Tony Rodoni of Salesforce: Working with SMBs, Innovators and Early Adopters of Almost Every Type of Tech

This week in New York City Salesforce (NYSE:CRM) held their Small Business Basecamp, a half-day long pop-up event that attracted over 1300 registrants and a capacity overflow crowd of small business owners.  The event brought together Amazon Business, Chase, LegalZoom, FreshBooks, Revel, SquareSpace, WeWork, Zenefits, RingCentral and Yelp to help show small businesses how CRM and related technologies can help them scale their abilities to find and keep customers more efficiently.

During the event, I had the opportunity to do a Facebook Live broadcast featuring conversations with:

  • Tony Rodoni, Executive Vice President of SMB Sales, Salesforce
  • Jamie Domenici, Senior Vice President of SMB Marketing, Salesforce
  • Darnell Hollaway, Director of Business Outreach, Yelp

Below is an edited transcript of my conversation with Tony Rodoni.  To view the full conversation click on the embedded video below.  My conversations with Domenici and Holloway will be posted in the upcoming weeks.

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Tony Rodoni of Salesforce discusses small business technology adoption and the help small businesses provide in developing new technology.Small Business Trends: Tell us a little bit more about your role at Salesforce?

Tony Rodoni: I run the SMB sales teams at Salesforce. I’ve been here for 10 years. And during that whole time I’ve been working with small businesses; on their use and adoption of CRM for sales, marketing and service.

Small Business Trends: How has small business evolved over your ten years at Salesforce?

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Tony Rodoni: When Salesforce was founded it started with small businesses. Since the day the company started 17 years ago. We used to have to evangelize why people would use the cloud; Is it safe? Are they comfortable? We’re not evangelizing that anymore. If anything, small businesses are the innovators and early adopters of almost every type of technology we come out with.

And the reason is technology makes small businesses more nimble. And makes them look bigger than they are. We call this the blowfish effect; How do I look bigger than I am?

Fifteen years ago it cost a lot of capital and time if you wanted to build an ecommerce company or distribute/market over the web. Now those costs have come down so much. And at Salesforce we make our customers look bigger than they are, and grow faster. With our cloud technology, we future-proof technology for them. Because we’re generating new releases three or four times a year.

Small Business Trends: Salesforce is here with Amazon Business, Ring Central, Yelp and other partners. Why is it important for Salesforce to reach out to small businesses by doing these kinds of events?

Tony Rodoni: When we speak to small businesses, they often tell me we’re using you for CRM but what other technologies should we use? And they really think of us as advisors for small business technology. And the people we’ve invited here today are the types of companies we think can make a big difference for small businesses. And they’ve already started Salesforce, this is a good segue into accounting, payroll, reviews, website development, etc.

We really think it’s less about an individual vendor and more about the community we’re creating together in CRM.

Small Business Trends: The landscape has changed tremendously. How are the small businesses you’re talking to keeping up and Staying ahead of the of the pack? What are they doing to stay competitive in this really tough environment?

Tony Rodoni: They’re just more nimble. And whether it’s in a competitive environment, an economic environment, they see it first. They can act first. And what I see happening is they use technology to shift in their business as quickly as possible.

If they’re a retailer they know how to change the offers they’re providing. If they’re using CRM to sell through a direct organization they know how to shift their product mix or pricing mix. And it’s really about shifting from being a system of record to using CRM as a system of engagement. And the biggest trend we’re seen right now is around this area of data science and artificial intelligence.

No small business should have to have a data science department. But we want to put functionality into the product that helps them see trends, recommend actions, and take next steps. And our SMB customers are going to see that in our products pretty darn quick.

Small Business Trends: We talk about that kind of thing: machine learning, data science. Most people do think of it as a big enterprise. What are some of the best ways small businesses benefit from some of the insights that are coming from these systems.

Tony Rodoni: The best thing that you can use systems using data science are things like lead scoring; and knowing which leads to respond to the quickest.

Today clients do that themselves. And our data science will do that for them. Or if you have multiple leads coming which ones do you call back now? Which one is the highest priority? Or if I’m in support how should I automatically escalate a case. or automate a task. Whether it’s sales, service or marketing, people want the features in it to tell them what to do next. And the first generation of CRM left it to the user to figure out what to do next. And the innovation in CRM is to start recommending to people what to do for them.

Small Business Trends: What is exciting the small business you talk with about the latest tech can do for them.

Tony Rodoni: The proliferation of devices. We’re streaming this this today with a little tiny camera on your phone. And what we see more and more is small businesses running their business from their phone, because they’re mobile as well. And the exciting trend that’s happening there is they don’t want to be tethered to their desk when running their business. The best decisions happen when you’re out of your office.

Small Business Trends: After being at this event what do you want the small businesses to walk away with today? 

Tony Rodoni: This is a mix of people. People that use Salesforce and people that don’t. Some are very early small businesses. And when we research small businesses, 80 percent still are not using any marketing automation. 85 percent still use email and spreadsheets to manage their customer action.

And I’d say the simplest thing we’re doing here today is evangelize the fact that there’s a better way to manage their business for when they want to grow and doing it with Salesforce is dead simple.

Small Business Trends: A year from now what are we going to be talking about when it comes to small business and technology?

Tony Rodoni: We’re going to talk about the graduation rate.  We’re going to talk about the new batch of small businesses and how they’re created with technology. Because the ones who are here with today will graduate. They’ll grow into larger companies. They’ll pivot in their industries. I don’t mean to say every company is trying to be much larger. But they’ll do more with less. And Salesforce will help them be smarter in doing that.

Small Business Trends: Tell folks out there where they can learn more.

Tony Rodoni: Salesforce Small Business Solutions.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.

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