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Democratizing Innovation: Why Some SMBs Are Outshining Enterprises in AI Implementation

Research shows 95% of SMB IT teams are confident in their AI skills

Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) are known for being more agile than enterprises but often lack the resources to compete with their larger counterparts. 

At least that’s how it used to be. 

Today, sales teams from smaller companies like BACA Systems, Crexi, Ennube Solutions, and Beyond Better Foods are tapping the power of AI to automate time-consuming, manually-intensive administrative tasks. These non-selling activities account for 72% of a rep’s day and take them away from finding and closing deals. 

In fact, a recent survey of 600 IT professionals revealed SMBs might even be ahead of their enterprise counterparts in implementing AI. The study showed 95% of SMB IT professionals feel confident in their generative AI skills, compared to 81% of enterprise IT professionals. At the same time, enterprise IT teams are 5x more likely than SMB IT teams to struggle with balancing speed, business value, and security when implementing new technologies, the report found. 

“AI is really leveling the playing field for SMBs,” said Kristopher Billmaier, GM of Salesforce Starter Suite, which bundles marketing, sales, service, and commerce tools in a complete CRM built for SMBs. “With generative AI taking on much of their repetitive and sometimes menial tasks across a fully connected suite of products, SMB teams suddenly have more time for more strategic and high-value work like connecting with prospects and customers. As a result, they can move as fast — or faster than — larger companies while dramatically improving customer experience.”

The emergence of SMBs as leaders in AI implementation presents significant implications for the business landscape. Unlike larger enterprises, SMBs often face fewer bureaucratic hurdles. This agility means they’re often quicker to deploy innovative technologies like AI that enable them to address market changes and shifting customer demand faster than their bigger competitors. 

Many small businesses, which make up 99.9% of all firms in the United States, are already experiencing or expect to experience deeper business insights, increased revenue, and improved customer experience from investments in AI technologies like the Einstein 1 Platform and Salesforce Data Cloud, according to Salesforce’s survey. 

BACA: Doing far more with less

BACA Systems, which produces equipment for the global natural stone industry, is one of those. Since June 2023, it has doubled sales productivity using Einstein 1 Sales. BACA’s lean sales team is now punching above its weight with the help of these AI tools, which automatically generate summaries of sales opportunities, suggest the next best personalized interaction, and generate customized follow-up emails to leads. 

“We’re not a large enterprise with unlimited resources,” said BACA Systems’ Enterprise Architect Andrew Russo. “We have a small team managing a lot of accounts, so our AI tools become force multipliers that allow our sales team to give our clients high-touch engagements without spending crazy amounts of time.”

For example, Russo said BACA’s sales team uses Einstein Activity Capture, an AI-enabled productivity tool, to surface insights from customer interactions like email and phone calls. 

“It’s not feasible for our sales reps to read every single email, so summarizing those key highlights really helps to save our sales team time,” Russo said.

Crexi: Having time to think long-term

The sales team at Crexi, a real estate platform that’s adopted the Einstein 1 Platform, is also making serious strides in efficiency. By automating tasks with AI, reps are saving up to five hours a day, allowing them to focus 80% of their time on nurturing customer relationships, according to Lawson Dees, VP of operations for the company. This means that, instead of just focusing on those all-important deals right in front of them, they can spend more time building customer lifetime value (CLV). 

AI also helps Crexi reps understand whom they should reach out to at any given time, their needs and pain points, and what products will make the most difference, Dees said. Ultimately, this makes reps more effective at their jobs and helps them deliver true, long-term value, he said. 

“What AI can do is serve up the right person to call and tell me why this person should be  at the top of my list,” Dees said. “The salesperson doesn’t have to dig for that information so they can feel confident about making those sales call faster.”

Ennube: Spending less time drafting emails and more time pitching prospects

Ennube Solutions is a software consultancy headquartered in Berkeley, Calif. While it sells its services in the U.S, English has always been a second language for its sales team, which is based in Ecuador. In the past, that meant anyone corresponding with customers had to spend extra time crafting and proofreading email correspondence, which limited how many communications they could send and took them away from other vital work.  

That changed, however, after Ennube adopted Einstein 1 Sales. Since making its move, the company can automatically generate personalized emails in English and at scale — made possible because Einstein 1 Sales is grounded in the company’s relevant customer data. Einstein 1 Sales also assists with finding leads that are highly likely to convert to sales based on Ennube’s ideal customer profile and past deals. 

The sales team now sends 5,600% more prospect emails, sells 50% faster, and reps have more time in their day to spend on customer service and strategic planning, according to Ennube CEO Alex Garcia.  

As a sales leader, I’m blown away by the productivity gains of pairing a human with the Einstein 1 Platform.

Alex Garcia, Ennube CEO

“Salesforce and Einstein empower our sales team to reach new heights faster by taking the guesswork out of sales messaging and building confidence in our approaches and rebuttals,” Garcia said. “As a sales leader, I’m blown away by the productivity gains of pairing a human with the Einstein 1 Platform.”

Beyond Better Foods: Staying better connected

It’s not just SMB sales teams using AI. Beyond Better Foods, the fully remote healthy dessert company that operates brands including Enlightened Frozen Treats and Bada Bean Bada Boom Snacks, is using Slack AI to better coordinate planning and logistics across teams. 

Before using Slack AI — a trusted and intuitive generative AI experience built into the Slack messaging app — essential business details like logistics and freight planning information would be stuck in disparate silos. Beyond Better Foods’ operations team ate up a significant amount of time scavenging for these mission-critical details, in addition to distracting their colleagues who would inevitably be pulled in to help in the hunt — a slow, cumbersome, and unscalable process. Now, its operations team members can quickly ask Slack AI for information like product locations and shipping times using plain language, saving them time without diverting workers’ focus.  

“The enhanced search capabilities of Slack AI have been really helpful to fast-track answers, especially when it comes to logistics,” said Beyond Better Foods’ Vice President of Operations, Andy Kung. “When I need to get my CEO a fast answer at 2 p.m. on a Friday, I can use Slack AI’s search function. I’ve only been using Slack AI for about a month, but it’s already helped me quickly find answers countless times and is saving me at least 30 minutes a day.” 

What’s next for SMBs and AI? 

AI is reshaping the business landscape, and SMBs are seizing the opportunity. To get their business AI-ready, Salesforce’s Billmaier suggests that SMBs use Starter Suite or Pro Suite, which helps small businesses unlock their data across departments by combining marketing, sales, service, and commerce in one CRM suite. By uniting customer data and combining it with pre-built templates and ready-to-use tools, Salesforce helps businesses become more efficient now and prepare them for the future.

Looking ahead, Billmaier sees new AI capabilities like automated proposals, predictive sales modeling, and customer communications enabling SMBs to deliver more exceptional customer experiences, keep a close watch on operating expenses, drive sustainable growth, and compete in ways they’ve never imagined. 

“The amazing thing about Salesforce is that customers never outgrow it. Customers can start with the Starter and Pro Suites, and as they naturally grow and their needs for more advanced functionality increase, they can seamlessly graduate to other solutions on the Einstein 1 Platform, which is likely to be at the center of it all,” Billmaier said. 

Go deeper

  • Learn how Sales Cloud is helping customers grow revenue with AI
  • See why SMB IT pros are ‘more confident” about AI here
  • SMBs can get started with Salesforce Starter Suite for free for 30 days

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