Salesforce intends to continue its investment in integration software, customer data and SMBs in 2019, building off acquisitions and products that Salesforce users have been looking for.
The Salesforce strategy was on full display last month to a group of analysts, who saw the San Francisco-based company lay out its plans for this year and beyond.
A lot of the Salesforce strategy that was presented remains hidden behind embargos and nondisclosure agreements, but some of what was publicized can help its customers plan ahead -- especially around Customer 360 and MuleSoft.
"Customers are on the move and expect real-time and personalized responses and a relationship with the company," said Paul Greenberg, CRM analyst and founder of The 56 Group, an advisory firm. "Look at Customer 360; it's still a system of record, but it's a more dynamic system of record."
'The maturation of Salesforce'
The Salesforce strategy has always centered on customer data mining and organization, but with it scattered across so many channels and hidden within a variety of software tools, integration remains an essential aspect of achieving a true 360-degree customer view.
"The old single view of the customer has been around for 20 years, but it's always looked at limited data -- transactional data or direct interactions with customers," Greenberg said. "One thing about Salesforce is they understand the nature of the modern customer and they need to be in their environment."
Being in customers' environments requires more than just a dynamic system of record; it requires open APIs and easy connectivity with other data sources. Enter MuleSoft.
Paul GreenbergCRM analyst and founder, The 56 Group
"One thing the MuleSoft acquisition indicates to me is the maturation of Salesforce," Greenberg said. "This is Salesforce saying we can't build everything, but we can provide the ability to lock in to other [vendors]. It's the recognition that on-premises software will exist for a while longer because there are users that prefer it."
Salesforce acquired MuleSoft in 2018 for $6.5 billion, its priciest purchase in the company's 20-year history. By promising integrations with outside data sources, Salesforce moves away from "you can do it all in the Salesforce platform" and toward a more integrated landscape with both cloud and on-premises software.
Part of the integrated Salesforce strategy is to usher more consumer-grade technologies to enterprise customers, said Lynne Zaledonis, SVP of product marketing for Sales Cloud.
"If customers can have these personalized, streamlined experiences with their consumer apps, they're going to expect the same from their business apps," she said.
Salesforce for SMBs
While a lot of the Salesforce strategy focuses on enterprise -- with MuleSoft and Customer 360 both fitting the bill -- Salesforce also outlined some future investment into Salesforce Essentials, its CRM for SMBs.
"Salesforce made a big commitment to Essentials," said Laurie McCabe, co-founder of SMB Group, an analyst firm focused on small and medium-sized businesses. "They're really going to be adding new capabilities that will give [Essentials] more value and make it easier for new users to wrap their heads around it."
McCabe said Salesforce is making Essentials more user-friendly by simplifying the business jargon commonly associated with data entry. She did express concern about businesses that grow out of Essentials but aren't quite ready for Salesforce's next level of products.
"I do think there is a gap," McCabe said. "Salesforce has their low-priced edition and the jump to the next level is steep."
That middle ground is a popular spot for other CRM and CX vendors, including HubSpot, Zoho and Insightly, all of which offer similar products to Salesforce at a lower price for smaller teams. The Essentials product is for teams of up to 10 people, McCabe said.
While Salesforce does offer a Professional level between Essentials and Enterprise, McCabe added that the added complexity of the Professional edition can be difficult for small but growing businesses, as can the price. Essentials costs $25 per month, per user up to 10 users, while Lightning Professional jumps to $75 per month, per user. By comparison, Zoho Standard costs $12 per user, per month, and the Professional version costs $20 per user, per month. Insightly's CRM Plus plan is $29 per user, per month and the Professional edition is $49 per user, per month.
"Salesforce is pushing Essentials for their small customers and the message is they can grow with it, but you need to make sure that segment of small businesses has a path to grow," McCabe said. "It's important for Salesforce to think about that group of customers that start with Essentials and might get sticker shock with [the Professional license]."