Dreamforce has always been about many things happening at once — a three-ring circus in a good way. There are announcements about applications, platforms, philanthropy, entertainment and, importantly, parties. This year there was all of that and then some I was a guest with a ringside seat.
Since most of the product announcements came out over the last few weeks some of us were wondering what there would be to talk about but in retrospect that worry wasn’t worth the effort, there was plenty. Beginning in Indianapolis a few weeks ago with the ExactTarget Marketing Cloud event and continuing with the announcements of Sales Cloud1 and Service Cloud1last week we had a good sense that Salesforce was doubling down on core products to make them more at home in the mobile and social environment of modern business.
Perhaps the worst kept secret of the event was the company’s announcement of Wave, its analytics cloud and it was a minor controversy among the chattering class. Wave tries to leapfrog ahead of conventional analytics and business intelligence for the obvious reasons that those other technologies are based on old, legacy, set piece paradigms for the most part and therefore less suitable for handheld business.
Salesforce wanted to deliver analytics to the hands of people on the front lines who need information to make good decisions in the moment of truth and I think the company’s first offering does that. Wave is not only graphical to an extreme but also somewhat animated if by animation you mean being able to change presentation styles on the fly. Two things I like about the UI — first, it enables the user to switch from a bar graph to a pie or donut chart with a finger point. Second, it’s zippy, the graphics are live meaning, for instance, that you can turn a donut chart like a dial to get to the segment you want to drill into. It’s also intuitive and I think any reasonably smart person (i.e. someone who can draw a breath and a paycheck) can easily think up questions to ask of the data and get a usable answer.
The snarking class is asking if the product is ready for prime time but this is stuff I’ve heard for 15 years. Salesforce has developed a reputation for not talking about things they can’t deliver so I am a believer when they tell me they have some very large companies involved with the product.
With Wave Salesforce appears to have built out its platform, which now includes clouds for sales, marketing, service, app development, social, mobile, and analytics. So with all of that you can in theory build an application that will run everywhere from the desktop to the handheld, in multiple operating systems and browsers.
Of course there will be new versions and improvements but to me this now signals the closing of the frontier and the opening of the market to settlement and expansion. In practical terms, I hope this speeds up the adoption of more process oriented business — as opposed to a more conventional transaction orientation. In other words, I think the biggest changes are ahead of us. Vendors want transactions but customers expect process and the newest technology at last enables vendors to meet customers half way.
It was one thing when the company could point to standard CRM plus a mobile browser capability but quite another now that a vendor can capture its customers’ data, analyze it, and offer up next best actions in a wide variety of situations. With this capability, we turn a corner from ad hoc business designed to capture a single transaction to a kind of customer science that operates inside of customer moments of truth. When I say science I mean it literally, not as a metaphor. Customer science will someday be seen as a specialty part of sociology, I am sure.
The difference between the old order and science is not only striking but the science is so much more efficient and adept at developing and maintaining the customer relationship that I doubt we’ll see very much of the old approach to business in a few years. This is a tipping point enabled by big data, analytics, and a lot of technology and it is amazing to me that so few software vendors have understood the moment they inhabit.
I can accept that the above might sound confusing or perhaps even tantalizing. In either case I write about it in more detail in my new book. My buddy and former CMO at Salesforce, Cary Fulbright, tells me I am not making a shameless plug for the book if I don’t reveal the title so let’s leave it there. But watch this space.
Finally, it has to be said that Dreamforce might someday be referenced as the show that ate San Francisco if this year’s numbers are any indication. There were 145,000 registrations and I am told 5 million online viewers. Having all those people in the Moscone neighborhood presented challenges such as when using the sidewalks. But the crush also brought into close proximity an abundance of like-minded people who at times seemed to think as one. I liked the mind meld but can do with fewer humans — however, for a few days it was tolerable especially when considering the upside.
There was a lot to like at Salesforce ExactTarget’s Connections 2014 user conference in Indianapolis last week. Now all they need to do is reduce the size of the name — the words Marketing Cloud need to be fitted in there too but I forget how.
First, a quick shout out to Indy, home of the big Memorial Day race. I don’t get to spend a lot of time in the middle of the country because I am so often in Boston, New York, or San Francisco and it was nice to experience the Mid-West. The city was open and clean, the people were friendly and very helpful. Good on them.
Perhaps it’s ExactTarget’s Mid-West roots but I can see a genuine concern for the customer emanating from the ExactTarget Marketing Cloud and it plays well. For a long time, I’ve been writing that capturing customer data and running random analytics against it was insufficient for modern customer relations and I’d been disappointed with what I’d seen from vendors addressing the issue.
For me, and I write about this in my forthcoming book (consider this a shameless plug), the customer relationship is a process that’s built up from many moments of truth that vendors simply have to be in and must navigate successfully to endear customers and earn the right to do it again.
Too often companies are unaware of what their moments of truth even are and consequently, and inadvertently, they disappoint customers. It’s too bad too because nobody goes into business with that mindset but the disappointment is real and it results in tepid endorsements to others AKA advocacy, which depresses sales and all manner of success in the market.
ExactTarget gets that and it was wonderful for me to be in the audience as speaker after speaker demonstrated just how ExactTarget enables them to be in their customers’ moments of truth. Testimonials came from the likes of boutique hotel operator Kimpton, apparel maker, Diesel, and a little company from Chicago named McDonalds. I believe they are in the restaurant industry.
What enables these companies and many others to be in their customers’ moments of truth is a new product announced at the conference called Journey Builder, which is just what this doctor ordered. As you might expect with that name Journey Builder enables marketers to map their customers’ moments of truth so that they can plan authentic and appropriate programs for just those moments.
Journey Builder is not a lone; it’s part of a big machine that captures customer signals, uses analytics to interpret them and to predict customer next steps so that the vendor can marshal the right responses. A complete solution uses Radian6, another Salesforce acquisition, for social listening and Buddy Media to develop and deploy the right messages at the right time. It also uses its own analytics to evaluate responses and figure out how to improve.
That was the overt and subliminal message of the event — the journey is the reward. It sounds corny but it’s true. The journey doesn’t stop and a good vendor customer relationship goes through cycle after cycle of listening, responding authentically, and evaluating the results. Lather, rinse, repeat. Simple. Success in today’s journey is what enables us to play again tomorrow.
If there was a kink in the hose it is that the moments of truth that Journey Builder maps seem to appear from nowhere. Of course, these moments are distilled from a lot of direct observation and engineered by savvy marketers into the programs alluded to. But I have a nagging fear that we’ll see a mini-hype cycle develop in which cowboy marketers assume they just “know” what customers want in their journeys and engineer very nice programs that are nonetheless wide of the mark.
In fact, understanding moments of truth is a science all by itself and that part of the process deserves to be acknowledged. But the tools and techniques required have their foundations in community and community was not really on display at this event. So some work on a fuller end-to-end approach still needs to be done and that brings me back to process. Journey Builder and its associated parts provide a nearly complete process oriented approach that sure beats a more transaction oriented legacy approach. But we need to close the loop and that means community so that the cowboys don’t get the wrong idea.
There are huge numbers of companies in the world that have not gotten this religion yet and for many it will be a big lift, but certainly do-able. This kind of attention to customers is not free. It requires technology, methodology, and trained people as well as some new thinking in the corner office. Wait a minute! People, process, and technology. Where have we heard this before?
Holy moly Salesforce announced they were buying ExactTarget for a cool $2.5 billion this morning. The deal will do much to complete CEO Marc Benioff’s vision of a MarketingCloud to go along with the SalesCloud and ServiceCloud of the company’s core CRM suite.
Some would say the Salesforce and the entire CRM suite vendor corps have been late to the market in developing a robust marketing solution and I would be one of them. However, it needs to be said that the vendor community played things well by a lot of measures.
For the last five years with a depressed economy it was natural to concentrate on service since the name of the game in a slowdown is to protect your core business. That’s what a lot of CRM vendors did, they beefed up their service and support offerings building in elaborate social architectures that enable their customers to service their customers effectively and at lower costs than previous modalities.
Fast forward to this year and the economy is picking up steam and that means a more traditional approach to gaining new customers and an emphasis on sales and marketing. Sales we know had been the bread and butter of CRM so it was logical for the vendor community to go after marketing.
For years, marketing has languished as the largely independent stepchild of CRM. Marketing is widely acknowledged to be CRM but its business processes are very different from service and sales and for that reason many vendors always put off building robust marketing functionality into their CRM suites.
Instead, marketing has remained independent with companies like Eloqua and Marketo running their own shows. But Eloqua was recently bought by Oracle and Marketo had an IPO just a few weeks ago, Pardot was bought by ExactTarget, which I think made the acquisition much more attractive for Salesforce.
However, I see some yellow flags waving on this deal. First off, $2.5 billion bucks can buy a lot of development talent (and a good weekend in Vegas). This is an expensive deal and I wonder why Salesforce didn’t want to build the solution itself. They seem to prefer buying over building these days and while I can understand buying for strategic reasons, I have a hard time when I see making a purchase as the default position. And, speaking of acquisitions, the buzz around the industry I had been hearing was about how long Salesforce would let Marketo wander around without taking them off the street. Guess we know now.
Secondly, there appears to be a fair amount of overlap between ExactTarget and Salesforce especially in the analytics arena. If you back the analytics components out of the deal, then you have to ask how much more development there would have been to build something that was Salesforce native.
None of that matters now; the deal is done and except for the price tag (I am a flinty, tight fisted New Englander after all) there is a lot to like about the combination. Instantly Salesforce gets 6000 ExactTarget customers but then again many of them are already Salesforce customers too. The combination also comes with serious marketing chops given that Gartner gave ExactTarget high marks in its recent Magic Quadrant.
I think the companies this affects most are SAP, Microsoft and Sage — add in NetSuite too. With Eloqua and now ExactTarget in enemy encampments there are fewer marketing options for these companies. This could make Marketo the bell of the ball for these vendors though right now Marketo is well tuned to being in the Salesforce ecosystem but it is not exclusive to be sure. So maybe Marketo walks out of this with a clearer landscape and more market power.
At any rate, it will take a few months for the dust to settle but ExactTarget is already in the market and executing with Salesforce customers so for the most part it’s game on.
I almost never attend a webinar unless I am speaking. When I need to know something I usually get a one on one with a CEO or other leader of a company. They’re very gracious with their time and the tutelage helps me as an analyst though often I don’t run out and write something about my experience.
Part of the reason for my reticence is that most briefings are on background — the leaders are often trying out a new idea and looking for feedback. Frequently those ideas undergo significant modification before they finally emerge. Other times, the briefing in embargoed pending an official announcement. And often a briefing is about an incremental release — suffice it to say there are lots of reasons not to write about something. At least right away. Sometimes, months later, an idea strikes and I write something. It’s not the best system in the world but I doubt I am the only scribe that uses it.
Last week I broke with precedent and attended a webinar on Microsoft’s unified communications server also known (I think) as Office Communication Server. It immediately reminded me of why I don’t do this more often but after I got over the pitch aspect and the interminable demo, I got the big picture and was happy I made the effort. Now, breaking with another looser precedent I am writing about it because I think it’s important.
Lots of companies, mainly in the telco space, are deploying unified communication servers; they include, but the list is hardly limited to, Cisco, Avaya, NEC and Microsoft, just to pick a few. This is a new field and standards are still loose and one vendor’s gear might not work with another’s. But Gartner has a Magic Quadrant for them so it’s a real market.
If UCS is new to you and you are not a dyslexic fan of USC football, it’s all about bringing together your calendaring, email, mobile, voice mail, VoIP, video and other telecommunications under one roof to better coordinate workflow, customer access and intra-company communications. I think it’s important, especially from a sustainability perspective.
I’ve been researching sustainability ideas all my life but my interest intensified in the last couple of years and now I am writing about it. I think UCS coupled with other new product ideas like content libraries, SharePoint and Salesforce’s Chatter, offers the potential to squeeze a lot of friction out of business.
By friction I mean all those things that suck up energy — both the personal and the carbon based kind — without delivering business benefit to either customers or vendors. Unified communication brings together the exploded cornucopia of communications technologies that have been invented over the last few decades into a manageable framework giving users the ability to tame what has become a communications beast.
Unified communication integrated with CRM offers the possibility of making us all more proactive and responsive to customers but in ways that simplify rather than complicate our lives. It seems like whenever we get a new technology one of the first uses we dream up for it is to somehow accelerate a business process, like selling. Ironically, that’s true occasionally but quickly everyone gets the same idea and what was once an accelerator turns the whole thing to gridlock.
A classic example might be email. As a tool for sales and marketing it proved very useful and many companies like Responsys, ExactTarget or ConstantContact (just to pick a few) have elevated it to a science. But then came various flavors of social networking with the same idea and in a short time we had way too many technologies trying to use the same basic technique resulting in jammed (and spammed) inboxes.
Unified communications reverses this trend partly. It does little to arbitrate between your media of choice but because it can track the whereabouts and activities of the recipient, it can result in one message rather than several from an impatient colleague, vendor or customer. It may not accelerate many processes but then again it might surprise you. What unified communications will certainly do is help us organize how we communicate and liberate time that is wasted because we simply don’t know.
More importantly, when you add video, VoIP and other advanced technologies, you may come to realize that what used to take a face to face meeting now only requires a quick chat. My research shows that as the recovery gains momentum, the cost of transportation will increase just as it did in 2008 when liquid fuel prices spiked. Having an alternative like unified communications might be the difference between doing business and not.
Unified communications wasn’t on my radar until the webinar and I am glad that I attended that one.