• Larry Hill

Lightning Web Components - an Historical Perspective...

For most of my 40-year career in technology, I’ve searched for a CRM system designed around the specific needs of a salesperson. In the past, corporate CRM systems were often little more than a glorified Rolodex – a place to store Account and Contact information. And a poorly kept one at that, with duplicate, incomplete and conflicting information due to minimal central administration.

Salesforce was a major step forward in the evolution of CRM, forsaking the misguided notion of storing a personal copy or sub-set of the database on the desktop/laptop (with all the ensuing chaos around data synchronization) and instead moving the entire system to the Cloud. Carrying the “No Code” standard like a battle flag, they overran the entrenched vendors like Act on the desktop and Siebel in the datacenter with a simple but unified cloud platform. But the initial Salesforce offering was effectively just “fields on a database,” with the seeds of workflow and process management layered on top.

When Lightning was announced in 2014, it was a breakthrough in UI design. Sticking to its No Code philosophy, Salesforce came up with a clever component-based strategy that provided a world of flexible UI design and control while still avoiding the need for procedural coding. Certainly there could be some complex setup required – no one yet has been able to completely avoid the tradeoff between flexibility and complexity. But Lightning was a great leap forward.

Salesforce decided to move ahead with a new User Experience even while Web 2.0 standards were still in their infancy, and chose a design best suited to their needs at the time, which provided an adaptable component-based architecture. But the system was held back by performance issues, especially in comparison to its predecessor UI, now called “Classic” (like the original Coca-Cola) which delivered comparatively brisk response time for most functions.

Four years later, with a mature set of web standards in place, including a robust HTML5 model that distributes a large part of the processing to the client browser, Salesforce came forth with the next-generation architecture. In November 2018, they announced Lightning Web Components, aka “LWC.”

It’s not too much of a pun to say that I was electrified by the announcement. Salesforce was taking a giant leap into the open source world by allowing third-party developers to create their own user interfaces for the Salesforce platform.

Think about that for a minute. What other major application vendor has ever allowed the market to create an independent UI for its own proprietary engine? I imagine there are examples that are beyond my experience, but when I discovered LWC at the Fall 2018 Roadshow in New York City, it was a literal and figurative bolt of lightning for me. At long last, I would be able to implement my own vision of a UI optimized for salesperson usability - based on the most widely-used and functional CRM platform on the market.

Now, as a basis for justifying new systems, “Productivity” (arising from enhanced usability) was somewhat discredited in the 1990s, cursed by over-promises and under-delivery. CRM systems just did not consistently deliver the goods for elevating the game of sales professionals to generate more revenue. Sure, there were pockets of success – particularly in structured environments like Inside Sales – but by and large, many CRM systems were still little more than fields on a database.

As a result, for many organizations, CRMs became “Systems of Obligation,” where at least minimal use of the system was a condition of employment, especially when it came to Forecasting. Many CROs simply mandated use of the CRM system, but with decidedly mixed results.

This is partly because many of these CROs were salespeople in an age when companies threw a laptop and a tangled contact database at them and ordered them to, “Go sell something.” And they did, despite the lack of an effective sales automation system. So many of these successful veterans are not exactly deep believers in the power of a CRM system to move product. In fact, quite a few that I have talked to are frustrated by their CRM experience, and really don't expect much from their current systems.

Another major development has been that in the 2000s, many markets have matured to the point where it’s just not possible to sell products without a LOT of support from the selling organization, in the form of Marketing Qualified Leads, Sales Methodologies, competitive playbooks, email marketing, website tracking apps, and effective coordination between members of the sales team – aka “Team Selling.”

And yet I would bet that the majority of companies today are still living with a CRM system that is largely fields on a database, with a little workflow layered on top, relying instead on collaboration apps like Slack. And that is largely because many salespeople simply have not bought into CRM yet.

I believe that Lightning Web Components (LWC) can help address that problem. By enabling powerful UI techniques like multi-level pop-ups, drag-and-drop actions, default edit mode, strategic cursor placement and tabbing, and virtual “next step” designation, LWC has made it possible for Silver Fox to create an extension of Lightning that is still fully Salesforce, but provides a bevy of usability features that will make the difference between salespeople using Salesforce in just a minimal fashion, and “living in it” to do their jobs.

The Holy Grail of CRM is a system that sales teams will actually use to do their jobs, every day, right down to the details of tasks and activities. Up until now, it's been too time-consuming for most salespeople to operate wholly within their CRM systems. Many still just use it as a Roledex, and manage their territories with a combination of paper, spreadsheets, memory and willpower. This loose configuration inevitably breaks down in times of stress – which is essentially all the time for your average salesperson today.

So that’s our goal with the Express Console – to build an extension of Salesforce Lightning that users will live in and use extensively, not because they’ve been told to do so, but because it will be the most effective, efficient way that they can go about their job of selling.

Think about that – an extension of Salesforce that actually delivers on the sales productivity promise AND creates a wealth of opportunity data for sales management in the process. It’s no longer too good to be true. It’s called the Express Console, and it is available exclusively on the Salesforce.com Sales Cloud, beginning in February 2021.

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