Salesforce hosted its second annual Analyst Summit last week. This year’s format was much more engaging and interactive format than last year, sparking lots of interesting questions and discussions among analysts and the Salesforce team.
At a high level, Salesforce’s executives laid out the company’s key themes for 2016, which included:
- Continuing to invest in its core CRM space to maintain market dominance. To that end, Salesforce recently introduced its new Lightning user experience and development framework, along with Trailhead, its interactive learning platform to help users and developers transition more quickly and easily to Lightning.
- Using IoT to strengthen customer engagement. Salesforce announced Thunder, its IoT Cloud, at Dreamforce 2015. Salesforce’s Adam Bosworth emphasized that while Thunder isn’t yet ready for prime time, it is in pilot with several customers. Salesforce is focusing on connecting IoT with business processes and customer experience to help its customers to help drive sales and revenues.
- Reimaging Wave Analytics to provide better insights to users. Salesforce initially launched Wave Analytics as a platform in 2014, with plans to develop apps on top of the platform over time. After hearing from customers that it was too expensive and focused too much attention on the platform play and not enough on providing enough prebuilt apps for business users, Salesforce introduced its next iteration of Wave at Dreamforce 2015. In addition to a streamlined pricing model, the new version offers prebuilt sales templates and apps that make it easier for sales reps to get more value from their customer data.
Of most interest to me, however, was that Salesforce devoted more time to its strategy and solutions for SMBs than last year.
From SMB Startup To Enterprise Powerhouse
When Salesforce was founded in 1999, it was focused on the SMB market. As a cloud pioneer, Salesforce captured the market’s attention with its story of faster, easier, better and less expensive CRM. While SMBs were its target in the early going, the marketing genius of Benioff and a stellar sales team quickly moved Salesforce upstream, and capitalized on replacing enterprise dissatisfaction with Seibel to become the undisputed 800-pound CRM gorilla in the enterprise market.
To accommodate demands from large customers and a rapidly evolving market, Salesforce expanded its vision over the years to become what it now terms a “customer success platform.” Today, this platform encompasses many parts and solutions, including:
- Multiple editions of its core CRM solution
- A veritable storm of clouds (sales, marketing, service, community, etc.)
- New Thunder and Lightning initiatives
- More than 35 acquisitions, from ExactTarget to SteelBrick.
However, as I wrote in this post, Salesforce’s SMB Story: Great Vision, But a Complicated Plot Line, amid its enterprise success, the Salesforce story became harder for the average SMB to parse through. And, while the vendor offered relatively low entry-level pricing for it former Group Edition ($25/user/month), SMBs faced a steep jump to Professional ($65/user/month) if they needed more functionality that many wanted, such as pipeline forecasts, campaign management, contract storage and quote delivery, custom reporting and dashboards.
Either as a by-product or intentionally, Salesforce’s SMB story has evolved to focus on the “fast growth” SMBs and digital elite, where it has done an excellent job of capturing market share.
But when it comes the vast majority of SMBs the math is revealing. True, Salesforce is the #1 CRM vendor in SMB: SMB Group’s 2015 Routes to Market study shows that 25% of SMBs (1-999 employees) that currently use a CRM solution use Salesforce. However, 75% use other brands, from old-guard competitors such Microsoft and ACT!, to newer ones such as Insightly and Pipeliner. And then there are all of the SMBs still using Excel, email and/or basic contact management solutions.
Furthermore, according to Salesforce, about 150,000 businesses in total use its solutions, and about one-third of them (or 50,000) are SMBs. When you consider that there are roughly 6.5 million SMBs with employees (plus another 17 million or so solopreneurs) in the U.S. alone, Salesforce has barely scratched the surface in SMB market.
Salesforce’s New SMB Story
Recently, Salesforce has begun to refocus its SMB story, for a few reasons. In addition to the huge, untapped market potential, Salesforce sees SMBs as canaries in the coal mine in terms of requiring the simplicity and ease of use that all businesses—even large ones—increasingly demand from business application vendors. Salesforce also wants to tap into SMB diversity and innovation to help keep pits own focus fresh.
- Launching SalesforceIQ for Small Business at Dreamforce in September 2015. Positioned as “the smart, simple CRM to grow your business,” SalesforceIQ, at $25/user/month, replaces Group Edition as the vendor’s CRM entry point for SMBs. Based on the acquisition of RelateIQ, SalesforceIQ automatically captures, analyzes and surfaces customer information across email, calendars and other channels, using pattern recognition to provide users with sales insights and proactive recommendations.
- Announcing a free integration between Desk.com, Salesforce’s small business customer service app and SalesforceIQ. The integration gives give SMBs a unified view of their customers, enabling them to provide the more connected, personalized experience that their customers will increasingly demand.
Salesforce also quietly rolled out Trailhead in 2014, and then showcased it at Dreamforce 2015. Trailhead provides users, developers and administrators with a guided, learning path through the key features of Salesforce to help people get more value from Salesforce solutions more quickly. According to Salesforce, Trailhead earners have passed more than 1,000,000 challenges, earning more than 250,000 badges.
In addition, Salesforce’s AppExchange—one of the first and most successful app stores, which just celebrated its 10th birthday—offers more than 2800 applications that integrate with Salesforce). Many of these are SMB-oriented, and Salesforce continues to ramp up SMB partnerships and integrations, with vendors from MailChimp to Slack to Sage Live (link to blog) on board.
There are many things I like about what Salesforce is doing in the SMB space. I think SalesforceIQ gives SMBs a much better bang for the buck than Salesforce Group Edition. Furthermore, the integration between Desk.com and SalesforceIQ gives SMBs a cost-effective way to improve their customers’ experience, and level the playing field against larger companies in today’s increasingly social, omnichannel world.
Salesforce’s ecosystem is also a huge plus for SMBs that are already Salesforce customers. The AppExchange makes it easier for SMBs to find apps that will work well with Salesforce, and reduce potential integration issues. Meanwhile, Trailhead is one of the most fun training programs I’ve seen in the business applications space.
But, Salesforce will need to do more if it really wants to become an SMB mainstay. First, of all, Salesforce needs to improve SMB segmentation and understanding. Sure, it gets those Silicon Valley startups, but it needs a deeper understanding of the broader SMB landscape and their diverse attitudes and requirements.
This leads to my next point, which is that the broader swath of SMBs still need a lot of business and conceptual education about how and why sales, marketing and customer service are changing, and what they need to do to succeed amidst these changes. Salesforce paved the way in educating SMBs about the big picture benefits of the cloud, it should have the same lofty goals in terms of educating them about the new customer journey.
That said, as evidenced at this event, Salesforce is listening, and is formulating plans to increase investments to educate and engage SMBs both locally and online. While engaging the broad SMB market is never easy, Salesforce has the right attitude, and the brand and budget to create a wider lens through which it can gain the pulse on SMBs it needs to capture SMB attention and market share.
Note: Salesforce hosted me at Dreamforce and paid for my travel expenses.