Salesforce blurs the marketing, CRM lines

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Scott McCorkle at Connections 2015
Scott McCorkle at Connections 2015

"The dawn of digital marketing is here," the speaker intoned as he prowled the audience aisles.

Scott McCorkle is CEO of Salesforce Marketing Cloud. "A brand new era is here," he continued. "The physical and digital world have converged." As if to confirm it, the crowd shifted its collective gaze between several over-sized screen images of McCorkle, and the smaller physical presence, visible above heads many rows away.

The vast keynote arena which had constructed inside the even vaster Javits Center tended to diminish speakers. Even from the vantageous press rows, it was easier to watch the huge video monitors than the fleshly apparitions of Seth Myers or Diane von Furstenberg. But the scale impressed (there were 18,000 attendees), as did the scale of Salesforce's evident ambition.

The lines between CRM and marketing are blurring

"The lines between CRM and marketing are blurring," said McCorkle. Customer should be customers for life: "Whether your customers purchase frequently or infrequently, you have to keep them engaged." Sales teams need to be connected to marketing data. "According to Gartner," McCorkle told us, Salesforce is "by far the fastest growing marketing cloud vendor among the top ten."

It's certainly by far the biggest player in CRM software, and has been for several years. Hence the true keynote of the entire three days of Salesforce Connections 2015, the theme that Salesforce's marketing suite should be a no-brainer choice for anyone using Salesforce CRM--and hey, isn't that everyone?

Well, not quite, no, but it's a powerful sales pitch, even though alternative marketing cloud solutions integrate with Salesforce CRM data too. What's more, extending the customer journey beyond marketing campaigns and into every touch point argues for breaking down the marketing-sales silos, another message several speakers reiterated.

I sat down with Salesforce customer James Kenler to make sense of all this.

Kenler is Director of Marketing Technology and Operations at CareerBuilder, a business which has cannily re-branded itself from job search website to recruitment software vendor. Kenler told me they had switched from their previous CRM provider (Pivotal) to Salesforce about three years ago. They were long-time users of Exact Target, Salesforce's B2C campaign management product. Selling the CareerBuilder1 pre-hire platform, however, placed them squarely in B2B, and led to on-boarding the B2B marketing automation tool Pardot just before it was acquired by Salesforce.

Salesforce Pardot, which The Hub covered in April this year, is all about joining the dots between marketing and sales. Pardot puts email and social marketing, lead generation and management, and sales intelligence into one dashboard, integrates it with Salesforce CRM data, and makes it all available on the Salesforce1 mobile app to sales reps in the field.

The latter isn't a strong selling point for CareerBuilder, where most reps operate from a central location, but apart from that Kenler found everything "drastically simplified" by the solution. It empowered some 1200 sales reps and 30 marketers, reduced the need for in-house tech specialists, and helped people look again at marketing and sales processes.

The biggest way to move the needle is through efficiencies

Kenler himself is a living exemplar of the breakdown of marketing and sales silos. "I started out as a marketing manager at CareerBuilder, on our B2B side; now I'm literally on loan to a new sales group." He acknowledges that the misalignment between marketing and sales has been a reality, and ascribes blame to both sides. "The biggest way to move the needle," he said, "is through efficiencies." Marketing automation lets people "spin out ideas more quickly, and show ROI."

With Salesforce and Pardot coming together, CareerBuilder found itself with an integrated marketing, CRM and lead nurture solution. But Kenler thinks the debate about the merits of a marketing suite versus a stack of independent solutions is an interesting one. "It's difficult," he said. "The suite has a lot of up sides--frankly, in terms of cost-effectiveness. But I do feel strongly that the 'best-of-breed' approach has led to strong innovation." Salesforce, Henler feels, has made a lot of the right moves, especially in terms of acquisitions. In particular,he singles out the "unparalleled" customer support he finds with Pardot.

The features of the marketing cloud which were emphasized in presentations by Salesforce executives reiterated the marketing-plus-CRM theme. Salesforce Active Audiences, for example, leverages CRM data to help segment audiences for advertising purposes across Twitter, Facebook, and the Facebook Audience Network (off-platform Facebook ads). Salesforce the publishing tool associated with Active Audiences--combines CRM data with social listening to create, optimize, and automate social ad campaigns. Salesforce Engage provides real-time alerts on touch-points along the prospect's journey, and provides sales reps with real-time engagement data--right on the Salesforce1 app, the mobile CRM portal ("It's revolutionary," said McCorkle "to think of having your complete CRM on your phone.")

We're so not finished here. There's so much more work to do

Two major acquisitions, Radian6 and BuddyMedia, have given birth to Salesforce Social Studio, the engagement and publishing proffer. And then, underlying that, there's Salesforce Journey Builder, an over-arching solution for uniting sales, service, and marketing data, and tying it to a single view of the customer. "We're way past the adoption phase with this," he said. "Many, many companies are using it."  Nevertheless, "We're so not finished here. There's so much more work to do." 

At least the route's clear. However the specifics of the Salesforce marketing cloud stack up against its obvious competitors, the growing trend away from siloed marketing, sales, and service functions can only increase the appeal of a product which is all about blurring the lines.

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