Dreaming of a Single Customer View

Dreaming of a Single Customer View

September 2018 | Marketing Technology

Salesforce made a splash with new product announcements at Dreamforce this week. Customer 360 looks interesting, but the competition is catching up on them.

It's Dreamforce this week. Salesforce's massive customer conference is taking in San Francisco. Simultaneously, on the opposite coast, Microsoft hold their customer conference for IT pros in Orlando. These two tech titans dominate the cloud CRM market, winning the lions share of new deals between them. Salesforce has been the market leader for a while and thought leader for even longer. In recent years, Microsoft Dynamics has been closing the feature gap leading some analysts to predict that eventually it may surpass Salesforce on the basis of its close integration with Office 365 and the bundling opportunities this allows.

Salesforce's answer to this threat is to build out a full range of enterprise applications in which they can compete directly with Microsoft in their core products. They have a partnership with Google's G Suite and have been building out Quip, their own set of document editing tools that they purchased last year.

The real push recently has been with Einstein, Salesforce's AI capability, but whilst Microsoft and Adobe have been talking about AI in Florida. Salesforce were demonstrating their thought leadership credentials in their home city by talking about the next big thing - system integration and single customer view.

Earlier this year Salesforce brought Mulesoft, to form the Salesforce Integration Cloud, a platform for integrating SaaS and Web software without using code. Among the many announcements at Dreamforce were some related to this new member of the Salesforce product portfolio, including that of an API knowledge graph for enterprises to publish maps of all the systems and API connections available within the business. This can then be used to connect internal systems together, using a new AI that automatically suggests data mappings for those connections. However, the real value of Mulesoft is not as a standalone platform, but as a mechanism for integrating third-party tools into Salesforce Customer 360, the big headline announcement from Dreamforce.

CRM vendors have been talking about bringing all of a business's data into a single customer view since the late 90s. When customers began migrating to Cloud CRM a decade ago, a key objective was to combine sales, marketing and customer service data into one place. Salesforce become the market leader because they have the flexibility to make this possible. Over the last few years, the number of cloud applications in enterprises has exploded, as increasingly specialised tools have been developed to meet specific business needs. There has been a definite trend away from using heavyweight enterprise platforms such as CRM systems or Marketing Automation for more than their core functions. The rise of AI and the mobile app store business model is to blame for this. A new breed of single-purpose web apps has resulted. These are built around a bespoke AI model or a basic UI concept. Marketers have been at the forefront of this trend, but other departments are affected too. The result is that customer data is now fragmented among at least 20 or 30 different systems. This makes it incredibly difficult to build a complete picture of a customer's interactions with the business. In a world where one to one personalisation is becoming a basic expectation among customers, this poses a problem. This fragmentation is frequently identified as being a problem in conversations about web personalisation, funnel reporting and ABM. Unless all that data is in place, it is impossible to build cross-channel experiences.

Salesforce's take on the solution is interesting. It avoids the traditional approach of pulling all this disparate data into a Master Data Management system for use by a data analyst to feed other systems. Instead, it leaves all that data in the source system and provides an interface to link all these sources together using the Integration Cloud or AI. When a customer raises a support case through Service Cloud, Customer 360 links that data automatically using Mulesoft to Sales Cloud or any other system that needs to know about it. The support case could trigger an email through Marketing Cloud for instance. As part of this, they also announced Customer 360 ID, which allows a Single Customer View of every interaction that the customer has with a company through Salesforce. In this respect, it functions more like a search engine for customer details than a database. This is great for Sales but less useful for Marketers.

It is also not quite as original as Marc Benioff and new co-CEO Keith Block would like to claim. Codeless integration platforms are hardly new - the pioneers in this space have been around for a decade. I first used Boomi for this kind of purpose in 2011. Zapier is widely used for ad-hoc integrations, and integrates with pretty much everything. The claim is that Customer 360 will allow closer and easier integration, but the proof will be in the execution.

Microsoft have this capability too - their Flow process automation tool has already been built into both Dynamics and Office 365 for nearly 2 years. Microsoft have spent a lot of time unifying their Dynamics and Office 365 datasets into a unified data set known as the Common Data Model. This week they extended this shared data set to Adobe Experience Cloud (now including Marketo) and SAP HANA. The three companies announced the Open Data Initiative, to create a common data model that combines customer data held by all three companies into a unified data lake hosted on Microsoft Azure. This was framed as a data portability initiative by the tech press, but is intended to make the data held in one application available for use in all of them. The ability to use AI to search and visualise that dataset was touted, as was the ability to use CRM and ERP data to drive personalised customer experiences using Adobe's marketing platforms.

This is two different approaches to the same problem. Salesforce's approach is a new and unique one, with a good looking interface, but it is not the only game in town. This illustrates Salesforce's position in the CRM market. They still lead it, but not by as much as they used to. Their competitors can match their features at an equivalent price, just with not quite the same usability or sophistication. That's not great for Marc Benioff, but it's good for customers.

P.S. The big news for B2B marketers actually came last week. My thoughts on the impending acquistion of Marketo by Adobe were published on the CRMT blog on Monday. Read it here.

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.