Your Guide to Salesforce Data Models

Salesforce Data Model: Introduction

This might come easier for some than others, especially those admins and developers who are newer to Salesforce, but let’s take a moment and think back to the first time we logged into a Salesforce organization. Remember how daunting the system seemed? We bumped into the walls a lot, stumbled our way around the setup area, and were constantly looking at trailheads and forums for how to do the littlest things. It’s amazing how much we developed. Little by little we scratched and clawed our way to proficiency, and the view is certainly nice from up here.

What is a Salesforce data model?

Looking back at our path though, isn’t it our duty to smooth out the learning curve’s rough edges? Taking out some of the big rocks and trip hazards we encountered on our way up would certainly go a long way with clients and team members. This is where data models come in. They are an excellent tool to be able to help a client or new team member understand Salesforce. With a data model we teach the client how objects and fields are going to be related to each other, without the added complexity of navigating the UI. Think about data models as a way to help batch the learning process.

Data models can be made in many different formats, but the format that I find most effective when teaching Salesforce to a new client or team member is an excel worksheet. Having an excel worksheet of how your specific organization’s objects relate to each other gives the client or new user an anchor point when first engaging with the Salesforce org. Ok so by now you probably get the picture, data models can help with teaching a new client or employee Salesforce. The question now is how do we make these data models? Well the answer can be different depending upon the setup of your specific organization. I am going to share the format that I find most effective when creating these, and share a couple of tips regarding the selection of essential vs. non-essential objects.

How to Build a Salesforce Data Model

Now that we’ve discussed what a data model is and how they can be useful tools for helping taper the Salesforce learning curve for a client or new user, we will be taking a deep dive into how to build a data model. As mentioned before, there are almost an infinite number of ways that a data model can be built. With that said, we are going to dive into the data model design that I have found most effective, and the one that I use to onboard new clients and companies in Salesforce on a regular basis.

Starting off with the high level, an excel data model can be broken down into different tabs which each correspond to a major object in the Salesforce organization (1, figure 1). The tabs that I normally create for a data model are; accounts, contacts, leads, opportunities, and orders. With these five tabs I am usually able to encapsulate the main objects that will be used within a customer’s sales and service cadences.

Excel Data Model Example
Figure 1: Excel Data Model Example

NOTE: Try to avoid including objects in the data model that are not important to the company’s overall sales and service cadences. The goal here is to prepare the new client or employee for the Salesforce organization by giving a high-level, 30,000-foot-view of their Salesforce organization.

So let’s take a moment and dive into one of these tabs. Take the account tab for example. Within this tab I list all of the major fields that are present within that object (2, figure 1). For example, the fields that I normally list are; Account Name, Billing Address, Record Type, and any custom fields that are created to hold account information that is important to the client.

Next to each one of the fields, I write the field type so that the new user knows what behavior to expect out of each field (3, figure 1). Listing if a field is a picklist or a rollup gives extra information about how the user interacts with that field on the object. It might be nice with picklist fields to include what the possible values are, but that certainly is not necessary when we are primarily focused on teaching the client or new user the overarching Salesforce architecture.

Data models are great tools for workshopping the flow of data within an organization for a client who is onboarding their company from a legacy system to salesforce. These help create simple conversations about how data should flow from object to object, and will allow you as a developer or administrator to create a sandbox that behaves correctly the first time.


So with this new tool in your back pocket, I challenge you to not only use data models when working with a new company but to create them for any current clients or even new employees as well. Use them to go back and help cultivate a deeper understanding of those organizations— you just might learn something new in the process.

Author: Brandon Weaver