California Dreaming? Salesforce’s Dreamforce SMB Story  

This is part one of a two-part blog series discussing Salesforce.com’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. This first post provides perspectives from several Salesforce SMB customers on how they are rethinking their business models and using technology to get ahead. The second post, Salesforce’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs, provides a detailed glimpse into Salesforce.com’s approach in the SMB market.


dreamforce2014
Each year, the festivities at Dreamforce, Salesforce.com’s annual user event, intensify. At Dreamforce 2014, the entertainment ranged from musicians as diverse as Bruno Mars and the Beach Boys; politicians as similar as Hillary Clinton and Al Gore; Hawaiian blessings and hula dancers; and Salesforce’s erstwhile mascots, Chatty and SaaSy. Beanbag chairs, giant chessboards, free pedicabs, and lots of liquor-fueled parties added to the carnival-like atmosphere.

But there were also many Salesforce-related keynotes, led by CEO Marc Benioff, and hundreds of Salesforce sessions. Of course, I was most interested in the SMB keynote, led by

The Technology Trifecta

Salesforce sees SMBs as being uniquely suited to use cloud, mobile and social technologies to create new business models and to win customers over from larger, but often slower-moving businesses.

As discussed in SMB Group’s Guiding Stars: Vendor Strategies to Bring Game-Changing Technology Trends to SMBs report, Salesforce is in violent agreement with other technology vendors. The nine major vendors we interviewed for the report (including Salesforce) all view cloud, mobile and social as providing SMBs enormous opportunities to gain business advantages. With customers and prospects racing into the digital future at breakneck speed, SMBs that use technology to stay ahead of their customers will thrive, while those that don’t face extinction.

Though many technology vendors offer SMBs solutions to capitalize on these trends, Salesforce’s SVP of SMB, Tony Rodoni, and Desk.com VP, Layla Sekla of course touted Salesforce as best positioned to help SMBs harness technology to:

  • Scale their businesses with one integrated system
  • Gain better visibility into data
  • Engage customers in new ways

The Salesforce worldview (and that of the customers that joined to tell their stories) skew heavily toward what they described as a “typical silicon valley startup.” These are companies that want to conquer a large market using disruptive technology–ones that will launch and soon face a “tidal wave of demand.”

In reality, this segment represents only a tiny fraction of the SMB universe. But, from my perspective, they zeroed in on how businesses of all kinds can think about and apply technology to improve business outcomes.

Differentiate With Great Customer Service

The heat is on for all companies to provide a great customer experience for obvious reasons. Unhappy customers are likely to stop buying and share their dissatisfaction, costing your business money. Happy ones are likely to come back for more and recommend your business to friends and family. Social media of course, amplifies the influence of customer experience.

muncheryWith this in mind, Munchery is bringing new meaning to meals on wheels. Munchery provides meal delivery of “wholesome prepared dinners, handmade by top local chefs using only the best ingredients, for same-day delivery to your home or office.” In 6 months, its revenues have grown by 400%. Munchery credits its success to using providing customer support “that’s as good as the meals.” The company uses Desk.com to:

  • See what social networks their customers are using, and what they’re saying. Are there trends in what foods people want, such as kale or quinoa (they are in San Francisco!)? Once Munchery spots these trends it integrates them into marketing and meals.
  • Intake cases from Munchery’ mobile app to adjust orders on the fly and respond to them. Munchery can provide great service, and happy customers can also add an extra tip if they’d like. This responsiveness is helping Munchery turn customer problems into opportunities, and create evangelists.
  • Streamline internal communications. The company’s 100 drivers use Desk.com to communicate back to headquarters to help optimize routes and deliveries.

Outsmart The Competition By Re-thinking the Problem 

Accessing, analyzing and acting on data can give SMBs a big advantage over the competition. But building and managing infrastructure to do this takes a lot of time, money and expertise–all scarce resources for SMBs.

zenpayrollAccording to ZenPayroll’s CEO, one-third of SMBs get fined for inaccurate payroll. The three-year old start-up the entered the payroll market, which is dominated by big players such as ADP and Paychex, with a strategy to differentiate by giving users “delightful modern payroll” that works right on day one. While competitors position payroll as a chore, Zen thinks of payroll as employees getting paid and employers showing appreciation. It provides SMBs with a paperless, cloud-based, mobile-first solution in 97% of the U.S. Its 60 employees use Desk.com to solve support issues once, and then take proactive measures to ensure they aren’t repeated. Zen also uses Pardot to automate marketing, sales and nurturing and grow its business, which now processes more than $1 billion in payroll annually. Reeves’ advice to other business owners is to rethink the problem you’re tackling.

Personally Engage Customers

Getting the right message at the right time to customers at the right time is essential in today’s multi-channel world. In addition, the more personal the message, the less likely it is to end up in the spam filter. Salesforce introduced both a B2B and B2C customer to illustrate the importance of personalized engagement.

firstmileFirst Mile told the B2B story. When it launched 2 years ago, U.K-based First Mile saw the recycling market as overcharged and underserved. Its mission is to displace entrenched, inefficient competitors by making recycling easy and responsive. First Mile sees customer engagement as its key to its strategy, and uses innovative business practices and technology to power it. For instance, established competitors require long contracts, so First Mile requires no contracts. While competitors never call their customer except when its renewal time, First Mile makes 100 calls a day to get feedback. The company uses the Salesforce platform and apps to get and analyze recycling stats and help minimize attrition. First Mile’s field sales people also recently began using iPads and Salesforce to directly enter leads into Salesforce, “quadrupling the return on investment from field sales,” over the former double-entry paper and pen to Salesforce method. First Mile’s advice to other SMBs? There are lots of free or low-cost cloud solutions out there. Try the ones you think will help you to find out which ones will give you the return you need.
georgestreetOn the B2C side, George Street is putting a new twist on wedding photos and videos by connecting photographers to brides in 50 cities across North America. George Street handles everything but taking the photos or videos. For brides, George Street creates a personalized experience to ensure they have a great wedding photography experience. The company uses several Salesforce and AppExchange solutions, including Pardot, Salesforce and Chatter lead generation, sales and contracts, photographer and shot selection, notifications and sharing photos. George Street has also created a community for brides to talk about everything from cakes to dresses. It helps facilitated last-minute requests, such as a new shot request, with Chatter. Before they used Salesforce, they did a lot of this manually, but by developing a Salesforce app to automate the process, they’ve sped up the process and can provide a better experience. For instance, it used to take 7 days from a bride’s initial appointment with George Street to close a contract, now the average close time is 24 hours. Automation has helped them scale, increasing the number of weddings they handle by 250%. And, they’ve reduced case incidents by 200%. George Street’s guidance for other SMBs is to focus on delivering an exceptional experience. Automate back-end so your people can spend more time with clients, make them happy and generate boost referrals. Finally, if you’re using Salesforce, find a good developer to help you make the most of it.

Perspective

The writing is on the wall for any business: With customers and prospects racing into the digital, mobile, and social future at breakneck speed, SMBs must proactively deploy technology to improve both business processes and the customer experience. SMBs that figure out how to use technology to stay ahead of their customers’ demands will thrive, while those that don’t will face extinction.

But there are lots of vendors and solutions out there ready to help you on your journey. Is Salesforce right for you? Read Part 2 of this blog series, Salesforce’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs, to help you decide.

Disclosure: Salesforce paid for most of my travel expenses to attend Dreamforce.

Salesforce’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs

This is part two of a two-part blog series discussing Salesforce.com’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. Part One, California Dreaming? Salesforce’s Dreamforce SMB Story, provides perspectives from several Salesforce SMB customers. This second post, which is excerpted from SMB Group’s April 2014 Guiding Stars: Vendor Strategies to Bring Game-Changing Technology Trends to SMBs report, provides a more detailed glimpse into Salesforce.com’s approach.

The writing is on the wall for any business: With customers and prospects racing into the digital, mobile, and social future at breakneck speed, SMBs must proactively deploy technology to improve both business processes and the customer experience. SMBs that figure out how to use technology to stay ahead of their customers’ demands will thrive, while those that don’t will face extinction.

But there are lots of vendors and solutions out there ready to help you on your journey, and one-size-fit all doesn’t apply in SMB. Is Salesforce right for you? Read on for information and insights to help you decide.

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Top Technology Game Changers for SMB

Fifteen years ago, Marc Benioff founded Salesforce with the belief that multi-tenant, cloud computing applications democratize information by delivering immediate benefits while reducing risks and costs.

So it’s not surprising that while the cloud isn’t new, it continues its reign as Salesforce’s top game-changing trend. Salesforce sees cloud as removing the technology and cost barriers so that SMBs can:

  • Bring best practices and automation into their businesses so they grow, do more with less and do it better.
  • Gain real-time visibility into their businesses to improve decision-making.
  • Centralize information, making it easy for everyone to collaborate, no matter where they are, and providing a built-in way to retain knowledge as employees come and go.
  • Take advantage of enterprise class security and reliability trusted by thousands of enterprises at an affordable cost that scales with their business.

Salesforce views the cloud as the foundation and springboard for SMBs to benefit from other game-changing trends, namely mobile and social solutions. Salesforce believes that mobile is becoming the “new normal” user experience. People are already running their personal lives on mobile devices, and increasingly want to click into apps, dashboards and info on mobile devices for work. To that end, the vendor’s Salesforce1 initiative puts mobile first by making 100% of Salesforce functionality and information available to users in a relevant interface on any device.

Social collaboration is also key, not only in terms of marketing, but to help SMBs deliver more responsive service that customers increasingly expect. Social tools and analytics let SMBs increase context about customer and prospect interactions so they personalize how they engage and support them. For instance, Salesforce Chatter can run across everything in Salesforce and some of its partners’ apps, allowing everyone—from the CEO to the receptionist—to get on the same page whether to more readily spot new opportunities or to head off potential problems.

Together, these trends make things more transparent. It’s easier for people to collaborate to get the job done, instead of operating in silos. Salesforce introduced its Communities solution, which its customers can use to manage external relationships with customers and partners in a protected or non-protected way, furthering extending social collaboration capabilities from within Salesforce.

Changes in SMB Technology Expectations and Behavior

As SMBs get more familiar with cloud, social and mobile solutions, Salesforce sees several key shifts underway:

  • Rising expectations for centralized, single sign-on access to apps and data, with everything needed to get work done pulled together from different apps for a complete view.
  • Demand for solutions with built-in collaboration capabilities. Business owners see that collaboration helps the business to deliver better customer and employee experiences, because information flows both ways and provides better visibility to make decisions.
  • Customer service as the “new wave of marketing.” Better visibility and engagement with customers has raised awareness about the importance of servicing and engaging with customers throughout the whole life cycle to drive business, leading service people to take more ownership of the brand.
  • “Try before you buy” is the new normal. SMBs now expect to try—without having talk to rep—solutions before buying them. Salesforce cited one customer who wanted to get Desk.com, Salesforce’s small business help desk service, up and running by himself while watching the Super Bowl.
  • Friction-free technology. SMBs increasingly look for a frictionless technology experience. They have less patience for solutions that can potentially take too much time or cost too much money. They want vendors to demonstrate ease of use upfront, and provide transparent pay as you go pricing.

Although the cloud isn’t new in the industry, Salesforce believes that the concept of being able to gain advantages from enterprise-class software without having to worry about infrastructure is still something many SMBs are just starting to understand. Salesforce’s view is that while the cloud is more common today, some things aren’t “true Cloud” and SMBs are still learning about the nuances of the cloud value proposition. To that end, Salesforce is expanding its educational commitment to SMBs around business best practices. The vendor:

  • Doubled the amount of SMB content at its annual Dreamforce event last year over the prior year, with over 150 SMB breakout sessions, a dedicated networking and expert interaction area, ask the ask experts panels, a dedicated keynote as well as inclusion in other keynotes with SMBs alongside big companies.
  • Will move from one SMB message to differentiated messaging for different types of SMBs and decision-makers, to make it more relevant for different segments and roles.
  • Has recently introduced new SMB resources, including small business blogs, a customer success community.

Perspective: Salesforce as SMB Technology Catalyst

salesforcelogoAs one of the first true cloud computing pioneers, Salesforce seized on the fact that cloud computing removes the barriers for small businesses to gain the same business benefits from technology solutions as larger companies.

Salesforce—via its vision and strong customer proof points—has painted a vivid picture of how SMBs can use cloud, mobile and social solutions offerings for a more user-friendly, streamlined way to run their businesses.

At the low end of the market, many Salesforce customers move directly from Excel or from pencil and paper to Salesforce, underscoring both ease of use and the resulting business value of having real-time information access, anywhere from any device. And, even as it’s grown its star-studded Fortune 500 customer roster, Salesforce has kept SMBs in the spotlight, investing to educate the broader market about how they can use and benefit from these technologies.

Over the years, of course, Salesforce has also broadened its vision and developed and assembled many more components to enable this vision. For instance, there are now 4 editions of Sales Cloud, 3 of Service Cloud and 4 of Marketing Cloud.

At the upper end of SMB, companies may have enough staff, expertise and time to sort through Salesforce’s expanded portfolio, and figure out what’s right for them. But, Salesforce’s story may be getting confusing for smaller SMBs. While entry-level pricing is low, how many small businesses can jump from Group Edition ($25/user/month) to Professional ($65/user/month). While Professional Edition offers a lot more functionality (including pipeline forecast, campaign management, contract storage and quote delivery, custom reporting and dashboards, and a complete view of the customer across sales and service, the price differential is tough for many SMBs to absorb. Alternatively Salesforce does offer desk.com at $29/user/month to customers that have customer service requirements. Again, however, it can be challenging for SMBs to figure out which approach will work best and be most cost-effective.

However, Salesforce plans to increase investments to engage SMBs both locally and online. Not only will this help Salesforce educate more SMBs about the power of technology in business, but also it should give Salesforce a wider lens through which it can get a better pulse on SMB requirements. In turn, this should help Salesforce simplify and streamline solution packaging and positioning. All of which bodes well for its potential to help more SMBs understand and use technology as a game-changer.

Want to know more about how Salesforce’s SMB customers use Salesforce? Read Part 1 of this blog series, California Dreaming? Salesforce’s Dreamforce SMB Story, for perspectives from several Salesforce SMB customers on how they are rethinking their business models and using technology in their businesses.

Disclosure: Salesforce paid for most of my travel expenses to attend Dreamforce.

 

Salesforce’s SMB Story: Great Vision, But a Complicated Plot Line

“Why can’t business software be as easy to use as buying a book on Amazon?” At the Dreamforce 2012 SMB keynote, Hilary Koplow-McAdams, President of Salesforce.com’s Commercial Division, told the crowd that this was the question that Marc Benioff, Salesforce CEO, originally set out to answer when he founded the company. When you think about it, this question was particularly prescient in 1999, when Salesforce was in start-up mode and conversations about the “consumerization of IT” were scarce. This perspective also provided a welcome breath of fresh air for small businesses, which were Salesforce’s chief target market at the time, and were in dire need of technology vendors that could keep things simple. Fast forward to 2012 Dreamforce. As I discussed in my first post about the event, Drinking From the Dreamforce Fire Hose: Part 1, The Big Picture, Benioff showcased several large enterprise customers, a slew of new directions and offerings, and a compelling case for enterprises to buy into its version of the social enterprise. Salesforce.com has grown up and evolved into a multi-faceted company with a rich portfolio of technologies and solutions that extend well beyond its CRM roots. But with this kind of growth comes complexity. Even if Salesforce can make products Amazon-easy, can it tell the story so that SMBs “get it?” In addition, as combinations of products and pricing options multiply, will SMBs be able to wade through, figure out their best options, and be able to afford them?

“A” for a Compelling Vision for SMBs

Which leads to this, my second post. How and how clearly is Salesforce making its case to SMBs? For starters, this year’s event featured the first SMB track ever at Dreamforce–certainly a big step in the right direction. In the SMB keynote, Koplow-McAdams discussed how the cloud model helps democratize and level the playing field for smaller companies, and reaffirmed the company’s commitment to them. According to Koplow-McAdams, SMBs are also racking up good returns on their investment: Salesforce studies show that their SMB customers have boosted win rates by 25+%, increased sales productivity by 34% and increased revenues by 30%. While it’s not surprising that Salesforce has been transformative for the SMB customers that shared this stage with Hilary Koplow-McAdams, their stories were as interesting–and maybe a little more fun–as the large enterprise customers featured in Benioff’s keynote. They discussed how, despite limited IT staffs and budgets, they’ve used Salesforce to grow their businesses. For instance:

  • PlayerLayer, which sells performance athletic apparel, had customer data in Excel, and “had all the customer data, but no way to look at it.” It wanted a solution to help “interrogate” the data so that the company could expand into new countries without a big ad budget. Salesforce and Chatter have helped PlayerLayer gain a better understanding of its customers, collaborate on products more efficiently, and “compete with giants in industry.”
  • Yelp, the now well-known search and review site for local businesses, has grown from 2 employees in 1994 to over 1,000 employees today. When Yelp hired its first full-time sales rep for its original San Francisco site, it deployed Salesforce. Geoff Donaker, Yelp COO described how as Yelp branched out into new markets, it was “easy to expand with Salesforce.” Now in 18 countries and 90 cities, Yelp has 800 Salesforce users.
  • Square, the mobile payments vendor, has grown to process $8 billion in payments/year, and 400 employees over the past few years. According to Sarah Friar, Square, CFO, “selling is a team sport” at Square, which uses Salesforce Sales Cloud, Chatter, and Desk.com for support. Square shared a demo of how Desk.com automatically brings tweets, Facebook posts, email and phone conversations into Desk.com to help it provide more responsive customer service.
  • Leviev Diamonds, with 25 employees and 5 showrooms around the globe, was founded in 2006. An offshoot of a successful wholesale diamond business, Leviev wanted to start a retail channel to market very high quality diamonds. As the company CEO, said, “the most important part of the business is schmoozing, which you call CRM.” Leviev decided to use Salesforce because it did what they needed it to do and fit the budget. No Leviev has its entire inventory in Salesforce, and when potential clients open mobile alerts, they are redirected to Salesforce for more information. According to Leviev, “I love Salesforce. It changed everything for us.”
  • Carlo’s Bakery, made famous by the TLC reality show Cake Boss, featuring owner Buddy Valastro, served up the final story. Once Cake Boss started airing, “all hell broke loose.” The problem was, although the bakery starting getting millions of hits a day on their website, it wasn’t able to turn them into sales because Carlo’s Bakery was still a pencil and paper business and according to Valastro, “a lot of people have to interact to make a cake.” In about 8 weeks, the bakery switched from pencil and paper to Salesforce and Radian6 to convert more of its millions of Facebook fans and Twitter followers into customers, and get better visibility into its sales funnel. Carlo’s Bakery can take orders on iPads and mobile phones, and the orders come together in one system, which enables everyone to collaborate. The bakery now does $20 million worth of sales from its Hoboken store, has increased productivity by 60%, and improved customer experience.

Collectively, Salesforce and its customers did a great job of summing up how cloud offerings–and Salesforce in particular–can give SMBs a faster, more user-friendly, and streamlined way to run their businesses. In some cases, these customers moved directly from Excel or from pencil and paper to Salesforce, illuminating both the ease and value of having real-time information access, anywhere from any device. So I’ll give Salesforce an “A” for telling the story.

“C” for an SMB Friendly Social Enterprise Plot Line

But, I’m experiencing some cognitive dissonance when I look at the plot line. Sure, Benioff’s big picture social enterprise vision is compelling for businesses of any size. But as I asked in my 2011 post, Is Salesforce.com Outgrowing SMBs?, can the average small or medium business put the piece parts together? Thankfully, the company does seem to have put a simple naming convention in place (and renamed several acquisitions accordingly), but I’ve lost count of how many solutions Salesforce provides…along with what’s included in what. For instance, Salesforce Touch is included as part of Force.com. But do most SMBs even buy Force.com? And if they don’t, can third-party development partners somehow pass relevant Salesforce Touch capabilities through? Likewise, the question of how much it will cost for SMBs to become a social enterprise ala the Salesforce model is also cloudy. Fortunately, Chatter is included in all Sales Cloud editions. But how many small businesses can jump from Group Edition ($15/user/month) to Professional ($65/user/month) to get some fairly basic marketing functionality such as email marketing, campaigns and analytics snapshots. And what about Salesforce Marketing Cloud, which starts at $5,000 per month? When it comes to software (on premise or in the cloud!) SMBs don’t want mystery. They want solution clarity, and transparent, predictable pricing. At the upper end of SMB, companies may have enough staff, expertise and time to sort through and figure this out–or the budget to hire a consultant to do it for them. But, many smaller businesses won’t have these resources. So I need to give Salesforce a “C“ when it comes to making it easy for SMBs to identify, assess, configure and price the best mix of Salesforce solutions to turn the social enterprise vision into reality. And, while Salesforce will likely rely on its partners to help SMBs navigate these areas, it seems difficult to see how partners can profitably provide the services SMBs need to evaluate, select and deploy the right formula of Salesforce solutions. How will Salesforce.com grow and remain true to its small business roots? Most software vendors have found it very difficult to succeed in both large enterprise and small business worlds. Can Salesforce succeed where others have failed? I’ll be looking forward to Dreamforce 2013 to see if the details are as clear as the vision by then.

Drinking From the Dreamforce Fire Hose: Part 1, The Big Picture

Dreamforce, like Salesforce.com’s ambitions, just keeps getting bigger. This year’s event in San Francisco claimed 90,000 registered attendees and 250 media, analysts and bloggers. The pageantry surrounding the event—from MC Hammer to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and from Tony Robbins to Colin Powell—is also on the rise, seemingly in direct proportion to Salesforce’s enterprise ambitions. Anyway, with so much erupting from Mt. Salesforce, I need to write a two-part blog post. This first post covers the Salesforce.com’s vision and announcements, and my perspective on them. The second post, which will be up in a few days, will cover how Salesforce’s ever-expanding ambitions translate and apply to small and medium businesses (SMBs).

The Big Picture

CEO Marc Benioff’s keynote featured the success stories from marquee customers, including Activision, Burberry, Coca Cola, Commonwealth Bank, GE, Virgin Atlantic and Rossignol. Through these customer vignettes, announcements, demos and, interestingly, IBM’s 2012 CMO Study, Salesforce made its case for enterprises to buy into its version of the social enterprise. While Salesforce isn’t the first vendor to come up with any of the ideas put forward, Benioff and team continue to aggressively extend the Salesforce footprint along cloud, social, and platform themes, and its push beyond CRM into other functional areas. A drink from the fire hose includes a slew of new directions and offerings. A few are available now, but most are slated for general availability later in 2012 or in 2013. They include:

  • Added social selling capabilities. Salesforce Touch and Data.com Social Keyadd new social and mobile oomph for sales people. Salesforce Touch puts Salesforce on any mobile device, giving reps anytime, anywhere mobile capabilities. Salesforce Data.com Social Key integrates data from social networks with company data to provide companies with a more comprehensive view of their customers.
  • Social marketing. Salesforce Marketing Cloud brings social listening, content, engagement, advertising, workflow, automation and measurement into one place through the combined technologies of (recent acquisitions) Buddy Media and Radian6.
  • Platform Push. Salesforce announced Salesforce Identity, touting it as the “Facebook for the Enterprise.” It will provide a single, social, trusted identity service to manage multiple apps and includes single sign-on across apps; social identity to enable Chatter to push information from multiple apps to a user in one feed; and centralized identity and access management to make it easier for administrators to provision and manage users across applications.
  • Work.com: Rypple is now Work.com, and Salesforce is positioning it as a social performance platform to manage performance reviews and provide recognition, rewards and feedback to employees.

As important, in just a few years, Salesforce AppExchange has grown to become a mature ecosystem for developers. Over 350 partners attended Dreamforce 2012, and Force.com development partners such as FinancialForce, BMC Remedyforce and Xactly Express are enjoying a great growth ramp on Salesforce’s coattails. In the analyst Q&A, Benioff explained that Salesforce is trying hard to move from geek speak to talk and walk like the new breed of IT customer, the CMO. In both the keynote and the Q&A, he reiterated that IT spending will increasingly shift from IT to CMOs. He also underscored that Facebook has become the most popular app on the planet because it is so intuitive, and his belief that all business apps will eventually need a Facebook-like activity stream because that is the interface users know and will demand.

Perspective

Really, what could play better into Salesforce’s hands as it tries to expand its enterprise footprint against stalwart ERP vendors? Larger enterprises have pretty much taken care of business in the back office. And smaller companies top priorities most often center on revenue growth and customer acquisition. With a CMO-centric view of the world, Benioff & co. can position Salesforce as chief mentor and leader in the next wave of IT innovation—in the front office, collaboration and user interface arenas. For example, I think that Benioff is spot on with his statement that all business apps will need a Facebook-style feed interface to take the friction out of using them and facilitate user adoption. Meanwhile, compelling customer success stories and strong partner growth underscore that Salesforce is ready to take its game to the next level. Unlike some of its competitors, Salesforce also has social in its DNA from the top down, which should prove to be an enormous advantage. However, rivals are not going to yield turf easily. In fact, it’s ironic that, in addition to helping to fuel Benioff’s agenda with its CMO research, IBM already walking much of the Salesforce talk. IBM coined the “social business” term before Benioff coined “social enterprise,” and many of the solutions that are in the works at Salesforce bear a close resemblance to IBM solutions such as IBM Connections, Smarter Commerce and SmartCloud—all of which are available now. Meanwhile, many of Salesforce’s newly announced offerings won’t be ready for several months or more–and are somewhat lightweight compared to comparable offerings from the competition. But sometimes, lightweight is better. Some apps are so clogged with feature bloat that they actually hinder getting work done instead of enabling it. And, I’ve said many times, Benioff is a marketing genius. He has an uncanny knack for winning by articulating a new value proposition better than anyone else in the industry. While he may need to play catch up in terms of getting his solutions to market, it’s likely that his messages will be the first to come through loud and clear in many corporate boardrooms.

Tech Tidbits for SMBs: Xactly Express Integration with Intuit QuickBooks

If you’re one of the four million small and medium businesses (SMBs) that uses Intuit QuickBooks and are wrestling with a clunky sales compensation process, I’m serving up this next tech tidbit for you.

Last week, I was briefed on Xactly’s new Express integration with QuickBooks. This sparked my interest because SMB Group survey respondents always cite “attracting new customers” and “growing revenues” among their top three business challenges in almost every study the SMB Group conducts. But, it can be very difficult for small and medium businesses (SMBs) to execute well in this area. Sales and finance are typically coming at this from different vantage points, and its unlikely that the SMB has a dedicated sales comp expert–or the time and money to set up an enterprise-grade comp system.

So, if you’re like the vast majority of SMBs, you probably manage compensation with a concoction of Excel spreadsheets, emails, paper documents and manual processing. Besides giving everyone a headache, it can de-motivate sales people or head them in a direction that doesn’t sync well with your company’s goals.

Xactly (which also has an enterprise solution, Xactly Incent), introduced Xactly Express in 2010 to give companies with fewer than 100 sales reps–and without dedicated sales compensation staff–a cloud-based, self-service solution to “Incent right = pay commissions accurately, on time, reward behavior.” Xactly built Express on Salesforce.com’s Force.com platform, but as it grew the business, Xactly realized that a good 35% to 45% of its Express customers were also Intuit QuickBooks users. For them, QuickBooks is often the primary system of record. So Xactly decided to create new out-of-the-box connectors between Express and QuickBooks. The solution, which was introduced this week, will be available from the Intuit App Center later this summer.

This built-in integration provides an automated data feed from QuickBooks to Xactly Express, as well as single sign-on. Users can access Xactly through their QuickBooks logon to plan and manage sales commissions, bonuses and SPIFFs. Likewise, when you enter a transaction into QuickBooks, commissions automatically get calculated and credited to the right members of your sales team. If you’re doing business outside of the U.S. Xactly’s solutions support over 150 currencies and it provides customer support worldwide, 24/7. Currently, however, English is the only language that Xactly officially supports.

On the sales side, reps and managers can track their performance real-time on Express dashboards via the Web or with a mobile device. They can see where they are in terms of quota or what their commission will be when they’re working on a quote, or figure out which deals will deliver the best commission returns.

Xactly provides a library of customizable sales compensation templates (prospector, hunter, farmer, specialist and captain) to help small businesses get started.  Xactly says that it takes about 6 to 10 hours to get up and running with the integrated Express and QuickBooks solution. Most of this time goes to verify that the data is feeding correctly between the two programs.

According to Xactly, even very small businesses can get value from the solution. Some of its 200 current customers start out with only one sales rep, but have plans to grow their sales teams, and want to get things automated from the get-go.

Pricing for Express is $30 per user/ month, and there is a onetime set up fee that ranges from $1500 to 5000, depending on the complexity of the implementation and set-up–perhaps a bit pricey for the lower end of the SMB market.But Xactly does offer a free 30-day trial so you can see if it will give you what you’re looking for.

The net-net is that if sales compensation is giving you a headache, Xactly Express and its new QuickBooks integration can provide  relief–with the added bonus of helping align and empower your sales team to meet the ever-present challenge of growing your business.

The Small Business Forecast for Cloud Computing

(Originally published October 5, 2011 in Small Business Computing)

What’s changed about cloud computing since 2009, when I wrote What is Cloud Computing, and Why Should You Care? In terms of the basic definition and benefits of cloud computing, not much. But in terms of market trends and adoption, the landscape has changed considerably.

Status Quo: Cloud Computing Basics

Here’s the definition that I provided in 2009: Cloud computing is a computing model in which you access software, server, storage, development and other computing resources over the Internet, in a self-service manner, as illustrated in Figure 1.

What is cloud computing graphic display
Figure 1: An illustrated depiction of cloud computing.
(Click for larger image)
.

The benefits that drive cloud computing adoption remain the same as well; instead of having to buy, install, maintain and manage these resources on your own servers, you access and use them through a Web browser.

Since many small and medium businesses (SMBs) lack the time, money and/or resources required to buy, deploy and manage the increasingly complex array of applications and infrastructure they need to run their businesses, this is a huge plus.

Cloud computing lets you access these resources as a service, without having to worry about the care and feeding of them. You can expand or shrink services as your needs change, and do it all on a pay-as-you-go subscription basis instead of forking over capital to buy hardware and software.

The concerns that people raise about cloud computing haven’t changed much either. They continue to revolve around reliability, security and support questions, such as how do providers protect your data? What happens if a service goes down, and you can’t access the application or your data?

Even highly reputable cloud providers — including Amazon, Google, Intuit and Microsoft — have experienced outages. Customers still need to do their homework and get details from providers on uptime guarantees, data protection, service levels and other policies and practices.

Cloud Computing Adoption Becoming Mainstream

Cloud computing has been around since 1997– albeit under different labels. But cloud adoption was more evolutionary than revolutionary for a long time. In the early going, many of the technologies required to effectively take advantage of cloud computing — such as ubiquitous high-speed Internet access — weren’t ready.

Equally important, people tend to be creatures of habit, and they felt no need to rush away from packaged software to the cloud. Finally, many IT people were reluctant to go to the cloud for fear it might put them out of a job.

But in the last 2 or 3 years, studies from both researchers and vendors indicate that cloud computing is becoming a more mainstream choice, especially in categories such as online marketing, collaboration and contact and customer management, as shown in Figure 2.

What’s Driving the Change?

Several factors that have coalesced to create the right conditions for cloud computing’s increased popularity. To begin with, cloud computing providers have grown up. NetSuite was founded in 1998, and Salesforce.com was founded in 1999.

Small business cloud-computing adoption rates, by application category
Figure 2: Small business adoption of cloud-based software-as-a-service solutions in selected application categories. Source: SMB Group 2010 SMB Routes to Market Study.
(Click for larger image)
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Meanwhile, “old guard” players including IBM, Microsoft and SAP have also created rich portfolios of cloud solutions. Cloud vendors continue to address reliability, security and performance concerns with more redundant services and controls.

Many are also providing more visibility into performance. For instance, Trust.salesforce.com is Salesforce.com’s site for real-time information on system performance and security. Zoho Service Health Status provides a similar service.

Customers have also learned that they like many things about the cloud model. They like the responsibility being on a vendor 24/7 — and that it’s easier to switch to another provider if their expectations aren’t met. They like what I call the “virtuous feedback loop,” which means that when a cloud provider fixes a problem for one customer, it gets fixed for everyone.

Meanwhile, a funny thing happened on the way to the cloud — an explosion of mobile and social technologies. In both cases, the adoption curve has been truly revolutionary.  In contrast to cloud computing, these revolutions didn’t require IT managers or business decision-makers to take off.

Individuals could drive adoption, which in turn required businesses to interact more effectively with these newly empowered customers, employees, constituents, etc. — when, where and how they wanted.

This has had a profound effect on cloud computing. Although it has been on a slower trajectory than social and mobile technologies, cloud is increasingly the critical enabler for both mobile and social solutions. It provides the:

  • Economies of scale and skill that developers need to create, reiterate and reinvent.
  • Continuous customer-feedback loop and data aggregation required to spot trends, identify opportunities and get a leg-up on the competition.
  • Real-time collaborative environment that’s necessary to accelerate new ideas, launch new solutions and solve problems.

Finally, the curve to take advantage of new technologies and new ways of using technology is getting steeper. Most individual companies can’t tap into these opportunities on their own, however. They need IT solutions that will empower the business without draining it — and they are more likely to get this with cloud computing than with traditional on-premises software.

The net-net is that we’ve reached a tipping point. Increasingly, small businesses that want to use technology to move their businesses ahead will need to move to the cloud — or risk falling behind the competition.


Is Salesforce.com Outgrowing SMBs?

Salesforce.com’s Marc Benioff is a great visionary with a big appetite for change. From packaged software to the cloud, from CRM to platform-as-a-service, he’s painted a color by number picture for businesses to emulate. But does his latest work, “the social enterprise” come with an easy enough guide for small businesses to paint it?

The Paint-by-Numbers Social Enterprise

Benioff laid out his newest work, the “social enterprise” last week in his keynote  at Dreamforce 2011. He made a convincing and compelling case that companies need to proactively listen to and engage with customers that are vocal and socially connected on a mobile, digital web–or they’ll be brought down in a “corporate spring” the way Egypt and other Arab countries have toppled in the “Arab spring.”

To that end, Salesforce has been acquiring and building the components that companies will need to become social enterprises (also known as social businesses, a term IBM coined a year or so ago). Although Salesforce.com’s Winter 2012 release contains over 150 new features, Benioff provided paint-by-number instructions for companies to become social enterprises in a few broad brush strokes:

  1. Establish a database that maintains and updates social profiles for customers and prospects, in real-time. Paint this part of the picture with Database.com, which Benioff introduced as a social, mobile and open cloud based database, and Data.com, which builds Salesforce.com’s 2009 acquisition of Jigsaw, which uses crowd-sourcing to gather customer info, by integrating Dun & Bradstreet lists and data services. Together, this provides data storage, external data sources, data cleansing. On top of that, Salesforce plans to introduce a new Chatter service next year that will bring external conversations into the database as well.
  2. Create a social network integrated with your business processes. Chatter is the color to use to integrate collaboration services with Salesforce.com and partner apps. Salesforce initially introduced Chatter in 2010 as an internal, employee social network, but is expanding it so that you can open it up to customers and partners and share files in Chatter streams. Chatter is also slated to get instant messaging, presence-awareness and screen sharing capabilities (by way of its Dimdim acquisition) so you do things such as have a video conference on the fly within Chatter.
  3. Analyzing and acting on all the customer comments and data you now have. Once your listening ears are on, you need to do something with all that information. Radian6, which Salesforce acquired earlier this year, fills this piece in nicely, enabling you to view, slice and dice unstructured data and take action based on that data.
  4. Get everything to work for any customer, on any device. To make sure that you can engage with your customers on any device they choose to use, Salesforce is launching Touch.salesforce.com. Based on HTML5, Touch.salesforce.com automatically renders the apps, data and customizations in Salesforce.com and partner apps built on Force.com on any mobile touch devices.

Can SMBs Afford the All You Can Eat Buffet Social Enterprise Buffet?

This vision is compelling for businesses of all sizes. But it sounds like a lot of stuff for a small or medium business to piece together and pay for. As I discussed in Prescription for Subscription Fatigue, there are only so many subscriptions you can tack on before people will start to complain about getting nickeled and dimed. So to make things more palatable, Salesforce is introducing a new Social Enterprise License Agreement, which provides full access to everything Salesforce sells for one all you can eat price.

The only problem is, Salesforce hasn’t told us how much it will cost for companies to become a social enterprise. When queried in media and analyst sessions about how pricing would work, Salesforce execs said that’s where the direct sales force comes in, and that basically, pricing would be determined on a case-by-case basis, in relation to the value that the total solution provides the customer.

This makes sense for Salesforce–it elevates them beyond CRM and into a more strategic platform discussion. And it makes sense for large companies that actually have dedicated Salesforce.com account reps, and enough seats and volume in the account to make the cost of one-off pricing work. But how will it work for SMBs that want to become social enterprises?

A Tough Fit for SMBs

When I followed up with a one-on-one question to Salesforce.com’s Clarence So and Alex Dayon, they assured me that SMBs are near and dear to Salesforce.com’s heart–and that they’ll figure out how to make this all you can eat feast feasible for SMBs. After all, as they said, democratization and leveling the playing field for smaller companies has been a core component of Salesforce.com’s strategy. But, they didn’t offer any specifics, and I suspect that Salesforce.com will need to figure this out as it goes along.

Clearly, Salesforce.com will continue to be pestered for answers in this area. Customers–especially SMBs–want transparency in pricing, and to date, Salesforce.com and most cloud vendors have provided them with that transparency. They’ve gravitated to the cloud model in part for the predictable pricing it affords, and are wary of vague or open-ended commitments that might be budget busters.

As important, its hard to see how Salesforce.com or even most of its partners could transact these one-off deals profitably with most SMBs. The time needed to account for the number of users, the technologies used, the value derived from those technologies, etc. might be quickly recouped in a large enterprise deal, but would be a very steep sales cost to absorb in SMB deals.

SMBs not only need affordable, predictable pricing, but many require a lot of hand holding and guidance to help them through the cultural and business process changes required to transform into social enterprises. How will Salesforce.com and its partners help them with this transformation? As of now, there are no clear answers.

Can SMBs Keep Up with Salesforce.com as it Grows Up?  

At Dreamforce 2011, Benioff underscored his vision for the Social Enterprise with great testimonials from big companies such as Coca Cola, NBC Universal and Disney, which are using Salesforce.com solutions to recreate their businesses as social enterprises. But these big companies are used to one-off enterprise-wide license negotiations, have the undivided attention of Salesforce.com sales reps, and can afford to bring in Accenture or Deloitte to help them as needed.

Clearly, Salesforce.com has grown up and evolved into a multi-faceted company with a rich portfolio of technologies and solutions that extend well beyond its CRM roots. But with this kind of growth comes complexity. In Salesforce.com’s case, it looks like they are doing a great job of shielding customers from a lot of the technical complexity that underpins these quantum leaps. But can it figure out how to take the business complexity out of the equation for SMBs? And will it want to devote the time to do this as demands from its large customers rise?

More often than not, other vendors, faced with a similar dilemma, have been unable to find a formula that allows them to live comfortably in both worlds. But Benioff and team seem to relish Rubik cube-like challenges–and it will be interesting to watch them try.

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