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Panning for Gold on the AppExchange

Salesforce’s AppExchange marketplace recently celebrated its 10th birthday, clocking in with over 3,000 unique business application offerings and almost 4,000,000 installations into client Salesforce organizations. And for a birthday present, Salesforce.com gave it a new baby sister, the Lightning Component Exchange, which already boasts 66 Lightning Component offerings that promise to further transform and extend the new Lightning UI, and you can be sure many companies are timing new component launches for this year’s Dreamforce.

Panning for gold

There is a dizzying array of offerings from data cleansing tools to complex document authoring software to integrated image and video management. For us “industry insiders,” some of the most popular and well-known offerings are part and parcel of a lot of client Salesforce organizations these days, and for good reason. There’s also a slew of popular “free” AppExchange apps available from Salesforce Labs that every Admin knows about – apps like “Mass Update” and the various “X Dashboards” options have been making heroes of Admins for years. Read about the Salesforce Chrome Extensions Every Admin Should Try.

With all of these exciting, but admittedly overwhelming options, how can you determine if the AppExchange has something that could help your business? Or what if you search and find an assortment of options, but it’s hard to tell which one to choose.

At Soliant, we’ve worked with a lot of these applications, but not all 3,000 by far. We too, have to explore and guide our clients in the selection of AppExchange apps. Here’s our method:

  1. Search – Search for the apps using a combination of the filters across the upper section of the page, the categorized sidebar on the left, and the keyword search at the top right of the page. Grab the URL for any app you want to explore further, and create a grid or table in which you can capture the results of your search. Okay – you don’t have to make a grid – but it certainly helps us when we need to talk with our clients, and it could help you talk with your boss! The column headers for this grid and the details of what we look for comprise the remainder of this blog post.
  2. Name and URL – Self explanatory! You may want to find this app again quickly.
  3. Price – Some app exchange apps are free, many are priced. Look for “Pricing” on the “Overview” area of the App’s page. What is the pricing model? A flat fee annually? Per user per month? Per “use” (such as sending e-mails). Is there a tiered pricing model depending on the features you need? Is the price available on their website instead? Is there a discount offered for nonprofits? Do you need to speak with a salesperson to get more information? Capture what you can find out and try to extrapolate what the actual cost for your organization would be over a period of years. This can help you compare the benefits of this app to either not getting it, or perhaps paying to have your own custom functionality created.
  4. Longevity – How long has this vendor, and this app, been around? The AppExchange was “born” in 2006. Has this app survived the thrice-annual Salesforce updates in good shape and does it keep pace with new Salesforce features like Person Accounts, Orders, Lightning, etc.? Or was it released in 2008 and never updated since? Think about this area carefully – there is a great deal of context to consider. But in general, if an app has been around for longer and has good ratings, we consider that an advantage over a more “youthful” app.
  5. Edition – Will this app work for your edition of Salesforce? Unfortunately, not every app is designed to work on Group Edition, Professional Edition, etc. Most every app works for Enterprise Edition and above. Check “Salesforce Editions” on the “Details” tab of the App’s page for more information.
  6. Support Methods – How does this vendor support the app? Do you need to call for support, e-mail, search on their website, etc.? How do you like to get support when you need it? Is this a good fit for you? We favor apps which provide support over multiple channels when possible. Check “Support” on the “Details” tab of the App’s page for more information.
  7. Available Documentation – Is there a lot of documentation made available to you that will help you better understand the features of the app, how to use it, how to set it up, etc.? Or does the documentation appear more marketing-oriented without a lot of substance? Take a look at “Other System Requirements” on the “Details” tab, and look at the blue region beneath the text on the “Details” tab – that’s where any other documentation made available by the vendor can be found. Abundant, accessible, high-quality documentation is an important indicator that you’ll have a better overall experience with this app.
  8. Managed Package? – a “Managed Package” means that the code in this app is “locked up.” You won’t be able to modify any of its features, not even with hiring developers with superpowers like we have. You just can’t do it. The app might even “force” certain of your native functions to always work in a certain way, undermining other customizations you’ve made. Context is key here! Try to figure out what the impact of installing this app would be. Managed Packages have a huge benefit in that they automatically update themselves as the vendor releases new features and corrects problems. But they are less flexible than an unmanaged package. Unmanaged packages, by definition, are the opposite of a Managed Package, but also tend to be unsupported (because of course, how can a vendor support the impact of unknown changes to its code). Unmanaged Packages can give you a good chunk of functionality to “get started” on a new feature set, but then you’re usually on your own. To see if an app is a Managed Package, look at “Package Details” on the “Details” tab of the App Page. At the end of the day, we tend to favor well-crafted Managed Packages that don’t “take over” native functionality.
  9. Key Features – Read the description of the app, watch their video, look at the screenshots provided. Jot down the key features you find especially compelling about this app. Is it missing anything you’d need, and how would you address that gap if you selected this app?  (See “Managed Package?” above for more insight here).
  10. Ratings – And of course you want to look carefully at the ratings. Now that you’re educated in all of the areas to consider about an app, read the “real-world” experiences of customers who will address all of the above areas, and some more, in their ratings. Is the app everything is says it is? Or is there a big disparity between its claims and the reality of real world users? How many ratings are there? What is the average rating? Is there a wide or narrow distribution of star ratings? A wide distribution of star ratings doesn’t necessarily mean the app won’t work for your organization – it may be that the expectations of some users were unreasonable, or they hoped the app would work for Professional Edition and it doesn’t, and they’re upset. Does the vendor respond to customer questions and challenges or do they go unanswered? The “best case” is obviously a vendor with good longevity, and lots of ratings with a high overall average – but if you are seeking more specialized functionality, be ready to make some compromises.

Now that you’ve done your analysis of what’s out there, does it make sense to choose an app? Many apps let you try them free from 7 to 30 days – consider running a trial in your sandbox to learn more. Or perhaps, at the end of the day, you should consider having something created just for you.

We hope you find these suggestions helpful. If there are some AppExchange apps you’ve been wondering about, feel free to reach out – and did you know that in addition to our Consulting Services, we are also an ISV Partner? That means we actually create AppExchange apps for our clients. You can read a case study for one of those apps here.

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