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Salesforce small business tools get major refresh

Emphasizing the 'S' in 'SMB,' Salesforce goes after companies with 20 employees or less with Salesforce Essentials -- with hooks into Trailhead's free training.

Salesforce may derive a grand majority of its revenue from large customers employing 1,000 or more people. But it reached out this week to the smallest of small businesses -- 20 employees or less -- with the release of Salesforce Essentials.

The new suite of Salesforce small business cloud tools, which manage both sales and customer service/support, will replace current offerings Desk.com and SalesforceIQ. The company will retire those in 2020.

Salesforce Essentials also makes available to small businesses an AI tool to which their larger counterparts already have access: Einstein Activity Capture, which taps company-wide email, calendar and other applications to auto-fill data fields in CRM records and creates a history of previous engagements with a particular customer.

"Small business users spend 23% of their day manually entering data," said Marie Rosecrans, a Salesforce senior vice president of SMB marketing. "Those days are over."

Salesforce renews fight with other CRMs

It could be said that Salesforce small business recruitment efforts haven't been on par with the support the company gives large corporations, as the cloud CRM juggernaut focuses on landing the biggest fish in order to drive revenues.

Salesforce probably is looking for a certain kind of small-business customer -- companies with the most rapid-growth potential.

Salesforce Essentials, said Kate Leggett, a Forrester Research vice president, shows Salesforce is focusing on the SMB market now. In doing so, Salesforce turns up the heat on competitors such as HubSpot, ProsperWorks and SugarCRM that cater to small businesses.

It's likely, Leggett said, that those competitors will continue to hold their pieces of the market because the small business sector is so large, diverse and fragmented.

Salesforce probably is looking for a certain kind of small-business customer -- companies with the most rapid-growth potential who will "start small with Salesforce Essentials, but will have to scale up to their full cloud solutions at some point in the near future," Leggett said.

Marie Rosecrans, SalesforceMarie Rosecrans

"A small mom-and-pop shop doesn't have IT resources. If they're looking for CRM, they're not looking for sales applications, customer service applications and marketing applications -- they basically want one application for everything."

That leaves other vendors to target small businesses likely to remain small. Zoho, for example, includes back-office functionality such as email and operations software along with CRM tools.

Trailhead offers free training

To help with the learning curve associated with its cloud, Salesforce small business customers also get access to new Salesforce Essentials-specific content in Trailhead, the interactive training site that wraps education in a gamification environment, and also provides some general business best practices training.

According to research Salesforce conducted last October for its SMB trends report, Rosecrans said, small businesses want to provide employees training to better use its CRM applications but can't necessarily afford it. "Trailhead is a unique differentiator for us because it's free, and [makes it] fun to learn," she said.

Cost for Salesforce Essentials is $25 per user per month for up to teams of 10 people, compared to $75 for the professional Salesforce version larger companies use.

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