Intro to Salesforce for small business review
I believe this is the right time to do Salesforce for Small Business Review. Twelve years ago, I was in the position where I had to decide on CRM. Back then, I went with an SFDC, and I strongly regretted my decision. In 2009 Salesforce was a very complicated and “corporate” CRM, and it required much expertise. As a result, I had to hire expensive consultants, and they ate a significant percentage off my customer acquisition budget. It ended up with cancellation of subscription and data migration to….excel. Yes. I’ve substituted SFDC with excel at some point.
A decade later, I faced an identical situation. I had to choose CRM for my business. I did remember how my story with SFDC ended back then. But my curiosity and technological hunger pushed me to give it a second try.
Disclaimer. Before we jump any further into my story, there’s one important side note. We are a Salesforce Consultancy company. We are nine people (at the moment of this post), and there were 3 of us when we started. So this is truly a small business story. And this is my personal story as a business owner, even though I’m affiliated with Salesforce.
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What is my business?
As I mentioned before, we’re Salesforce Consultancy, and we are a small company. We sell Salesforce Implementation Services and Managed Services, and these two are different businesses. We cover our costs with Managed Services, and we make a profit by selling projects. Such a business model enables us to be picky about the projects we choose. That way, we can keep doing what we love.
So, our focus is on managed services, and we have to sell them. We sell both to small businesses and larger companies. Difficulty with managed services is in so-called bundles, and we sell different services in bundles, for example. Our Care subscription program consists of Salesforce Administration, Apex programming, and business consultancy. On top of that, we charge a contract maintenance fee, which enables us to cover support agent costs.
That said, our business model requires much tracking. We track what we sell. And we track what services we have provided during the subscription period for a customer. We have built a tracking solution within Salesforce without a single line of code. I’ll get back to how we set up Salesforce.
You might think that if we are a Salesforce consultancy, we have unlimited expertise available for ourselves. But that’s not particularly true. We are a small business, and we do not always have resources, and I’ll explain this in more detail later.
On the other hand, we sell projects. To explain to you how it works, I have a great comparison here. Think of a new building which is in the planning stage. It is very similar to how our project sales look. When you plan construction works, you have various phases. First is documentation, then it’s tender (or market research) for the contractor. Then you or the general contractor goes to the market and picks subcontractors for all structural parts of the building—roof, facade, floor, electricity, and so on.
Our project sales consist of similar stages. Customers start the evaluation of implementation way before they start spending money with contractors. Our process consists of the discovery stage, analysis, value proposition (where we understand what value our services would bring in business terms). Then it’s the offer stage, where we provide our customer with the so-called SoW (statement of works). That’s quoting process on steroids. We provide our customer with a detailed report of cost forecasts for the project he is just planning. Then we close (in case we win) the project and start making things happen.
Why have I decided to go with Salesforce?
I believe that there is much Salesforce for Small Business Reviews out there. So I decided to put more opinion rather than facts. Anyway. Why do we even need a CRM, you’ll ask? Didn’t you have one already in place? Well, the answer is yes and no. We had a lead management system built with our tool called Blondie Platform. The company was growing, and I started thinking of fully pledged CRM. So I started looking at different options.
I’ve already mentioned that I had previously failed with SFDC in small businesses. So why did I decide to go with it again? Just as I said. In the first place, it was curiosity. As a Salesforce partner, we have two free licenses for a company, and we planned to use these licenses for Demo purposes. But then I decided to go and play around with Salesforce. And I immediately noticed a dramatic difference between the Salesforce I used ten years ago and the one I’m playing around with right now. After that, I’ve put Salesforce as one of the options on the table.
There were several other solutions on the list, and one of them was Pipedrive and a couple of other similar options. As a small company, we were not looking for something complicated with lots of functions, bells, and whistles, and I needed something to track my prospects and communication with existing clients. That’s it.
And some point, I ended up choosing between Pipedrive and Salesforce. After evaluating all other options, I had to make a decision. Should I invest something between $5,000-$10,000? I was not mentioning my time. Or should I go with Pipedrive and should be fine. So I started thinking. I have a very detailed review of Pipedrive, and I’ve used my previous research to write this article.
So what was one and the only reason I have chosen SFDC? Well, there wasn’t any. It was a set of reasons. First of all, Salesforce is priced the same for small businesses if not cheaper than other similar solutions. It’s only $25 per user. That’s a common notion that you should rob a bank to own an SFDC, and that’s not true. Because you are replacing multiple tools with it, you pay less in the long term.
Secondly – I was looking for a scalable solution. I didn’t want to replace CRM in the middle of my business; hiring new sales reps and employees and a migration project would cost me much more than investing some money upfront. Thankfully I know Salesforce very well, and I was able to understand its possibilities and limitations.
Implementation costs for small business
I’ve promised to share some insights in this Salesforce for Small Business Review. Here we go. It’s no secret that we are Salesforce Consultancy, so in theory, we have plenty of SFDC certified specialists. And we do. But they cost money. Every hour they work for our company, our company pays them, not the customer. What I did – I have dedicated a budget and spent my own company to do this. Well, technically, I didn’t make any payments from one bank account to another. But I produced a very detailed SoW, just like if I was a client of my own company.
So how much did it cost? In total, we have spent €9,360 ($10,716). It took us four weeks from the moment I have produced SoW to the point where I gave a system away to 3 internal users. What did we invest money for:
- Business process description – €840 ($961)
- Customization – €7200 ($8,242)
- Integrations – €660 ($755)
- Data migration – €660 ($755)
- TOTAL: €9,360 ($10,716)
It’s not a penny-to-penny precise, but it’s more or less correct. I’ve done my best to track everything we have done. I wanted to produce this article someday. It’s was not only my business need but also kind of an experiment. Also – we did not spend this money on day one. We have spent this money over the first eight months. Also – this does not include license costs. I’m not 100% sure how much we have spent because we have upgraded our plan somewhere in the middle of the year. Also, we were adding extra users. I will know this only after our books are done by April next year. It’s the date of the annual report submission with our local IRS.
Now was it worth it? Spoiler: E-V-E-R-Y C-E-N-T
What Salesforce Plan did I use?
Spoiler: we ended up with Salesforce Sales Cloud + Service Cloud as a combined license.
As I have already mentioned, we were 3 when I launched the system. Now we are nine. When we started, we went with the Essentials plan for $25 a user (actually, we paid €25, which is $28.62. We are in Europe.). Essentials were good until I have realized we are growing, and we need some flexibility.
For example, when we started SFDC practice, we had only two customers with Care subscriptions. We’ve used Zendesk for two employees and paid $120 per month. After six months, we have acquired 12 extra customers—That’s 14 in total. Trust me, that’s a lot. Customers were sending inquiries for support daily, and it took us hiring an office manager to track time. We had a separate employee who was doing excel.
What would Salesforce for Small Business Review be without exposing costs? At some point, I recognized that there’s a better way of doing things. And I decided to automate the process. But bummer. Our Essentials plan did not allow us to create custom objects. At the moment, I have realized that we were nine employees, and one extra user was reserved for an outsourcing specialist for the project. So a total of 10 licenses.
I immediately looked at SFDC Enterprise because the Professional plan did not create a sufficient number of Flows (visual programming tools from SFDC). But that was $150 instead of $25. Let’s take simple math – $250 versus $1500 per month. That’s an extra 15,000$ a year.
But then this happened. One other day I was sitting at my desk. It’s on the left hand when you enter the office. I was going through a task one of my customers had sent when the phone started ringing. I picked up the phone, and I had this conversation.
Customer: Hey Jeff, that’s John (name changed)
Me: Hi John, how are you?
Customer: Yeah, not bad. Look, my Boss asked me to send him how many resources we have left in our plan. We plan extensive integration with this new chatbot, so we want to know how much we have left to estimate our costs.
Me: sure, give me a couple of hours. I’ll send you an email
[drop the mic]
That’s a fair question. Well, It would be if…we had everything in one place. We did not excel this customer (and not only this) from the beginning of the month. An employee hired to do excels started her journey to Salesforce Certification, so she was limited in time. As a result, I took all excels we had (we had six by then) and put all the tasks and time entries from excels at putting together.
Guess what happened next? I started sending messages to all my teammates in Slack, asking them to send me reports on services. We all spent the rest of the day putting together time. And we failed to produce a detailed estimate. I’ve sent to the customer something close to reality but was not 100% accurate. While we were putting together time tracking, we were not doing our main job. We were not closing tickets from our customers. The following day when I arrived at the office, I have noticed that we closed only 15% of the tickets from yesterday.
A simple question from my customer initiated a snowball. Tickets from yesterday had to be closed, but customers have already sent new ones. And they started to accumulate. I have realized that we are too short on resources. That one question from the customer initiated a chain of events. As a result, we ended up working through the weekend. And we delayed some critical orders.
So I decided to invest a couple of weekends in putting an end to this. I have produced a detailed SoW for the internal Service Contract tracking system. After that, I reached out to our SFDC account executive, who upgraded our Account to Enterprise. I rolled up my sleeves, took my two colleagues, and in 4 days, we created a system. I have written a detailed case study on this.
We ended up with Salesforce Sales Cloud + Service Cloud as a combined license. The combined license was the most reasonable solution, so we don’t have a separate service and sales solution.
What I hate about Salesforce
Now when you know, the story behind it’s time to share my thoughts on the product. Mainly, I will share ideas on what I don’t like in SFDC for small business as this is Salesforce for small business review, not a general overview of the CRM. So I decided to start with things I hate about SFDC as a solution for small businesses.
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SFDC offers a pay-by-month option when you go with the Essentials plan. However, when you switch to Professional or Enterprise, it’s quarterly, bi-annual or annual payment. It’s the same with Ultimate, which is out of this SFDC Review, as I have focused this review on small companies. We are not the only company with few employees on the market who are very cautious with cash flows, and I strongly believe SFDC should review payment terms for companies with less than 50 employees.
Very few partners who support small business
I implemented SFDC in our small company in a huge rush; we didn’t have internal resources for that. But we did have a budget. I went to AppExchange marketplace and…I was unable to find trustworthy companies that focus on smaller companies. Probably because Salesforce historically focuses on larger corporations. The truth is – SFDC is not for large corps only anymore. Set of tools and Essentials plan is an excellent plan for starters and smaller businesses. It has all you could think of when it comes to tracking opportunities and creating a contact database: email integration, calendar sync, apps on app exchange that are available for free, and so on.
Despite all that, even the Essentials plan requires a significant learning curve for admins. As a result – consultant support would be a great help. But most companies out there are simply not interested in smaller projects.
Limitation of 5 flows
Limitation of 5 flows per type in Professional and Essentials edition. If you don’t know what the flow is, I’ll explain. Think of automated field updates when something happens. For example, you want to copy a number from AccountAccount to related contact when something happens. Well, the bad news is you can only have five of such automation per system, and it dramatically limits possibilities for getting a better user experience.
Well, I would accept if this limitation would be applicable for the Essentials plan. But it’s also suitable for the Professional edition of Salesforce. Just FYI – in the Professional edition, you can create custom Objects which are useless without Flows and automation because you’ll end up filling in all the fields across the system manually. I just don’t get the Professional edition.
Terrible customer support
Have you ever tried to contact Salesforce customer support? If not, let me tell you what you could expect. You will be sent one of the pre-defined messages with a link to “useful” resources. The resource will be useless because I know how to google, and it’s just typing in your question. I don’t need to raise a ticket if there’s an answer available online. I want someone to take a closer look at my case, not just playing ping pong with stupid questions I asked back and forth.
Oh, and the most “wonderful” part of the support from Salesforce is that if a ticket stays open for a couple of days, there is a chance that Salesforce will assign someone else to the ticket. And that other agent will not read the previous conversation but will start asking the same questions repeatedly. It isn’t charming.
Lack of API in Professional edition
I don’t know what age it is in San Francisco, but where I live, it’s 2021. In both Essentials and Professional editions, there is API missing. Well, in the professional edition, you can buy API as an add-on. But what’s the point? I would rather go with Enterprise Edition instead. You might ask. Why do I need API? Let me explain. If you want to integrate your SFDC with an external system, like an email marketing app, you will need API. Some vendors on AppExchange offer apps for Salesforce that offer integration without an API, but the choice is so limited that most likely, you won’t find an integration that will work with all your services. For a smaller company, it is essential to have other smaller services integrated. There’s nobody to do manual imports/exports across systems.
Oh, and did I mention? API is also needed to use Data Loader. Data Loader is a tool that allows you to bulk import/export data to Salesforce. You have standard tools in Salesforce, but they are limited to several objects. So YES, you WILL need API at some point. And you will upgrade anyway—just a matter of time. But don’t rush. It could be worth it.
Paid engagement pack
I hate this, but it is reasonable to bill for this. Salesforce offers a FANTASTIC engagement pack, and it adds chat to your website. As a result, it enables your small business to start using WhatsApp for business. It’s just a fantastic feature, but you’ll have to pay for this quote much of an extra.
Limited offering for VoIP in Europe
Limited offering for VoIP in Europe is something not many companies will value. In 2021 we all use cell phones, and it’s hard to imagine a situation where you could not use your phone. But what if I do not want to expose my phone number? If you live in the US, you can skip this part. In the US, there are tones of services available for VoIP. Just in case you don’t know what VoIP is – it’s Voice over Internet Protocol. It’s a phone inside your computer. If you want to track calls in Europe, it will take forever to find a provider with SFDC integration. And by the way. Remember you don’t have an API? Many providers use API for their VoIP solutions. As a result, it limits you even further in your choice of providers.
A steep learning curve is another thing I dislike with SFDC. For a small business, it’s hard to learn that much technology, and I guess it’s a cost you have to pay for a highly customizable product.
What I love about Salesforce
When I started to write Salesforce for small business reviews, I had a personality bifurcation in my head. I’m a full-time Salesforce consultant, and I sell to large companies, and corporations tend to value slightly different things than small businesses. So I tried to do my best to disclose what I love about Salesforce. Particularly useful for small companies.
Customization options are what I love most about Salesforce. If you ask me for one single reason to go with SFDC, this will out-weight everything. Every flaw salesforce will be beaten by its capability of adjusting your business process. In the beginning, when you are just starting, you will not need that much. But as you begin to feel the control and transparency, Salesforce brings. You will want to go further, and you will start customizing your setup. That’s for sure.
In the Essentials plan, you cant do custom objects. But you add tones of custom fields, and sometimes you can replace a custom object with plenty of custom fields. For most small businesses, this will be more than enough and could last for life.
Automation for small business
Even with the Essentials edition, you can add Flows. I have already explained what they are. So you are capable of adding multiple automation. Oh, by the way. The amount of flows in Essentials is limited to 5. However, each separate flow is not limited in size, which leads me to a workaround. Suppose you want something sophisticated on your object. You can create one large flow for most if not all processes a small company needs, with only one flow.
I did mention the lack of API in essential and professional editions of SFDC. However, it turns out that many small businesses won’t need that much-specialized software. Most of the tools small companies will use will be popular tools, and most of them do have an integration. Also, if you plan to use Google Ads and Facebook for your advertising needs, you will integrate with them. I do not have any other system on the market that offers such a wide variety of integrations.
Tones of free apps
Apart from paid apps available on AppExchange, Salesforce marketplace offers plenty of free ones. I particularly love one of them, and its HIC Docs Made Easy app. It’s a mighty PDF generation app, and it works with both Essentials and Professional editions. But there are plenty of other apps as well. It is the most diverse choice of apps you will ever find in any CRM system, and there is just no alternative.
I don’t know what the magic is about task tracking in SFDC, and it just works. I never forgot to get in touch with the customer after we switched to Salesforce. There is not much I can tell you about Salesforce task tracking buy I love it. You can create a task and relate it to any object within Salesforce.
Email & Calendar integration
In the past, Salesforce had Lightning Sync, and it did the job, but It was not predictable and sometimes won’t relate all emails to accounts and contacts. Recently Salesforce introduced Einstein Activity Capture and planned to depreciate.
Last but not least. I fell in love with how Salesforce manages dashboards, and it is so easy to create them. Dashboards in Salesforce are very intuitive and give you plenty of insights at a glance.
Salesforce for Small Business Review Summary
I hope this Salesforce for Small Business Review will help you in making the right decision. I believe Salesforce is the product you can’t go wrong with, and it offers plenty of functionality other platforms simply don’t have. On the other hand, it requires some time (and money) investment from a small business owner’s perspective.
As a result. After a year of using Salesforce we have
- The saved amount of money is equivalent to one employee’s salary. We replaced all manual time tracking work.
- We have full transparency over our services.
- We have full transparency over our pipeline.
Thank you for reading until this point. Have a great day/night, whatever it is now when you are reading this.