Salesforce Discovers Analytics with Tableau

Salesforce Discovers Analytics with Tableau

Salesforce's unexpected purchase of Tableau highlights the central role of Business Intelligence and Analytics in the data-driven enterprise.

Analytics has long been a pain point for both marketing and sales. Getting accurate and comprehensive reports in a digestible format for time-poor business leaders that don't really understand data is a widespread challenge. Getting that information when you need it is near impossible without a dedicated team of highly paid data scientists capable of delving into the depths of that data and develop a set of bespoke dashboards with fancy graphics, incomprehensible queries and lots of numbers.

Designing good dashboards is hard. For one thing, the person consuming the reports needs to understand exactly what they want to learn from the numbers presented before the dashboard has even been designed and built. This may sound obvious, but typically people only have a rough idea of what they want to see in a report before they see the final output. Reporting requirements are continually evolving much to the frustration of the people actually producing them. In the beginning, executives will only be interested in measuring the KPIs that they've been given from above in addition to the set of standard metrics that are used as industry wide benchmarks for whatever activity or business process they're currently interested in. It's only after they see the initial output that more questions arise and a deeper or broader analysis is needed. It's possible to pre-empt some of these questions by preparing follow-up reports in advance, but not all of them.

That's why Tableau was so revolutionary. It gave business users the power to explore the dashboards created by their BI teams for themselves, without needing to call on an analyst. Like all truly revolutionary paradigm shifts we take the ability to manipulate BI dashboards in real time for granted these days, but it wasn't so long ago that executive dashboards were expected to be little more than collections of static dashboards that only updated in real time if you were lucky. Sure, some of these dashboards may have had filters or multiple views but these had to be hardcoded by the dashboard designer. The ability to drill down, add arbitrary filters and create new graphs without needing to be a data expert all come from Tableau's then unique focus on visualisation and data discovery over static representation and data transformation.

Many MarTech vendors and enterprise software companies are still struggling to catch up. So, it's no surprise to see a wave of mergers and acquisitions within the Business Intelligence software market. Last week's acquisition of Tableau by Salesforce is the latest in a string of deals as the midsize players try to bolster their position. Alongside Salesforce, Google have also been aggressively expanding into the BI space, complementing their existing Google Data Studio service with the purchase of the big-data focused Looker. This still leaves quite a few independent major players such as SiSense, Qlik and Domo, as well as market-leading solutions from established tech firms such as Microsoft and Oracle. Among marketing departments, Domo, in particular, has seen rapid growth because of its native integrations with numerous cloud applications as well as a focus on collaboration, speed and ease of use.

One thing that most of these competing solutions have in common is a focus on open source and deep integration with the entire technology ecosystem present inside an organisation. This is especially true for the newly acquired Tableau, which has a strong user base among universities and research scientists. As a result, there are concerns that Salesforce may try to lock down their new acquisition, particularly given that Tableau has a widely used server version that is popular among companies that don't want to put all their data in the cloud. They have a rapidly growing cloud version too, but that is not perceived as the core product for the majority of the userbase. Salesforce is famous for the cloud only sales pitch during their early days, so there is a culture clash in that area, but ultimately Tableau has been promised sufficient independence for this not to be an issue.

Eventually, Salesforce will need to integrate Tableau with their wider ecosystem. There are numerous companies already reporting on the sales funnel and marketing ROI in Tableau using Salesforce data, so this shouldn't be a challenge. In fact, the sheer number of joint customers was one of the justifications that Jeff Bezos gave for spending over $15 billion on a BI vendor, even though Salesforce already have competing products in this space. The likely death of their existing Einstein Analytics reporting tools should serve as a warning for what happens when you release a BI tool that only visualises data from one vendor's products. No one uses them, particularly given that Salesforce already has a suite of relatively easy and flexible reporting tools for business users in the first place. Marketo have had the same challenges with their various analytics add-ons.

The core users for BI are always going to be data analysts, who prefer to work in a dedicated analytics platform that gives them the power to manipulate any data from any source in whatever way is needed. With data silos and a fragmented tech stack becoming a major challenge for many organisations, reporting through one of the market-leading BI tools is the only way to get a complete picture of the entire funnel, the investment that has gone into that funnel and the impact each activity has had on it. What's more a well designed set of dashboards built by a dedicated data analyst promises to be an interactive experience allowing the people viewing it to slice and dice the reports being presented with the aim of finding the answers to the questions that the top level numbers will inevitably raise. To make data driven decisions, you need to start by making all the relevant data available at the press of a button in a format that makes sense for you and your business. It's surprising how few companies actually have this, but it's definitely possible.

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