Meredith Schmidt of Salesforce: Small Business Is a Real Business Unit For Us, Not Just a Product

A few months ago during Salesforce’s annual analyst summit, I got the opportunity to spend a few minutes with Meredith Schmidt. Meredith serves as Executive Vice President & GM of Salesforce Essentials & SMB.  Salesforce Essentials consist of the company’s products aimed at the small business market.  But something else really caught my attention in that brief conversation. It turns out Essentials runs like its own operating business now. So Salesforce no longer treats it like a traditional product line within the business. And Meredith heads Essentials up as a CEO.

Salesforce Essentials for Small Business

To expand on that conversation, Meredith joined me last week. And she shared more about the change in how Salesforce Essentials positions itself within the larger company. What will change? And how does this impact Salesforce’s SMB customers? Meredith also touches on how new technologies like AI and voice interfaces have already begun to affect small businesses.

Below check out an edited transcript of our conversation. To see the full interview, watch the video below or listen to the embedded SoundCloud player.

Small Business Trends:  Salesforce has made you the CEO for their SMB business. Salesforce recently celebrated their 20th anniversary and they really grew up servicing small businesses, but now you specifically are charged for looking after the SMB customers that Salesforce has. Maybe you could give me a little of your personal background before we dig into Salesforce at 20 and what it means particularly for SMBs.

Meredith Schmidt:  I joined Salesforce 14 years ago, as the first employee in our finance team reporting to our CFO to create a revenue department actually. The job was to make sales love finance. I’m like ‘what does that mean? But I’ll figure that out.’ That’s kind of been the mantra all along is I’ll figure it out.

Getting Started

We had about 600 employees, $300 million in revenue and there was a lot of opportunity to fix things I would say. I would hear a problem and go solve it. A lot of those were related to small business. I would say in that time there were things we just never changed that actually were not in my control that kind of just lingered in the back of my head for 14 years about small business.

When I joined we were at the cusp of really turning into that enterprise company. We had just signed Cisco as a customer, ADP, but I would say a much smaller portion of our revenue came from enterprise customers back then.

Over time I had grown a team 300 people big supporting product and doing new product introduction for our entire company, responsible for sales compensation; so really understanding the go to market and selling strategy across all the segments, as well as the direct and indirect channels.

Reaching the $13 Billion Mark

I was responsible for implementing all of our internal technology to enable our sales team as well as our revenue teams. That was my favorite thing, running revenue at this company for 13 years, 13 of the 14 years, to get to $13 billion.

So when this [Salesforce Essentials CEO] role became available the more I talked about it the more excited I got. Which was this [small business] is a business unit. This is not just a product.

I thought at first what business do I have building product, but I’m like everything I try to do is make things easy and easier to do, and that’s what we had to do with this product; think about small business and think about their needs, and put ourselves in their shoes.

Taking Over at Essentials

The first thing we did was say ‘you want to buy month to month, great. Let’s offer month to month contracts’. Ironically, in my 14 years we had never allowed customers to buy a month to month contract. You always had to buy annually. We changed that.

I know it was a long answer to your very short question so I apologize, but that was kind of my road to here.

Small Business Trends: That’s cool! I mean the month to month thing is definitely a significant impact on small businesses, but what other significant changes are you doing as this new entity within Salesforce?  

Meredith Schmidt:  Bringing our product together in a different way. What I mean by that is we have clouds. We have Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, but if you’re a small business you don’t care about a sales cloud or a service cloud. You care about a job to get done, I just need to do this. That’s really the way we’re looking at; this product is a consumer interface to an enterprise backbone. Which we are combining sales and service functionality. In small business we call it support, not service. They hear a term call center, and think that’s not relevant to me. And it isn’t.

Changing the Way We Talk about Small Business

So it’s changing the way we talk to our small business, but also looking at that from a product perspective.  The product we’re offering you, Salesforce Essentials, does everything for a single price. You don’t have to figure out what cloud do I need. You don’t have to figure out which one to choose. We’re constantly adding to that product and we’re not charging more as we add more. We’re saying what is the functionality a small business needs to do their job, and how can we help them facilitate that. I think that’s a really different approach.

Small Business Trends: There are all sorts of technologies that people are talking about — AI, artificial intelligence, being one of them. How does your new group and your role help small business customers better understand? And not just understand but better help them implement and enable them to take advantage of some of these technologies, specifically something like AI?

Meredith Schmidt: I think what’s interesting is kind of two fold, how I’m using AI to get data to help the customers use the product better. Part of that AI is knowing that a customer hasn’t used a certain feature, and that certain feature happens to drive sales closes up 36% on average, something I know.

Using AI and Data to Help Customers

But a customer may not have found that feature, or may not understand what it is. At the volumes we’re talking about for small business, we can’t call every customer, so how do I use AI and data to actually help our customers adopt the product and get the benefit they can see and actually drive their business with. I think that’s one aspect of it is actually giving real time information to a customer that’s relevant to them, it’s not generic. It’s personalized because we can help you on your journey.

Right now, you can’t do that but with brute force. It’s about using us, and us personally using AI to be smarter about how we interact with our customers and how we bring them the right enablement to use those features.

Now when you come to AI for their use and how we’re building it, this is what’s amazing that gets me so excited about what we’re doing with Salesforce Essentials, not only are we making the product easier to use and this benefits all of our customers no matter what size you are, but we’re starting with small business and learning there, but we also get the benefit of being part of Salesforce.

Getting the Innovation for Free

We get the innovation, basically I’ll call it for free, from Salesforce. The innovation we’re coming out with around artificial intelligence, machine learning, predictive analytics, all of that that’s coming out for our enterprise customers who are asking for these features; or we actually have some labs somewhere underground in San Francisco I think that’s like locked away scientists figuring stuff out, and they’re coming up with all these amazing things. It’s available to everybody. It’s agnostic of the size of your company.

My job is to make sure as we come out with those features making it easy to consume and understandable by our small business. It should not be scary. When I think about simple things like Einstein Activity Capture; it’s reading your emails, it’s helping create tasks, telling you when to call your customer, ‘hey you haven’t talked to this customer in 30 days maybe you want to call them’.   

Offering a Digital Personal Assistant

It’s things like that; if I had this personal assistant to remind me of what to do every day. Coming into work and being like okay what was I supposed to do today. I’ve got my to do list. It’s on a sticky note or it’s on a piece of paper, but it’s not static. It’s actually learning and it’s telling you based on how it’s reading.

You can connect your email to Salesforce Essentials and it’s helping you. It’s helping you organize and this is kind of your personal assistant in a lot of ways. But you want the technology to do a job for you because what you need to do as a small business owner and employee really is focusing on your customers. Let the technology do this routine task for you and you can really take your efforts and your employees and focus on where you want to be, which is with your customer.

Small Business Trends: I’m really interested in is this whole area of voice and voice assistants. There was a big announcement during Dreamforce around Einstein Voice. If you could tell folks what that is, but in particular will it be available to small business customers?

Meredith Schmidt: Answer is yes to both. It’s going to be available. We’ve already tested it. It works with Salesforce Essentials. We signed up to be an early pilot for our users with technology. You’ll see some stuff coming out over the next several months. But we are signed up to be part of the pilot and get some of our customers using it and testing it. It’s really exciting that it does work for all.

This is not let me talk to Alexa or let me talk into my phone talking into Siri, like Siri look up this address for me, or call mom. What we’re doing here is using a voice interface to actually help update and locate records inside Salesforce. As you’re talking to the Salesforce application through voice I would say “hey look up Brent for me”.

Using Voice Interface with Essentials

It would know that I’m assigned to your account, so it would filter down to hey this is most likely the one you’re looking for. Yeah it is the one I’m looking for. But I can also tell it hey I just talked to Brent today and add some notes. It’s taking notes. It’s not just dictating those notes, it’s actually updating relevant objects inside Salesforce. I can say “my opportunity just went to $10,000”. It will go update the opportunity for me.

I’m not going in and searching for all these objects to update fields everywhere. I’m talking to it and it’s actually intelligently listening to me and gathering that data and saying let me go update everything for you. That’s really the power of it. It’s not just a note taking app that we’re used to, or a dictation, or I’m going to find a simple task.

Learning from Your Small Business

It’s actually taking that and parsing apart the data into updating multiple objects. It’s just really learning from you. This is what we’ve been teaching it. It’s pretty cool. I’m super excited about it. I think as a small business, you walk out of that meeting with a customer, you’re in the car, you’re talking to Salesforce, you’re back at your desk, everything’s already done. You’re not inputting your notes. You’re not updating an opportunity. You’re not changing an address. It’s all done for you.

Small Business Trends: Yeah, I think that’s going to be a huge thing for small businesses from a productivity standpoint-

Meredith Schmidt:  Agreed.

Small Business Trends: Because chances are if it’s not easy for them to put the stuff in, it’s not going to get in, so that kind of defeats the purpose.

Meredith Schmidt:  Right.

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.

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.