Rocket ship badge DevOps Launchpad

David Runciman · 31st May 2024

“Honestly, Salesforce CPQ is fun!”

Deepak Veera is an experienced Salesforce consultant, CPQ specialist, and one of Gearset’s DevOps Leaders. In this interview, he shares his insights on carving out a career in Salesforce, advising clients on CPQ implementations, and the growing importance of Salesforce DevOps.

How did you end up working with Salesforce? Can you sketch out your career story for us?

Half of my 15-year career has been in Salesforce, but I always joke that I didn’t grow up thinking I wanted to be a Salesforce consultant! I went to college and got a degree in communication — completely unrelated to business or tech.

In my career, I’ve benefited from seeing what plays out. I had a mentor who encouraged me into Financial Tech. I considered becoming a professor and went to grad school, then pivoted back. The issue was that jobs felt a little bland after 6 months or so.

And then this same mentor said, “Hey, have you heard of this thing called Salesforce? I think you’d be a really good consultant, and the context shifts every 6 months or so because of working with different clients.” So I thought, “Yeah, why the hell not.” I got my Salesforce admin certification and then started on a project.

I never knew how big CPQ would end up being in my career when I started on a project with Apttus Billing (now Conga) at a full-fledged global enterprise. Salesforce had acquired Steelbrick and integrated it into the platform (as Salesforce CPQ), and in early 2019 Salesforce was doing partner enablement sessions. So I attended and ended up passing the CPQ certification.

I moved to a bigger firm in 2019. Having Billing experience, CPQ experience, and a CPQ certification, I was placed into the role of CPQ specialist. This was also where I got into DevOps. I found out how painful change sets could be — and how error-prone they are. And of course in CPQ, code exists as records, so we would spend weeks migrating between environments.

I moved to Cloud Giants in early 2022, and as a big fan of the Gearset platform I wanted to adopt that. Then, later that year, Gearset launched its CPQ deployment add-on. Until then, the industry had lacked a simple, robust solution that could handle CPQ deployments so adopting Gearset for our consulting firm was a no-brainer. DevOps and Gearset have continued to be a big part of my career.

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What have you appreciated about being a Salesforce consultant?

I’ve been asked before why I’m passionate about Salesforce. And my tongue-in-cheek retort is “I’m not!” – I’m not really passionate about Salesforce. I’m passionate about my family, friends, and social causes.

But Salesforce has been interesting — even fun! This may not seem all that different from a “passion” and may sound like splitting hairs over semantics. Still, I feel this is an important distinction to make.

Salesforce has played a significant role in helping me do the things I find meaningful. My Salesforce career has provided financial security. It has meant I get to teach and support junior team members. And it has allowed me the chance to give back to and be engaged with social issues that are important to me.

So, my advice to others is to depart from the notion of finding your passion! Stay curious, build discipline, and have fun with it! You’ll be surprised how quickly that turns from interest to fascination, and before you know it something you’re pretty good at! Then, if you wish, use this as a platform to pursue your passions.

In terms of being a consultant, it’s demanding for sure — but a lot of fun. For example, we might have three different companies that have different contexts. Where can we use the same approaches? Where do we deviate from the norm?

Another point I’d make is that whether it’s Salesforce, other ERP tools, or tech in general, you never remain an expert for long. That can be intimidating, but it keeps the job fun. It’s nice to learn new things, and it’s not all entirely new concepts — fundamentally, it’s all about an object-relationship database. But everything evolves, and that makes things engaging. Embrace the fact that things will change.

What are your tips for people early on in their Salesforce career?

I have a lot of thoughts on this. One of the things I want to highlight is that I didn’t know about being a Salesforce consultant when I was younger — it’s something I happened into after being in Fintech and Academia. Having varied career paths means I can draw from different experiences, which without a doubt has made me a better Salesforce consultant. For example, teaching, learning, and helping people skill up is near and dear to my heart. I take those interests and passions and bring them to my job.

Salesforce might seem intimidating at first. It’s a new platform. You’ll probably wonder whether you can do this. There’s a lot of people that know all the specific languages around Salesforce but don’t let it intimidate you.

Work through the Trailmixes you’re given on Trailhead. If you have a 50% chance of passing an exam, take it. These certifications communicate credibility to other people, but they’re not your crowning achievement. You don’t need to get a perfect score — the key thing is to pass. If you’re scoring over 80%, you probably waited too long.

The barrier to entry is low. It’s a rare thing for a platform as big as Salesforce to have such a great training platform: Trailhead. Taking the certification tests costs $200, which is quite reasonable compared to other platforms where learning doesn’t feel very accessible. Salesforce has done a great job of building forums and community groups, and there continues to be a high demand for Salesforce-skilled personnel.

In terms of sequence, go for the admin exam, platform app builder, and business consultant. It’s realistic to do those in 3–4 months. Sign up for an exam date and drive towards it, to keep you motivated. If you fail, that’s okay! Now you’re better set up for success the next go-around. Personally, I’d love for us to normalize failure more.

Tell us about Salesforce CPQ. What’s great about it?

Honestly, Salesforce CPQ is really fun! It’s a really cool puzzle to solve, and I find it rewarding and meaningful.

I sometimes say CPQ is a bit like the McDonalds touchscreen but more complicated! CPQ has really taken off because it directly ties into a company’s revenue-generating capacity — its sales team. It can be challenging to tie in the cost of a broader CRM optimization with ROI, but CPQ is directly tied into the company’s bottom line numbers. CPQ is about how well your sales team can sell — and how fast. Plus, companies can also set up sales process guardrails to protect margins and build in approvals.

When I talk to firms adopting it, I advise them that this is an opportunity to redefine and enhance their business process. CPQ is a framework that works well and is industry tested, so we start with that then customize where needed. Once customized for the firm, it can be maintained by an admin and won’t require a full-time developer.

It’s not easy. But if it was easy, it wouldn’t be fun! And that’s also why there’s still a need for CPQ consultants. A configuration-first mindset can be daunting even for developers. But compared to CPQ tools of the past, it’s cool that this can be done with clicks-not-code. This essentially means that changes can be implemented more quickly and the platform can be maintained more easily — and with less overhead cost.

Would you recommend getting into a specialization like CPQ?

There’s a debate around whether someone should be a Salesforce generalist or specialist. I think you can do both — it’s a bit of a false dichotomy. You will inevitably end up specializing in some facet of Salesforce. The question really is whether you should deliberately seek this out. In my opinion, particularly if there is high demand for a speciality, the answer is a resounding “yes”!

For CPQ specifically, I’d say a technical background and some CPQ credentials will be key to opening doors. Those concepts around bundles, percent of total, advanced approvals, smart approvals — none of that is going away even if one day Salesforce CPQ looks different than it does now. These business concepts are extremely valuable and aren’t specific to one platform or tool.

Can you explain some of the challenges of Salesforce CPQ?

One challenge is the CPQ framework itself and companies understanding they should build within certain boundaries if they want to scale well.

The second challenge is the move towards a clicks-not-code mindset. A lot of companies are used to having developers in house. And sometimes custom code is needed, but that’s something we try to avoid unless it’s absolutely necessary and there is significant ROI.

The third challenge is around DevOps. Clicks-not-code makes things easier — it simplifies the configuration and maintenance process. But there is additional complexity on the deployment side.

With CPQ there is configuration “code” that exists simply as records. Salesforce deployment tools historically were geared towards metadata, but CPQ uses these records. And there are complicated relationships and interdependencies. Things have to be deployed in a certain order. It’s easy to miss stuff. And the cost of missing a component or a failed deployment is high, because it impacts a company’s ability to sell something.

Is it hard to manage client expectations around CPQ projects given the complexity?

I’ve lost count of the number of CPQ implementations I’ve done, and they’ve run the gamut in terms of client response. If I was to give advice to my younger self, I’d say don’t shy away from being frank and direct with customers. That’s what consultants are hired for — to mitigate risk and prepare for scalability. Customers appreciate your being frank with them.

I always emphasize the importance of driving towards an MVP, especially if you’re doing a big implementation. Projects have died because they’ve tried to do too much too soon. So I talk about doing a sliver for the CPQ go live — maybe a business unit or a product line. It should be something that provides value but that’s not too complicated, then it’s easier to build on top of that.

The second thing I’ve found is you have to build trust and earn credibility. I tell clients I’m experienced at CPQ and I’m excited to offer my expertise, but what I don’t know is your business. I want to make sure we get this right for you, and we can’t do this without you.

Not all companies have their processes logically laid out — that’s part of our job as consultants. Understanding their business, and being able to articulate it back is such a great way to build trust.

How often do you talk about DevOps with clients?

It’s become more of a conversation in recent years. DevOps wasn’t historically thought of as a value add for clients. Let’s use the analogy of a house: “We’ll build this house here and then move it for you.” That seems like a painful detail for customers.

But it’s become more valuable. DevOps can impact important KPIs and business objectives: time to value, business risk, downtime, resource allocation. And for consultants, time is literally money. So we say, “Here’s a tool we use. Things that normally take 4–6 hours now take an hour or two, so we’ve got more time to spend on valuable work for you.”

Seldom are you developing in a silo, either. In fact, you want someone on the customer side who’s actively working on projects and skilling up on whichever Salesforce cloud we’re implementing. So you’ll have cross-team implementation activities, and without a good DevOps tool you’ll miss something when there are multiple teams.

Even some bigger companies don’t have a good DevOps process in place. So it can be chaotic, with a lot of fixes post deployment, or massive blackout dates where no one can build anything.

I’ve been on projects where we’ve gone 3+ months of build before deploying to a higher environment, and those deployments are painful. It’s especially tough if there are mistakes or you have low user adoption. Early on I was on a project for a year — it was a massive undertaking. The business underwent some big changes, took a waterfall approach, and at the end of the day CPQ wasn’t successfully adopted.

In recent years, I’ve found more and more clients understand the need for an agile iterative approach. You can build the best technology, but it means nothing if people don’t use it. So you need to go live with something and get feedback.

Having a good DevOps process is pivotal for companies to be successful, and DevOps Launchpad does a great job in articulating this.

What are your thoughts on DevOps training?

DevOps Launchpad allows you to get certified in DevOps, which is a good way to convey credibility. It’s a line item on my résumé, but it doesn’t just show I know enough about this subject. It shows I saw the value of pursuing a course online, and that speaks volumes.

Even if I don’t know about DevOps and I’m looking to hire someone, I still know the value of defining a process well so it’s neither over-engineered nor under-engineered. Seeing these certifications shows that someone has experience and has been thoughtful and deliberate about career pursuits. DevOps training is a great way to demonstrate knowledge and credibility.