Convergence was an important theme at Connections 2018.
For one thing, there’s the convergence of B2C and B2B. “Those worlds are really converging,” said Salesforce’s Chief Product Officer, Bret Taylor, in a press Q&A. Connections, which began life as Demandware’s heavily B2C and eCommerce-focused Xchange conference, now freely addresses B2B, especially in the context of B2B customers expecting a B2C experience. Adidas was a star turn, keynoting on its success in using B2C techniques to sell to partners and retailers as well as customers.
For another thing, there’s the convergence of sales, marketing, and service towards that thing variously called customer experience, customer engagement, and customer success. “Customer service,” said Taylor, “is one area that is blending into all the other experiences.” And I heard more than one attendee talking about service as just another form of marketing.
But there’s also convergence (call it “integration”) between the various offers, solutions, tools, and indeed clouds, commanded by Salesforce largely as a result of acquisitions, and which they’ve been stitching together. I wanted to say “slowly stitching together,” but do we really know what counts as fast and slow in this space?
In this week’s product announcements, for example, we learned that information from the Commerce Cloud would now be showing up in Service Cloud dashboards to better inform service agents of the customer’s status and stage on the journey; and an integration between the Commerce and Marketing Clouds will allow events on the commerce journey (cart abandonment, for example) to trigger marketing responses.
Finally, there’s the convergence of audience or persona-based marketing and real-time 1:1 engagement. Salesforce is still in the business of using data to define audiences, which are then activated according to more or less flexible journey templates. The data may be richer, the technology more agile, but there’s something very traditional in that approach. At the same time, Salesforce is talking more and more about 1:1 personalization (through the Interaction Studio solution, for example). Still, nobody was going to tell me that the audience-based approach has seen its day. Taylor told me, “You start to understand you customer more and more on the journey.” When they first visit a website, you know little about them: “There’s a transition from audience to individual in our platform,” he said. “We orchestrate that in one place.”
To get more clarity on convergence, integration, and the future of personalization, I spoke with Rob Garf, VP of strategy and insights for Commerce Cloud, and Bobby Jania, VP of product marketing.
Breaking down barriers
“The integration across the clouds is extremely exciting,” said Garf. “We hear time and time again it’s not about marketing or commerce with the consumer, but about being able to unify the events across the entire journey. With the new integrations between Marketing Cloud and Commerce Cloud, and Commerce Cloud and Sales Cloud, it will feel more like a unified application. What’s going to help that in the longer term is the acquisition of Mulesoft [the developer platform which will be central to the new Integration Cloud]. It’s certainly a priority to integrate our own clouds, but there’s also data sitting in other [customer] systems that we don’t own, don’t control, and need to get access to, to deliver that unified experience.”
Garf also pointed to the recent acquisition of Cloudcraze, the B2B commerce suite built natively on Salesforce, and the buzz at the conference about B2B using B2C strategies. “I thought that book had already been written,” Garf said, “but there’s still so much to be done.” 80% of business buyers, according to Salesforce research, are looking for a B2C experience. “Our first ten billion dollars was really focused B2B,” said Garf. “Our next wave of growth will be driven in large part by B2C. I’m feeling really bullish about our prospects in B2C.” And indeed, it’s notable that Salesforce can draw 11,000 registrants to what is, at it’s heart, a B2C and commerce conference.
“The definition of CRM has evolved, and we would argue that we helped evolve it,” said Garf. “Almost every company is both B2B and B2C, so we’re able to teach B2C companies to be better at B2B, and we can help B2C companies better understand B2B.”
If B2C and B2B are blending, so too are the three functions of marketing, service, and commerce. “A head of experience could potentially oversee the three; if not, maybe a matrix to show them all swimming in the same direction. I see that happening, absolutely.” That means being where the consumer wants to be, which brings us immediately to another tumbling wall: the wall which divided digital and physical, both in consumer’s minds and in business organizations. “We’re going to continue to infuse stores with digital to really power those experiences, and with someone being head of experience, as we talked about before, the organizational barriers should really start to break down.
Connecting the dots
Similarly, Bobby Jania told me: “We see the industry recognizing that siloed functions and siloed departments don’t meet what today’s customer expects. It’s interesting to see leading brands starting to deliver that customer experience we’ve been talking about for a while. Consumers have now seen brands really nail it, and have seen it, expectations are raised.”
At the same time, I suggested, higher expectations can lead to frustration when the experience doesn’t live up to them. “We’re seeing marketers realizing that they’re the drivers of customer engagement. They’re getting better at connecting the dots and displaying co-ordinated messages. The next part of the journey is connecting marketing with sales, commerce, and services.” All coming together? “If we do our job correctly, they just naturally connect,” he said. If a customer has a service problem, it may be a good time to suppress marketing to them, “but it’s not always to do if you have two independent systems.”
This suggests the need, not just for links between disparate clouds, but organizational transformation. Some marketing leaders believe “that their organizational structure is limiting their ability to deliver on these kinds of promises, and roles might need to evolve,” he said. On the technology side, I asked whether Salesforce was being held back by the need to gradually integrate solutions within the disparate clouds. Imagine if a competitor appeared with a single, unified customer experience product, built from scratch. “It would be interesting to see that. There are a lot of challenges there, and it would take a long runway to get where we are today. And truth be told, it doesn’t always make sense for everything to be built exactly the same way. Database structures matter; the way people use the clouds is different, and different databases have different advantages.”
Audiences and personalization
What about this apparent tension between driving audiences down pre-determined journeys, and real time 1:1? Is Salesforce aiming to gradually erode the more traditional approach? “I don’t think brand driven campaigns are ever going to go away. Marketers need to generate buzz and revenue. But we can be much more relevant in those campaigns. I might create an audience which hasn’t engaged for one time, and an audience which visited the website recently but didn’t buy anything. Those audiences need to be treated very differently. But every consumer’s path on the journey can be different. An email I get might be totally different to the one you get, based on dynamic content, or based on Einstein picking different product recommendations.”
Think of audience as being macro-level, personalization at micro-level. The macro-level is going nowhere right now. “What does it look like in ten years?” Jania mused. “I don’t know.”
How does all this integration, blending, and breaking of barriers work out for Salesforce customers? More to come.