Out of the Bottle: Salesforce Genie

Out of the Bottle: Salesforce Genie

September 2022 | Marketing Technology

Dreamforce introduces a major upgrade to Salesforce Customer 360. What is Genie, and how important is it to the future of Salesforce?

Salesforce does many things, yet it is still known as a CRM vendor. All those other applications are very much secondary to the core Sales Cloud product. It is perhaps unsurprising therefore that this week's Dreamforce conference has seen very little discussion of CRM and a lot of discussion about customer data platforms (CDP). Genie may be pitched as a real-time CRM, but in practice, it is very much a CDP.

Salesforce were late to the CDP market. A curious oversight for a company who are so frequently thought leaders in the arena of both sales and marketing technology. Adobe and Oracle both had products in market before Salesforce Customer 360 was even announced. They're still playing catch up today, with Salesforce Genie becoming the latest iteration of the platform.

As the CDP market has matured, questions of relevancy and scale have become paramount. Few businesses doubt the impact of CDPs when it comes to collecting and collating customer profiles across channels. They're designed from the ground up to categorise data from across the enterprise and organise it into a single customer view that can be used for both marketing and sales. Previous database technologies have often struggled with the complexity of this task due to the large amount of data sources in the typical enterprise as well as the sheer volume of data that needs to be processed.

One of the big concerns about Salesforce Customer 360 initially has been its focus on integrating with other Salesforce products. There is a lot of automation and AI under the hood, which streamlines the user experience for those customers who have gone all in on Salesforce. That comes with a price though. The platform is more rigid than the competition, relying on other Salesforce products such as Mulesoft or marketing cloud for core functionality found in other CDPs. This has led to the perception that it is less able to integrate with third party platforms than its peers.

The latest version of Salesforce Customer 360 goes a long way to fixing these issues and thereby closing the feature gap. Branded as Genie, the new capabilities add real-time data processing and an app catalogue to the platform. Real-time has been a buzzword within the CDP market for a few years. Traditionally, much of the data processing needed to make CDPs work ran on a schedule leading to significant delays before new data could become available for use. That's a problem for a platform sold on its ability to instantly deliver cross-platform customer experiences. It could lead to significant delays between customers' purchasing and follow up campaigns being triggered in downstream marketing platforms.

Two related enhancements are needed to fix this problem. The first update is a continuous real-time integration with all applications and databases feeding the CDP. The second change is to run any data processing required to join the different data sources together as soon as new records are added to the platform. Genie introduces both of these things to Salesforce.

The final aspect of a real-time CDP is to ensure that the data in the platform can be used in real time. That requires triggering workflows and marketing campaigns based on prospect activity and customer updates. Salesforce already have this covered using deep integration with marketing cloud, but enhancements to Salesforce Flow automation will allow CDP to instantly trigger marketing campaigns or CRM workflows.

Tying all this together is the Genie Collection. This addresses one of the key complaints about Salesforce's existing CDP efforts, namely its reliance on Mulesoft integration cloud for data intake. The new Genie Collection on AppExchange allows for more customisable integrations with third party data sources. In particular, direct integrations with many leading data lakes will simplify data pipelines from source applications into CDP. The exact details can even be configured within the source system, so that data analysts can control data flows in a platform they're familiar with.

Data analysts may also be interested in the other big integration announcement for Genie. Salesforce have always touted their Einstein AI capabilities as a key differentiator for their CDP. The theory is that by feeding CDP with data across the enterprise, Einstein can spot more trends and make better recommendations to end users in Sales Cloud and Marketing Cloud. The trouble with Einstein is that the suggestions it makes aren't always useful. It's not really possible to tune Einstein to improve the output it gives, which can be frustrating for teams with in-house machine learning expertise.

Genie allows for custom AI models through a partnership with Amazon SageMaker. Data scientists can build custom machine learning models within SageMaker, using data sourced from Salesforce and elsewhere. The model outputs can then be fed back into CDP for use in workflows and campaigns. This is a niche capability that not everyone will be able to take advantage of. However, those enterprises with significant AI investments will find the option to use third party machine learning tools to be invaluable.

In general, Genie is not revolutionary, but then it doesn't need to be. From a feature perspective, it brings the platform much closer into line with competing CDP platforms. Salesforce are copying existing trends in the CDP space. They already have a viable solution for those businesses already invested in the Salesforce Cloud. Salesforce Customer 360 provides a less complex UX in return for feature limitations. Genie is a major upgrade that turns the product into a viable option for more complex use cases.

Banner Photo by Guilherme Stecanella / Unsplash

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