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How to Become a Salesforce Admin: The Definitive Guide

A complete guide to becoming a Salesforce Certified Administrator.

Introduction

Over the past two decades as Salesforce has been adopted by more than 150,000 companies and other organizations to help manage customer and sales processes, the demand for qualified administrators to help manage Salesforce has increased dramatically.

 

Today Salesforce is used by some of the world’s largest organizations across dozens of industries, including Amazon, Toyota, American Express, Spotify, NBC Universal, The Red Cross, and United Healthcare. But it’s flexible enough to be used by thousands of smaller companies as well.

All of these organizations need qualified Salesforce Administrators to help them manage the platform and keep things running smoothly. Salesforce recently projected a 400% annual increase in demand for Salesforce administrators, so demand for qualified admins appears to continue to grow.

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What is a Salesforce
Administrator?

A Salesforce Administrator is a system admin who specializes in Salesforce’s suite of CRM products. They are the go-to expert for answering questions, developing processes, organizing data, running reports, and training others how to use Salesforce effectively. In short, they know Salesforce inside and out and also have a working knowledge of the secondary products and services that Salesforce and third-party providers make available for the platform.

As more and more companies rely on data and analytics for everything from sales and marketing to planning and customer management, Salesforce Administrators continue to be in demand across nearly all industries and niches, from software and banking to healthcare and entertainment.

What does a Salesforce Administrator do?

Because Salesforce can be used in a variety of ways, the role of a Salesforce admin can differ from organization to organization, and from industry to industry. But there are several roles a typical Salesforce admin fills in the work they do. They include:

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Oversee user profiles and access levels

Salesforce Administrators have responsibility for the organization’s data, including critical information about sales and marketing, products and services, and customer demographics, purchases, and other activities. They create user accounts, assign access levels based on roles and responsibilities within the organization. This often includes onboarding new hires who need to have access to Salesforce. And they handle off-boarding and removing access for former employees and others who no longer use Salesforce.

Import new leads, contacts, and data

As users add leads and other data to Salesforce, administrators develop standards for these processes to help ensure data consistency across the organization.

Create processes for reporting

Salesforce Admins are experts in CRM data management. Organizations depend on them to keep data clean and organized, and to pull data as needed to help support training efforts and justify business decisions.

Setup and run deduplication tools

Over time, contact data and user behavior can be duplicated by users, webform submissions, and imported lists, so it falls to the Salesforce Admin to run deduplication tools to scrub the data and remove duplicates. The frequency different organizations run this process will vary depending on the tools they use. Some operate automatically in real time while others are initiated at a regular interval (usually at least once a week) to keep Salesforce running at full speed.

Testing system updates in the sandbox

Salesforce is designed to automatically update on a regular basis, but the best admins proactively test and install these updates in a sandbox in order to understand changes and explore new capabilities before updates go live. This helps ensure the organization’s data stays as secure as possible and Salesforce runs at full capacity.

Run database maintenance reports

Salesforce administrators run all kinds of tests and reports to make sure the database stays in good condition. These tests and reports may include field utilization reports, APEX tests, role and profile reports, and other industry specific reports. The administrator’s system knowledge and access to data makes them the go-to resource for this kind of activity and they often automate processes for the tests and reports.

Create and maintain records archives

Best practices dictate that admins keep records at least 12 months and often much longer. This requires documenting all error reports and any changes made to field history tables.

Solve new issues and challenges as they arise

When issues arise with Salesforce, the admin is the person responsible for figuring out what’s going on and finding a fix for any problems. They also survey users and management for new ideas, then plan, build, test and execute those solutions. Admins train other employees on updates, changes, and processes.

Process setup and optimization

Salesforce is a powerful sales and marketing tool. To make sure the organization is using all of the capabilities of the application, Admins will set up contact sequences, A/B tests, processes for data entry automation, and reports to measure the effectiveness of sales and marketing initiatives. Then they’ll optimize those processes to make them even more efficient.

Specialized responsibilities

Organizations in different industries use Salesforce in a variety of ways. For instance, admins in the medical field will need to understand HIPAA data protection requirements in addition to their Salesforce expertise. Other industries have specialized needs as well, so a good admin understands both Salesforce and industry specific requirements.

Hiring managers and other human resource experts maintain up-to-date lists of the capabilities and expertise Salesforce admins need to possess. But it’s not always easy to separate the job candidates who have deep knowledge and practical experience from those whose experience is more topical or in some cases, non-existent.

To help address this challenge, Salesforce has created several certifications that measure an Administrator’s knowledge and experience with the platform. These aren’t easy-to-complete surveys that just about anyone can pass. Each certification requires a great deal of study and work to master the relevant skills.

Salesforce Administrator Certifications

There are four basic certifications designed for Salesforce Administrators. Earning each one demonstrates mastery of certain skills, expertise, and knowledge within the Salesforce platform. And holding one or more of these certifications signals to employers that you have the skills and knowledge needed to support the organization’s Salesforce installation. Here, briefly, is what each one covers:

Certified Administrator

This certification is best for admins who want to understand and implement the features and capabilities that Salesforce offers. To earn it, admins need to have an in-depth knowledge of the platform’s processes and capabilities, an understanding of the Sales Cloud and Service Cloud apps, and they need to know how to design advanced reports, dashboards, and be able to automate business processes using Salesforce.

Certified Advanced Administrator

Like its name suggests, this certification is for more experienced Salesforce administrators who have mastered the skills and knowledge of the basic Salesforce Certification and want to expand their understanding of the CRM’s more advanced features and functionality.

CPQ specialist

For individuals who have experience working with Salesforce CPQ (configure, price, and quote software), this certification helps demonstrate an administrator’s skills and knowledge designing, building and implementing estimation and proposal workflows for product price configuration. Administrators with this credential help their companies earn the trust of their clients with solid estimation and pricing processes.

Platform App Builder

Some organizations need customized applications within the Salesforce platform. The Platform App Builder certification helps administrators demonstrate their skills and ability to design and build custom applications with the declarative customization capabilities of Salesforce.

saleforce-certification

In addition to these four administrator certifications, there are other certifications designed for architects, designers, consultants, developers, and marketers. This guide outlines all of the available options.

Admins can earn one or more of these certifications as well, but whether it’s worth the time, effort and expense depend entirely on your role and responsibilities in your organization. Earning additional certifications demonstrates that you have a more diverse range of skills and expertise, but in many cases, these extra certifications deal with responsibilities outside the typical administrators’ job responsibilities.

The Benefits of Becoming a Salesforce Certified Administrator

There are four basic certifications designed for Salesforce Administrators. Earning each one demonstrates mastery of certain skills, expertise, and knowledge within the Salesforce platform. And holding one or more of these certifications signals to employers that you have the skills and knowledge needed to support the organization’s Salesforce installation. Here, briefly, is what each one covers:

1. More career opportunities.

Aside from signaling to employers and management that you actually have the expertise needed to be a Salesforce Administrator, holding one or more of these certificates comes with a few other benefits—including new career options.

The obvious roles for a person with one of these certifications include Salesforce Administrator, Advanced Administrator, and Business Analyst. But there are others. For example, Certified Administrators may also be qualified to be Sales Engineers.

The Sales Engineer is an organization’s technical resource for Account Executive and the sales team. They help build and maintain the systems in Salesforce that qualify leads, support the sales team’s customer-facing activities, and identify the data to help them improve. The Sales Engineer is an expert when it comes to Salesforce, and they operate as the bridge between the sales and development teams.

A second, non-traditional option is Project Manager. An effective project manager may have responsibilities outside the Salesforce platform, but their knowledge of Salesforce and their ability to pull data to support product development make them a great resource for project teams.

Other career options that a Certified Administrator may qualify for include Data Analyst, CRM manager, Automation Consultant, Salesforce Developer, Implementation Specialist, and System Architect.

2. Better salary and growth opportunities.

Up-to-date data on the difference a certificate can make to your salary is a little hard to come by. However, one survey compared admins with certifications to those without, and found certified admins were earning $17,250 more than uncertified admins—roughly a 20% premium. And 43% of respondents to a second survey reported receiving a salary increase after earning a certification. That doesn’t mean you’ll get a big raise when you complete your certification. However, better opportunities become available once you have one or more certs under your belt.

3. More attractive to hiring managers.

According to the most recent Salesforce Salary Survey, 77% of the professionals who administer the Salesforce application for their organization hold at least one certification. So if you’re competing with others for a position, not having a certification may put you at a disadvantage when you’re compared with those who do. However, holding a certification only proves you can pass a test. It doesn’t necessarily show you can effectively manage processes within Salesforce. So you’ll need to demonstrate your abilities during the interview process and afterward while working as an admin.

4. More confidence working with Salesforce.

Salesforce is a complex platform with lots of moving parts, plugins, and third-party options. Obtaining a certification will help give you the knowledge you need to support your organization better. In a survey conducted by Mason Frank, 37% of respondents reported an increased ability to perform complex tasks in Salesforce with more confidence after obtaining certification. You’ll better understand what your system can and can not do, and how users can get the most from Salesforce.

What does it take to become a Certified Salesforce Admin?

So, does earning a certification make sense for your career path? If you want to work with the Salesforce platform, are creative and detail-oriented, and like solving complex business challenges, then earning a certification and working as a Salesforce Administrator may be a great career option for you.

What to expect from your Certification Exam

The Salesforce Administrator test is designed to measure the exam taker’s knowledge and skills related to a variety of features and functions of the platform. The test covers:

gear

Configuration and Setup (20% of questions)

businessman

Object Manager and Lightning App builder (20% of questions)

sales

Sales and Marketing Applications (12% of questions)

headphones

Service and Support Applications (11% of questions)

idea

Productivity and Collaboration (7% of questions)

data

Data and Analytics Management (14% of questions)

workflow

Workflow/Process Automation (16% of questions)

To pass the exam, you’ll need to answer 65% of the questions correctly within the 105 minute time limit. So focus your time and efforts on the topics that make up the larger percentage of questions. In other words, don’t spend the same amount of time studying productivity and collaboration (which only account for 7% of the questions) as you spend learning about Object Manager and Lightning App Builder (which makes up 20% of the questions).

There are options for in-person exams and online exams. Both are proctored to ensure the person taking the exam actually does the work. If you are taking the exam online, you will need to download software that allows the proctor to see your screen as you complete the exam.

Resources to help you get started

There are a variety of resources designed to help you prepare for and pass each of the various Salesforce certifications. If you’re ready to learn more, this list of resources will get you started.

salesforce.com — the home base for all things Salesforce. You’ll find company provided information about the platform and certification here.

Trailhead — this is Salesforce’s own training resource for Salesforce. Here you’ll find training modules, community discussions, custom learning paths, and more all designed to help you learn more about Salesforce and certifications.

Salesforce also offers paid training courses that cost as much as $4500. They’re very good, but you’ll have to decide if the investment is worth it.

Salesforce Admin Youtube Channel — another official training resource with hundreds of videos walking through all kinds of questions. You’ll find a lot of great information here, but it’s not focused on the exam, so other resources may be better.

Practice Test — you can get an idea of what the test covers with this practice test provided by Salesforce. There are options to take a timed version that mimics the actual test experience and an untimed version that gives you more time to explore the test.

Pluralsight — This tech-industry training resource includes 15 in-depth courses designed to help you learn more about the Salesforce platform and prepare for your certification exam.

FocusonForce — another online training resource that offers courses designed to help you pass the exam, for a lot less than the official Salesforce training. Other options include IntelliPaat, JanBask, and even Udemy. But the quality of these resources varies widely. Do your research before investing in one of these programs.

Taking the exam

When you’re ready to take the exam, simply go to Trailhead, choose your role, and register for the test by clicking “Schedule Now.” Then follow the prompts to arrange your exam.

After the exam

Passing the test and earning a certification isn’t the end. Salesforce is always changing, so keeping your Salesforce admin certification current is important. You’ll need to recertify each year. Fortunately, Salesforce is pretty good at notifying you before your cert is about to expire so you can schedule time to make that happen.

Frequently Asked Questions

How difficult is the Salesforce Administrator Certification Exam?

It all depends on your experience. The test is a 90 minute, multiple choice exam. You will need to answer at least 65% of the questions correctly in order to pass. There are 60 questions, so you’ll have to find the right answer to at least 39 questions in order to pass.

How much does the Salesforce Administrator Certification Exam cost?
How much time does it take to prepare for the exam?
Is the Certification Exam timed?
How many times can I take the exam?
Are there study groups for the exam?
Should I take a paid training course to prepare for the exam?
Do you need to know how to code to be a Salesforce Admin?
Can I get an admin job without a certification?
Which is better: Salesforce Administrator or Salesforce Developer?

Are you ready to take the next step?

By putting in the time and effort (and with help from some of the resources above) you’ll be ready to earn your certification and grow in your career as a Certified Salesforce Administrator.
 
And then perhaps to even bigger and better roles as you leverage your knowledge of the Salesforce platform to help your organization succeed and grow.
 
Good luck with your preparations for your exam.