Salesforce Consulting vs Implementation Partners

April 18, 2024

When it comes to selecting a partner to assist in your organization’s Salesforce needs, whether new implementation, ongoing support, or something in between, there are key distinctions between Salesforce Consulting partners and Salesforce Implementation partners. 

This article will cover the most important considerations so Salesforce clients can evaluate and engage a partner with the right methodology to ensure project success from their CRM implementation that provides expected digital transformation, business value, and financial return.

Selecting the wrong type of partner can result in contentious relationships that frequently lead to change orders, cost and/or schedule overruns, and sometimes the dreaded “rescue project” where a partnership change is required mid-stream to fix a failing implementation. 

To ensure project success, consider the following. 


Upon selecting Salesforce as a cloud solution for business-critical functions served by their broad portfolio of Salesforce solutions, many clients also engage with Salesforce-experienced partners to help design, develop, implement, and support a solution uniquely aligned to their specific business processes and market differentiators. 

In capability marketing terms, Salesforce Consulting and Implementation may appear synonymous or perhaps related sequentially, but a more important distinction exists that can critically determine the success of a Salesforce CRM project from both a user adoption and a return-on-investment perspective. The distinction is fundamentally rooted in how the partner approaches customer success and client engagement – i.e., the partner’s delivery methodology – throughout the project lifecycle.  

An oversimplified way of thinking about the Consulting/Implementation distinction is whether the partner is developing a solution WITH the client or FOR the client. Some projects are best suited to the former, some to the latter.  

Before drilling into this distinction, we acknowledge the delineation between Consulting and Implementation partners is not binary. Every well-qualified established Salesforce expert has the capability to understand business requirements and translate those requirements into Salesforce-supported solutions, recommending the right Salesforce products, such as Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Service Cloud, Experience Cloud, Financial Services Cloud, Marketing Account Engagement, Nonprofit Cloud, and more. The distinction then originates from how requirements are discerned and how solutions are developed. 

Approach to Requirements Gathering  

Implementation Partner Approach

The most primitive form of requirements gathering that Implementation Partners may initiate is to request that a client populate a lengthy pre-defined template or questionnaire defining their business processes and/or data. Such a template suggests a technology-first approach to requirements gathering. That is, “tell me what you do so that I can envision how those requirements fit within the Salesforce architecture.” Of course, there will be dialog to clarify and understand the information provided in templates, but the very nature of structured requirements-gathering templates can force business process differentiation into pre-defined shapes. True, there is value in all business process documentation – particularly process flow artifacts – but if the basis for business process requirements discovery lives in a partner-provided template, that partner likely has an affinity for an Implementation methodology. As we will describe later, that may well be the best approach for your project. 

Consulting Approach

A contrasting form of requirements gathering reflective of a Consulting partner methodology is one based upon existing business requirements artifacts and iterative dialog that not only seeks to understand current business needs, but also challenges, improves upon, and documents them. A Consulting approach to requirements gathering usually requires a consultant with client-relevant industry experience in order to challenge the current-state in relation to best practice and/or to prior client successes and challenges. A Consulting methodology typically results in detailed future-state process flows that become the underlay for customizing and aligning Salesforce features encompassed within the solution. A Consulting approach thus provides business value not just from the technology, but also – often more importantly – from business process transformation. 

Approach to Development & Implementation

Implementation Partner Approach 

Beyond the requirements-gathering phase, distinctions between Implementation versus Consulting methodologies are more evident. Although not overtly stated, an Implementation process might be, “You signed off on these requirements. We will get back to you if we have any questions. Otherwise, we will connect when we are ready for demo and User Acceptance Testing (UAT).” This oversimplified “client hands-off” description is not meant to imply a waterfall project methodology. The same approach can be enforced within an agile project.

In a recent rescue project, we were told that the prior Implementation partner went so far as to prohibit the primary client from even logging in to Salesforce until UAT. Such an approach has the benefit of minimizing distractions and changes during the build phase which could result in negative cost or schedule impacts. Again, there are projects that best fit this type of methodology – e.g., “We need you to build this exact thing FOR us.” 

Consulting Approach

A Consulting approach to solution development and implementation is more collaborative. Great consultants are good teachers, and with every Salesforce project, the end goal should be to enable the client to be as self-sufficient as possible. Usually, new projects have an in-house person or team that will be responsible for supporting Salesforce. Building the solution WITH the client is the best way to expose them to the richness of Salesforce’s declarative development capabilities and to instill day-1 ownership in THEIR solution.

This collaborative, concurrent approach to knowledge transfer is more effective than simply delivering Admin Training webinars or deliverable documents. It is a valid concern that building a solution together with concurrent knowledge transfer could increase development time. However, when managed properly, the client typically becomes an extended member of the build team who can perform less complex work (e.g., create users, arrange fields on pages, develop reports and dashboards). More importantly, an in-house team member is typically more effective in engaging with internal business users to clarify and validate new business operations and to align the solution to the language and culture of the company. Most clients appreciate a collaborative approach to solution development, the exception perhaps being a complex, code-heavy point solution such as an API where a black-box solution plugs into an existing business process framework. 

Which Partner Methodology is Best? 

The characteristics of the Salesforce project are key to a client’s decision to seek a certified expert with an affinity toward an Implementation versus a Consulting methodology. Again, this is a continuum rather than a binary categorization, but general Project characteristics for best-fit partner evaluation and methodology selection may include: 

Implementation Methodology 

    • Business processes are known, defined, and not expected to change. 
    • Expected project outcomes are functionality-based deliverables rather than transformational. 
    • The project is bounded and incremental within an existing Salesforce platform. 
    • An in-house team with extensive experience is already in place and functional, including IT governance processes for project change management. 

Example: a client desires a new Salesforce integration where table & field mappings are a perfect fit for a partner’s integration template, but the client does not have in-house skills to develop APIs. 

Consulting Methodology 

    • Salesforce is new to the client’s technology infrastructure and its business Ops and IT support capability. 
    • The client selected Salesforce with the primary goal of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of cross-functional business process and workflows. 
    • Business processes are new, not well-defined, inconsistently executed and/or not optimal. 
    • Reorganizations, mergers, or acquisitions have occurred or are on the roadmap. 
    • The client’s prior partner was terminated for not getting the job done 

Example: a client requires data migration or systems integration from manual processes and disparate customer data sources including spreadsheets to Salesforce to improve forecasting predictability, business outcomes end-user client engagement, and market competitiveness. 

What if the Wrong Type of Partner is Selected? 

Selecting an Implementation partner for a Consulting project is of greater concern because there could be a lack of industry-relevant experience and/or a lack of partner methodology depth to discern and deliver business process transformational outcomes.  

Selecting a Consulting partner for implementation services is not as much a concern since the partner’s depth of process focus can be tightened up to ensure project cost and schedule are met. Well-established Salesforce Consulting partners have good development and implementation capabilities. In this scenario, project success is a matter of ensuring the partner is focused on functional deliverables. 

Every established Consulting company in the Salesforce ecosystem has experienced rescue projects where the wrong partner was initially selected, and the client subsequently had to change partners mid-stream. Few Salesforce projects are as expensive and challenging as those that require unwinding and re-doing a failed implementation. 

In Conclusion

Consulting versus Implementation, in this article’s context, refers to a partner’s capabilities and preferred methodologies for client project engagement, as well as variances in customer experience. Every project has challenges, but evaluating and selecting the right type of Salesforce partner based on the characteristics and expected outcomes of a project can better position everyone for success.