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Salesforce returns its attention to serving the customer

Angela Ashenden

Tuesday, May 7, 2013 by

Last week, we (Helena Schwenk and Angela Ashenden) attended Salesforce.com’s customer event in London, which this year was branded as the “Customer Company Tour”, replacing the previous CloudForce moniker. As in previous years, this was a glossy, big-hitting event, with high-profile customer stories from brands like GE, Coca Cola, Unilever, Rossignol and Philips, and lots of pumped rhetoric about how Salesforce is leading the industry and changing the world. When you got past the marketing spin, however, there were some interesting nuggets of news, as well as some interesting nuances in the way the company is positioning itself.

Social dominates as a theme

Most notable was the shift this year from emphasising the opportunities that social provides to organisations to the importance of building more connected relationships with your customers. This was very well presented, with astutely targeted marketing videos that built on people’s greater sense of power and control over their product and service providers in this new social and mobile environment. It’s a message that fits well with the company’s suite of products and capabilities, although there was still a little too much “buy our products – it will change your world” rather than acknowledging the help that organisations need – both practically and culturally – to shift to this new perspective.

We also saw more evidence of the importance of being able to connect not just your customers, employees, partners, but also your products, through enabling them to post data and information into your Chatter environment, for example. Both GE and Philips provided examples of this, with the Philips demo showing how sales staff can see which devices a customer has, and even check the usage of those devices from within the customer record in their CRM system in order to inform account decisions and strategies. One thing that was highlighted in COO George Hu’s keynote was the importance of trust in this new world; where you have connected products and devices continuing to provide data back to their manufacturers even after you have bought them, there is a new need to ensure customers have trust in you to use that data in a responsible and respectful way. I suspect we will see many negative stories in this area before organisations truly recognise the importance of this, but it was good to see Salesforce drawing it to people’s attention.

Salesforce communities bridges the gap between internal and external stakeholders

From a collaboration perspective, the big announcement was the official launch of Salesforce Communities – the application of Chatter’s social collaboration capabilities in an externally-facing online community setting. Of course this wasn’t entirely new news, as we’ve been hearing about it for a good year now, but the product has now been fully incorporated into the overall company positioning and marketing, and in fact is a major thread in the new “Customer Company” focus. In terms of the Communities product itself, while it’s a logical next step for Salesforce.com, it has to be said that it is (indeed as Chatter did, very successfully) entering an already very competitive market, and one where differentiating yourself can be challenging, particularly if (like Salesforce.com) you don’t have much of a professional services model to help organisations with the more challenging adoption aspects of building communities. However, Salesforce.com has identified a really strong differentiator through its integration of the internal and external communities. In the Rossignol demo, we saw a workflow process pass seamlessly between the company’s partner community and their internal Chatter deployment, highlighting the ability to combine sensitive partner-specific information and interactions with more general open community capabilities. This will be received well, particularly by organisations already heavily dependent on Salesforce’s sales, customer service or marketing offerings.

Social.com launches, providing a more compelling integration story

From a marketing cloud perspective, one of the major news points centred on the announcement of Social.com. Although officially launched prior to last week’s event, Social.com is a cloud-based offering that allows organisations to manage social media advertising across Facebook and Twitter platforms. In particular it allows advertisers to create and test social campaigns, monitor the social conversation in real time and track metrics to see how effective their posts and keywords are.

Despite first appearances, this is not a new offering but represents a melding together of capabilities already present within Buddy Media and Radian6 – in particular the monitoring and ad placement components of Radian6 and Buddy Media respectively. Splitting out the ad management side from other parts of the marketing cloud offering does make sense since it’s often handled by a different user constituency or third-party ad agency in many cases, compared with other components of the offering.

Interestingly though, the launch of Social.com provides some much needed evidence from Salesforce.com of how it intends to integrate and blend technology from both its Buddy Media and Radian6 acquisitions, but similarly tie it back to its CRM system. Bringing these capabilities together does, for example, enable advertisers to create a Facebook campaign, and target it to different customer groups by importing data from Salesforce;  something that has in the last year been allowed by Facebook. Similarly this level of integration allows ad targeting to be based dynamically on CRM data, so as you capture more information about your customers or prospects your ad targeting can change to incorporate this data. In this respect Social.com represents a more convincing way for Salesforce users to connect the dots between social and customer profiles that in turn can be used to target people more effectively.

If Social.com proves successful on both Twitter and Facebook, we imagine the company will look to extend support to other social networking platforms such as LinkedIn (and possibly Pinterest) in the near future.

So all in all, the Customer Company Tour’s visit to London proved to be an interesting event that provided a snapshot of Salesforce’s evolving strategy and the way it presents its overall portfolio to customers and prospects, with CRM bubbling to the fore once more.

Posted in Analytics, Information Management, Collaboration

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