Thinking About Going Global? Read This Book First

book-cover-2016-3This past week, I had the opportunity to talk to Steve Creskoff, a lawyer and a leading expert on international trade. And Steve has just published a new book called “What You Need to Know to Go Global: A Guide to International Transactions.” The best part about this is he’s written it specifically for small and medium businesses that want to explore their options in the international market.

Laurie: Steve, I’m excited to talk to you, because in our SMB Group surveys and the research we do, we see that only a small percentage of U.S. SMBs do business outside of the United States. So, first of all, why do you think this is?

Steve: Well, this is just what the case is today, and it’s unfortunate because small and medium businesses are very competitive internationally. They need to think more about their position in global markets. The statistics tell us that, in terms of trade and goods, only about 23% of U.S. GDP is in trade and goods, and about the same for trade and services, and this is very low. The lowest for any developed economy. So, our small businesses often are not aware of the international opportunities for them.

Laurie: That is very similar to what our data says. But I didn’t realize that the U.S. is the lowest.

Steve:  For a developed economy, we’re by far the lowest.

Laurie: So why should more small and medium businesses think about doing business beyond U.S. borders?

Steve: Well, first, let me talk about services. Our economy is about 80% services, and a lot of those services are tradeable, and we’re extremely competitive internationally with our services businesses. We export more services than any other country in the world by far and we have a very favorable surplus in trade and services, so this is important. The politicians don’t talk about that, but this is an area of international trade where we’ve been very successful. And then, of course, about 94 to 95 percent of world population is outside the U.S., so there are all sorts of opportunities for small businesses, whether it’s services providers or if they have a tangible product. So, there are great opportunities that should not be ignored.

Laurie: What are the risks to ignoring the potential?

Steve: First, what you don’t know can hurt you. If you’re not aware of how your product is situated internationally, an international competitor can come into the U.S. market and eat your lunch, so to speak. So, you have to be aware of… You have to evaluate your product or service for the international market and for the global economy, no matter how small you are. For instance, I’m a very small service provider, but most of my work is international, and that’s the case with a lot of businesses that I know.

Laurie: Yes, but many business owners don’t see a ready opportunity to extend their business overseas. Do you have a couple of examples you could share of creative ways that SMBs have gone into new markets.

stephen-profile-square-244Steve: Well, first of all, it’s like domestic business. It’s all about people. It’s about meeting people, developing a personal relationship, and telling them about your product or service. You can do this at international trade shows. You can do this through visits, as you do, of course, for domestic clients. And, of course, there are government resources, which are valuable. The U.S. Commerce Department and Small Business Administration have excellent resources. And last but maybe most important are the new internet platforms that have been developed that open up all sorts of potential for international business. Probably it’s an exception about my point about meeting the people, because now you can actually put up your goods or services on an Internet platform and start engaging with prospects in new countries through that.

Laurie: Right. The Internet definitely makes the world smaller. Do you have a favorite business story about a particular business that did something innovative in terms of going to market in another country?

Steve: Well, I’m legal counsel to the Trade Association of Fencing Manufacturers, and one of the members makes equipment to manufacture fencing. They’ve sold in more than 60 countries around the world. They’re located in Southern California. It’s a small business, and it’s not a new technology, but the services component is very important because they send people to their customers to train them on how to use the equipment, and that’s been very significant. So, there are many, many examples of small businesses that have been extremely successful.

Laurie: And you can differentiate yourself with customer service.

Steve: Yes. We think in terms of products and services being separate, but they’re not really. Maybe you’re selling a tangible product, but the services might be critical to that product. Conversely, you may be selling a service, but there may be certain tangible products that support that service

Laurie:  So, once a business owner says, “Hmm, I think I do have an opportunity to compete in this market. I can differentiate on either innovation, my product, or service, or whatever,” some of the key financial or regulatory or other kinds of considerations that a business really needs to understand to be successful?

Steve: It’s not really rocket science. There’s a great deal of uniformity around the world in terms of the regulations that apply to international trade and goods and services now, whether it’s a World Trade Organization agreement or a different type of international agreement. Because our businesses are so successful in the area of technology, export controls is one issue I would identify. Not that many goods and services are subject to export controls, but anything that is a so-called dual use item that might have a military application, the commerce department is responsible for that regulation here in the U.S. But businesses can very quickly find out whether there may be an issue or not. Only about 10% of exports are subject to export controls. As far as import controls and taxation and so forth, there are a lot of advisers that can be helpful, whether they’re freight forwarders, customs brokers, trade consultants. And, of course, the commerce department and the small business administration also provide advice. And my book–I’ll be shameless and promote my book!–has a great deal of detail and provides an overview of these various regulations so that a business can have an idea of when they should be talking to a consultant or a lawyer and when they’re probably okay.

Laurie: Absolutely. This has really been interesting, and starts to lessen some of intimidation about expanding a business internationally. But we’ve only just touched on just the tip of the iceberg. As you said, business owners that want to learn more can find a wealth of information about key considerations in your book, “What You Need to Know to Go Global,” which is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, both in paperback, and for Kindle and other ebook formats.

Steve: Thanks. Businesses can also check out my website. And I’m happy to say that the World Trade Organization in Geneva has taken an interest in my book, so my official book launch is going to be September 28th in Geneva. I’m very happy that they like the book and they’re going to be joining me in promoting it. The book isn’t t intimidating in terms of a lot of technical detail, and you can skip chapters if you’re not particularly interested in a given area. It’s like a travel manual. You read the parts that are of interest to you and relevant to your business and you can skip the other parts. So, I hope that many of your listeners will take a look at my book and start exploring their options.

Laurie: Thanks again, Steve, and best wishes for the book launch.

 

 

Using Sales Management Solutions to Boost Sales Productivity and Customer Satisfaction

SMB Group research consistently shows SMBs view attracting new customers, growing revenues, maintaining profitability, improving cash flow and improving customer experience and retention as their top business goals (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Top SMB Business Goals

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With that in mind, I was interested in talking with Karen McCandless, market researcher at GetApp, a sales management software comparison and reviews site, on her latest study. The study shows that a majority of B2B sales professionals lack  confidence in their sales strategy. Karen, can you tell me a little about the study, and what you found?

Karen: For our study, we surveyed 250 B2B sales professionals in North America. We found that 67% think that their small business selling strategy needs improvement to help them generate leads. Digging deeper, it seems that they are more concerned about the quality of leads than the quantity of them.

Laurie: Yes, we hear the same thing. For lack of a better term, SMBs often take a shotgun approach that may bring in lots of leads, but fails to bring in quality leads that are a good fit for the business.

Karen: Exactly. In fact, we spoke with Salesforce’s Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist, Tiffani Bova, for our study, and she explained that the biggest opportunity to improve lead performance was to, “incorporate personalization and intelligence into [the] sales process.” This missing element is backed up by our data as well: Just 10% of sales reps believe that their B2B customers are looking for any kind of personalized service when purchasing. These facts help paint a picture as to why that two-thirds of sales professionals think their sales strategy needs help.

If salespeople rarely think their customers want personalized service during the sales process, it leads to B2B customers focusing more on factors like ‘price’ when it comes to purchasing (which 64% of our customer sample cites as the most important purchase factor), forcing salespeople to fight over price.

Laurie: Sure, and the race to the bottom is one most SMBs can’t win against large companies. So, your survey also looked at how SMBs can use sales management software to help them to compete more effectively. What did you learn here?

Effect of sales software on revenue_GetApp 2016Karen: We found that 66% of SMB sales professionals currently use sales management software, while a third still doing things manually. Not surprisingly, among those using these solutions, 86% have seen an increase in revenue, and 93% reported a boost in productivity.

Laurie: We see very similar results in our studies. Technology is increasingly part of the business fabric, and SMBs that invest in technology to automate business processes can get a great return on their investment.

Karen: It can really help automate manual, time-consuming tasks, freeing reps up to focus more time on areas such as prospecting, nurturing and closing deals. These solutions also give sales reps more information about their leads and prospects so they can make better decisions. Together, this can help improve the sales process.

Laurie: Were there any other key findings from this study?

Karen: Yes. We heard very positive things on the value of sales training: 92% of respondents said that the additional training they have received has increased their selling abilities. We also found that sales people view one-to-one coaching, delivered on an ongoing basis, as the best type of sales training.

Subject matter is also important, such as equipping sales professionals with the right software training to help them to harness the soft skills they have developed. In addition, we found only 15% of salespeople use social media to generate leads and better engage potential B2B clients (compared to 27% for both phone and in person).

Laurie: Yes, this is a critical area that sales people need help with, because online reviews, ratings and social media increasingly shape buying decisions. But even though technology solutions offer great benefits, SMBs are often confused and challenged when it comes to deploying new tech solutions. In fact, in our 2015 SMB Group Routes to Market Study, respondents ranked “implementing new technology solutions” and “figuring out which technology solutions can best help my business” among their top three technology challenges. Your thoughts on this?

Karen: Well, if you’re a small business looking to implement a sales management or CRM for the first time, you need to take several considerations into account. This includes factors such as deployment speed, cost, training needs, features, integration with other software you are already using, can it grow with your business, and mobile capabilities. Cloud-based sales management software can help here, as having the software hosted generally means quicker setup (with less downtime), predictable cost with less to pay up front, the ability to add and remove users easily, simplified IT management, and more updates more often. Plus most cloud-based systems these days are intuitive and have mobile capabilities, which makes adoption easier.

Laurie: Yes, all of the above. In fact, we find ease of use often trumps price when SMBs are making software decisions, so its no wonder that cloud based CRM is becoming the norm. And while the PC isn’t dead, people are doing more work on mobile devices. In our 2016 SMB Collaboration, Communication & Mobility Study, 67% of SMBs said that mobile solutions are changing how they communicate and collaborate. Any final insights?

Effect of sales software on customer satisfaction_GetApp 2016Karen: In addition to the increases in revenues and productivity, we found 78% of salespeople have seen an increase in customer satisfaction after adopting CRM solutions, which I think underscores the fact that these solutions free up salespeople to focus on creating a selling process that caters to the customer, thus allowing small business to have a leg up and compete with the big fish.

Laurie: Absolutely agree with that, Karen, and thanks for sharing these findings and your perspectives with me.

IoT: Where Innovation, Pragmatism and Collaboration Meet

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a hot topic in technology. IoT, which connects objects to the Internet, will radically change how businesses, governments, and individuals interact with the physical world. Consequently, developers are seizing on the opportunity to capitalize on the almost $6 trillion that Business Intelligence estimates will be spent on IoT solutions over the next five years.

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Dell and Intel’s “Connect Wha Matters” IoT Contest awards dinner was held Searsucker in Austin, TX.

With so much development in the pipeline, what will success look like in the IoT market? Dell and Intel recently sponsored the “Connect What Matters” Internet of Things Contest, which sought out innovative industrial IoT solutions that incorporate Dell’s Edge Gateway. In my first post about the contest, I discussed V5 Systems’ Portable IoT Security System, which took top honors for its solution, which fuses edge and hybrid cloud analytics capabilities into a pre-integrated, compact and solar-powered wireless outdoor security system. This second post takes a broader look at the awards event, traits that many of the Gold and Sliver award winners share, and my perspectives on IoT and Dell’s approach in this area.

And The Winners Are…

The title of the contest, “Connect What Matters,” gets at the heart of why IoT is sparking so much interest. IoT marries technology–from the data center to endpoint sensors, from the cloud to analytics, from wireless to wired networks–to objects in the physical world to address pressing industrial challenges in unique and effective ways.

winners

Congratulations to the 16 winners of the Dell and Intel “Connect What Matters” IoT contest!

Contest winners brought IoT excitement to life with creative, pragmatic solutions. The five Gold contest winners, selected from more than 970 contest entries, included solutions that span across many industries, from farms to factory floors:

  • Eigen Innovations has built a video analytics solution for the factory floor. The solution uses thermal imaging cameras and PLC/sensor data captured through Dell Edge Gateways to help manufacturers integrate factory floor big data, machine learning, and human intelligence to improve process control and quality monitoring directly on the factory line.
  • Iamus combined IoT platform and facilities management expertise to build a unique smart street lamp solution for a smart city project. The solution enables cities to visualize, monitor, manage and optimize their environments to improve quality of life and reduce environmental impact and energy costs.
  • n.io developed a solution to transform manual, subjective farming operations into highly instrumented, automated precision agriculture systems. The solution helps agricultural companies increase crop yields and optimize delivery of resources, such as water.
  • RiptideIO created a packaged software-as-a-service (SaaS) IoT solution for small retailers to make store equipment smart. RiptideIO monitors and captures data on air conditioning, lighting, locks and other systems, stores it in the cloud, and alerts retailers if there’s a problem. The solution diagnoses the problems so service technicians know what parts to bring to fix the equipment.
  • Software AG has built a predictive maintenance solution that brings in-memory edge analytics to collected machine data for real-time predictive maintenance. Software AG’s solution enables both real-time condition monitoring and dynamic remaining useful life prediction. Key capabilities include data filtering, aggregation, threshold monitoring, Bollinger band calculation, baseline threshold calculations, gradient trend discovery and missing data notifications.

The 10 Silver winners include AZLOGICA, Blue Pillar, Calibr8 Systems Inc, Daliworks, ELM Fieldsight, Independent Automation, Onstream, PixController, Inc., PV Hardware and We Monitor Concrete. These companies further underscored just how enormous the IoT opportunity is. For example, solutions ranged from PixController, which aims to plug leaky systems in the gas industry with optical methane emissions detection, to ELM Fieldsight, which has partnered with Dynoptix to create a connected health system to monitor human body temperature and heart rate.

Where Innovation, Pragmatism and Collaboration Meet

Dell’s IoT contest winners are combining innovation and pragmatic industry expertise to solve real world problems. These companies are helping businesses and government replace manual data collection and subjective judgments with automated data collection and analysis and objective measurements, helping them to operate more efficiently and effectively. This translates into good news for both vendors and their customers.

Industrial IoT solutions must solve very complex and often specific problems, making collaboration another key success factor. No one vendor can possibly supply all of the technology, operational and industry expertise required to successfully bring an industrial IoT solution to market.

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I had the opportunity to network and meet with many of the winners as well as members of the Dell IoT team.

Partners I spoke to at the event emphasized the value of working with Dell’s IoT Partner Program, citing Dell’s Edge Gateway, deep technology expertise, strong brand and go-to-market support as critical to their initiatives. They were also excited about Dell and Intel’s partnership to build re-usable building blocks that promises to make it easier and faster for them to develop and scale IoT applications. For more info on Dell’s IoT Partner Program, see Dell’s IoT Strategy and Partner Programs: Part One and Dell’s IoT Strategy and Partner Programs: Part Two.

In addition, IoT winners spent a considerable amount of time at the awards ceremony learning about each other’s offerings, and exploring how to partner with each other to extend their solutions for additional industries and uses, and to enhance their solutions with additional capabilities.

Delivering Fast, Measurable Value

Unlike some technology areas where the value proposition is fuzzy and the return on investment can be difficult to measure, by their very nature, IoT solutions offer a built-in value proposition for customers. Dell’s IoT contest Gold winners easily paint the picture of how their solutions provide clear, measurable value, as described above.

And so do the Silver winners. For example, Blue Pillar Systems’ has more than 7,000,000 Energy “behind the meter” that control electricity in hospitals, data centers and other facilities, providing real-time control and visibility to make critical infrastructure safer and more efficient. Meanwhile, We Monitor Concrete can help concrete companies, builders and contractors monitor and manage concrete mixers to ensure that concrete is the right temperature and strength when delivered to a construction site.

Perspective

canstockphoto23533086The IoT revolution has only just begun, and Dell’s Connect What Matters contest also marked the one-year anniversary of Dell’s IoT Division. Dell’s IoT award winners are living proof that even at this early stage, IoT is quickly moving from hype to reality.

The diverse applications demonstrated provided abundant proof of how industrial IoT (IIoT) can deliver strong, evident value across industries and use cases. As important, although winners’ IoT solutions required a lot of technology and industry expertise to build, their customers don’t need to be technology experts to quickly deploy and get benefit from their solutions.

In addition, winners also validated Dell’s IoT approach and Edge Gateway Series, which takes care of some of the heavy technology lifting, and frees partners up to focus more of their energy on building unique and valuable solutions tailored to the needs to different industries and uses. Based on the innovation and value showcased in the first “Connect What Matters” contest, I expect that Dell’s IoT strategy and partner programs will yield an even more abundant crop of strong IoT solutions in its second year.

This post was sponsored by Dell.

Missed Sales Machine? Attend the Encore Presentation!

I had an amazing time attending and being a panelist at #SalesMachine in NYC a couple of weeks ago. Maybe the best line up of inspiration, motivation and education I’ve seen at one event! Plus, there were so many great opportunities for networking.

SM16-Twitter-1025x512-EncoreStream

If you didn’t get a chance to attend, Salesforce and SalesHacker are presenting a 2-day Encore presentation of the entire Sales Machine event on July 6 and 7. Just use this link,www.salesmachinesummit.com/encore, if you’d like to attend!

Got Cloud? Get Integrated to Reap the Full Business Value

Cloud is the new normal for most small businesses. But, while the cloud has made it much easier for small businesses to access and use new applications, only 17% of these small businesses have fully integrated them. And, although 29% of have at least partially integrated some applications, 54% still rely on manual Excel file uploads or custom code  for integration, instead of using modern integration solutions or pre-integrated solutions (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Small Business (1-20 employees) Integration Levels and Methods

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Most small business owners understand that when apps are integrated, they can spend less time entering and moving data around. And what small business wouldn’t want to be able to have a more unified view of their business, not only to make better decisions, but also present a more professional image to customers?

But as the data indicates, many small businesses think integration is too expensive or complicated. So it was great to talk with Vinay Pai, who leads Intuit’s Developer Group, about Intuit approach to tackle this issue for small businesses. In this video, Vinay and I discussed trends in cloud adoption and integration, and Intuit’s approach to help small businesses reap the benefits of integrated applications.

If you want to slash the time you spend manually re-entering or exporting data, and get a more unified view of your business, this video is for you. Vinay discusses how Intuit is building integrations between QuickBooks and Square, PayPal, AMEX Open and hundreds of other popular apps that small businesses use.

QuickBooks users will find pre-integrated apps at the QuickBooks App Store.

When you find an app you want, you can usually try it for free. If you’d like, you can also opt-in to have Intuit recommend apps that may be useful to your business. Once you decide to buy an app, the data will automatically flow between QuickBooks and the new app you’ve added. Refreshingly, there’s no additional charge for these integrations, clearing the cost hurdle as well.

This post is sponsored by Intuit.

 

Desk.com: Playing a Leading Role in Saleforce’s SMB Story

desk logoDesk.com recently unveiled a new option for small and medium businesses (SMBs) to connect the sales and service experience. While the vendor announced free integrations with SalesforceIQ for SMBs last November, and with Salesforce Sales Cloud and Service Cloud via Desk Connect in October 2014, Desk.com’s new offering, Desk 360 adds opportunity management capabilities for service reps as part of the standard Desk.com service solution.

Aimed at helping SMBs differentiate and excel by providing a more holistic customer service experience, service reps using Desk.com can now proactively open up sales opportunities directly from their Desk.com accounts. The solution also gives service agents better visibility into customer information, including:

  • Improved customer and company views: Improved customer and company views give agents access to additional context about customers. Agents can easily set parameters, sort, filter and view a complete history of that particular customer. For example, when a customer contacts a service agent in a retail company about an incorrect shipment of furniture, the agent can check to see if that customer has experienced a similar issue in the past, in addition to seeing the latest case. This helps agents move beyond simply closing the case to personalizing the customer experience. For instance, in this scenario, the agent can resolve the current issue, and offer to free shipping on all new orders.
  • More complete reports on interaction history: New customer and company insights enable SMBs to run reports on company history, such as number of cases and the average response time per company. This gives them a more holistic of the overall company relationship. Armed with these insights, SMBs can adjust the service experience to improve every interaction and the overall customer experience.
  • Sales and service on the same platform: Enhanced opportunity management facilitates richer conversations and engagements between service agents and customers, so that agents can proactively suggest products or services that the customer is likely to need or appreciate. Agents can identify, open and even close sales opportunities. For example, if a customer calls a service agent at a catering company about an incomplete order, the agent can see that customer places a large order each month, and may offer to provide a discount on their next order.

This gives companies that don’t currently use sales CRM a way to create and automate the sales process as opportunities are identified. For companies already using SaleforceIQ or Salesforce Sales Cloud, the bi-directional link between Desk.com remains. In other words, sales people can continue on with either of these solutions, while service reps can start creating opportunities that connect and feed into these sales systems.

Putting Salesforce’s SMB Focus Into Focus

In 1999, Salesforce was a cloud pioneer, focused on capturing the underserved SMB market with a faster, easier, better and less expensive CRM solution. But, Salesforce’s story proved to be as compelling for larger companies, and the vendor gravitated to the higher value enterprise market over time. As it built out its products and sales organization for larger accounts, Salesforce’s story for SMBs got complicated and hard to follow.

However, Desk.com (formerly Assistly, acquired by Salesforce in 2011), managed to retain and build on its original SMB mission to give even the smallest companies a way to provide their customers with a better service experience. Now, as Salesforce has begun to refocus its overall SMB story (Does Salesforce’s Refreshed SMB Strategy Add Up?), Desk.com appears to be taking a leadership role in Salesforce’s reenergized SMB story.

This makes sense, as Desk.com positions itself as “Salesforce’s out-of-the-box helpdesk for small businesses,” and the majority of Desk.com’s customers are companies with less than 1,000 employees. Desk.com has been steadily adding service capabilities and integrations to make it easier for SMBs to improve the customer service experience. For instance, as cases come in, Desk.com assigns priorities based on rules that can be based on customer, company or case details–such as automatically promoting a case that comes up on Twitter to urgent, or if a case has been pending for more than one day. Desk.com has also made it easy for companies to create macros to reply to frequent types of requests, such as a lost password.

Beyond service functionality, Desk.com has also been building the integrations SMBs need to connect other areas of the business with support. In addition to the free integrations with SalesforceIQ and Salesforce Sales Cloud via Desk Connect, Desk.com provides 12 pre-built integrations to connect phone systems directly into Desk.com.

Perspective

If you believe, as I do, that customer service and support are becoming the ultimate differentiator, baking opportunity management into the core Desk.com service offering makes sense. As discussed in Cloud Is The New Normal for SMBs—But Integration Isn’t, integration is key for SMBs, who may adopt several cloud solutions, but lack the resources to integrate them, and end up frustrated that they don’t talk to each other. This new capability facilitates the natural connection between sales and service, which may be even more important for SMBs than for larger businesses, which can more easily compete on scale and price.

However, Desk.com is giving companies another choice when it comes to CRM. On the surface, choice is great. But Desk.com will need to educate customers to help them make the best choice. While the answer may be obvious for existing Desk.com customers, prospects will need guidance to get their “just right” solution. Will the new service opportunity management built into Desk.com suffice, or should they use it in conjunction with Salesforce CRM and/or SalesforceIQ? Desk.com will need to clarify where the capabilities overlap and where they don’t.

More broadly speaking, Desk.com also needs to elevate the conversation among SMBs about the importance of providing exceptional customer service. Unfortunately, SMBs improving customer experience and retention comes in at #4 in terms of SMBs’ top business goals, and customer service may not get the same priority as sales. Helping SMBs understand customers’ rising service expectations, how to meet or exceed them, and the critical link between service and repeat and referral sales is critical to fuel SMB uptake of customer service solutions.

Figure 1: Top SMB Business Challenges Slide1

That said, Desk.com’s newest move is yet another sign that its team is in the forefront of Salesforce’s new strategy and investments to accelerate growth in SMB, and will likely continue to play a pivotal role in moving these plans forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does Salesforce’s Refreshed SMB Strategy Add Up?

salesforce logoSalesforce 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

Salesforce.com website circa 1999, courtesy of Internet Archive Wayback Machine (https://archive.org/web/).

Salesforce.com website circa 1999, courtesy of Internet Archive Wayback Machine (https://archive.org/web/).

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.

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 12.57.27 PMTo that end, Salesforce has recently taken a couple of big steps to refocus its SMB story, including:

  • 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.

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 1.02.03 PMSalesforce 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.

Perspective

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.

In addition, Salesforce says that there is “a clear migration path” from SalesforceIQ to Sales Cloud. While it sounds like Salesforce can easily migrate data from SalesforceIQ to Sales Cloud, the applications are built on different code bases, and have different user interfaces. So its not intuitive as to how this works in real life in terms of user learning curves. As important, what is the strategy for all of the ISVs on the AppExchange that target SMBs? They’ve integrated with Sales Cloud offerings, not with SalesforceIQ. Since Salesforce is now pitching SalesforceIQ to SMBs, what do they need to do, and how will Salesforce help them? Another question is how does Lightning—and Thunder for that matter—fit into the SMB story?

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.