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If you work in technology, you’ve probably come across the task of attempting to explain what your company does to your friends, family, and even random people you make small talk with at a party. There’s one question in particular you’ve probably come across: “What is the cloud?” So, how DO you explain the cloud?

Small talk is inevitable when it comes to meeting people and building rapport. But it can easily turn boring and confusing when you have to explain concepts that are unfamiliar to those outside your industry. Being able to articulate those concepts so the other person can quickly and easily grasp them goes a long way in keeping them engaged and connecting with them. One such concept I have run into trouble with during my small talk conversations with people outside the technology industry has been The Cloud.

But first, some background.

I am fortunate enough to work in the marketing department at Salesforce, and that means I’ve been able to collect a variety of hoodies, shirts, and other apparel covered in Salesforce logos and branding. I am also grateful that my company has allowed me to work remotely, which allows me flexibility in what I wear. So, I spend most of my days as a walking billboard (hey, our swag is really comfortable and yeah, I’m proud to represent Salesforce).

Occasionally I’ll leave the confines of my home office to grab some food or fresh air, and I’ll strike up conversations with others because I’m social or desperate for human interaction (or both). And many times it has gone something like this:

Person Not Familiar With Technology: Hey! What’s that on your shirt?
Me: Oh, it’s a lightning bolt – it represents the new UI for our product. I work at Salesforce.
Person: What is Salesforce?
Me: We’re a company that helps businesses connect to their customers.
Person: How do you do that?
Me: Well, we’re a cloud-based CRM system that organizes your customer data.
Person: …I’ve heard of the cloud but don’t really understand it. And what’s CRM?
Me: Um… well the cloud is a network of servers…

And then I stumble through a confusing explanation usually involving computers, databases, SaaS models, the internet, security, and products. But that was getting old and I was always slightly embarrassed that I couldn’t do a better job communicating, so I decided NO MORE. I’ve been researching many definitions, and while you can go into lengthy explanations filled with industry jargon (not conducive for enjoyable small talk), I wanted to create a quick, easy answer that anyone could relate to and understand, even if they don’t have a great understanding of technology. Here are my new answers, as tested on my family and friends:

What is the Cloud?

The cloud is like a storage facility within the internet. Instead of boxes, you can store software or information and access it anywhere you have an internet connection. The reason this is a big deal is previously you could only access information stored locally (or in one place).

What is CRM?

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. A CRM system allows you to store information about your customers to make it easier for your employees to sell, service, or market to them.

Again, this is just a super high-level (cloud-level?) explanation so whoever you’re talking to can get the basic idea. If they want to dive deeper, you will probably have start to using industry terms and more technical explanations. If all else fails, just make a beeline for the bar and grab another drink to get you through all the small talk.