At Dreamforce 2017 a few weeks ago, Salesforce launched Salesforce Sales Cloud Lightning Essentials, its latest offering for small businesses.

This new solution—which I’ll call Sales Essentials from here on in—follows pretty quickly on the heels of SalesforceIQ, which the vendor introduced just two years ago. But unlike Salesforce IQ, which was built on a different code base than the Salesforce’s mainstream offerings, Sales Essentials is built on Salesforce’s flagship technology platform. Not only does it offer an easy on-ramp to customer management, it also:

  • Provides a clear upgrade path to the full-fledged Sales Cloud
  • Offers integrated apps via Salesforce’s AppExchange
  • Integrates Trailhead online learning for Sales Essentials
  • Embeds some of Salesforce’s leading edge AI and machine learning capabilities into the solution to help small businesses get up to speed faster, and get more value from the solution more quickly

As important, it signals Salesforce’s renewed commitment to small businesses.

The Way Back Machine

When Salesforce started back in 1999, Siebel Systems was the 180-pound gorilla in the CRM world. But for the most part, only large businesses could afford to implement and maintain expensive, complex on-premises Siebel software. Marc Benioff’s vision was “sales automation for the masses” (Figure 1). His goal was to deliver software in a new way, as online services, available over the Internet—via a website that would be as easy to use as

Figure 1: Salesforce’s Original Website, circa 1999

And, in the early days, most of Salesforce’s customers were small and medium businesses. But over time, large enterprises flocked to Salesforce—and it became the 180-pound CRM gorilla. To cater to this market, Salesforce rapidly expanded the breadth and depth of its solutions. As it evolved, it created four editions and pricing tiers for different customer segments.

Which has been great for larger businesses—but not so much for smaller ones. For many, the entry-level product didn’t do enough, and the next step up was too much of a leap in terms of both complexity and cost.

Sidetrack for Small Business

Taking a different tack, Salesforce acquired small business-centric Assistly in 2011 and RelateIQ in 2015. It re-introduced these solutions as (customer service), and SalesforceIQ (sales management) for small businesses.

But, these were built on different code bases than Salesforce’s mainstream Service Cloud and Sales Cloud offerings. The upgrade path was fuzzy, and AppExchange developers would need to write different code to integrate with them. and SalesforceIQ became akin to redheaded stepchildren, often overlooked by prospects—and sometimes, by Salesforce.

Unlike in the large enterprise space—where Salesforce is the clear leader—CRM in small business is still very under penetrated and fragmented (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Small Business Use, Plans and Solutions: Sales, Marketing and Service

As a result, many competitors have stepped in to offer solutions for the masses of small businesses that still use spreadsheets and email.

Getting Back On the Small Business Track

Small businesses are strapped when it comes to time and money, and their top criteria for putting a solution on the “short list” include ease of use and pricing (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Top Reasons Solutions Get on a “Short List”

For a successful volume play in this market, vendors must delight the maximum number of customers with the minimum number of features—and make it easy for partners to add other bells and whistles.With that in mind, Sales Essentials is aptly named and packaged, with the “essentials” that small businesses need to get up, running and productive. Priced at $25 per user/per month, it includes contacts, accounts, leads and opportunities, case management, Chatter, reports and dashboards (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Sales Essentials Screen Shot

Sales Essentials also includes Salesforce’s:

  • Trailhead, an interactive, online learning environment, that guide users through setup in minutes, and provides additional resources on other topics.
  • Einstein artificial intelligence, to automate basic sales activities and help businesses to work smarter. For instance, Einstein Activity Capture automatically keeps customer records up-to-date by connecting a user’s email and calendar.
  • Lightning framework, giving users a consumer-like experience on desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Since it’s built on the Salesforce platform, small businesses can access the AppExchange ecosystem for other applications they need. Salesforce is curating a collection of small business applications such as Dropbox, MailChimp and HelloSign here . As part of a new strategic partnership also announced at Dreamforce, Salesforce Essentials customers can get three free months of G Suite by Google Cloud to connect their Google email, calendar, and other functions with Sales Essentials.

And, If they need to, they can upgrade quickly and easily to other Salesforce Editions.

Going the Last Mile

Essentials provides Salesforce with a much-improved small business offering. That said, this market is a very tough, crowded space with some tricky areas that Salesforce will need to navigate.

On the solutions side, the greatest challenge will be to provide continual improvements, while at the same time, avoiding bloat. Salesforce will need to identify and introduce the most valuable capabilities with the least amount of friction, so that users can intuitively and contextually start using new features.

On the marketing side, although Salesforce is a juggernaut in it’s own right, it will still want to amplify awareness for Sales Essentials among the small businesses masses. Some of the possibilities include:

  • Expanding partnerships with leading small business accounting vendors Intuit, Xero and Freshbooks.
  • Forging relationships with key small business associations, such as the Small Business Administration (SBA), SCORE and America’s Small Business Development Centers (ASBDC).
  • Extending its very successful Small Business Growth Camps into more cities.
  • Featuring Essentials customers—the way it’s done with its enterprise customers—across a variety marketing assets.

Salesforce should also increase the five-user maximum for Essentials. In small businesses, people wear lots of hats. Sometimes everyone in the business interacts with customers. If you have 5 employees or less, this isn’t a problem—until you get to six. And, there are legions of small businesses that already have more than five employees who are still using spreadsheets and email to manage customer relationships. To vie for business against competitors in this space, Salesforce will need to offer more flexibility.

Finally, Salesforce should consider pay-as-you-go monthly or at least quarterly subscriptions as an alternative to paying an annual fee upfront, as cash flow is a top concern for small businesses.


Although some tweaks can improve Essentials, it’s clear that Salesforce has been listening to small businesses. Its new strategy should be more successful and scalable than building small business-specific applications on different code bases.

By pulling together the most useful capabilities from its core platform (e.g. Trailhead, Einstein, Lightning), Salesforce has created a digestible small business solution that provides fast time-to-value—but also a clear path forward to grow into other Salesforce editions.

This move also makes it much easier for Salesforce’s AppExchange partners. Now they can use the same Lightning platform to create solutions to snap into Sales Essentials as they do for other Salesforce solutions.

In addition, this approach provides a springboard for Salesforce to follow up with additional Essentials solutions for marketing and customer service that offer the same type of overarching benefits.

Combined, these attributes provide Salesforce with strong differentiation in the small business space–and should be just what Salesforce needs to persuade small businesses that it is back on track to serve their requirements.