Here we go again right down the hypecycle and into new product land. In the last week, two major enterprise software companies, Oracle and Salesforce have announced CDP products. Oracle announced its product last week in Las Vegas at its Modern Customer Experience (MCX) event. This week, Salesforce announced that it is building a Customer Data Platform. Given the company’s history of making products and deadlines you can take this announcement to the bank, but still, it’s better to have product when you announce.
It’s always a good sign for a new market when the big guys arrive bearing product or at least minimally acceptable jargon and the bigs join a growing list of emerging companies like BlueConic, Simon Data, and Segment, which I found in a simple search, who want to fill the space.
But as Salesforce happily acknowledged in a blog post “Last October, Forrester released a report warning, For B2C Marketers, Customer Data Platforms Overpromise and Underdeliver. 1 And a recent Winterberry Group analysis 2 claimed that only about one in five of the 100+ vendors calling themselves a CDP actually qualify.
With definitions so loose, it’s clear this is an early market. The function of the bigs as later entrants in such situations is usually to take away some of the ambiguity and set a floor under things. So as long as we’re into floor leveling, lets play an armchair analysis game.
First, what is CDP?
Good question. It’s also the question that drives every other part of the discussion, like do we even need this? The answer is maybe but first, what is it?
Simple definitions say that CDP is a tool for corralling customer data in a B2C setting. A company heavily engaged in B2C selling needs lots of data to drive its algorithms so that it can automagically sell without expensive humans. So the data it uses has to be complete, clean, integrated, and easily slurped up (a technical term for sure) by other marketing technologies aimed at the customer.
Issues arise because nobody has all of the data one might need. Vendors have customer records, but they must typically be supplemented by third-party data that might complete a demographic picture of customers for instance. There’s also real time data from the customer in an interaction and all of it feeds the calculations of what to offer/do/recommend next, also in real time.
So, data is a big deal. But I fret that by focusing on data we jump right to speeds and feeds and miss out on the benefits craved by the businesses that use the CDP systems. Another sure sign of an early market. Specifically, the benefits aren’t about data unless you’re only selling to data wranglers, the people historically responsible for aggregating and cleaning.
But the higher value stuff, and the stuff that drives purchase decisions is or at least ought to be about the information value that is derived from all that data. By itself, data is pretty useless. A zip code or a phone number are each numeric but only in a qualitative way; you can’t do math on them for instance. But you can derive important information about location when you put both together in this cell phone crazed, roaming area code age.
So how do we use it?
To me, CDP’s greatest strength can be found in the information it delivers not in the data it captures and stores. This is an obvious point but one that is so far missed by virtually all of the entrants. No worries though, it’s just another sign of an early market.
This notwithstanding, I wish the players would look a little further downstream to the end game. I think if they did, they’d be talking a bit more about information and what marketers want to do with it than about the gymnastics they can perform with data.
At one point many of us thought that CRM, especially when combined with AI and machine learning would do what we now look to CDP to do. Perhaps that was wishful thinking given the complexity of the task and the chaos inherent in managing data. For example, it’s only been recently that we teased apart needs for insight into customer needs and the need for better engagement, two things that the nascent CDP industry espouses in an either/or context when, as Salesforce puts it, it’s really an and situation.
Finally, extra points to whichever vendor gives a nod to the importance of CDP working within the constraints of GDPR, the European regulations that insist that customers have a right to control vendors’ awareness of their data. You’d think this is a no-brainer but so far, the industry looks like a bronze statue of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil when it comes to GDPR.
My two bits
CDP is here, dudes, it’s important, and if you’re in marketing you can’t ignore it. Of course, you still need to sniff around the industry to find a vendor whose definition of CDP fits your need. It’s an early market but an important outgrowth of CRM and a logical extension of the AI/ML changes around us. CDP’s influence may even go beyond marketing.
My advice is to begin playing with CDP and possibly multiple different designs. They’re all available as cloud solutions and some are free for a couple of users, which means virtually every marketing department can afford to test some ideas, perhaps in an A/B setting. There will be some stumbles but given this configuration, I suspect the early experimenters will reap the rewards and importantly, this market will congeal relatively quickly.
Marketing is taking CRM by storm; while we’ve all been fixated on social media, many companies — both vendors and end customers — have been acting more broadly by acquiring and extending marketing solutions.
At the recent Microsoft Convergence 2013 held in New Orleans in March, the company put a lot of emphasis on marketing. Microsoft presented sessions on Marketing Pilot, a recently acquired and renovated marketing campaign company, and at the show announced its acquisition of Netbreeze a marketing analytics company.
Also, at the end of last year Oracle bought Eloqua and Salesforce has introduced its third cloud dedicated to, what else? Marketing. There are other examples too of free standing marketing companies like HubSpot and Marketo or companies like InsideView, a marketing intelligence company, growing like weeds. So what’s going on?
It would be a natural conclusion to say that marketing had been the final CRM frontier and that companies had reached stable points in their sales and service solution rollouts so they simply embarked on marketing. But that’s rather simplistic and it violates a cardinal rule of business — spend money to make money or to save it, but don’t spend just to spend.
To appreciate what’s going on you have to step back and take a more nuanced view of the market place and the economy at large. When the economy tanked nearly five years ago it took with it a lot of jobs and capital, which resulted in slackening demand and that slack is still with us. Advances in technology are eating up even white collar jobs today and all of this has a depressing effect on demand.
Also, interest rates continue to test the zero lower bound as Paul Krugman might say, in part because corporations are flush with cash and because consumer borrowing is still lackluster. There isn’t enough demand for capital so rates luff like a sail in a headwind. Not enough people have jobs and banks, especially today, won’t lend to people who don’t have the means to repay the way they did in, say, 2005.
So, this is a long-winded way of saying that demand is slack, that customers are the rate limiting reactant in the economic formula. When demand is slack, companies without a clue hire more sales people, savvy companies step up their marketing games to help identify likely customers without spending the expensive resources involved in putting a sales person on the road. And all of that is a long-winded way of saying that marketing is hitting its stride because demand is slack.
You could argue that in other times and circumstances, for instance when there is no demand such as at the beginning of a new market, a niche or a category, it makes sense to do missionary selling and marketing is a bare bones affair dedicated to generating PR and brochures. But this is not then.
Today, most markets are not new. Customers have already bought version one or two and are smart about what the next edition ought to deliver. They’re also happy to not spend their money if they can’t get the deal they want. Oh, and by the way, there’s a lot of competition today so forget about those 65% gross margins that version one delivered, that’s not on the table. Smaller margins have little room for expensive and risky approaches to the market.
For all these reasons, and some others, marketing has become the hottest ticket in town and most of the CRM vendors have demonstrated an understanding of this reality and they are acting accordingly. Consequently, marketing vendors are having a field day.
This won’t last forever, nothing does, at some point the wheel will turn and there will be whole new fields to conquer with some new idea and the need for the elaborate, scientific and statistically based marketing that we are now constructing, will fade away. We’ll probably hear some company talk about expensive and over engineered marketing approaches in favor of sleek new ideas about the relative importance of sales over marketing, like they just invented the wheel.
But for now, demand is down, margins are under pressure and competition is tough, tough, tough. And marketers are getting their day in the sun.
Everybody has a year-end synopsis these days and it’s fun to see what each person deemed important. Sometimes you wonder if you lived through the same experiences but it’s a good thing to recall everything one more time and maybe reconsider how you’ll remember each. Here’s my synopsis which is no more or less valid than anyone else’s.
Marketing’s resurgence might be the most interesting development of ‘12 for several reasons. First, the switch to marketing from other areas of emphasis (like service) shows that many people in the CRM universe feel that the economy is not only healing but returning to form. In the last few years, social and service, and often the two together, were the CRM market drivers but with marketing showing new vigor, it suggests to me that next year will see business accelerate. Maybe that won’t take us all the way back to 2008 but what it will be an improvement.
Also, marketing’s renaissance comes via a social salient, especially in using analytics to better understand and segment markets. Analytics tells me that vendors need ultra low cost ways to get to their customers because the economy is still weak and no one wants to hire people so they’re going for automation and software. That’s just the new reality and I hate to be bringing the news. Many markets are price driven — as opposed to quality or service driven — and companies are trying to give customers what they want.
And speaking of price driven and automation, there’s been a nice uptick in the number of vendors offering software robots that can at least triage a service call. That includes VirtuOz, a CRM Idol finalist and personal favorite.
Big Data hit CRM through the link to analytics and marketing and companies like Dun and Bradstreet, Lattice Engines and InsideView are all taking a cut at this important space. Another one worth checking out is Awareness, another CRM Idol finalist. They do cool stuff in applying analytics to the big data pile captured with social media. In all, social and analytics have shown us that there’s more to social marketing than sentiment analysis which can only be good for the future of the market.
If marketing is becoming automated and socialized, a similar thing is happening in human resources. Many an HR software vendor has made the leap to the cloud and also to social. The two will radically transform HR from a back office preserve to something much more front office in its orientation. HR is rapidly becoming a specialized case of social front office application with important contributions from Work.com, Jobscience, Vana and lots more.
Also, despite what Gartner said in its recent gamification report, I think the future is largely positive in that market. The major analyst firms put out reports that spell doom when it becomes clear that an early market has gotten frothy and no one in their right minds can reasonably expect the new thing to live up to all the, well, hype.
But the good news about gamification is that it is reaching its adolescence, a time when some of its early adopters will harness it and make it successful. So the good news I see is that the vendors and customers who do it right will be fine and it will be clear who has the goods next year.
Then there’s mobile, mobile, mobile or browser apps, native apps and always connected native apps. Making mobile work this year was the result of a collaboration of infrastructure vendors and people who make the applications. I have noticed recently that wireless vendors are getting aggressive about offering tablet packages for only ten bucks a month to users who subscribe for other devices. Ten bucks is important as it represents a manageable fee so I look for mobile adoption to accelerate now that all the pieces seem to be in place.
Mobile infrastructure comes at the right time also because numerous vendors have put significant development resources into moving their applications to the tablet. HTML5 is robust and popular but so are new CRM applications that run natively adopting all of the pinches and swipes that people like about tablets. Salesforce has a decent solution in Touch and I think we’ll see more vendors produce “develop once, deploy on many devices” solution sets in the year ahead. Over the last couple of years we’ve watched the early stages of PC and Laptop sales tanking and the hockey stickomatic rise of the tablet and the handheld and next year will be the time when mobile puts its foot down on the accelerator.
With mobile’s arrival as a more or less equal in the platform wars we will be witnessing the first true global platform that I have been talking about. A global platform means adding millions of new users and customers to the ranks all at once—ok not ALL, all at once but enough to make you notice. I have a feeling that while a significant portion of those new users will have a good grasp of English, companies that offer bi-lingual interfaces will be the early leaders. The first step will, of course, be to analyze where your traffic comes from and then maybe to pilot a few pages. All this may suggest an opportunity for translation services short term.
But that’s next year. For now, thanks for continuing to read this space and please come back in 2013.
So, just about a month after Dreamforce, Salesforce.com is coming to New York for one of its regional Cloudforce conferences. The event will be at the Javitz Center in Manhattan on October 19. Salesforce is expecting six thousand attendees.
The focus of the event is supposed to be on the newly re-announced Marketing Cloud — the amalgamation, so far, of Buddy Media and Radian6. I will be briefed under NDA about the news to be announced at the event but that hasn’t happened yet so, hey, let’s speculate.
As many of my colleagues have suggested, the Marketing Cloud is a good and important down payment on a full-featured marketing component but it is heavily weighted toward social marketing. They expect more acquisitions primarily to beef up the Marketing Cloud’s lack of a conventional marketing campaigns element — the kind that runs traditional marketing programs. I am not so sure.
Salesforce already has a bevy of more or less conventional marketing partners in the AppExchange like Eloqua, Marketo and others. It’s true that these vendors are not monogamous but so what? They have good connectors and integration and are doing everything they can to carpet bomb, er, I mean cover, the Salesforce installed base so why buy what’s free?
My instincts (which are right about half the time — and less when I’m driving according to my wife) tell me that Salesforce is going in another direction. The company has always exhibited a Blue Ocean Strategy approach to its business seeking out niches that haven’t been named and I expect it to do the same in marketing.
That means they’ll concentrate on the myriad ways to market in the social world. If they make an acquisition — and I bet there’s nothing on the radar right now — it will be to beef up social marketing not conventional stuff. That would mean companies like HubSpot or Awareness or Nearstream or others (some in the CRM Idol contest) that use a healthy dose of new age thinking and social media to access and communicate with customers.
So, what to look for in New York? In addition to October baseball, I think you’ll see elaboration of the basic message doled out at Dreamforce. The San Francisco session was packed with information and image-making and there really wasn’t time to unpack all of what the Marketing Cloud means for customers. I think Cloudforce is the place where the unpacking will happen.
Salesforce has been great at three-pronged marketing for a long time. That’s where they tell you what they’re going to tell you, then they tell you and finally the circle back to tell you what they told you. I think they’re at part two and Cloudforce New York will be more of a deep dive.
I could be very wrong but that’s what it means to speculate. Right?