Connections Diary: Finding Your Customers

As you’d expect, big name brands dominated the main stage narrative at Salesforce Connections in Chicago. We saw highly personalized customer journeys from Ticketmaster and Ducati, and learned about how Adidas is using B2C strategies to engage with its extensive network of partners. 

What can be more revealing is sitting down with lower profile Salesforce customers and explore the benefits they’ve derived from the Customer Success platform, not to mention bumps along the road. This week I spoke with Derek Tallon, VP at Zacks Investment Research, and Kevin Metz, CMO of Stuller, about their Salesforce journeys. You could hardly find more different businesses, so the common factors in their experience with Salesforce are instructive.

AI is an eye-opener

Zacks helps individual home investors by providing information and research about stocks and funds, partly through a subscription model. It doesn’t execute trades. The company was created in 1978 by Len Zacks, who remains CEO. The brand has seen steady YOY growth (about 20%). Until relatively recently, new users were acquired primarily via email; according to Tallon, it was basically “one message to one list. It was very linear and it hadn’t evolved.” But the customer journey, for Zacks customers as for any others, is no longer linear. Said Tallon, “It’s a spider’s web.”

Zacks recognized that every investor was in a different place financially. Some are protecting nest egg savings, others can speculate with a million dollars. There are different degrees of risk aversion. Nevertheless, Zacks had thought its target audience to be relatively homogenous: white males, relatively affluent, looking to make long-term, conservative investments. After implementing Salesforce — a little over two years ago — there was a realization: “You think that, but it isn’t the case.”

Marketing Cloud data revealed a more much more diverse market for Zacks’ services, and Einstein surfaced next best actions to take on the journey to conversion  —  and not always actions Zacks would traditionally have taken. “That was the biggest hurdle for us, period,” said Tallon. “It’s telling us the next best steps to take, but recommending something different from what we thought we knew. Fortunately, our owner does like data, so we took the leap of faith. Ai was an eye-opener”

One specific example: Zacks had been overlooking cart abandonment. Triggering new, personalized messages to those customers proved extra revenue could be generated from “a segment we’d ignored.” 

Service Cloud proved an eye-opener too. Zacks had always provided customer support, of course, but prior to implementing Service Cloud, “we never had an idea of the volume of requests.” They also discovered many commonalities among the service cases, for example issues with the site which now generate automatic alerts. 

Because advertising is one of Tallon’s responsibilities, he’s now looking at the Salesforce DMP and its audience segmentation capabilities.

Start with best performing paths

Zacks had been using Silverpop (now part of IBM Watson Marketing) for its email acquisition program. Whenit came to looking at alternatives, Silverpop did try to impress with new tools and capabilities; but Tallon didn’t look hard at other contenders: “They weren’t big enough.” Of course, Salesforce is a big investment. “It’s not a cheap solution,” he said, “but nobody is going to argue with the ROI.”

Implementation did place a stress on the marketing team and the creative director, challenged to “take a step back” and look again at the stages of the customer journey. Tallon’s recommendation is forthright: Don’t start by trying to anticipate and codify all possible customer journeys. It’s a “spider’s web,” remember? Creating journeys is the front-end labor Marketing Cloud demands, so “Concentrate on definitive paths, on your best three performers. Don’t start by trying to go from zero to 60.”

Zacks had no Salesforce specialists from the get-go. One young woman on the marketing team took on the administrative role. Tallon himself found Trailhead training useful. Zacks now runs its Salesforce instance with just two staff members, plus IT support when needed.

“Get pass the implementation stage, and it’s really hard to fail.”

Just-in-time jewelry

Stuller has likewise being undergoing a transformation when it comes to an understanding of their own market. With over 40 years in the business of manufacturing (sometimes designing) and just-in-time supplying fine jewelry, Stuller is one of those brands you’ve probably interacted with, and never known its name. Stuller specializes in rapidly fulfilling specialized jewelry orders across at least 100 product categories, making it essentially a B2B business with jewelers as its market. But as CMO Kevin Metz explained, those aren’t necessarily your mom and pop, high street jewelry stores any more. 

“The world is definitely changing,” he told me. “We’re starting to see this whole new breed of customer types. It’s less about store-fronts, more about leveraging digital experiences.” Many Stuller customers are now individual entrepeneurs, selling on their own websites, or in marketplaces like Etsy. They live and breathe influencer marketing strategies. And guess what? Even when making B2B purchases from a supplier like Stuller, they expect a seamless, B2C-style purchase experience.

Stuller does 50% of its supply business via its website (developed internally). “A year and a half ago,” said Metz, “we decided to raise our game from the customer perspective. We started listening to our customers, and discovered our ultimate customer experience was, well, not what we thought.” Stuller was running what Metz calls “a rudimentary CRM,” and had no real ability to activate the data.

Implementing Salesforce Commerce and Service Clouds, Metz found that adoption in-house was good. Stuller is now using Salesforce to co-ordinate inbound and outbound calls, the email program, and the work of its reps who are building relationships with customers in 15 key U.S. markets.

Understanding accounts

The good news is that Stuller, by the very nature of its business, collects comprehensive first-party transactional data on all its customers (it’s not filling jewelry orders to anonymous mail addresses). “There’s an identity, but we don’t always know the nature of the business or its potential.” The data is captured in Salesforce, but often there will be several named individuals at an account, and Stuller hasn’t in the past had the ability to distinguish between a company’s owner and a hands-on bench jeweler. Another problem has been focusing on a purchaser’s specific business needs: “We have customers who buy exclusively from 7 or 8 product categories. Why would I be hitting them with all the rest?”

In addition to using Commerce and Service Clouds to improve its understanding of its market, Metz told me he’s looking at opportunities to leverage Social Studio too. Stuller already has a blog, runs events and a print magazine aimed at bench jewelers, and is working at sharing customer stories. There’s a wealth of content primed for social sharing. But it’s step-by-step; as Metz admits, Salesforce is “a huge investment.” But it’s also a way of starting to be relevant, especially to customers they once didn’t even know they had.

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