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Salesforce talks up sales intelligence, small business offensive

Key Speakers At The DreamForce ConferenceKey Speakers At The DreamForce Conference

A common criticism leveled against customer relationship management systems is that they force sales representatives to spend far too much of their day submitting updates about meetings and other encounters with prospects. Or reconciling their CRM records with other applications they use far more frequently, like email.

That time, the very rational argument goes, would be far better spent in front of a potential customer or opening doors to new accounts.

Cloud CRM giant Salesforce (CRM) is addressing those gripes head-on, courtesy of predictive analytics software it picked up last August via its $390 million buyout of “relationship intelligence” startup RelateIQ.

The new technology unveiled Tuesday morning is called SalesforceIQ. Currently in beta testing, it automatically collects data from a person’s email interactions, calendars, and marketing campaigns and appends what’s relevant to existing records in Sales Cloud. The idea is to reduce the amount of time that sales teams spend making updates manually.

SalesforceIQ will show up as an extension to the company’s Sales Cloud service. Just as significant, this “intelligence” is the foundation for a Salesforce product offering meant to rekindle the CRM giant’s appeal among small businesses by integrating sales management with other productivity applications.

“Sales reps are overwhelmed by customer data. They’re being forced to spend more time filtering data, less time actually selling. …Now your CRM [system] anticipates who you should call,” said Elise Bergeron, the vice president of marketing for SalesforceIQ, during a briefing with Fortune.

As more information about an account relationship emerges, SalesforceIQ acts like an executive assistant. For example, it can guide a salesperson when to set up a meeting and then make it simpler to book an appointment. Alternatively, the software might alert a team when someone within an account opens a marketing communication, helping identify a more specific target for a sales call. It even automatically creates new action item for the rep’s “to do” list.

The new technology will be a central theme this week at Dreamforce along with the new App Cloud, which brings together several strategic Salesforce development platforms.

RelateIQ was founded in 2011 by two former engineers from Palantir. Public references include media company News Corp. and cloud software upstarts Asana and Box (BOX), but the company’s real strength was among fast-growing startups. This week’s re-introduction will serve as a wake-up call for companies that prioritize the low end of the market such as Insightly, Microsoft (MSFT), Nimble (NMBL), SugarCRM, and Zoho.

“Now, when you look at what [Salesforce has] at the SMB level, you know it works together with their other offerings such as,” said Brent Leary, co-founder and partner with CRM Essentials, a technology advisory firm in Atlanta. “As a company grows and scales, they can transition up the chain smoother than before.”

SalesforceIQ will show up as Android and iOS mobile apps and as an extension for the Chrome web browser. The pricetag for the small business edition of SalesforceIQ starts at $25 per user per month. Salesforce hasn’t finalized pricing for the Sales Cloud extension, which should be generally available by early 2016.

For a look at Salesforce’s cloud strategy, check out the video.

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UPDATED, Sept. 15, 2015: This story was revised to correct Brent Leary’s first name.