Last week at Dreamforce, I had the great pleasure of receiving a guided tour of the Small Business Lodge by Eric Bensley, Senior Product Director of Marketing for Salesforce, and Rekha Srivatsan, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Salesforce. There were several hundred people sitting in, doing one-on-one sessions with Salesforce engineers, and watching demos of different Salesforce applications.

To get even more of a flavor for what small business attendees were interested in learning about, I sat down with Eric Bensley right in the middle of all the activity in the lodge for a few minutes to find out more.  Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.  To hear the full conversation, check out the video or embedded SoundCloud player below.

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Eric Bensley of Salesforce - AMBs Are More Interested in the Practical Uses of AI for Small BusinessesSmall Business Trends: Thank you for having me come in and check out the Small Business Lodge here.

Eric Bensley: Absolutely. Welcome to Dreamforce.

Small Business Trends: This is awesome. First of all, there’s a lot of activity, a lot of sessions going on, a lot of one-on-one things. Just give me a broad overview of what’s happening here today.

Eric Bensley: Dreamforce can sometimes be a little overwhelming for small businesses. There’s a lot going on here as you can attest to. The idea behind this lodge we’re sitting in right now is that somebody hears about a new product like Salesforce Essentials, for instance, wants to learn a little more, wants to get hands on; they can come here. We have a theater right here on the other side of us that’s constantly going with content for small businesses, specially just for small business content.

Behind me, we have an entire lodge set up where we’re doing consultations, one-on-one consultations which are one of the most popular things that we do for small businesses. They can ask any question they want, talk to one of our engineers, not sales people, one of our engineers. How do you do this? How do I build a nurture program? How do I follow up with my leads? How do I make sure my forecasts are accurate? Very common questions we get from small businesses. They can sit down, ask an engineer, see it in the products.

Then, obviously, we’re introducing Salesforce Essentials this week, which is our brand new version of our CRM which is built for small businesses to get started easily. We’re demoing that over behind us and also featuring some of our great launch partners for that.

Small Business Trends: There’s a session going on that talks about how to do your own events. Salesforce is known for great events and having a lot of people at them. So it’s not just about learning the product, it’s actually about learning to do things that will help you build your business in general.

Eric Bensley: Yeah, absolutely. I think, over the years, Dreamforce has become more and more of that, going beyond just how do I use my CRM and more into best practices and thought leadership. Just like you mentioned, we were sitting here just a moment ago watching a session about how you can use events to drive pipeline. And, of course, you need a CRM to capture the information, but a lot of that stuff is about how do you plan an event? We have a lot of experience with that and so part of this event is not just telling people about how to use a CRM, but how they can be a better marketer, how they could be a better sales person, how they can be a better customer service person.

Small Business Trends: What are some of the hot areas that people are looking for advice around? Is it around sales, marketing service, specific things?

Eric Bensley: I think, specifically here, people are interested in artificial intelligence because it’s the new thing and they’re trying to figure it out. In small businesses, I think it’s a lot of questions about practical advice on how to use it as opposed to just this big concept of artificial intelligence. We’ve done a lot of sessions. We show how Einstein can help do predictive lead scoring, look at fields associated with a lead and start to predict which leads are most likely to pick up your call, stuff like that.

In the small business area, we’re getting more into the practical stuff like how does it actually impact my business? How can I use it versus this big amorphous concept that might be too much for some people? Like getting right into the details, that’s what people are looking for here in the lodge, is practical advice.

Small Business Trends: And how does Trailhead fit into the helping? Great hands-on here, but what happens when they leave? How does Trailhead help with that?

Eric Bensley: For those viewers who don’t know, Trailhead is the online learning platform from Salesforce. It’s all free. I think what’s really powerful about it is, especially for small businesses, it’s completely free and it’s self-paced. People can go on and just learn whatever they need to learn, whether it’s how do I import my data into Salesforce, a simple task, or we have trails on things like creating a workplace of equality. That spectrum of content is pretty big.

The idea is just a place where people can learn, a friendly place where people can learn for free. Especially with small businesses, it’s hugely impactful. A lot of owners of small businesses don’t have time to fly out and take an in person class and learn Salesforce. They need to use it and then learn on the weekends, or whatever it might be. I think, at least with the small businesses I talk to, that’s the most compelling part of Trailhead is, it’s free and you can do it on your own time, two big benefits for small businesses.

Small Business Trends: It looks like there’s another session about to kick off. The [lines] are starting to form. So we’re going to end it here, but where could people go to learn more about all the things around Small Business Essentials and other things that SMBs may need help with?

Eric Bensley: Absolutely. I would recommend Easy for you all to remember and that’s where we’re talking about this brand new product, especially people that are just getting started with CRM, maybe using spreadsheets, God forbid, sticky notes to manage customer information, but it happens. We see it every day. That’s a good place to learn about how they could use a CRM in Salesforce.

This article, "Eric Bensley of Salesforce: Small Businesses Want Practicality When it Comes to AI, Not Big Concepts" was first published on Small Business Trends

Microsoft Wallet is Now Microsoft Pay

Have you heard of Microsoft Wallet? If you haven’t don’t worry, because it has now been rebranded as Microsoft Pay. The question is, has Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) waited too long to really compete in the mobile digital pay segment?

Microsoft now competes in a crowded field populated by the likes of Apple, Google and Samsung, as well as many service providers with their own apps. What Microsoft Pay has going for it is brand recognition and deep pockets, which could catapult this new service to the top of providers as long as the company doesn’t give up on it.

Microsoft Wallet

Originally called Microsoft Wallet as part of Windows Phone, the service didn’t catch on. Microsoft announced the Payment Request API for Edge’s web platform in December of 2016. It was released as part of Windows 10 Creators Update in early 2017 with the new name.

So is Microsoft going to push its payments framework? Small businesses interested in the option will have to wait and see, but in the meantime here are some of the features consumers and businesses of all sizes can expect from Microsoft Pay.

As part of your Microsoft account your profile data can be easily accessed with payment methods and shipping addresses for faster checkouts. Consumers will be able to pay online, in-app or with a bot so they can check out no matter where they are.

If you have a Windows Phone, you can store your debit and credit cards in Microsoft Wallet to make payments using your device easier.

Merchants will also have the flexibility to accept payment from debit and credit cards with traditional POS systems or digitally. This includes bot experience on Skype, other platforms, online or in-app.

Growth of Microsoft Pay

Microsoft Pay has been part of Windows 10 since the Creators Update, but the company hasn’t really made its intention known as to how it is going to move forward. The information on the site is very basic.

Should your small business start using Microsoft Pay? It wouldn’t hurt, but what is Microsoft going to do to encourage more consumers and merchant to adopt the platform?

Image: Microsoft

This article, "Microsoft Wallet is Now Microsoft Pay But Should Your Small Business Use It?" was first published on Small Business Trends

These Statistics Illustrate the Importance of Delivery in Ecommerce

You had better get your online delivery right or 39 percent of your customers might never shop with you again and that’s according to MetaPack’s 2017 State of eCommerce Delivery Consumer Research Report.

The Importance of Delivery in Ecommerce

The report states that half of shoppers (about 54 percent) say they base their shopping choices on the delivery options. An even more sobering stat indicates 43 percent of shoppers will use social media to share their displeasure over a poor delivery experience with others. And that’s not all. Expectations among metropolitan shoppers. Fifty-four percent of online shoppers in these areas want eCommerce sites to offer one-hour delivery.

Some 3,577 consumers from seven countries, including the U.S., France, U.K., and Germany took part in the study. It is clear from MetaPack’s survey that small businesses — especially online retailers — cannot become complacent about the strategic role delivery plays in the overall success of their businesses.

“When it comes to winning and keeping customers, delivery has the power to make or break the online shopping experience,” the report explains. “Indeed, our research confirms that the delivery options consumers encounter will determine whether or not they ultimately press the ‘buy’ button at checkout; half (50 percent) of the shoppers we surveyed this year admit to abandoning online shopping carts because the delivery choices on offer were unsatisfactory or did not meet their needs.”

And while shoppers are still conscious of price, the report says a growing number (35 percent) of shoppers are now prioritizing convenience over cost and are happy to pay extra if that means they would be able to get items delivered when and where they want.

Also important, the survey said, is to display delivery options prominently. An overwhelming 77 percent or respondents say they expect this information to be displayed  on an ecommerce store’s product page.

Image: Metapack

This article, "39% of Online Shoppers Vow to Never Return if a Delivery Disappoints" was first published on Small Business Trends

Facebook Cross-Border Platform Introduces 4 New Ways to Grow Your Small Business Internationally

Four new cross-border solutions expand the initiative Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) launched in September of 2016 to give businesses global reach.

The benefit of using Facebook’s platform to look for international opportunities is the incredible amount of data it provides. These four solutions deliver extremely valuable insight into new locations, which can be your neighboring city or one that is on the other side of the globe.

New Facebook Cross-Border Features

The four new features include:

Dynamic Language Optimization – Even if you are a polyglot, it will take you a long time to translate your campaign into different languages. With this language optimization feature, Facebook says it will match the right language, to the right person, at the right time. And best of all it will optimize the performance based on your campaign objective and total budget.

Multi-country Look-Alike Audiences – Without ever having to step into another country, this feature will find customers like you currently have in any combination of countries or regions.

Multi-city Targeting – If you are looking to target multiple cities, your small business can now target cities based on population size without adding cities individually or doing research.

Facebook IQ Cross-Border Insights Finder – What if you are looking for a new location, but don’t know where to go? The Insights Finder will help advertisers discover untapped markets using comparative data based on past campaign performance across different channels, including Facebook, Instagram and Audience Network.

Facebook Cross-Border Program

Facebook introduced Cross-Border Solutions last year with the goal of helping businesses grow internationally no matter where they are. Using features such as Lookalike Audiences, businesses are able to reach customers in new cities, states and countries that are just like their existing ones.

Facebook says there are more than 1.2 billion people on Facebook are connected to a small business in another country. On its Facebook Business page, the company goes on to explain, “As more people around the world come online, businesses have an opportunity to connect with new customers, many of whom live in different cities, regions or countries.”

With so much information available to small businesses today, it can be overwhelming at times. Facebook has developed a Blueprint eLearning course titled Expand across Borders with Facebook to help navigate the waters. You can access the course here.

Image: Facebook

This article, "Facebook Introduces 4 New Ways to Grow Your Small Business Internationally" was first published on Small Business Trends

25 Small Business Ideas for Athletes

To be successful in sports doesn’t always require being gifted with athletic talents.

Some of the greatest coaches weren’t the best players and some never played the game at all.

To that end, there are plenty of business opportunities that have a focus on sports that don’t necessarily require you to be able to run fast, shoot a basketball better than anyone, or even sink a 10-foot golf putt. But that doesn’t disqualify you if you are good at sports. There are chances to turn that talent into a lucrative business or even a brisk side business.

Business Ideas for Athletes

Here’s a list of 25 business startups for those who love sports.

Open a Sports Store

It doesn’t matter where you live in the country, people play sports. Taking the extra time to make sure your idea for a sports store fits in with the local culture is important. For example, offering beach volleyball supplies works better in Malibu then a ski shop.

Become a Coach

If you’ve been an athlete, you probably want to pass along some of your knowledge and experience. Getting involved coaching at the high school level usually means meeting some educational requirements too.

Become a Sports Blogger

Setting up a blog as your sports business requires very little capital. You can blog about the sport you were involved in or choose a wider swath. Insider information from colleagues with athletic backgrounds will position your blog in a good place.

Become a Sports Photographer

25 Small Business Ideas for Athletes
Some of these ideas will require you add to your sports background. Some sports photography jobs you might apply for will want you to use both manual and digital cameras.

Start a PR Business

Athletes have an insider scoop on relating to people who are currently playing games. Starting a public relations business to manage sports personalities is another idea. You’ll need to understand how to pursue deals and advertising while managing your client’s reputation.

Start a Magazine

Some of the best apps for creating your own publication include Adobe Digital Publishing Suite. You can monetize the publication by getting in touch with old colleagues and selling ads.

Open an Academy

If you want to help develop young talent, this is one way to go. Don’t forget to put together a solid business plan so you can get a loan.

Become a Scout

Looking for new talent for an organization in the sport you play or played in is another option. Be forewarned here. This business isn’t for a homebody since you’ll be spending a lot of time on the road.

Start a Sports Betting Website

This a a growth industry that can certainly be helped along with past sports experience. You’ll need to find the right kind of software and stay abreast of the requirements in the jurisdiction you’re setting the website up in.

Become a YouTube Trainer

Take advantage of how easy it is to make and upload a YouTube video. You might need to buy a professional camera but your initial cash outlay should be small. A series of short training videos can be directed to a website where you offer full courses.

Open A Gym

Remember that being a boxer is good if you’re looking to open a gym. However you’ll need some business punch too. You’ll need to learn about financing and pick a good location. Don’t forget about getting the right insurance as well.

Start a Sports Radio Station

The Internet makes this easy. All you need to get started is a computer, a good internet connection and the right software. If you’re looking to keep costs way down, consider the open source software available.

Start a Jersey Customizing Business

Everyone wants to wear the name and number of their favorite athlete. Make sure any and all suppliers are licensed properly. A good graphic designer is another must have for this idea.

Start a Sports Promotion Business

Before you jump into any particular niche, it’s a good idea to investigate the competition. Having a good business plan is a prerequisite. These cover everything from a target market description to marketing essentials.

Produce Sports Video Games

Game designers all say that designing credible people for their games is a big challenge. People with sports backgrounds are great consultants to help accomplish this goal.

Sell Sports Memorabilia

You should have the inside track here, especially in the sport you played. These types of trinkets are big sellers at events and festivals. Renting a table can be an alternative to opening a brick and mortar store or even putting up a website.

Open a Sports Bar

25 Small Business Ideas for Athletes
Build on the theme of the sport you played in or are currently playing in. One way to make the place unique is add memorabilia from your career.

Open a Sports Camp

Make sure to bring in other coaches and athletes so campers get a well rounded perspective. If you can get a local sports personality’s endorsement, all the better. Scale is important here. If your camp lasts for several weeks you’ll need a bigger staff.

Become a Golf Instructor

The capital that you might need to start a business like this is smaller than you think. An online golf instructor can easily upload videos to YouTube. You really only need a good video camera or a GoPro to get started.

Become a Swim Instructor

Your municipality more than likely has courses for you to take to get licensed. If you are an athlete looking to stay in shape, this is a great way to do that, make some money and help people in your community.

Become a Referee

Looking to put your knowledge of your sport to the test? Being a referee is one way of doing just that. Keep in mind that you’ll need to be accredited by the local sports organization.

Become a Sports Therapist

You’ll more than likely be a part of a larger team of trainers and doctors if you get on with a team. Of course the other route is to open your own business and serve individual athletes.

Become a Sports Equipment Manufacturer

If you’re going to start out small and have an online presence, make sure you offer multiple payments methods and discounts.

Develop Sports Apps

Building mobile sports apps is big business. Remember that the most successful apps are easy to use. They should have what’s called a finger friendly design too.

Sell Tickets for Sporting Events

Having the right strategy is important here. A pre-public release schedule for members is a good option to attract a client base.

Football Practice Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "25 Small Business Ideas for Athletes" was first published on Small Business Trends