Meredith Schmidt joined Salesforce in 2005 to create the revenue operations team, which manages all contracts and billings for more than 150,000 Salesforce customers. Now, after growing that team to 325 strong over 13 years, she’s taking on a new challenge, leading a new business unit as Executive Vice President and General Manager of Essentials and SMB at Salesforce.

Her work growing Salesforce and helping customers succeed has given her important insight into how technology can help a business find, win and keep customers. For the more than 125 million small businesses around the world, developing deeper, more personalized connections with their customers is essential to growth. Salesforce Essentials makes it possible for every small business to tap into the power of the world’s #1 CRM platform, with apps for sales and service that are easy to use, setup and maintain. In addition, small businesses don’t have to worry about outgrowing their CRM—they can upgrade quickly and easily.

We talked with Meredith to learn about her vision for small businesses, her insights gleaned from growing teams at Salesforce, and her life outside the office.

You now lead the Essentials and SMB business unit at Salesforce, which was once a small business itself. How has what you’ve learned during your time at Salesforce prepared you to help small businesses grow?

When I came here from PeopleSoft 13 years ago, Salesforce was the new kid on the block and our customers typically fell in the category of small-and-medium sized businesses. When a customer escalated the need for support on contracting and billing, I was the one that was sent in to find a solution. I saw first-hand the importance of being easy to work with and helping them quickly meet their goals.

I was originally hired to create a revenue operations team and to create sales processes and systems. Of all the things I have accomplished at Salesforce, I’m most proud of building that team and scaling our systems and processes to support a $13B+ business. Now that we are a big company, there’s a huge opportunity to bring that same upstart scrappiness that’s in our DNA to serving the small businesses market today.

What’s different about your new business unit and where do you think you can make the most impact?

Prior to launching Salesforce Essentials, customers would tell us they liked the easy-to-use apps we offered, but that they wanted the full power of the Salesforce Platform and the ability to extend, grow and leverage the full platform.

Creating Essentials and this new business unit enables us to innovate specifically for this market and build products on the same platform as the rest of Salesforce. That means harnessing the power of the Salesforce Platform to deliver the ease-of-use and simplicity small businesses demand. It also means that no matter how big a company ends up being, they can be confident that Salesforce can grow to meet their needs, as that they have the same CRM platform that powers 83% of Fortune 500 companies.

I can look at this market with fresh eyes. How have customer expectations changed and how are we helping small businesses meet those needs? How do we continue to innovate Essentials and keep it easy to learn and use?

You’ve built teams at Salesforce and now run a major product division. Is there anyone in your career that you consider a mentor?

I don’t really like the “mentor” label - it feels overly formal to me. I believe an advocate or advisor relationship should be natural. In my career at Salesforce I’ve been fortunate to have that type of bond with Robin Washington, CFO of Gilead Sciences, Inc. and Salesforce board member, and Mark Hawkins, president and CFO here at Salesforce. I’ve never seen a manager that cares as much about his or her people than Mark. Working with him has shaped my outlook on management.

Is there anyone in your career that you have a mentee-like relationship with?

It’s so rewarding to see people grow into the potential that you see in them. I have had many informal mentee relationships throughout my career and love encouraging their dreams and helping them with their fears - it’s healthy to have both! I had a “mentee” that had an opportunity to leave her team and join a product marketing role. This was a 180-degree shift from what she was doing, and my first reaction was “go for it”! She decided to stay in her current job, which disappointed me at first, but months later she took the risk and now loves what she is doing.

Now, as someone taking on a new role and seeing the situation from her perspective, I’m so thankful to have that same support from my advocates. In fact, as I was debating whether to take on this new challenge or stay where I was comfortable, I reflected on the conversations I had with her, and decided to heed my own advice and “go for it”!

Have you ever been given what turned out to be bad advice as your career progressed?

Early in my career I was basically told to hide who I was. I was told that I needed to be quieter, to not gesture as much, and that I didn’t always need to have an opinion about things. The feedback was hard, but eager to grow my career, I gave it a shot.

It lasted for all of a miserable month. In my attempts to not offend or appear overbearing, I felt like I was holding back my good ideas and the value I brought to the team. Being comfortable with who you are at work is huge, and being authentic to who I was again was a relief. I would not be where I am today if I had continued to hold back!

What are you looking forward to this year?

What am I not! I’m excited to roll up my sleeves with this business unit and help our customers grow. I’m also looking forward to activities outside the office to get to know everyone on my team, including volunteering at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue (our adopted nonprofit), Willie Brown Middle School (our adopted school) and more. I’m also looking forward to growing as a cook - my goal this year is to master lasagna and pasta noodles, to the delight of my friends.

Connect with Meredith on Twitter @MeredSchmidt for the latest on Salesforce Essentials and Small Business