started my Salesforce career, most projects were smaller projects I would say, as in the duration of those projects would be a few weeks, or maybe a few months. And I started in 2012/2013, so primarily Salesforce was more of a CRM, and a lot of focus was on the Sales Cloud side of business. So most of my early projects were on the Sales Cloud side and typical duration would be a few weeks or a few months and a lot of customisation involved because the platform has evolved over the period of time now, So there were a lot of things which were not available earlier, so we had to kind of custom develop a lot of things as well, versus now, what I’ve seen is the projects have changed a lot in terms of complexity and the duration of the projects as well. Because the platform has evolved so much, there has been so much in the evolvement of Service Cloud, Community Cloud, Marketing and Pardot, and all the other clouds as well. The projects are getting more and more complicated as well. So that’s one of the changes that I’ve seen.
Ben: Yes, I think you know, every month has a new project kicking off across Australia, and everything’s getting more and more complex, challenging new projects coming into the Salesforce world as well. We’re seeing things like DevOps coming into Salesforce which we wouldn’t have seen when it was just a Sales Cloud project for a couple of weeks. So what’s been the biggest, for the evolution of the platform, can you pinpoint the features that you’ve most enjoyed working with over the years?
Hiral: Yes, so as it has in the recent past most of the customers now want their customers to be kind of self-sufficient. So I’ve seen a lot of traction of Community projects as such, and then underpinned by Service Cloud, so it is now moving more towards that customer-facing or end customer facing sort of application. The platform has evolved so much, that previously it was, Salesforce was considered a disruptor, versus now it’s considered as more of an innovator or market leader as well, and the introduction of Customer 360, the introduction of myTrailhead now, is going to be a one single enterprise level application. For the customers to invest in one application, rather than multiple legacy applications.
Ben: Yes sure. Now, you mentioned initially you were doing lots of customisation, lots of coding to make the platform as fit for purpose for the customer. I know you’ve worked a lot with offshore development teams, and that can obviously play a key role, an important role for customers. How can offshoring really benefit a customer and who is it for?
Hiral: So offshoring or augmented teams has been there for years and years, as in throughout my 15 years of I.T career, I have been part of onshore and offshore models, or kind of ecosystem itself. So obviously the advantage obviously whenever we talk about offshore, the perspective is that it’s just a cost benefit. As in obviously it’s going to reduce the overall operational costs for the customer. You don’t have to invest in kind of full-time employees, you need not actually have any overhead operational cost. And obviously the daily rate card compared to someone hiring locally is going to be kind of lower than someone hiring offshore as such, but I don’t think that is the only advantage or benefit for a customer to actually go with the offshore sort of model. I think what advantage the customer would have in this day is, more of a kind of accessing the talent pool or the technical talent pool, I would say or expertise from offshore models or augmented teams. The offshore or augmented team doesn’t have to be in a specific country, it can be a global pool of resources as well, considering as in if you look at the statistics, there are only about 2,200 certified professionals in Australia, whereas there are about 53,000 certified professionals into the system, globally, so you do see that sort of gap as well in the market. It’s really difficult to kind of find a talented pool of resources in the ANZ region, so that is one of the primary reasons I think the customers are now open for outsourcing their work. It is purely the location of the team. What the customer wants is the best solution for the budget or investment as such, so I have seen throughout this last six years, the perspective of the customer now changing as well, in terms of outsourcing. As long as the deliverables and the timelines are met, I think the customer is happy with the output for the budget that they are actually spending.
Ben: Yes, and I think that’s the key right, is getting the outcome and the deliverable, it has to be met, and the timelines, and so there is an element of risk if you’re entering into any arrangement onshore or offshore. So what should customers that are considering going offshore with a piece of work, or a project or managed service arrangement, what kind of considerations and things they should be aware of upfront, what should they look for?
Hiral: So in terms of the challenges, I would say with sort of model, the biggest challenge that I have faced over the period of time is communication. So obviously, because if you are a customer location, if your team is sitting in front of the customer, and you get firsthand information from the customer and when it actually kind of trickles down to the remote team as such, there are chances of either misinterpretation, assumption or lack of communication altogether. So I think communication is one of the key aspects of working with the team which is remote or co-located as such. And it can be in Australia as well, we have executed so many projects which are either based in Melbourne for example, but the team is located in Sydney and you don’t have that opportunity to be in front of the customer every time as well, so in terms of communication obviously over a period of time we have had so many tools now which we never had in the past, as in we never had, kind of live documents kind of like Google etc. where you can start making notes which can be reflected onto the remote team as well immediately or at real time, you didn’t have a lot of tools in terms of setting up a videoconference or screen sharing in the past as well, so all the tools like Google Meeting for example, Hangouts or TeamViewer for example, in terms of screen sharing recording etc. are going to be beneficial for collaboration and that reduces a lot of kind of communication of miscommunication I would say going forward, so that one aspect definitely needs to be taken account for. The other thing about the remote team or augmented team is, what I have seen in the past with a lot of other organisations or partners, is the remote aim is never considered as part of the core team, which is obviously a misconception. It should be such that that entire team irrespective of the location should be considered as one single team, both from on onshore team point of view, and customers point of view. I have seen in the past that there are decisions taken at onshore, or customer level without actually kind of engaging the offshore or remote team as well, which doesn’t work well in a team sort of structure. So I think that team collaboration is another key aspect, as in, timely appreciation and feedback needs to be given, a kind of constructive feedback needs to be given to the remote team and vice versa, constructive feedback should be taken on board as well, how to make a successful project team as such. And lastly I would say, the team combination. So irrespective of the location of the team, any Salesforce sort of project would have an Architect, a Project Manager, or an Engagement Manager, a Technical Lead, a Functional and Technical Consultant, a Developer, a Q.A. So that combination is going to be static. But in terms of the resources, where those resources are to be located, and that combination will not be kind of cookie cutter for any project as such. So depending on the type of project, you need to plan it out. Sometimes you would need a heavy offshore team, if it’s too much custom development where you need a lot of technical resources, it’s beneficial to have a heavy offshore team, versus if it is more of a road-mapping or strategic sort of exercise, it would be probably more heavy on an onshore team. And in some situations, you might have a combination where you need key resources from offshore, in front of the customer at key intervals of the project, and when they go back and pass on that information to the wider audience.
Ben: Yes, okay, so I guess where risks come in, is where a company are offshoring development and they don’t really understand the platform themselves here, they don’t have someone that can say “this is how it needs to be done”, or “this is what, this is the outcome we’re looking to achieve” and then offshoring work that you don’t really understand yourself, I guess that’s where communication and output issues arise. So is it important to have someone locally or steering it from a location that has a true understanding of what they’re looking to achieve and how it can be done?
Hiral: Yes, there should definitely be a kind of point of contact from the onshore point of view as well. You can’t just expect everything to be passed onto offshore and then you’re going to get the finished product. So you need to obviously have timely touchpoint with offshore team either on a weekly basis on a fortnightly basis to keep track of whatever is handed over to them. Is it getting actually executed on time? Are they on the right track? Are there any assumptions that are being made without actually consulting the onshore counterpart or customer as well? So those are definitely things that you need to kind of take it of, but now what I have also seen is previously, the customer did not have access to a lot of information about the platform as well, so they were kind of completely unaware of the capabilities of the platform. Now, because of the introduction of Trailhead and gamification of the actual knowledge management of the platform itself, the customers themselves are so much more aware of platform that you get into a situation where the customers would have done their homework, and then you are actually questioned or challenged about the platform, which is a very healthy argument I would say, when you’re in front of the customer, the customer themselves know what they want, how probably they can achieve it, but they don’t have capability or bandwidth to actually kind of implement it. So it’s all good environment, a healthy environment, versus how it was about five or six years back I would say. The customers are now aware what the platform can provide actually.
Ben: Sure, I guess things like World Tour, Dreamforce, they help the customer see the end goal.
Ben: And all the terminologies out there, people can just kind of do some research and have a good understanding themselves.
Hiral: Yes, I think I think Trailhead has changed the understanding of the platform, not only at the consultant’s level, but the customer’s level as well, because previously when we used to kind of execute these smaller projects, and because obviously there were a lot of limitations back then as well, it was difficult for the consultants to actually convince the customer of things which were either achievable out of the platform or out of the box as well, or things which are not even achievable as well, because of certain limitations. So now the customers have access to all the information as well, so we just need to kind of direct them to write a kind of media, or Trailhead material as such, for them to even understand what are the limitations of the platform, and what are the upcoming features or enhancements on the platform as well.
Ben: Sure. OK. And you’ve grown big teams in the Salesforce ecosystem, you mentioned before that in ANZ that there’s definitely a shortage of candidates, but aside from just a lack of bodies, what are the biggest challenges you faced, or people face when hiring Salesforce professionals?
Hiral: Yes, it is a valid kind of issue, as in the platform is growing exponentially, but the talent base to actually kind of the provide the services is limited. And because of the recent visa changes as well, it’s not kind of making it easier for the Partner ecosystem as well, to actually kind of get onboard, talented pool of resources. So one thing that I did in my past role this was not only to look for Salesforce consultants. So we did kind of take a gamble on a lot of key hires in the past where they came from a CRM background, like say, Siebel or Sugar CRM, and then get them up to scale, or get them up to speed on the Salesforce platform, or if you are coming from a technical background, if you have worked in the past on Java, .net, for example, getting them trained on Apex was probably much easier then getting someone to train directly on the Salesforce platform. So that was one of the key things that we actually looked at.
Ben: Why do you think people are hesitant to do that? Because for us, obviously this is the market, this is what we do, we find people for roles just in the Salesforce space, and it would be a much easier job for us if more companies had that view and that mindset, let’s transition people, let’s bring people across. Why is that, why are people are hesitant to do that?
Hiral: I think, and this might be just my personal opinion. One of the key reasons is because if you hire someone you might want to see immediate utilisation and billability for that person. So I think as a Partner ecosystem, we need to kind of change the mindset as well. We need to invest in good resources which are going to be helpful for us for years and years down the line such as in if you kind of think of a short term goal, or short term achievement, you can actually kind of hire someone who has Salesforce experience and background, and get them to kind of kick start a project immediately, versus if you have to kind of think of a longer-term plan or strategy for the organisation, the training and enablement is a key aspect for the organisation, to have that kind of resource strength for future projects. So one of the things that obviously in hiring process I was very conscious of was, not to be reactive, as in, plan well in advance, because what would happen is, whenever you come across an important project from a customer for example, you might want to kind of resource immediately, but you have a limited kind of resource pool as well, so you need to plan a lot in advance. You need to kind of look for the talent that’s available in the market, try to grab that talent, if possible, have a frank chat with your management, try to get an approval from the management, try to convince the management that you see this particular person is going to be helpful in future, if not immediately. So you should not just shut your doors in terms of looking for good talent in the market. I think that’s one of the key aspects that I’ve seen in the past.
Ben: Yes, sure, and so if you look at some of the people that you have hired from a non-Salesforce background, they’ve gone onto to be established Architects and so on. How long does it take, and everyone’s different, we can’t say it’s going to take three months, but from your experience, someone coming from a non-Salesforce background, maybe another CRM or a good solid Java developer coming into a development role. How long before you can be confident that they are able to do the job?
Hiral: Okay, from my experience in my previous past roles, what I’ve seen is it takes less than three months to be very frank, and to be very productive as well. And that’s why we have to hire good, talented people who were really kind of superstars in their space as well. You cannot expect someone who was average in their space to outshine and outperform in this one. There might be a few candidates or resources who would kind of outperform, but that’s a bit of a gamble. Versus if you kind of take someone who has been a really good sort of Architect on one CRM, for them to kind of move onto another CRM. The concepts are pretty much the same. It’s just that certain terminologies might be different, slight data models would be different, and obviously different platforms comes with either the limitations or feature sets for example. So that would change probably, but picking up Salesforce nowadays, I don’t think it’s a tough task for anyone, and if you have that sort of technical background, then picking up Salesforce, I don’t think, what I’ve seen is people have been productive and billable within just a month or so.
Ben: Okay yeah, so it can be done.
Hiral: And it depends on the role as well. If you’re expecting someone to be a lone Architect on a project, who does not have a Salesforce background, that’s not going to work out, but if you throw in those sorts of resources with a big team, you already have a team of five or six team members, and those team members can actually learn from the other members, they will pick it up immediately, versus just kind of keeping them on a study track and just having that theoretical knowledge, it’s not going to help immediately. You need to kind of give them practical experience, and practical problem statements to relate to the platform as well.
Ben: Yes, agreed. I can only imagine how many people you’ve interviewed over the six or so years. What’s worked well for you through an interview process, to cut out the good from the bad?
Hiral: Yeah. So again, obviously Salesforce is a kind of hot topic these days as a market, and everyone wants to kind of join the bandwagon so, some of the things are pretty easy to get on the platform as well, as in what I’ve seen in the past, versus now, getting certified. It’s not that challenging or difficult compared to what it was in the past, because previously you did not have online material available, so it was based on your practical knowledge, and your hands-on knowledge as such, versus now you have so much online material available, you can easily get certified. I’m not saying that people who are certified might not actually be able to do their jobs, but getting certifications in my personal opinion, it’s not that difficult. Obviously, the Architect level certifications are difficult, you need to kind of understand the overall platform, but the consultant ones are pretty easy to get these days. So obviously when you’re kind of interviewing a person, just don’t go with the certification aspect only, but also understand what practical knowledge do they have. What sort of implementations have they done. So if they have actually kind of completed Service Cloud or Community Cloud projects versus what’s on their certification, they just have Admin, that’s a gap I would see.I know that there are individuals who have a personal preference not to go through the certification program, but nowadays all the customers are asking for that validation, so if you have implemented for these many years, can you actually kind of validate that with certifications as well. So that is one key aspect. Also over the period of time during the interview process, we had to kind of change the process for every candidate as well. So depending on the candidate, if it’s for a Solution Architect or a Technical Architect sort of role, we used to give them a kind of small assignment, and kind of come up with the solution then and there. Maybe give them half an hour to prepare for the solution, because that’s what will would happen with the real-life version as well. And it was a very kind of toned down version of CTA for example, it kind of prepares them for next challenges as well. And there may not be a kind of right or wrong answer as such, it’s just the thought process that we need to understand.
Ben: How they think, and how they communicate.
Hiral: And similarly for the Functional Consultant sort of role, we used to give them a Salesforce assignment to actually kind of do an assignment on the platform, on a Dev org and then just come and present. Again, the idea was not to actually test the Salesforce platform knowledge as such, it’s how you actually kind of implement it, how you present it back to the customers. It was more of a role play. Are you able to gauge the stakeholders, are you able to answer difficult questions, so the idea was never to actually understand the Salesforce knowledge as well.
Ben: Okay yeah that’s very helpful I think. You know not everyone does that, and I think if more people did put a challenge in place, they’d get better results at the other end of it.
Hiral: Yeah and you can actually figure out their platform knowledge just by asking simple questions like it doesn’t have to be a kind of detailed list of questions to kind of validate their Salesforce knowledge. If you just kind of try to gauge with a few questions and the beauty of the Salesforce platform is that you need to be up to date every four months or so, so you need to kind of go through the release exam. So you can just ask “what were the few features in the last release” for example, those sort of small questions will actually kind of help show you if that person is actually well acquainted with the platform.
Ben: Yeah I think the gamble comes when people just relying, like they might be an end-user company and they’re relying that someone’s got a certification, and then aren’t asking any knowledge base questions themselves, and then that is a gamble, like you said, it’s easier nowadays to get a certification. I think for end-user companies, it’s actually harder to pick the right person, because you were going through an assessment, and you know Salesforce, whereas the person on the end-user side might not, so I think it’s just being aware of not just relying on the certifications is a big thing for them.
Hiral: But I think as a recruiter as well, you have started a Salesforce online sort of test as well. So the customers can actually kind of rely on you as well who are going to kind of pre-screen the resources and candidates as well, so that they would at least trust you that these guys have a basic knowledge of Salesforce.
Ben: That’s the big thing for me is just like, I don’t know Salesforce myself, so I try to cover every angle possible to try and make sure that anyone I’m representing, I’m confident that I can do what they say. So over the years, you’ve not only hired a lot of people but you’ve also delivered a lot of projects. So what are the common pitfalls that you see on Salesforce projects nowadays, with the more complex systems and processes that are in place, and what can people do to avoid them?
Hiral: Yes. So obviously there has been a lot of learning from many projects that I have to delivered, and I don’t want to get into the technical side as such, because I think every customer’s business process would be different of course, but two key things that I’ve seen across the board with most of the customers I would say, is buy-in from the executives. So you need to get the buy-in from the executives from day one. So what has been perceived in the past is that the executive role has been just to kind of sign off on the dotted line, and then pass it on to the actual project managers or program manager to actually execute. But I don’t think their role kind of finishes there. They need to be continuously engaged, the change has to come from the top. So we need to get the buy-in from the executives, we need to involve them for playbacks or any specific kind of milestones as well. And we need them to kind of create this buzz around the change or the product, or the application. They should be able to kind of execute some kind of small internal competition, like naming the application, or coming up the name for the program for example, and then kind of over some small gift vouchers or gift cards. If they are too, I would say, advocates of the changes, then it’s easier for everyone to kind of adopt the system. So that’s one key thing which I have seen missing in a lot of initiatives. And the second one would be the change management and the user training part of the project. Some of the customers would think, that we will actually take care of the user training during the user acceptance phase, which is frankly not of the mindset to have. As in, I’ve seen a lot of projects failing or the users not adopting the system because the management was of the opinion that once the system has been given to the users, that they would be able to learn to kind of pick it up automatically themselves. Which is a myth I would say. So the team management and the user training has to be kind of thought of from day one as well. So along with your technical aspect, and the project management aspect, change management. I think right now, a lot of customers are realising that, and they are using that change management sort of role, either internally or from the partner ecosystem to it’s full effect. But previously we did not have that sort of role in the program of work I would say.
Ben: Yes, I think way back, Salesforce was something someone could buy with their credit card and off they go. But yes, it’s definitely something that needs that executive level buy-in now and continued buy-in. And it’s a massive transformation now, it’s not just a couple of users in a room somewhere using it.
Hiral: Definitely not, yes.
Ben: So what are you most excited about from the Salesforce platform moving forward?
Hiral: So obviously the platform has grown exponentially. And there are a lot of key Clouds now being added. Previously it was just Sales and Service. Obviously over the period of years, you have Community, Marketing, you have CPQ, you have Commerce Cloud, Integration Cloud. So the sky’s the limit right now, and Customer 360 and myTrailhead coming up as well. So obviously it is going to be an enterprise, it is already an enterprise level platform. It’s not just a CRM. So in terms of excitement, obviously yes. Previously when I actually moved to Sydney, the Salesforce team was a really small team, now they are up to, I think, two floors of the Salesforce offices building, and they have so many satellite offices in Sydney. So there is definitely a focus for Salesfoece to grow in this particular region. And obviously the latest announcement of 50 million of investment for the ANZ region specifically, I’m sure that is going to be a lot of focus in this region. So yeah, pretty excited. I think it’s going to be a pretty exciting time for everyone in the Salesforce ecosystem.
Ben: Yeah I think everyone felt that at World Tour, it was an exciting event. So we’re really grateful for you coming on, and we’re excited to see what the future holds.
Hiral: Thank you.
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