Your institution has invested a lot of time working toward the decision to use the leading CRM to manage your admissions process. Now, you may be wondering if native Salesforce or a managed package is the best fit. One offers the option of lower annual spend with significant process flexibility and growth potential, while the other has all aspects of traditional admissions processes pre-built for you to leverage. Both are viable options, but that doesn’t make the decision any easier for you. 

Every day we partner with organizations who have made or are making this choice, so we’ve organized a few considerations that we believe can shed some light on the best path for your team. 

There are three big points to call out off the bat. First, Salesforce is the number one lead to cash platform in the world. In the case of admissions, this means it’s one of the best tools for managing the identification of potential prospects all the way through payment to the institution. Because of this, the native tools are incredible. “Salesforce continues to invest an immense amount of time and talent into building and improving its core functionality,” says our Founding Partner and Chief Integrity officer, Allison O’Connor. “Deploying native objects and leveraging Salesforce’s rich feature set, you get the power of prospecting, opportunity conversion, products, probabilities, quotas and forecasting, ROI and campaign influence, sales process intelligence (e.g. Sales Cloud Einstein), and native analytics, just to name a few”. 

Second, the best Salesforce products and AppExchange solutions are built around the core functionality. For example, leads, opportunities, products, campaigns, etc. If you diverge from this, you’ll need to create custom functionality based on your unique strategy and oftentimes, this causes complexity when utilizing extended features and apps. Ensure you understand the full catalog of offerings provided by out-of-the-box Salesforce, as well as the managed package you’re looking at, before you make a decision. “Native options should always be explored first prior to looking to packages or creating your own custom build to replace functionality Salesforce already offers,” Sarah Ross, Vice President of Client Experience, recommends. “If you opt out of native and new features are released that you wish to use, it’s often a large lift to get out of your custom solution or app. Careful thought needs to go into moving away from utilizing the core platform.”

Third, when you implement any technology, you’re acquiring technical debt. When you implement a managed package and do not use all of the features, or try out a bunch of free AppExchange apps but never really roll them out, you’re acquiring more technical debt than necessary. Whether used or not, technology maintenance comes with a cost in both direct dollars and your team’s time. Using as much of the Salesforce platform’s native features and implementing only what is needed for your success when it is needed helps keep your solution sustainable, manageable, and easily ready to expand upon.

Next, there are few questions you can discuss with your team to determine the best fit.

Are you in a place as an organization where you have a clear understanding of your business processes and you know you want to restructure them? If your team has clear processes that are the result of long term optimization, it may make more sense to configure native Salesforce. However, some teams may benefit from having a fully pre-structured process that you can apply to traditional admissions at your institution. 

Also, consider how many admissions processes you have. When you use a managed package, you’re tapping into one way the admissions process can go. Perhaps your institution has different admissions processes for scholarship recipients, international students, certificate programs, undergraduate and graduate students. Tailoring managed packages to be more flexible can get tricky but as we’ve been saying, it’s possible.

Something else to keep in mind is that the underlying infrastructure of lead to cash (or in your case, prospect to deposit) is already built out between the Education Data Architecture (EDA) and Sales Cloud.

Where do you want to go with the platform? When it comes to expansion, the clean architecture of the native solution creates a path for scalability. After implementing an admissions solution, a typical next step for educational institutions is utilizing Salesforce for clearance, advising and student success, student services, and/or advancement. With native admissions, this is more manageable because the infrastructure is the same. Expansion within an org that already has a managed admissions package is often challenging, and the most sound approach is to implement a multi-org strategy at an institution that chooses a managed package for admissions. There are pros and cons to this approach, however the complexity and long-term management of running two separate environments is not as great as navigating a significantly complex single org with a managed package as its admissions solution. 

Where do you want to invest your money? What approach will create the most value and give you the greatest ROI depends on your preference to invest in capital vs. expense, your current need to strategize, redesign your business processes, and change how you do things, and your plans to leverage Salesforce across your institution. It is important to consider whether you’d prefer to incur additional licensing costs and just get new technology deployed to replicate your current process (typical with a managed package and booked as an expense) or perhaps leveraging your investment in a more consultative and strategic implementation process (typical with implementing native Salesforce and booked as a capital expenditure).

Here are a few other points to consider:

  • Either direction your team takes, you’ll need a Project Manager and a Salesforce Administrator (sometimes the same person) dedicated to admissions operations and technology. Not only because there will be integration with existing systems but because at the end of the day, both the project and the Salesforce environment will need to be managed.
  • Smaller institutions tend to be better off utilizing the native admissions solutions because you can start simple, then build in complexity as processes and requirements are determined. If your team is just starting to get their feet wet with CRM, native admissions is typically best. 
  • Every release that Salesforce rolls out includes upgrades to it’s fundamental features, which can be leveraged when you implement native solution. You get to capitalize on the ongoing investment Salesforce makes in their platform.

The right choice depends on many factors and we understand that when you’re entrenched in your decision-making process, knowing the long-term effects of your decision aren’t always clear. Our team is happy to provide direction and share our experience with institutions taking steps to optimize their admissions capabilities using Salesforce as an invaluable tool. Contact Elise Hastings at

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