You may have heard about Salesforce’s recent struggles — but you aren’t sure what that means for you as a small business. Let’s take a look at where things stand with Salesforce, and what you need to know to protect your small business.
What happened at Salesforce in the last 6 months?
At the start of the pandemic, Salesforce saw increased demand for their software as more companies began to work remotely. In response, Salesforce also increased hiring to meet that demand, ultimately growing by 30% over three years. The company’s leadership expected that adding employees would lead to increased sales, but they didn’t grow as fast as they expected.
By the end of 2022, activist investors were becoming critical of their slowing growth and started calling for improved cash flow by cutting headcount and selling off unprofitable business units. As the company started taking these steps, they also began shifting priorities — and serving their small business customer base was not at the top of the list. To add to the shift of focus away from small businesses, they began planning pricing increases to their plans across the board.
Can Salesforce afford to continue serving small businesses?
Salesforce’s small business segment is one area of their business that has been a nice-to-have, but never a priority. Small business expert Gene Marks is quoted as saying, “it’s like buying a salad at a McDonalds — they offer it but you know it’s not the restaurant chain’s main focus.” When Salesforce was growing, they had the capacity to serve all segments. But as stakeholder pressure increases and they shift their focus towards the bottom line, they’re likely to prioritize segments that offer the biggest returns. And for Salesforce, the sector that delivers those returns is undeniably enterprise businesses with more than 500 people.
The problem is, SMBs likely need more of the company’s support than larger businesses — they often have fewer resources than larger organizations, yet unfortunately tend to be the customers that are left in the lurch most often.
What does it look like when a company stops prioritizing their small business segment? It depends, but often there will be less customer support and technical assistance available, additional fees or hidden costs might be added (to justify maintaining this segment at all), and little or no investment will be made into product innovation to serve that segment. Over time, this can make it harder and harder for small business customers to continue to operate effectively on the platform.
Alternatively, companies can choose to shift resources upstream. In 2022, Brex famously dropped traditional brick-and-mortar small businesses in favor of “high growth” tech startups — companies that plan to grow quickly and require less support. In response to intense pressure from customers and investors alike, the company re-prioritized their business to focus on these high-potential segments that would help them grow as quickly as possible. It was a cut-and-dry business decision — but it left many worrying that the walk away from “traditional” small businesses may signal a larger trend in the industry.
So what should small businesses do, now?
… Especially when recent events suggest the possibility that critical pieces of business software could de-prioritize your business at any point? Well, without panicking, you could start by taking a good look at your business tools — especially your CRM system — to ensure they meet your unique needs as a small business. Acting proactively can help prevent painful situations down the line, and you might discover the added benefits of using a tool that’s right-sized for your organization. Software that was specifically created for small businesses is likely to offer capabilities and functionality that are a more natural fit for your smaller team’s current workflow and processes — without feeling forced, overly complex, or requiring the costly support of a consultant to get you up and running.
Here are five questions to ask yourself to get a realistic understanding of where your business stands with Salesforce as your CRM system — and what the future may hold.
Taking another look at Salesforce as your CRM system
1. Does your CRM platform serve your organization’s unique needs and processes?
When Salesforce first built their CRM system, they solved the problems of “enforcing rigid sales processes.” But what they didn’t account for were the diverse use cases and business models of many smaller organizations without a linear sales process — the professional services businesses, real estate firms, wholesalers, agencies, media companies, consultancies (the list goes on) — whose businesses depend on building different types of relationships beyond one-off transactions. Which simply doesn’t fit the rigid sales process that Salesforce customers are buttoned into.
Take a look at your organization’s business model. Does it align with a transactional process? If not, it may be worth looking into other solutions that offer more flexibility.
2. Does your CRM solution benefit managers or employees?
The Salesforce model was built for managers with the express purpose of giving them full control over their team’s activities. Because of its laser focus on serving management, the Salesforce model can end up failing to account for the end user experience, which is critical to software adoption and long-term use. Things like locking user access to reporting and limiting permissions for certain features can end up making work harder for the everyday CRM user. And with a laundry list of settings for Admins to choose from, they often inadvertently build in more steps and complexity, which can lead to more manual work for the sales reps, account managers or customer service specialists that will be working in the system regularly.
If your team dislikes a certain software, chances are they won’t use it — or they’ll resist using it, at the very least. Think about it like this: If your agency’s small group of employees feels forced into a rigid CRM process that doesn’t fit their daily workflow, and they feel micromanaged at every turn, how enthusiastic will they be to use a software that makes their lives more difficult? And if they don’t use it consistently, or don’t take the time to learn how to use it effectively, how will it ever deliver the results you’re seeking?
If you’ve ever received complaints from team members about Salesforce or struggled with low adoption rates, it may be worth doing a quick employee survey to get a better understanding of their experience with the platform. You might be surprised by what you find out.
3. Does your CRM software create work? Or reduce it?
Salesforce requires users to enter emails, files and contact information to the system manually. On the other hand, small-business CRM solutions specifically aim to reduce the amount of manual “busy work” through automation so users don’t spend most of their time attaching emails to records, adding contact information, or attaching files. CRM software for SMBs also typically comes with shorter onboarding times, so teams can start using — and benefitting from them — right away.
Manual data entry may not seem like a huge task, but it can be more time-consuming than you might think. If you’re unsure how much time goes into creating or updating a record, why not test out the process for yourself? This will give you a better feel for what employees experience everyday.
4. Does your CRM tool work where you (and your team) want to work?
Some CRM software requires your team to work within the system on a regular basis to be most effective. But legacy tools like Salesforce are often clunky, overwhelming and feel like they were built in the 80s (because they were). Many salespeople tend to revert back to their inbox and spend the bare minimum updating their records. Working within CRM doesn’t come naturally, and the effort required to enforce its usage can become counterproductive. Certain small-business CRM systems meet teams where they are by offering tools that integrate directly with the tools they’re most comfortable with, like Gmail and Google Calendar.
5. How much effort and money does your CRM require?
Salesforce is known for being more difficult to implement, and requiring “Salesforce Admins” to properly maintain their system. In addition, the company’s starting prices per seat are often in the hundreds of dollars or more. Small-business CRM solutions that don’t require an admin to maintain or build the system, and can start as low as $25 per user per month, could offer a sensible alternative.
Building a small-business tech stack that makes sense for you
Many tech tools built for enterprise may not be the best fit for small businesses, especially as more tailored options become available. We recommend proactively evaluating your needs on a regular basis, and working with tools that will help your team be more productive, rather than relying on tools that simply have the biggest name recognition. And with most software solutions today offering free trials, it’s easier to try out new tools until you find the right fit.