Paul Pedrazzi of Salesforce Essentials: Two Crucial Elements for CRM Success with SMBs are Simplicity and Emotion

This marks the third and final conversation from Dreamforce to be included for the series. As a result, I needed my CRM Playaz partner Paul Greenberg to help me out with it.  We had a chance to sit and talk with Paul Pedrazzi, SVP of Product for Salesforce’s SMB focused product, Essentials.

We wanted to hear, for example, how Salesforce’s approach to the small business market is evolving, the commitment Essentials has from the executive team to provide SMBs with the products and services they need to succeed, and also hear how Essentials, which operates as its own business within Salesforce, is changing the look and feel of the company’s enterprise offerings — and even how the company engages customers overall.

A Closer Look at CRM Success

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.  To see the full conversation check out the video, or click on the embedded SoundCloud player below.

Small Business Trends: Tell folks what you actually do.

Paul Pedrazzi: So, you may or may not be familiar with Essentials. Essentials is really the easiest way to get started with Salesforce. It’s purpose-built for a small company.

Paul Greenberg: Okay.

Paul Pedrazzi: And, you know, you could wonder like, “Well, what does that mean, small company, purpose-built?” We started out, I think, doing a great job with small business and, continued to grow, got larger customers, and focused on that. And I think, in some ways, we’ve kind of forgotten a bit about the little guy, and so, essentially, it’s all about getting back to the roots, delivering for the small company.

And that’s really about things like knowing they don’t have an admin, right? Just not having an admin. It’s there to set it up, to train your team. It forces you to think completely differently about the product, even on things like support. For us, support is baked in. You can, in the product, chat with someone, get your questions answered. You don’t have to go somewhere else.

So, we just rethink things in terms of the business model, in terms of pricing, everything for the small business. And my role is right on the product side. So, really it’s the question, “What are we going to build?” is probably the most obvious question that I think about all the time.

Creating Tools for Small Business

Paul Greenberg:  How do you even think about it? It’s kind of you’re almost dealing with individual taste, right? So, given you’re dealing with individual taste, and every small business has a different idea of how they’ve been running their business and why they run their business, and they’re starting to grow, and they don’t really understand what happens when they’re, say, going from small to the lower end of mid or something like that. How do you even think about what you’re going to put in a product like that?

Paul Pedrazzi: I would say one of the biggest mistakes I see product teams make is thinking they have the answer to that, you know? And the reason is because we all have our own biases and we live with them and it’s hard to separate. For us, it means talking to a lot of customers, right? And every time you go out, you learn and you start… You do start to see some of those patterns. And I’ll tell you the most obvious ones are almost anti-patterns. Anti-pattern would be something like, assuming they know what CRM actually is, right? And a lot of times you walk in there and they’re like, “Well, we had no idea that it was this,” or, “We thought it was something else.”

Ignoring the Competition

And also, I’d say the second thing that we kind of run into a lot is we don’t think about a feature set in the sense of what is the competition doing and how do we actually kind of either copy that or get ahead of that? I don’t think about competition in that way at all. I think a spreadsheet is really our competition in this world. And that’s what we see.

When you go talk to a customer they’re starting there, and then they need to look at what we’re offering, and that’s kind of the first litmus test, and say, “That’s way better than us. I can see how that’s way better.” And if you can’t answer that question, they just will back up. And we were talking earlier about it where someone who’s in a spreadsheet… Let’s say they have all their contacts there, and they went out, and want to start tracking, let’s say a real estate agent and you want to track the spouse of someone who you sold the house to. So, you want to add spouse as a column. It’s pretty easy to do in a spreadsheet.

Paul Greenberg:  Sure.

Simplifying the CRM Process

Paul Pedrazzi: In a CRM, you got to know what a custom field is, you’ve got to know how to go do… And that’s where our job is to make them not have to know that stuff.

Small Business Trends: So, small businesses have been using CRM for a long time, but what’s the most surprising thing in 2019 today that you hear from customers about CRM… small business customers?

Paul Pedrazzi: Wow. What do I hear most? We do talk to a lot of customers. I think… I don’t know that it’s surprising, but I think it’s something that we hear a lot about, which is if you think about kind of… So, take the buzzword and machine learning and AI, and we obviously have a big push in that. We do a ton of great work with Einstein.

Paul Greenberg:  Right.

Paul Pedrazzi: And it’s really a powerful tool. I think the surprising thing was I would’ve expected small businesses to not really be interested in that.  But when you put it in front of them in a way… Like if you walk up and said, “Do you want machine learning?” No, that doesn’t work.

Paul Greenberg:  Right.

Making Business Software More Useful

Paul Pedrazzi: But if it’s as simple as, you know, a toggle that they can throw on something and now they get a score or maybe they get the health on a relationship, and they go, “Oh, that’s cool.” And then you could say, “Well, behind the scenes there’s all this data model and magic of machine learning and algorithms.” That’s fine. But it’s if you surface it in the right way, they will actively want to use that and find power in it.

And I think that was a little surprising to me. I thought they would be pushing that off more than they are. And it’s more about us making it approachable to them, I find.

Paul Greenberg:  How do you make it easy?

Paul Pedrazzi: The AI or just generally?

Paul Greenberg:  AI. Because it pretty much has to be.

Paul Pedrazzi: It has to be. You know, I take… A lot of our… inspiration is from what consumer products have done really well. And the reason for that is that, in our market, our buyer and the user are the same person, and they act emotionally.  Like they’re not doing a full RFP.

Paul Greenberg: Right.

Overwhelmed with Email

Paul Pedrazzi: They’re going to go, “Hey, you know what? I’ve… I’m getting overwhelmed in my email.

Small Business Trends: Right.

Paul Pedrazzi: I’ve got this info@ address and I’m getting a ton of stuff, and I know things are falling through the cracks.” And they go and search on, you know, support email system, and then the first thing they find is … They look at two or three and they’re done. And they’ll pick one and they’ll run with it. So, they operate much more like a consumer, and they go into these systems, and it’s a very emotional thing. It’s … The analog, for me, is it’s like the app store.

You’ll go download an app. It’ll show up on your phone. You’ll decide in five seconds … maybe even three seconds … if you want that at all. Right. Does it … And a lot of it is just a aesthetic. Does it look clean, does it look well designed, does it crash immediately? And if it does, you hold down your finger and you hit the X, and it’s gone.

Paul Greenberg: Of course, the one difference is an app costs $1.99.

Paul Pedrazzi: Yeah, that’s right.  Although Essentials is an affordable product.

Paul Greenberg: Inexpensive.

How Expensive is your Solution?

Paul Pedrazzi: Yes, definitely! But, at the same time, it doesn’t matter if like, I don’t care if it was free. If someone walks in and they emotionally go, “Ah! This is too much for me.”

Small Business Trends: Right.

Paul Pedrazzi: It doesn’t matter if it’s free. So, we’re not really in… We don’t think about it that way. We think about, to your point of simplicity, a lot of it comes down to emotion. Does it feel simple? Does it feel approachable? Do they feel confident-

Small Business Trends: Amen.

Paul Pedrazzi: … that it’s right for me?

Brent Leary: Yeah.

Paul Pedrazzi: And so, we spend a lot of time on that.

Is AI for Small Businesses Too?

Brent Leary: So, a lot of small businesses… And I even talked to one today, … a customer. I’m not going to say who it is, but I talked to him, and the perception is, “Well, you know, I really thought Salesforce was… They kind of moved upstream. They’re not really focused on, you know, companies like me.”

But, when I actually talked to them, I got a whole different vibe from it. How do you get that out there to more small businesses? Because there are still a lot of them out there that think, “Yeah, that’s just all the AI stuff, and I… And it’s just… It’s got to be for a bigger company.”

Paul Pedrazzi: Yeah, yeah. “Too much for me.”

Small Business Trends: Yeah.

Paul Pedrazzi: And a lot of times we’ll hear that, where they’ll say, “Too much for me. I guess one day I’ll get to it,” which-

Small Business Trends: Right.

Paul Pedrazzi: … you know. And maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But for us, we want people to kind of fall in love with it. And I think the analog for me goes back to if you say, “Well, how do you get people to understand that we actually care about small business-

Small Business Trends: Right.

Invested in CRM Success

Paul Pedrazzi: … and we’re invested in it… By the way, we have an entire coaching team that is there, dedicated staffing. So, when you’re in the product, if you’re… Let’s say you have an issue uploading your data? We’ll literally get someone on the phone for as long as it takes to help you get up and running. Because we know how critical it is, and how you don’t have an IT department. And we just empathize.

So, that is going on. That’s been a focus to change that… a thoughtful approach that I think has been working, which is great.

How people find out, I think, is the… In this market, it’s the same way we find out about, you know, the next Netflix special to watch. You know, a podcast like the CRM players. Like how do you find out? Do you guys not run in Facebook ads, you know? Like if someone says, “Oh, you know what? You got to… You got to listen to that.

They’re really covering some good topics,” or, “They have an interesting guest.” And then I go, and I add it, and I listen. I think this is the same. Like this is going to be two general contractors having coffee in the morning, and they go, “Oh, well you don’t… You don’t use Essentials? Here’s what… Check out what I do.”

And if we can get that happening one-to-one, I think we’ll have something. And that’s on us to get that going.

A Deeper Dive into Salesforce Essentials

Small Business Trends: I want to flip it a little bit because we talked a little before we started doing this. And you said something, about Essentials is operating as its own business unit, right?

Paul Pedrazzi: Correct.

Small Business Trends: But you said that the Salesforce proper is looking towards Essentials for some things –

Paul Pedrazzi: Absolutely.

Small Business Trends: … kind of bake in to the platform, you know, overall. talk a little bit about that.

Paul Pedrazzi: Yeah. I’m glad you brought that up because we are our own business unit, and that means, you know, it’s actually… You know, people will say like, “Oh, well. We’re a startup in a big company,” and usually I kind of roll my eyes at that.

Paul Greenberg: Yeah. Amen.

Paul Pedrazzi: And I’m sure a lot of people would do the same, right?

Small Business Trends: Yeah.

Being in a Startup is a Different Thing

Paul Pedrazzi: Because being a startup is a very different thing.  But we are all on one floor, and we are not siloed in the sense of marketing sits there, customer success, sales, product, engineering. We literally… You just walk around the floor and we’re all right there.

Small Business Trends: Yeah.

Paul Pedrazzi: And that does a lot. Like-

Paul Greenberg:  Yeah.

Paul Pedrazzi: We all will get together for lunch in the break room. We’re all packed in there. So, we get a lot of those benefits, and it does help us. So, when a customer has a problem, literally, it’s a swivel chair over to the product team on, “Hey, did you guys know that this isn’t working?” It’s like, “Oh, oh, let me go take a look.” So, that dynamic is, I think, really special, and not super common inside of a company like Salesforce. So, it’s a big deal.

But the point you’re bringing up, Brent, is a good one. And I think it speaks to the executive support that we have. So, that’s another kind of questions like, “Well, how real is this Essentials staying? You did Contact Manager. I remember you did that a while ago.”

Small Business Trends: Oh, yeah.

Bursting into a Different World

Paul Pedrazzi: And I think we’re in a very different world with Essentials. Not only because of the business unit, but executive support as well.

We’re not only looking to have a real business that’s helping small business — that’s financially successful, just purely on the metrics. Yes, we have to do that. But almost more importantly is every one of our customers wants simplicity, and it’s hard to deliver. And so, our group is being looked at, and one of the terms being thrown around is like the the UI R&D for the company. Go and figure out what kind of the true simplicity can be. Push the envelope.

We know it won’t be able to… We won’t be able to pick it up and now give it to, you know, our largest customers. That won’t happen. But there will be lessons learned in there and things we’ll figure out that will definitely carry forward and be able to explore in this space where simplicity is the number one thing… is important to our executive team.

Trying to Figure Things Out

And so, they’re looking to us to figure this out. And yeah, we’re going to have some even internal friction about it. Like, “Why are you making it that way? Why are you changing it?” But the idea is if we get it right, it will flow up to all of our customers. It’s not like a metric we’re evaluated on, but it is in the air and in the ethos.

And when we have meetings with the executive team, they ask about it. “Who’s using this? Who else have you talked to in Sales Cloud and Service Cloud? Are you working with them on if they can take this piece up there?” That is a real conversation, and a big part of the value.

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.