On CRM: Why Salesforce May Not Be Your Best CRM Option

(This column originally appeared in Forbes)

This week Salesforce released yet another version of its platform targeted at small businesses. I say “yet another version” because the company has been trying to penetrate this market for years. This time, the product is called Salesforce Easy and it’s a “new” and “simplified” version of its product. Its price point is $25 per user and it comes with additional functionality including one-step sign-on to Slack, Google and Microsoft 365, new data import tools and preset sales processes.

“Salesforce Easy is designed to help more and more companies help drive their businesses forward, tapping into Salesforce’s technology expertise and best practices accumulated over the course of more than two decades,” a representative told Vernon Keenan of publisher SalesforceDevops. “Salesforce Easy is a new simplified experience for companies of all sizes.”

Keenan himself seems a bit dubious about this product. I don’t blame him.

“It won’t, ahem, be easy for Salesforce Easy to succeed,” he writes. “Salesforce Easy may break some of the traditional Salesforce channel models and will require the company to beef up its technical customer service and direct account services. For Salesforce Easy to succeed, Salesforce customer service will have to look a little more like Intuit or Microsoft.”

Even the name “Easy” seems slightly offensive. Like it’s been specifically dumbed-down for small businesses. Or maybe I’m being too sensitive. Keenan’s perspective is accurate. Let me also elaborate by giving a few reasons why Salesforce may not be your best CRM option, particularly if you’re a small business.

The first reason is that Salesforce is not a small business-focused company. It’s a company that has many products which includes a small business product. If you’re a small business, be wary of this. It’s like buying a salad at a McDonalds — they offer it but you know it’s not the restaurant chain’s main focus.

The CRM platforms that best serve the small business market are focused on serving only the small business market. You know some of these already. They include Zoho, Insightly, Sugar, Nimble, Copper and others. For Salesforce, the company’s bread and butter comes from its largest enterprise customers. And the enterprise market is completely different from the small business market.

As Keenan notes, the company’s support infrastructure isn’t setup to handle the types of support requests that will come from small businesses. For example, small business owners are less informed about technology, are often ignorant and impatient when tech problems occur and can be more demanding than larger corporate employees who have less stake in resolving an issue timely. I say this with peace and love as a small business owner myself that behaves in exactly this way. To really serve this market, Salesforce would need to overhaul its support infrastructure, change how it provides its services, figure out a more affordable service model, and probably hire a thousand psychiatrists to handle the crazy personalities of small business owners like myself. I don’t see that happening.

The second reason: Salesforce lacks a channel that can serve small businesses.

Software vendors in Silicon Valley love to say how “easy” and “simplified” their products are to setup and use. Oh sure. Try telling that to the person running a distribution business in Oklahoma City. People have different skill sets and what’s easy and simple for some may not be so for others.

Which means that most smaller firms will need help with setup, training, customization, integration and data migration. Some — in order to save money — will do this on their own and that will create headaches for Salesforce support who may find themselves spending dozens of hours with a $25 customer. Many others may reach out to a partner. But Salesforce partners have been recruited to serve corporate customers. Their channel consists of large firms like Deloitte, Accenture and IBM and a myriad of specialists that charge anywhere from $250-$750 an hour for their services. A small business owner is unlikely to shell out this kind of money and these partners are not interested in a mere 10 or 20 hours of service. They’re used to multi-hundred-hour projects.

Finally, Salesforce doesn’t really want $25 per user customers. The representative that Keenan spoke to pretty much admitted that by saying “larger companies can try it as well, understand what functionalities they want or need and then rapidly scale with the tools they need along in our full portfolio.”

Salesforce Easy is positioned as a small business product, but to me it seems more like a lead generation tool that enables the company to generate a new revenue stream for a demo product which the sales team can then use to attack corporate prospects. The company’s stock price isn’t going to grow with $25 per user customers.

Even if a small business signs on, they will be strongly encouraged to purchase add-ons to really “get the full value” of the application. Those companies will find that many of those extra apps are already included in small business CRMs like the ones mentioned above. The reality is that when a small business pays $25 per user they’ll not only complain about the price but the great majority will ultimately never move up that food chain.

An employee isn’t going to get fired for buying Salesforce. It’s the BMW of CRMs. But small businesses don’t need BMWs. We need F-150’s. Something that packs in a lot of features for an affordable price and is built to serve our market. Salesforce really is a great product. But I don’t think the company is best positioned to serve small businesses.

Originally published at https://www.forbes.com.



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Gene Marks

Columnist on smallbiz, economy, public policy, tech for The Guardian, The Hill, Philly Inquirer, Wash Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur. Small Business owner and CPA