Mike Wolff of Salesforce: Solving the Ecosystem of Challenges Facing SMBs Calls for Community

Growing a small business today can be akin to something out of Charles Dickens novel – the best of times, and the worst of times.

Lots of great expectations can be realized due to technological advances. Or they can be snatched away in a millisecond if you don’t fully understand how to use them.

At the recent Small Business Basecamp hosted by Salesforce (NYSE:CRM) in Atlanta, the idea of arming small businesses with a community of resources was central in helping them deal with the ecosystem of challenges they face. Salesforce Sr. Vice President of SMB Sales Mike Wolff, and Jamie Domenici, Vice President of SMB Marketing, shared with me why being involved in local small business communities is important to Salesforce. They also share why bringing the tech community (and understanding of the latest developments like AI) to local businesses is good for SMBs, the local communities they operate in, and for business in general.

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Below is an edited transcript of the conversation. To see the full conversation click on the embedded video.

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Mike Wolff of Salesforce: Small Business Communities Are Key to Solving the Ecosystem of Challenges Facing SMBsSmall Business Trends: Did you learn anything new about the Atlanta small business community?

Mike Wolff: I think, for me, it reconfirmed how active the community is. That’s what makes it so special. Every time I come to Atlanta, I get blown away by the creativity, resourcefulness, the entrepreneurial spirit that the customers that we meet with just exude. We have a small business contest where the contestant won $10,000. That was pretty exciting, to help start his education company. That’s what excites me in terms of lessons learned. Just confirm what we already appreciate about the city.

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Jamie Domenici: I’ve met so many people here who are doing so much good. I talked about it a little bit earlier but I met a gentleman who’s just starting up a business called Corporate Kicks. It’s a nonprofit. He realized he was growing out of shoes and he didn’t mind donating them. But there were so many kids in his neighborhood that needed/wanted shoes that now he’s trying to match kids up with shoes. People donating directly to somebody to get that instant benefit. It just is doing good. I’ve heard stories like that all throughout the day. I think Atlanta, in particular, is incredibly innovative, incredibly entrepreneurial, and the sense of community in the sense of giving back is really strong here.

Mike Wolff of Salesforce: Small Business Communities Are Key to Solving the Ecosystem of Challenges Facing SMBsSmall Business Trends: You brought partners here. Zenefits, Sage, Airbnb … Why is it important to include partners in this small business event?

Mike Wolff: When we talk to our small business customers, it’s more than just the technology challenge that they’re solving for. Our customers are looking for how to collect payments more efficiently, how to find real estate, how to invest in legal resources without potentially bringing on someone from legal. It’s solving the whole ecosystem of challenges that small businesses encounter versus just front office CRM solutions.

Jamie Domenici: What I love about this event … we brought a lot of local resources. Folks like the Chamber of Commerce. People who are in Atlanta who can really help small businesses, but small businesses don’t know. I feel like we are also helping to connect the community to see what resources are available, which is really important for these companies to thrive.

Small Business Trends: Salesforce is about CRM. Small businesses have been a little slow to adopt it. What are some of the things you see that small businesses are still trying to figure out about CRM?

Mike Wolff: I’ve been in Salesforce for about 15 years. Over the course of the 15 years, I primarily only sold to small businesses. Small businesses have always been top of mind for Salesforce. To your specific question, in terms of the challenges or the themes that I’ve seen over the years, it primarily goes back to the underlying business processes. The mistake I see a lot of small businesses make is they think by investing in a piece of technology, that it’s going to solve all their challenges. Unfortunately, that just doesn’t happen. Our customers are most successful when they identify, ‘let’s look at our underlying processes, let’s get a clear understanding of how we want to sell more effectively, market more effectively, serve our customers more efficiently’, and then map that into a solution like Salesforce. That’s really, what drives success.

Jamie Domenici: I totally agree with everything you said. I also think a lot of people don’t know where to start. It’s either sales, services or marketing, but I’m using email. I’m using spreadsheets, I know I could be doing better, but I don’t really know where to start. I think that’s what Salesforce does so well is we help people figure out where to start and then we could grow with you. If you have a sales problem today, we can help you. If you have a service problem tomorrow, we’re going to be there for you along every step of your journey.

Small Business Trends: I can’t get away from asking a AI question, an Einstein question. What is artificial intelligence from a small business perspective? What should they know about AI that will help them understand how it can help their business?

Jamie Domenici: You can’t pick up a magazine or a newspaper these days and not see AI or machine learning on the banner. We talk to thousands of small businesses. Their first reaction is that’s “it’s not for me”. Actually, the same report that I mentioned earlier in Atlanta, 61% of small businesses said I don’t need AI.

I think that’s why we’re here today, and what Salesforce is really great about. Always being innovative. We know AI is coming. Machine learning… You may not know it, but you use it every day. If you use Google, Google is using algorithms to help surface up information. If you use Siri, that’s NLP – Natural Language Processing. These are part of your everyday life. That’s what AI is. It’s doing work, making your life easier, without you having to know it.

For a small business, it’s like having a data scientist sit on your payroll without having to pay him. Salesforce is bringing that to you. We’re democratizing AI. Einstein is live right now. It’s going to be embedded in every one of our products. For small business owners, it’s going to make your life easier. It’s going to take away some of that manual work, help them get access to insights quicker, and really empower them to be more productive and help them grow.

Small Business Trends: Mike, you had the real cool pleasure of doing an interview on stage with Dan Reeves. We know him here in Atlanta as the former head coach of the Falcons. What were some of the takeaways is you got from that conversation?

Mike Wolff: One of the key things I took away from today’s conversation, was when he was talking about leadership. A moment of self-reflection in one of his lowest moments as a coach when he lost seven games in a row when he was head coach of the New York Giants. He was asked by his owner to go and speak in front of one of the businesses that he owns. Dan shared the importance of empowering his team while also setting clear expectations.

It was something as simple as asking his team for what their favorite plays were and how he incorporated that into the game plan. How the team dynamic changed. It change the way that he led moving forward of always getting buy-in from his team. I think we saw that later in his career with the Falcons, we saw those benefits paying off where he continued to invest in his people and they helped drive success through all parts of the organization, versus am just managing down.

Small Business Trends: Jamie, we had a presentation of Salesforce donating to Bert’s Big Adventure. Talk a little bit about why it’s important for Salesforce to be local.

Jamie Domenici: Core to Salesforce’s tenets – our culture, equality, giving back, innovation, growth, these are who we are. Giving back is really important. We have the 1-1-1 model. Since the day that Salesforce was created 18 years ago, Mark (Benioff) said we’re going to give back 1% of our time, 1% of our equity, and 1% of our technology, which is been really impactful. What Bert is doing at Bert’s Big Adventure really struck a chord with us. They’re taking disabled kids to Disney World every year and changing people’s lives. We really wanted to give back and be part of that.

Not only did we donate $10,000 today, but we had two of our sales engineers out there who are also building out a Salesforce instance for the charity to use to help them track people that they’re taking, and people who would like to join the program. We’re trying to make an impact, and they truly, truly are.

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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