Ford Motor drives into CRM services for America's SMBs with Salesforce in the passenger seat

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan December 8, 2021 Audio mode
Summary:
America's SMBs are under-served when it comes to CRM and field service tech, according to Ford Motor.

ford

With the automotive industry looking to diversify its sources of revenue, Ford Motor Co has teamed up with Salesforce to launch VIIZR, a CRM and field service tool targeted at meeting the needs of small business owners in the US.

VIIZR is a custom solution built on Salesforce Field Service that Ford says will “help tradespeople schedule field appointments, send invoices and manage customer relationships from one integrated, cloud-based platform”.

It’s been developed by Ford Pro, the dedicated commercial arm division of Ford Motor that was set up earlier this year with a brief to focus on vehicles, technology and services for the commercial vehicle sector and increase fleet productivity, improve uptime and lower operating costs through connected services and work-ready internal combustion and battery electric vehicles.

According to Ford Pro CEO Ted Cannis:

Ford Pro helps commercial customers maximize productivity. We know the back office is a major pain point for the trades, who are often writing up paperwork from the cabin of their truck or van. VIIZR gives that time back, providing greater returns to these small businesses and empowering them to better service their customers.

VIIZR is pitched as “affordable, easy-to-use CRM tools”. As per the official blurb, it’s claimed that VIIZR users can:

  • Stay on track with digitized quotes, work orders, invoicing, and job management.
  • Connect with customers through an all-in-one customer profile, making it easy to communicate and provide a better customer experience.
  • Streamline operations with capabilities for scheduling, dispatching, and coordination of field technicians, improving productivity and efficiency.
  • Eliminate waste by boosting efficiency. Tradespeople can reduce waste from their business through real-time job scheduling, which saves time and fuel; while digital invoicing can help save paper.

SMB opportunity 

The new offering is aimed at US SMBs. Ford Motor says there are currently 675,000 SMBs in service & maintenance and construction vocations in the US alone, but such firms are not tapping into the potential benefits of field service and CRM tools. Ford and Salesforce cite a recent study from Morning Consult that found that only 20% of small business owners are satisfied with the way their businesses manage customer and employee relationships, while only 10% believe today’s productivity software tools are suitable for businesses of their size.

For businesses with less than 20 employees, Ford estimates that VIIZR could reduce back-office work by more than 40% - or about 25 hours a week, based on a 40 hour week, 22 day month, 48 week year. That would be a useful productivity booster for a crucial sector of the US economy. Marc Benioff, co-CEO of Salesforce, argues:

Small business owners are the foundation of our communities, and every day across America plumbers, electricians and landscapers step into their Ford vehicles to build our economy.

In practice,  it won’t be necessary to be a Ford vehicle driver to subscribe to VIZZR. Prospective customers will sign up to the service via VIIZR.com at a cost of $49 per user per month or an annual subscription of $39 per user per month. It’s unclear at this point what plans there are to offer the service outside of the US market.

This latest offering from Ford Motor reflects the ambition behind its Ford+ plan announced a year ago. This is intended to fuel growth and value creation by combining “existing strengths, new capabilities and always-on relationships with customers to enrich experiences for and deepen the loyalty of those customers”.

Jim Farley, Ford Motor CEO, last month updated on the progress of the strategy:

It creates growth, value, and it allows us to win in emerging area of electric and connected vehicles. We built a strong team that combines top leaders from Ford with world-class talent recruited from outside of our company, specific talents, specific people that are largely outside of our industry. This leadership team is committed to this plan and we're accelerating our progress.

Ford+ is not a tagline. It's not advertising. It's a larger, more ambitious way to think about our business and how we bringing value to our customers…we intend to live up to our promise to compete like a challenger focusing on our top priorities to unlock Ford+ growth with customers at the very center of everything we do.

My take

This is an interesting move by Ford Motor and one with a good deal of potential. It’s far from being the only automotive big name looking to diversify and reduce dependence on vehicle sales through building out connected subscription-based services. Look no further than GM, where CEO Mary Barra is incubating start-ups via and using its corporate venture arm to prime many others. 

As Farley noted previously as part of Salesforce’s Leading Through Change series:

We’ve had a business model of private ownership of vehicles for 117 years and Ford’s done great as a global American company…we have to turn around our automotive operations. We have to modernize our capability - and that includes tools like Salesforce - and we have to disrupt ourselves. Part of it will come with automated vehicles that drive themselves - that’s a disruption to personal ownership where we use the vehicle per mile. And part of it will be going into the services business…what’s coming with connectivity in our industry is to actually spin up services that customers will love even more than the differentiation of the product.

And he hinted at what would become VIIZR:

If you were to ride around with a plumber or electrician doing their business, you would be shocked - they kind of run their business on PostIt notes. The reality is that, working with Salesforce, we can use a lot of [their] tools to build enterprise solutions for them that are really game changing efficiencies for the small medium sized business. They’re very underserved customers that don’t have the enterprise solutions that larger companies like Ford have. I think the Salesforce team has tools that, when they’re put together, could really change those customers lives. You’re an electrician, you’re a plumber, you’ve got five vans or trucks, you’re busy all day, your teams are out repairing jobs. You do not have time to bid for new jobs, do inventory. All of those things are available when we work together differently.

That’s the theory. We’ll see how this pans out in practice when VIIZR officially launches in the first half of next year, although the firm is looking for companies which want to pilot the platform now on a complimentary basis.