Salesforce Consulting Partner vs. Independent Consultant | Hiring in 2024

March 11, 2024

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Choosing Between a Salesforce Partner & Independent Consultant

You have arrived at the conclusion that you need to hire dedicated Salesforce help or you know you have unmet goals with your use of Salesforce and are evaluating that option. The next step is to determine the resource planning strategy that is best suited for your organization.

The 3 main options are: engaging a Salesforce Consulting Partner, utilizing an Independent Salesforce Consultant (i.e. Freelancer), or hiring full-time Salesforce employees. Perhaps you already know if you’re going to hire a Salesforce Consulting Partner or a Salesforce Contractor, in which case you can focus on the actual vendor / Contractor identification process. Alternatively, you may still be determining which of these two options makes more sense for your company’s objectives.

We will cover a few topics to help guide you through the decision making process:

  1. What Salesforce Customers should be asking themselves at the start of this decision making process.
  2. What is a Salesforce Consulting Partner?
  3. What are the main differences between using a Salesforce Consulting Partner and hiring an Independent Salesforce Consultant?
  4. How do the logistics of an engagement differ with a Consulting Partner vs. Independent Consultant?

Getting Started: Questions to Ask

There is no one-size resourcing strategy within Salesforce; however, there are certain variables that can help point you toward the right approach for your organizational needs.

Here are some of the key considerations to evaluate as you determine the long-term Salesforce resourcing plans.

How much Salesforce knowledge does your org currently possess.

  • No Customers should entirely outsource their Salesforce product strategy and Salesforce has published basic Salesforce Administration best practices for your consideration. If your company has limited Salesforce knowledge and no full-time Salesforce professionals on staff, engaging a Consulting Partner is the equivalent of offloading / outsourcing decision making. You will rely on them as an outside vendor when deciding goals, expenditure, best practices for training users, support and maintenance, product roadmap, and hiring strategy. This option makes sense when implementing Salesforce for the first time. However, if you are optimizing an existing Salesforce instance or adding new products / functionality to it, an Independent Contractor embeds as a member of your team, whose incentives are more closely tied to your organization than any external influences.

How well defined are your goals for Salesforce and Enterprise Applications in general?

  • Ultimately, it’s a question of how much you are looking for external support on strategy vs. production. Customers undergoing new implementations of Salesforce will be looking for equal parts strategy & execution, understandably. However, if you are an existing Customer optimizing your environment or adding on to it, you’re likely looking for some strategy guidance and a heavier emphasis on production. Engaging a Consulting Partner just to get access to a Salesforce Developer or two is an inefficient use of capital - Partners are valuable when deploying cross-disciplinary project teams with a dedicated Project Manager but a team of 1-2 will cost 2x-3x the amount of an Independent Salesforce Developer or Architect with the same skill set.

Do you anticipate an ongoing need or resources for a one-off project?

  • Is there a specific project scope in mind or you need staff augmentation support on an ongoing basis? Perhaps you are a small Salesforce Customer that doesn’t need a full-time Salesforce Developer - instead, you need someone for 5-10 hours/week as needs arise.

Will you be able to manage the vendor adequately if you select a Partner?

(Yes, you still need a dedicated Project Manager when using a Partner or you will have significant challenges when they ultimately roll off the engagement and hand you the reigns.)

  • As noted above, the value of a Consulting Partner comes in when you’re engaging a project team - these teams will consist of Salesforce Developers, Administrators, Business Analysts, and Architects. While the Partner will have a dedicated Project Manager, you will want a point of contact to liaise with that team throughout the lifecycle of an engagement, otherwise you’re looking at a steep learning curve when you inherit the environment and the Partner leaves. Independent Consultants can be particularly valuable in these scenarios even when you do plan to engage a Consulting Partner - they will work on behalf of your org, helping to manage & guide the work of the Partner as a member of your organization.

How much does budget factor into the decision making process?

  • Short answer - if budget is a serious consideration, you’ll want to leverage a solo Independent Contractor or assemble a team of Independent Contractors that will work together on the project. On average, the bill rate for a Contractor is 60% of the cost of Consulting Partner bill rates and many of these Contractors previously worked at a Partner, so there is no drop in quality.

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Best for mid-size Healthcare and Manufacturers.

Best for mid-sized Marketing Cloud optimizations.

Best for custom, boutique implementations (EMEA Only)

Need Help Selecting a Salsforce Consulting Partner?

We manage a network of 7,000+ Salesforce Contractors & Consulting Firms. Questions you should ask, different types of Partners, and hidden costs you need to watch.

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What is a Consulting Partner?

Salesforce Consulting Partners are members of the Salesforce Partner Community. These are Professional Services organizations that work within the broader Salesforce ecosystem - some are focused solely on Salesforce and others work across multiple technologies and business areas, of which Salesforce is one. To become a Salesforce Consulting Partner, these organizations have to pay a fee and adhere to a variety of standards determined by Salesforce - these standards and scoring system are broken into 3 categories - Customer Success, Innovation, and Engagement.

  • Customer Success: Partners achieve status by submitting a required number of projects, success stories, and references from work they have delivered. This is an excellent way for Salesforce to keep tabs on how these organizations are performing in the eyes of Salesforce Customers.
  • Innovation: This category primarily comes down to Certifications. Each Partner must maintain a certain number of Certifications to reach a particular Partner Status, so they will often incentivize their full-time employees to obtain Salesforce Certifications. Salesforce awards bonus points for Certifications in areas they need additional Partner support to fill the demand from Customers.
  • Engagement: Accounting for 30% of the total Partner Score, this category represents a Partner’s ability to “co-sell” alongside Salesforce. This means that Consulting Partners are incentivized to help Salesforce acquire new Customers or sell additional products to existing Salesforce Customers.

Much of a Salesforce Consulting Partner’s business comes directly from Salesforce, whereby they establish relationships with Account Executives, who then rely on the Consulting Partner to help co-sell, resulting in that Partner delivering the business once a licensing deal is won by Salesforce.

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Partner & Consultant Differences

What are the general differences between a Salesforce Consulting Partner and an Independent Salesforce Consultant?

Both are hired to bring a level of Salesforce subject matter expertise that your organization doesn’t currently have in-house. The way in which they deliver services and add value to your organization vary, though.

In short, Salesforce Consulting Partners are striving to maximize the ‘utilization rate’ of their Consultants, whereas Independent Consultants are establishing relationships with clients they can work with on an ongoing basis and typically as an extension of your team.

In many instances, Salesforce Account Executives will recommend Salesforce Consulting Partners to their Customers based on experience that Partner has in a specific product area, industry, or market segment. (This can be beneficial and Salesforce knows the Partner ecosystem better than anyone but keep in mind what the Engagement score is based on when going through your resource planning process and ensure you’ve factored that incentive alignment into your decision when receiving recommendations.)

If you hire a Salesforce Consulting Partner for a project, they come equipped with a cross-disciplinary Delivery team. You aren’t simply hiring a solo Developer - instead, they will likely have a team that spans Salesforce Administrators, Developers, Analysts, Architects, and Project Managers. This can be beneficial if you require a large project team; however, if you only need 1-2 resources, it’s less cost effective to engage a Partner in this capacity. (More details in the logistics of an engagement section below.) Consulting Partners are typically utilized for strategy intensive engagements, whereby the Customer is deferring much of the decision making to the Consulting Partner and the work is done amongst their team and then simply handed off to the Customer. If you are working with a mid-sized or large Partner that is willing to allocate a solo resource to your account, you will want to ensure that is a commitment the Partner can maintain on an ongoing basis. In some instances, if a Consulting Partner has low utilization (meaning, they have Consultants on payroll with no projects to staff them on), they will bill out individual resources to generate revenue but once a higher revenue, longer term project emerges, that resource is switched out for a new team member. Companies will also want to look into the 3 Types of Salesforce Partners to make sure there is alignment with their focus as an organization and the type of work you need to get done.

Independent Salesforce Consultants (i.e. Contractors) operate in a slightly different capacity. While they bring the same expertise as the team from a Consulting Partner, their role is more as a member of your team - they gain intimate knowledge of your organizational processes, business objectives, trade off considerations etc. over a longer period of time and help advise you on all possible options. They will then work with you to identify the right solution and begin implementing, while also helping to level up the Salesforce knowledge on your current team. Since they juggle fewer clients than a Partner, they can be more flexible with scheduling - sometimes not billing for a few weeks, other times only helping for 5 hours ad hoc. Their intention is to maintain a long-term relationship, so that you have an ‘on call’ Subject Matter Expert and can trust you’re getting the same person each time. Depending on the type of project to get done, there are scenarios when it does not make sense to hire a Salesforce Implementation Partner.

In addition to Customers needing to decide the resource strategy right for them, Salesforce Professionals must decide if they want to work at a Consulting Partner, start their own Consulting Partner, or have their business be completely independent and operate as a Salesforce Contractor.

For Salesforce experts deciding which path to choose, the perk of being a Salesforce Contractor is that you have more freedom and independence on the projects you select, since your growth objectives are only to keep yourself busy (rather than chase a high volume of new business to keep your team utilized). This freedom of choice typically results in higher engagement and satisfaction for an Independent Consultant based on their interest in the project and customer; however, since you don’t have the official Salesforce Consulting Partner status, you will need to identify projects and customers on your own rather than rely on referrals from the Salesforce mothership. Keep these tradeoffs in mind and it’s all about weighing your personal and professional goals.

Another key difference between a Consulting Partner and Independent Contractor will be cost. On average, you can expect Independent Consultants to price themselves at around 60% of the hourly rate you will see from a Consulting Partner. Consulting Partners will typically offer a ‘blended rate’, which effectively means the average hourly rate across all disciplines they offer. (For example, if a Partner bills a Salesforce Developer at $200/hour and a Salesforce Technical Architect at $300/hour, the blended rate is $250/hour.) Blended rates are a fine proposition for Customers if you’re engaging a cross-disciplinary team, since the averages even themselves out. However, if you’re simply engaging a Salesforce Developer or two at a blended rate of $250/hour then you have just paid a $50/hour premium on top of the fact that a comparable Independent Salesforce Developer will be closer to $140/hour.

Partner & Consultant Pricing

What is the cost of a Salesforce Consulting Partner vs. Independent Consultant?

There are a variety of different Salesforce Consulting Partners, so the type of engagement can differ; however, ultimately there are a few types of engagements:

  • Fixed-Cost Project: This is the most common billing structure, particularly for established Consulting Partners. For a fixed cost project, the Partner will conduct a thorough discovery and present the Customer with a proposal outlining the project scope, delivery timeline, and total cost. Theoretically, the total cost is the full expense even if the project slips past the timeline; however, there is a possibility that Customers identify new needs along the way, which would alter the scope and ultimately increase the cost.
  • Managed Services Retainer: This is more common with Salesforce Customers mostly needing support & maintenance or help on basic, ongoing projects. A Consulting Partner will charge a flat monthly fee, which will include a certain number of billable hours you can utilize each month - you pay the monthly fee even if you don’t hit the number of hours and if you exceed the number, you begin paying by the hour.
  • Time & Materials: This is uncommon for Consulting Partners but some offer this structure - it essentially means pay by the hour. A Consulting Partner will set their billable rate and you utilize them for as many or as few hours as you want, only paying for hours worked.

Independent Salesforce Consultants work exclusively on a time & materials billing model. This means that all projects are based hourly and require no upfront commitments or minimums. Ultimately, you are identifying a Salesforce Freelancer and working with them in a flexible manner - at the start of a project, you will likely agree on broad expectations of how many hours per week you’d like them to focus on you and how many weeks you anticipate overall but this can change on the fly as your priorities shift and needs evolve.

This is the precise advantage of Independent Salesforce Consultants and enables Customers to tap into a deep network of expertise without making major commitments.

Salesforce projects or work that don’t require a full Delivery team are best executed by either full-time Salesforce team members or Independent Salesforce Consultants, which helps to ensure Customers have control over the decisions being made, understand the tradeoffs for proposed solutions, and ultimately result in easier change management and higher adoption rates achieved during knowledge transfer. Executing a project with your internal team (Full-time or Contractor) keeps you in the know throughout, rather than work being executed by an outside vendor and handed off to your team.

Found was able to match us to an incredible Marketing Cloud Consultant who helped us create a manageable implementation plan in blocks. They truly understood our unique needs for this project and more than delivered. Easiest Salesforce engagement I’ve experienced.

Jenna Keys

RevOps Director at HelloAlice

Intro call

Found was able to match us to an incredible Marketing Cloud Consultant who helped us create a manageable implementation plan in blocks. They truly understood our unique needs for this project and more than delivered. Easiest Salesforce engagement I’ve experienced.

Jenna Keys

RevOps Director at HelloAlice

Intro call

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Other Resources for Hiring a Salesforce Partner

Resources for finding the right Consulting Partner or Independent Salesforce Consultant.

For Consulting Partners, your best bet is asking your Account Executive for a recommendation or browsing the Salesforce Partner Listings on the Salesforce AppExchange.

Historically, identifying Independent Salesforce Consultants was slightly more difficult with the best option being a Staffing Firm and the alternative being to browse thousands of profiles on a general Freelancer’s Marketplace like Upwork.

In early 2020, we launched FoundHQ to provide a way for Salesforce Customers to hire the best Salesforce Contractor for their project. FoundHQ identifies and qualifies Salesforce Freelancers / Independent Consultants, providing Salesforce Customers with direct access to 350+ pre-vetted Salesforce experts, spanning Salesforce Developers, Salesforce Administrators, Salesforce Business Analysts, and Salesforce Architects. Additionally, you can request a custom shortlist of Salesforce Contractors for your specific project and our team will recommend 3-5 Independent Consultants that are the best fit.

Salesforce Consulting Partner List

We also know the Consulting Partner ecosystem incredibly well, so we are constantly identifying and updating resources to help companies connect with the best Salesforce Marketing Cloud Implementation Partners or top Salesforce Managed Services Partners, both Onshore and Nearshore.

Now that the challenges previously associated with hiring Salesforce Contractors have been reduced, we always recommend Customers conduct informal conversations with an Independent Contractor before deciding on engaging a vendor. Ultimately, it’s the best way to gain outside perspective from someone specialized in the Salesforce platform and with no incentive other than doing good work for their own professional reputation as a Freelancer. In the end, a Consulting Partner may be the right solution and worst case is you’ve built a relationship with a Freelancer for any future work that may need to be performed.

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