Late last year, Salesforce released a video showcasing its grand vision for its future.
“The third great wave of computing is upon us,” the ad states in a portentous Richard Attenborough-style narration. “An era of hyper-connection … billions of people and things and devices connecting faster than ever.”
A lot of whiz-bang science and technology drives that “third great wave,” of course, and not all of it is currently deployed at scale or fully operational. But behind all of the flash, Salesforce says, is an individual — a customer.
And that, of course, is the “1.”
Salesforce made its reputation in the customer-relationship management sector, but it plans to fulfill this new vision in three distinct but connected spheres: sales, marketing, and service. The sales part is pretty clear, but the service cloud is newer. But the marketing component sometimes seems like a jumble of parts thrown together: ExactTarget, originally an email marketing platform which has expanded into social and mobile and web; Pardot, a B2B marketing automation system; Journey Builder, a B2C marketing automation platform, and other associated brands and components that variously make up the Salesforce Marketing Cloud.
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However, Salesforce has a method to this madness, marketing cloud CMO Mike Lazerow told me today.
“What we’re building is a 1-to-1 digital marketing platform,” Lazerow said. “We now have these best-of-breed products but also a unifying vision.”
A three-part vision
What that vision consists of is three things, he said.
First, companies need to have a single view of every person who is either a customer or a potential customer, across all of their devices, identities, social networks, and media. Second, companies need to understand where that person is in their “journey” with the company: buying now but ready to leave, about to buy but considering alternatives, not interested in buying now, or not even aware of your company’s existence. And third, companies need to optimize content for that person based on where they are in the “journey” … and for whatever device or channel via which you are trying to reach out.
That’s, of course, a vision that smaller marketing clouds or systems share with larger competitors such as Microsoft, which is also building and launching a complete customer listening, engagement, marketing, selling, and servicing platform. It’s one that Microsoft is attempting to gain competitive advantage by building mostly in-house to ensure the integration is simple.
But Lazerow says that Salesforce’s strategy is different, one that’s focused on meeting all of the market’s needs — not just enterprise.
“We offer all of our products on a standalone basis,” he told me. “But they are all backward-compatible … in other words, all of your data can be used anywhere.”
That means that if you just need B2B marketing automation for your marketing department to feed your internal sales force leads to sell your long sales-cycle products or services, you can just buy Pardot. Or if you are Unilever and want a way to personalize communications with potentially a billion individual consumers, you can integrate ExactTarget and Journey Builder into your marketing campaigns. Or if you are a new startup or a small business with a relatively tiny budget, you can use the products you need at the scale you can afford — with the guarantee that as you grow, all the other tools you need are in Salesforce’s armory and are automatically compatible.
Addressing all of the market
That’s an interesting approach: focusing on everything.
“We address every piece of the market: charities, the largest companies in the world, startups, small businesses,” Lazerow said. “We don’t want to build a solution just for one piece of the market; we want Salesforce to work with every piece of the market.”
That clearly has its marketing challenges, being much harder than simply selling to one type of company in a select group of verticals at a certain size range. It’s clearly, however, been working for Salesforce, which is now the world’s leading CRM provider and saw revenue growth of almost 30 percent last quarter.
And whoever you target and whatever size your company is when using Salesforce, the unifying vision remains the same, according to Lazerow.
“We’re building these 1-to-1 relationships in a way that hasn’t been possibly in the past,” he said. “What we’re seeing across the board is that when you use the data effectively you can build relevance with customers and that relevance drives business results.”
It’s clear, however, that the company has some work to do to complete that vision.
The science and the art of marketing
Salesforce’s marketing-automation capabilities for web personalization, landing pages, and inbound marketing, for instance, were not among the highest rated in our VB Marketing Automation Index. While Salesforce ranked well for email and social, customers poked holes in its SEO and web-optimization tools, with one saying that she had achieved better results with organic customization and interaction.
Lazerow says that’s likely due to the web-content tools being a little new and less sophisticated at the moment — but that the situation is changing fast.
“We see that not as a standalone but a big part of our Journey Builder product,” he said. “The personalization of every channel is what we’re going to be known for … we’re farther along with social, with email, and with mobile than we are there, but we’re fully committed to that for sure.”
Ultimately, Lazerow says, Salesforce is enabling new capabilities for marketers.
“Marketers have a new way of doing business,” he told me. “Journey Builder is the purest articulation from a product company of what that means: It’s intuitive, 1-to-1, cross-platform … it’s data-driven, and it bridges the science and the art of marketing.”