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No one needs a report to know that Salesforce is the king of CRM. But a new report fills in some of the blanks about how companies are using the popular platform — and its role in digital transformation.

The State of Salesforce” is the third annual report on the subject from New York City-based global business consulting firm Bluewolf, in collaboration with the MIT Sloan School of Management.

The report includes some big takeaways from over a thousand Salesforce customers worldwide, according to Bluewolf global CMO Corinne Sklar:

— “We are seeing organizations focusing on business outcomes to drive initiatives,” she told VentureBeat.

That is, the business reasons for using tools such as Salesforce are again driving the priorities of strategic initiatives, instead of companies feeling compelled to become the latest on the block to get a new toy.

“Some of our customers would say, ‘I want a 360-degree view of the customer,'” she said. “We’d say, ‘So what? What does that [view] do for you?'”

The report found, for instance, that nearly three quarters of surveyed companies are diverting budget to back cloud-based solutions like Salesforce rather than on-premises ones, because of its impact on overall growth and especially on improving customer experience.

— Customer engagement is the key business reason driving many initiatives at companies.

Businesses see that their products and services can easily be compared online for price and quality, so making sure the customer has a good experience — and hopefully becomes engaged with the brand — can become the differentiator.

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“Salesforce has become a customer engagement platform,” Sklar noted, highlighting one of the company’s evolutions since its early days of focusing on sales.

Seventy-one percent of respondents said they are planning to increase their Salesforce spending over the next year. Bluewolf said that better customer engagement through cloud-based services, mobile, and intelligent data are key drivers of this emphasis.

— In many companies, marketing is in the driver’s seat.

“The focus now is on the customer,” Sklar told us, and “marketers are really [the ones] looking at their experience.” The report found that 91 percent of Salesforce-using companies say the marketing department is a key player in the executive suites. Eighty-three percent of customers using Salesforce with marketing automation, such as that company’s ExactTarget Marketing Cloud, report that they are drivers of innovation in managing the customer lifecycle.

Marketers’ new role in the purchase and use of digital tech is driving the positioning of many vendors. Tibco, for instance, told VentureBeat that its recent release of a marketing platform was driven in part by the fact that CMOs are taking budget resources from CIOs.

“Bluewolf’s findings underline my assertion that the CMO needs to start thinking more like the CIO,” VB Insight director of marketing technology Stewart Rogers said. “With marketing departments taking the lead on Salesforce implementations, marketing heads need to ensure they are implementing internal regulations and good process management to ensure high data quality and control in the future.”

— Even as Salesforce has become a key engine for innovation in companies that rely on it, Sklar said that the companies are not always stepping up to the plate.

“For organizations to capitalize” on what Salesforce and other tech tools bring, she told us, they “need to invest in people and processes.” In other words, Sklar said, there is a mismatch between Salesforce’s capabilities (and the capabilities of many tech tools) and the culture/structure of many businesses.

“Especially in marketing,” she said, “organizations are only leveraging a percentage” of what the tech tools can offer.

She pointed to one of many examples: Salesforce’s clouds relieve IT of many tasks and provide new flexibilities for marketing, but companies are not always prepared for “cloud governance” — policies and management for data that exist “out there.” The result: Companies have the technical capability to do more but not always the policies or operations.

“Technology is moving faster than organizations are moving,” Sklar said.

Bluewolf told VentureBeat that Salesforce was not involved “in any way” in funding this report.


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