QuickBooks Self-Employed: Built for the Business of One  

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), over 40% of all U.S. workers are now contingent, which includes the self-employed as well as temp workers, contractors, on-call workers and part-time employees. That number is up 10% from the previous GAO survey in 2006.

This trend spans across industries, from construction to pet care, and from professional services to Uber and Lyft drivers–and shows no This trend shows no sign of abating, with the GAO predicting the percentage of self-employed workers to rise to 50% by 2020. Self-employed workers need tools to manage finances, build brands and grow their business—but they must do all this on a shoestring budget and little or no accounting expertise.

I recently had the chance to speak with Intuit’s Cassie Divine, Business Operations Leader for the Self-Employed Solutions business unit of Intuit’s Small Business Division about the “gig” economy and Intuit’s QuickBooks Self-Employed solution , developed specifically for people that are self-employed.            

Intuit built QuickBooks Self-Employed to fill the gap between personal finance solutions, which are easy to use, but don’t address accounting and tax needs, and small business accounting solutions, which can be too complicated and expensive because they include many things self-employed people don’t need.

Whether you think of yourself as a business of one, solopreneur, freelancer, or contractor, QuickBooks Self-Employed can help you track and organize business and personal expenses, maximize deductions, estimate tax payments, and manage cash flow more easily and efficiently.

QuickBooks Self-Employed may be just what you need to streamline these tasks, get better visibility into your finances, and make tax time a whole lot easier to deal with. Watch this video to learn more!

This post is sponsored by Intuit.

Intuit QuickBooks Financing: Speed, Ease and Low Fees for Small Business Loans

Small businesses are very diverse, and so are their needs and sources for financing. For small businesses, borrowing money, or debt financing, is one of the most common sources for funding. While small businesses can seek out loans from many sources, including friends and family, banks, savings and loans, credit unions, commercial finance firms, and the government, the borrowing process can be frustrating, difficult and time consuming for many small business owners.

So I was excited to talk with Rania Succar, Director and Group Leader for QuickBooks Financing at Intuit, about financing considerations and options that are available for small businesses today. Rania recently joined Intuit from YouTube, motivated in large part to her desire to help fuel the economy by helping small businesses succeed in area that is ripe for innovation.

In this video, we discuss trends in small business financing, and what Intuit doing to give small businesses more options and easier access to financing. Rania noted that on average, small businesses spend 33 hours to pulling together all the documentation they need for bank loans, but are declined by banks 70% of the time.

Three years ago, Intuit decided to address this problem with QuickBooks Financing, focused on delivering “speed, ease and low fees,” according to Succar. Intuit’s financing service automatically compiles loan documentation by pulling in data from the small business’ draws QuickBooks account–dramatically slashing time from the loan application process. Then, Intuit matches the small business with one or more of the dozen lenders, including Fundbox, OnDeck and Kiva, on its platform. Loan decisions get processed quickly, and small businesses can compare the different offers they get and select the one that’s best for them.

If you need access to working capital to smooth out cash flow for a seasonal business, or to expand your business, watch this video to learn how QuickBooks Financing can help.

This post is sponsored by Intuit.

SAP’s Digital Transformation Story For SMBs

“Digital transformation” is one of the top trending buzzwords in technology today. But what does digital transformation mean? In broad terms, many define it as using digital technology to enable innovation and new, often disruptive, business models. However, technology vendors put different spins on digital transformation, depending on how their solutions fit in to the puzzle.

Most small and medium business (SMB) decision-makers view technology as a key to improving business processes and outcomes (Figure 1). But at the same time,SMBs rank “figuring out which technology solutions can help my business” as one of their top three technology challenges. Although SMBs have bought into the concept of using technology to improve and transform their businesses, many struggle to when it comes to putting a strategy in place to achieve these goals.

Figure 1: SMB Technology Attitudes and ChallengesSlide1

So I was interested to hear how SAP is framing the digital transformation story for its SAP Business One partners at SAP’s Business One Americas Innovation Summit in April. Although the ERP giant is best know for its large enterprise solutions, Business One, with over 50,000 customers worldwide, is SAP’s flagship business management solution for SMBs.

SAP’s 50,000 Foot View of Digital Transformation

In his opening keynote, Jonathan Becher, Chief Digital Officer at SAP, addressed the growing reality that today, companies need to disrupt or be disrupted. Unlike the industrial revolution, which allowed for a more linear approach to change, the digital era requires exponential change. Becher described digital transformation as consisting of three fundamental shifts:

  1. New customer experiences, such as in the music industry, which has evolved from vinyl records, tapes and CDs to iTunes and then Spotify and other streaming services;
  2. New business models, again using the example of the music industry, and its evolution from analog to digital buying and streaming;
  3. New value creation, as in the case of Airbnb, which has used technology to create a new way for people to list, find, and rent lodging.

While human creativity provides the spark, technology is the fuel that enables businesses to change their business processes and make the vision a reality.

Figure 2: Digital Business Requires Different ProcessesScreen Shot 2016-05-24 at 9.21.49 PM

HANA: SAP’s Innovation Foundation for Business One

In 2014, Business One became SAP’s first business management solution for SMBs running on SAP’s HANA computing platform. Positioning Business One SQL Server edition as the past, Luis Murguia, SAP’s Senior Vice President and General Manager for Business One, positioned SAP Business One HANA as the “foundation for innovation.” With Business One HANA, SMBs can analyze massive amounts of structured and unstructured information within seconds instead of days, and use predictive analytics to gain new insights into data and optimize business decision-making.

SAP has also modernized Business One with new cloud deployment services from within the SAP cloud. The cloud option is key to SAP Business One HANA growth in the Microsoft-centric SMB market, as it negates the need for the SMBs to understand deploy and manage a new database.

I asked partners at the event, including ECS, Vision 33, Boyum and AchieveIT Solutions, for their views on why customers choose Business One HANA. They noted the solution’s enterprise search capability, which allows users to quickly search for key information. Instead of stepping through tedious pull down menus to find information, such as how many units of an item are in stock, what’s sold and what’s been reordered, users can do a quick search. Another favorite is the ability to create interactive, Excel-like spreadsheets that are connected to the HANA database and refresh in seconds, enabling users to quickly slice and dice data, and make decisions based on real-time information. Partners also said customers see Business One HANA’s user-customizable dashboards and predictive analytics capabilities as top benefits.

Murguia described some real-world examples of how SMBs are using Business One HANA to transform their businesses. For instance, he discussed how a Medistance, an Omron medical equipment distributor in East Europe, changed the game against larger competitors by developing a remote managed care service. Medistance, which had been selling the devices, created a remote managed care service to monitor users’ blood pressure and glucose levels. It now gives away the devices to subscribers to its $15 per month service, which provides alarm notifications and services to evaluate risks and treatment recommendations.

SAP Business One Partners: Key to Moving from Steady to Exponential Growth

Overall, SAP has been steadily growing Business One’s footprint. Sales are up 17% year-over-year, and in 2016, Business One has been adding an average of twenty new customers a day. More important, Business One HANA revenues are also rising. According to SAP, 180 of the 1,000 new Business One customers last quarter chose HANA. However, while SAP is making good progress in wooing new Business One customers to HANA, key challenges remain when it comes to catalyzing exponential growth.

As Murguia noted, Business One partners are essential to accelerating this type of growth. But although some partners have seized on the opportunity Business One HANA provides to sell the digital transformation story, others are sticking with what they know—which is the Microsoft SQL Server version of Business One.

To persuade partners to make this transition, Murguia exhorted them realign their resources and thinking from opportunistic to having a clear vertical and geographic focus. With industry expertise, partners can provide SMBs with guidance for industry-centric innovation, using HANA, cloud, analytics, and mobility as the fuel for change. He underscored the need for partners to make this shift by noting that:

  • SAP introduced a new mobile app for sales professionals, which will only run on Business One HANA.
  • Only Business One HANA supports multi-currency.
  • SAP is providing incentives to sell Business One HANA.
  • 95% of new customers use Business One with an industry add-on, and 200 top Business One ISV partners have migrated over 600 vertical apps to HANA.
  • Millennial decision-makers will demand the type of Internet-like experience that Business One HANA provides.

Upping Business One’s Go-To-Market Game

SAP is investing in industry-specific marketing programs for consumer packaged goods (CPG), industrial machinery and components, professional services, retail, wholesale and distribution. It is also recruiting non-traditional partners with industry expertise, and providing more support from SAP inside sales to help partners build their pipelines. In addition, SAP has extended its University Alliance program beyond four-year institutions to partner is with community colleges to use Business One HANA in the classroom to encourage more trained millenials into the partner fold.

The vendor is also doubling down on content by making it easier for partners to find and use relevant case studies and to personalize their own success stories. SAP will help partners create more mobile-friendly, bite-size content for its Business One Repository, which currently has over 2700 testimonials. SAP is also “humanizing communication” with local advertising with its “Business One around the world” theme which features local landmarks, and a push to expand social media engagement beyond current Business One customers to a broader swath of businesses in it’s targeted vertical markets.

Perspective

The digital transformation imperative is clear. Businesses can actively embrace new possibilities and set themselves apart in their markets, or ignore it and risk being stream rolled under.

SAP Business One has a good story and positive proof points in terms of helping SMBs navigate this transformation. In fact, partners told me that once they are in a deal, win rates are over fifty percent.

However, getting into consideration (outside of some European countries and Latin America, where SAP Business One is a recognized SMB brand) is still a struggle. In many geographies, SMBs often discount SAP as a big business brand that’s not for them.

Furthermore, SMBs have many choices when it comes to ERP. While SAP Business One HANA is much less complex than its large enterprise ERP solution, Business One is arguably more complex and takes longer to deploy than several other choices. Some businesses are willing to accept complexity in return for a high degree of customization capabilities, but many will balk at the upfront learning and implementation curve,

To meet its exponential growth goals, SAP needs not only to deliver on the marketing programs discussed above, but must also:

  • Develop more compelling “high air cover” brand awareness. SAP needs a much more compelling, omnichannel brand campaign to increase the odds that Business One gets invited to the SMB table.
  • Do a better job of “connecting the dots.” How exactly does SAP Business One HANA help SMBs transform and achieve success in the digital era? Why is It more effective than other solutions? SAP must paint a more detailed picture and provide more industry-specific metrics to drive the story home.
  • Clear up the cloud story. Business One cloud options are still difficult to sort through. My understanding is that services from the SAP cloud are available in North America, but not in other countries. Some of the European partners I spoke with have their own hosting centers, and say that because of customization requirements and data privacy laws in Europe, multi-tenant cloud isn’t a viable option. If SAP really wants to use the cloud to fuel HANA adoption, it needs to have a much more straightforward cloud story or risks having pure cloud competitors undermine it in deals where cloud is the customer’s preference.
  • Put the SAP SMB puzzle pieces together. SAP needs to pull together Business One, Business By Design, Concur, Ariba, SAP Anywhere and other SMB-related SAP solutions into a more holistic, understandable SMB strategy.

SAP has come a long way in transforming the Business One solution for the digital era. However, only time will tell if it can go the distance with additional steps necessary for solution transformation, partner development and marketing reinvention.

Justworks Goes the HR Distance for SMBs

justworks-primary-logo-white-blue (1)Many vendors provide human resources (HR) software solutions for SMBs. And increasingly, more of these solutions are delivered in the cloud–removing the IT burden from the backs of resource-constrained SMBs.

But as we all know, this only solves part of the problem. For many SMBs, HR resources are stretched just as thin as IT staff. Sure, HR software can automate and streamline HR functions, but it doesn’t address the problem of sourcing benefits in an increasingly complex marketplace.

Enter Justworks

Justworks, Inc. aims to provide a more complete solution, offering SMBs a one-stop shop for cloud-based integrated payroll and HR software and compliance solutions, as well as a direct link to benefits providers.

Isaac-Oates-CEO-Justworks-585079-editedI had the opportunity to chat with Isaac Oates, Justworks CEO, about the company, which in March added $33 million in Series C funding, bringing total venture investments in the company to $53 million. Oates started the company to “level the playing field” for all businesses with a single solution that not only provides the software to run HR functions more efficiently, but provide businesses with collective access to health insurance, 401K and other benefits providers.

Justworks partners with Aetna for healthcare, dental and vision plans; with MetLife for dental and vision; and with several providers for 401K plans. Just last week, the company announced that it has integrated One Medical primary care into its offering to help SMBs provide on-demand medical care to their employees. By serving as a collective across many SMBs, Oates says Justworks can provide better benefits at a lower cost than individual SMB could get on their own.

Formed in 2013, Oates and team spent the first 18 months building Justworks’ software foundation and obtaining licensing across the customers in the summer of 2014. The company has now grown to over 100 employees, and is focusing on growing its business by extending its offerings. For instance, Justworks plans to add new, differentiated benefits offerings, such as health advocacy, telemedicine and urgent care. Because health insurance options are very difficult to understand and navigate, Justworks will also devote considerable investment to providing guidance to help companies and their employees better understand their options.

Oates is also committed to continuing to deliver a “rock solid” solution to employers. In contrast to Zenefits, which raised $500 million at a $4.5 billion valuation, and ran into regulatory issues in pursuit of rapid growth, Oates’ strategy is to focus on business fundamentals and earning the trust of Justworks customers.

How Justworks Works

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 12.41.16 PMJustworks charges a flat per person per month fee, and employers can choose what they offer via the platform. Payroll and compliance are at the core of the solution, and employers can add health insurance, health savings accounts, and 401K plans as desired.

The vendor’s target market is 5-500 employee companies, but they have smaller and larger customers as well, and are seeing the most traction in 50-plus employee space. Today, Justworks sells entirely through a direct sales model, with enthusiastic customers helping to spread the word.

Perspective

Justworks will face the dual challenges of gaining brand awareness, and convincing SMBs to switch from existing payroll and HR systems and benefits plans. But  its all-in-one approach should click with many SMBs, especially fast-growing SMBs that currently use disparate solutions, and need to more and improved benefit plans to attract and retain skilled talent in an increasingly competitive hiring landscape. And, as Justworks continues to add more partnerships with benefits providers, it will amplify its value.

SMBs will incur an upfront switching cost to make the change. However, in many cases, access to a modern, streamlined HR system, coupled with potential cost savings on benefits programs should provide SMBs with cost-savings and significant time savings over the long-term.

Small Business Considerations for Mobile Solutions

canstockphoto9457335 I was recently interviewed by GroupTexting about what small businesses need to keep in mind when planning a mobile strategy. A worthwhile topic, considering that SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study reveals that almost half of SMBs agree that “mobile solutions are key to improving/transforming our business.”

Our conversation covered many angles, from how small businesses can use mobile technology in their businesses, to considerations they need to think about as they implement and expand use of mobile–both to improve employee productivity and to improve customer engagement, interaction and  service.  We also discussed some of common pitfalls in the mobile area, and what to keep top of mind as you make new mobile investments.

Click here to read the full article.

Need CRM? GetApp Can Help You Select The Right CRM For Your Business

crmGetApp is a great site to check out when you are researching CRM software options and other applications to help you run your business. I first got acquainted with GetApp and Christophe Primault, CEO and cofounder when he founded GetApp in 2009, the same year as we started SMB Group.

Since we both share the mission to help SMBs better understand how technology can help their businesses, I’ve worked with GetApp on several occasions. Most recently, I chatted with Suzie Blaszkiewicz, market analyst and content editor at GetApp, to provide some perspectives on their new report which ranks the Top 25 Small Business CRM apps. I spoke with Suzie to get some more information about how they developed the report, and what they learned from it.

Laurie: Your new report ranked the 25 Top CRM apps on the market today… What were the ranking factors you used to determine this list, and why? Were they weighted in anyway, and if so, how?

Suzie: The five unique factors that we use to determine the ranking of each CRM software product are: reviews, integrations, mobile app availability, media presence, and security. Reviews and media presence are calculated using the number of reviews and their related ratings on GetApp.com, as well as the number of Twitter followers and Facebook likes that an app has online. These represent popularity among everyday SMB users, as well as relative popularity in the market. Integrations are calculated using the number of integrations a product has, which shows an app’s potential compatibility with other software that a business is already using. Mobile scores are based on the availability of an app for iOS and Android, an important metric for CRM especially because of the increasing need for mobile connectivity. Finally, security is calculated using a vendor completed, 15 question survey, based on the Cloud Security Alliance’s Self Assessment Form.

Together, these five data points provide a good first-look assessment of the leading cloud-based business apps in the industry. Each data point has an equal weighting, but if there is a tie, we prioritize security and reviews scores first, then mobile and integrations, and finally, media presence.

Laurie: It was good to see that GetApp includes ‘security’ as one of the ranking criteria, because sometimes, SMBs don’t consider this as a top factor when comparing CRM systems–even though customer and prospect information is business-critical. Why did you decide to include it, and what did you find in terms of variation in security provided by the vendors you ranked?

Suzie: There’s a lot of concern when it comes to cloud security, and we wanted to explore and factor it into our ranking. Right off the bat we noticed that vendors were (understandably) hesitant to open up about something as sensitive as security, but the questions themselves aren’t too invasive. In fact, most of, if not all the answers to the vendors’ surveys could already be found through publicly available information like Terms and Conditions, but the survey just does a nice job of sifting through all of that. Those that did choose to share their security details shows, if nothing else, that they are transparent about the security measure they take to protect users. We know that security will continue to be an important consideration for users using cloud-based CRM software, especially when contact data is involved.

Laurie: In your report, you discuss the importance for a CRM to be both scalable and mobile. In our research at SMB Group, we also see mobile capabilities as being extremely important to SMBs because smartphones and tablets are becoming the preferred device for many users, but some don’t necessarily think about scalability right out of the gate. What are you seeing in terms of how important scalability is to SMBs?

Suzie: Scalability is a really important factor for small and mid-sized businesses, especially those who are just starting out. If you’re planning to grow, you’re going to want to choose a solution that can grow with you. In the same vein, immediately starting with a mid-market or enterprise level option may prove cumbersome and unaffordable. The key is finding a solution that’s suitable for the current size of your business, but has the potential to handle more volume if the need arises. We think that the results of the CRM ranking turned out to showcase top products that SMBs could adopt and grow with.

Laurie: Agree, it’s a Goldilocks situation. SMBs need CRM that is the best fit for the business now, but can ramp up as needed. We also discussed the increasingly pivotal role that analytics will play in the evolution of CRM,  as well as other applications areas. How do SMBs that use GetApp view the role of analytics in making CRM decisions?

Suzie: We see data and analytics playing a more important role in all types of software, whether that be marketing, project management, but especially when it comes to how businesses are looking to utilize CRM systems. Most vendors now include analytical tools into their CRM feature sets to  help  forecast sales, track KPIs, and see sales performance over time.

Having access to, and being able to utilize the amount of data being gathered by a CRM will become essential in a company’s ability to making informed business decisions. It will make it much easier for SMBs to have a solid grasp on who their customers are, what they want and what the future could hold for their partnership moving forward.

Laurie: The term “social CRM” seems to have been popular for a while, but we don’t hear that term too often anymore. My thoughts are that social has become so pervasive in sales, marketing and service that SMBs expect that their CRM systems will include social capabilities. What role do you see social playing in helping SMBs decide what the right CRM system might be, and what capabilities do they need to have?

Suzie: You’re absolutely right. Social has become a key way to reach out to customers and clients and a key component of the customer relationship process to help meet customers wherever they are. The social media sphere is clearly one of those primary places. No matter which industry an SMB is in, it’s an essential platform for engaging with target customers. But that doesn’t mean that all CRM systems are built equal when it comes to social functionalities.

We see that at a minimum, social media tools in a CRM should include integrations with Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin, as well as social media monitoring tools and feeds to keep track of, and interact with, conversations taking place around a selected set of products or services.

Similarly, being able to keep up with a contact’s social profiles, see related networks, and reach out via your CRM can be infinitely helpful. Being able to do this can give powerful insight into who a customer is and what their purchase decisions rely on. Whether they fit into a ‘persona’ that an SMB has determined, or remain as a personalized customer, a robust CRM allows for this kind of understanding.

Laurie: Yes, social really has evolved to become part of CRM fabric, and I think that mastering social engagement can really help SMBs to level the playing field against larger competitors.

Suzie, I really want to thank you for shedding more light on your new report, and providing these kinds of comparisons to help SMBs sort through the many CRM solutions available to determine what will work best for them.

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.

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