Compare and contrast - Salesforce takes on HubSpot to deliver 'business in a box' for SMBs

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher March 22, 2024
Salesforce is pitching a fresh offering to the SMB market, putting itself up alongside HubSpot. Here's my personal assessment based on what I've seen to date.

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For a small or medium-sized business, selecting Salesforce to support your sales and marketing needs may not be something you would automatically consider if you assume that Salesforce is for larger companies with lots of customers and complex requirements. You may think HubSpot or some other smaller marketing or CRM product is more up your alley.

I would have agreed with you until I spoke with Steve Hammond, Salesforce EVP and GM of Marketing Cloud, recently about the release of Marketing Cloud Growth Edition. Following that, I this week caught up with Kris Billmaier, SVP and GM of Salesforce Self-Service & Growth, to discuss SMB-targeted offering  - Salesforce Pro Suite - and now I know there's a path for small businesses with Salesforce.

From starter to pro

Before we discuss Pro Suite, let’s talk about Salesforce Starter. Billmaier told me that Salesforce wanted to build an easy-to-use product that would quickly produce value. That product - Salesforce Starter - is designed to help small businesses get up and running quickly with basic Sales, Service, and Marketing capabilities. 

Just click the Get Started button, answer a few questions about your company, and you're in. There’s a 30-day trial, so you can try it out before you commit. You can start adding contacts and leads, creating email campaigns, or connecting with customers.

Billmaier acknowledged that Salesforce can be perceived as challenging for everyday users (ie  -those who aren't Salesforce admins), so Starter (and Pro Suite) have been built with the intention of making it easier for customers to use it. 

A couple of things stand out about the interface. A left nav down the side of the product helps you quickly get to the app you want to use - including Marketing, Sales, Service, and Commerce. On the right, you have a few options to choose from, including:

  • Quick Settings - the top six actions that are simple to take, including organization settings, changing sales stages, and adding custom fields
  • Guidance Center - contextual guidance including a getting started guide, Sales Blazer content, and Trailhead articles. 


The suggestions panel at the top of the screen provides the Spotlight Library. These are things you need to know or do to get started, such as Import Contacts, Create First Contact, Create First Lead, Tackle, and Close a Case. When a suggestion is completed, it's replaced by another suggestion, so the app is always guiding you along your path. 


Other features of Starter include pre-built opportunity reports and dashboards, a complete contact page that shows a 360-degree customer view, and the ability to send marketing email campaigns based on segments.

Billmaier explained that Starter leads with Sales and Service by default, but Salesforce also wanted to make life easier from a Marketing perspective. Email marketing tends to be one of the first marketing activities a small business starts with. 

Salesforce Starter was available worldwide in October last year. However, it was just the start of Salesforce's efforts to support SMBs. Pro Suite is the next step up from Starter. Soft-launched last November, it was officially released this month, and it also comes with a 30-day trial period. 

Pro Suite looks the same as Starter, but it offers a few more capabilities that support more complex business processes, including:

  • Sales forecasting 
  • Quoting
  • Flow Automation
  • Custom Apps through the AppExchange. 
  • Direct Payments - Secure, branded payment links that can be sent to customers for fast payment.

Pro Suite also brings in the Service Console with messaging and web chat capabilities.

Supporting the hybrid seller/marketer

A Slack study surveyed small business owners, and found that 40% of respondents believe that 2024 is a "make or break" year for them. Forty-three percent are exploring new technologies to help them drive efficiency and productivity. Billmaier said Salesforce wanted to bundle the best products for SMBs in a way that is easy to use, affordable, and quick to implement and scale.

It also designed these products for the hybrid seller/marketer. In small businesses, people wear multiple hats, so they need tools that can help them do what they need to do without having to implement multiple tools and deal with the cost and complexity of managing them.

Of course, it all starts with a strong data foundation. These products are powered by the Salesforce Data Cloud, which connects and federates data from multiple products and systems to enable Starter and Pro Suite to offer a single view of the customer. Plus, you can integrate apps through AppExchange or use Salesforce's Web API (additional cost) to integrate additional systems.

What you notice about Starter and Pro Suite is that there are few Marketing capabilities so far. Billmaier said the current marketing functionality was added at the end of August, but there are plans to deliver more marketing features this year. The lack of capabilities was more about timing and roadmap than a decision to leave them out intentionally. 

There's also not a lot of AI in these products as yet. One AI capability you see is the Einstein Send Time Optimization for marketing emails, which helps deliver emails at the right time to drive high open rates. However, Billmaier said that these products are AI-ready, and future updates will add more AI capabilities like ChatGPT and Co-pilot. 

Easy by default, advanced by choice

Billmaier said you can never outgrow Salesforce. As such there are several upgrade paths from Pro Suite, including Marketing Cloud Growth and all the way up to Einstein 1 Sales Edition. The product you start with is the one that gives you the capabilities you need at that point in time. 

Billmaier said that with Starter and Pro Suite, the firm wanted to deliver "business in a box," providing not just the apps needed but the guidance that will help SMBs grow, and they wanted to do it in a way that followed a jobs model rather than a siloed department approach. That's also why these products are "easy by default, advanced by choice". When a business is ready to take the next step, there's a path that doesn't require starting from scratch. 

My take

When I heard about Marketing Cloud Growth Edition, I immediately thought of HubSpot. Then, I saw Salesforce Starter and Pro Suite and knew I was looking at a direct competitor to HubSpot. However, there are important differences to point out. 

From a set-up perspective, Salesforce Starter and Pro Suite are designed to be self-service, which means there is no actual setup. You answer a few questions, and everything is done for you. HubSpot is a little different. You have to set up your website and email domains, change DNS entries, and do all that good stuff. 

There's also no set-up fee for Salesforce. With HubSpot, there's no set-up fee for Starter Edition, but there is a substantial Professional Onboarding fee for Professional Edition and that fee is different depending on whether you get Marketing Pro, Sales Pro, or Service Pro. (Billmaier said that if Salesforce's customers need professional services, then Salesforce is failing!)

Professional versions of HubSpot are separate costs. You can have Marketing Professional and free CRM capabilities, but if you want more sales capabilities, you have to add Sales Pro. With Salesforce, you have one price for marketing, sales, and service capabilities. I can't say those features are all the same as what you get in HubSpot Pro versions; Marketing Pro is certainly more robust than Pro Suite and more similar to Marketing Cloud Growth Edition, but if you are evaluating each, look for the capabilities you do need and the path to grow. 

Then, there's the support for using the tool. HubSpot has HubSpot Academy, and it's great. You can learn everything you need to know about using HubSpot. There are also "Projects," which are like playbooks for certain activities. For example, there is a HubSpot Setup Project that professional services will take you through to get HubSpot set up correctly.

The support in Salesforce Starter and Pro Suite achieves the same goals, but is contextual. So, when you are in a specific app or section of an app, you get guidance on what to do at that step. Plus, you have access to articles and content from the Salesforce Trailhead community. Both are good (HubSpot's training is great, but their search not so much), but the contextual nature of Salesforce support is what people need when they are working. It keeps them in the flow of their process and helps them understand the next steps (something that is especially critical for small businesses just starting out that may need more help to know what to do). 

Lastly, let’s talk about price. Salesforce Starter is $25/user/month and can be renewed monthly. Pro Suite is $100/user/month and is renewed annually. Email sends are 2000 per month, but you can purchase an additional 1,000 email sends per month for $10. Marketing Cloud Growth Edition is $1500 per month with 10,000 contacts.

There's a bit more to figuring out HubSpot pricing. You pay for marketing separately from sales and service. Marketing Professional is $800/month for three users and 2000 marketing contacts. Starter is $15/month/seat for 1000 contacts. Adding more marketing contacts increases the price quite a bit. Both come with some free sales and service tools. Sales Pro is $90/month/seat and does have some free marketing tools. (Note: All US dollars). You can also pay monthly for the Professional Editions, but you pay more. 

The choice between the two will not come down to pricing but to features and ease of use. Small businesses need tools that are easy to use and provide the right amount of capabilities. Billmaier said that Salesforce Starter and Pro Suite will have new capabilities added. Knowing what that roadmap looks like will be important. HubSpot recently updated its Sales product, but the Marketing Professional product hasn't seen any significant updates (other than the AI chatbot) in a while. 

Ultimately, the choice will be with small business owners. But they do have a choice. It will be interesting to watch what happens.

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