DreamForce, Salesforce’s annual customer conference, and general extravaganza, is the most intense tech conference of the year. I decided not to go last year and (sniff!) wasn’t invited this year, but 170,000+ other were and those that attended were treated to the sort of spectacle that only Salesforce, and its showman CEO Marc Benioff, can deliver. And to keep those 170,000 attendees, beyond all the parties and swag, there are a plethora of different announcements.

One of the announcements that didn’t get so much airtime at DreamForce, but which seems super important (to me at least), was the announcement of Salesforce Essentials. Mostly important because it marks a poignant return, at least in some ways, to Salesforce’s original vision.

You see, back in the day, Salesforce sold its product to small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs). Indeed, the SMB was a big part of Salesforce’s origin. But then, due to customer demand and the massive opportunity that exists within the enterprise, Salesforce’s product portfolio became more and more complex – both in terms of breadth (Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Customer Cloud, all the clouds!) and depth (the SalesforceCRM has massive amounts of functionality, as required from an enterprise-level solution.)

That isn’t a criticism of Salesforce at all – they did what they needed to and their incredible $10B revenue figure indicates how well they’ve executed. But at the same time, I feel a twinge of sadness that Salesforce is no longer a particularly applicable tool for the smaller end of town.

Or at least it wasn’t until DreamForce when Salesforce announced Essentials. For the first time in many moons, Salesforce is going to offer an entry-level product that, while running on the same platform as Salesforce’s “grown-up” offering, is cheaper, easier and more accessible.

Essentials will be priced at an affordable $25 per user per month and includes all of the basic stuff that an SMB CRM should: contacts, accounts, leads, and opportunities. It also includes case management, Salesforce’s Chatter enterprise social networking product, and reports and dashboards. Being built on Salesforce’s core platform, Essentials also has all the mobile goodness by way of Lightning, a dose of Salesforce’s Einstein artificial intelligence pixie dust, and how-to guides delivered through Salesforce’s Trailhead training offering.

On top of the core Salesforce offering, there are also a bunch of third-party applications that can be plugged in via Salesforce’s AppExchange marketplace – HelloSign being a good example and integration comes standard into the Google G-Suite office productivity offering (with a bonus of three months G-Suite for free).

The timing is right

Salesforce continues to grow and continues to add to its enterprise portfolio. But it also has the breathing room and the tools (especially Trailhead) to lower its cost to service SMB customers. And so it makes sense to offer an SMB-centric product, and move back into a space that many smaller players (Zoho, InSightly, and Nimble in particular) have been taking care of for years.

It’s also an extension of the strategy that the company seemed to embark upon a few years ago when it rolled out SalesfroceIQ for Small Business. This time, however, this is a product built on the same technology platform as Salesforce’s enterprise product and hence SMB customers have a logical upgrade route to the full solution.

MyPOV

As someone who has watched Salesforce since those SMB days, and who is involved in a bunch of SMBs himself, this feels like a nice sort of a “coming home” announcement. It in no way reduces Salesforce’s commitment to the enterprise, but it allows them to simultaneously support a broader audience. And since a huge proportion of the world’s business is transacted by SMBs, it’s a nice nod to Benioff’s vision of helping to make the world a better place through technology.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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