FT shifts its ad sales systems to the cloud to stay responsive

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright November 3, 2014
Summary:
The shift to digital means publishers need more flexible ad sales systems. The Financial Times has turned to the cloud for its solution

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The print media industry today finds itself in the same fix as the rail transportation industry a century ago — immortalised for a generation of business students in Ted Levitt's classic aphorism on marketing myopia:

The railroads ... let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business.

Today the print media industry has to embrace the shift to digital before others steal its customers away. While others hesitated, the Financial Times was one of the earliest print media institutions to recognise that it had to go online to retain and extend its market presence. The title's FT.com site is well known for its early and successful launch of a paid subscription model.

More recently, the FT has embarked on an upgrade of legacy back-end systems to update its ad sales business for the digital age. Like the rest of the industry, its ad sales teams have had to wrestle with inflexible software designed for yesterday's print media, as Sean Caesar, director of advertising and CRM at the FT, explained to me in a recent meeting:

The tools that are around that manage the ad booking process are 25 years old.

More flexibility

The FT wanted more flexibility in managing global ad bookings, with the future potential to package up print ads with digital and other activities, such as event sponsorship, billboards, content marketing, even wearables. With the legacy system, building any kind of new proposition either meant involving developers or finding some kind of workaround.

There was coding or often impossibility — or you had to find a tool to do it, often Excel.

What the FT needed was a system that allowed its sales teams to create packages to suit the fast-evolving demands of modern media ad buyers. That meant finding a system that would allow the sales team to flexibly build their own packages without having to involve developers.

The solution they found was a product configuration system from CloudSense, which runs natively on the Salesforce platform. The FT's sales teams had already implemented Salesforce in 2010 for CRM, and subsequently used its platform capabilities to replace older Lotus Notes applications. CloudSense then replaced the legacy print ad booking system, and was gradually extended to link into the existing flat planning [ad placement] system and Oracle financials.

No need for coding

An example of the step change in flexibility the new system has brought came with a recent refresh in the structure of global ad propositions, as Caesar explained:

With the old system it would have taken 18 months to get it right. With CloudSense the refresh was done within a week and a half. It would have taken an hour and a half if we'd known what we wanted from the beginning.

The key difference is being able to configure new requirements instead of having to turn to developers to code them.

It puts it in the hands of admin people — who wouldn't know how to code if they wanted to do it.

Next year the Cloudsense app will be linked into the digital media sales system, which runs on Google's DART ad management platform.

It harnesses the power of Salesforce by giving you power to adapt as the landscape changes ...

Having one system that could hook into anything that we needed from an ad perspective was always the objective.

CloudSense offers a lot of capabilities in terms of Salesforce where you don't need to be a coder to get it.

As well as providing a familiar user interface, having CloudSense running natively on the Salesforce platform means that performance metrics are readily available, added Caesar.

We use Salesforce as our central hub of commercial information. It really gives us a strong sense we never had before of how we're doing with our clients.

Specialized business needs

UK-based CloudSense targets the publishing, telecoms and utilities industries, helping them manage complex configurations of products and services throughout the sales order and billing process. As well as the FT, its global customer base includes Centrica (the operator of the British Gas brand), News International, Vodafone, Telefonica and US-based real-estate website group Rent Path.

Founded in 2009, the company runs exclusively on the Salesforce platform, using both Force.com and Heroku elements.

CloudSense CEO Richard Britton told me that media businesses find the functionality of Salesforce isn't enough on its own to meet their more specialized business needs, which has created a market opportunity for his company.

A lot of media businesses buy CRM and adoption rates aren't very high. What they need is the tooling to put together the orders and quotations rather than simply the ability to run an opportunity pipeline.

My take

Several interesting angles to this story:

  1. A traditional business needing to streamline its processes to cope with the faster-moving demands of going digital and turning to the cloud for a solution.
  2. This illustrates that going digital is not just a product shift — it has knock-on effects for the way you organize your business
  3. Salesforce acting as the 'glue' that links business processes across several other systems, including the specialist flat-planning system and Oracle financials.
  4. CloudSense as a Salesforce-native partner developing specialist industry expertise to layer core business processes on top. Given the larger vendor's new-found focus on vertical industries, we'll probably see more and more such examples.

Disclosure: Oracle and Salesforce.com are diginomica premier partners. Salesforce.com funded the author's travel to its Dreamforce conference, where this interview was arranged by CloudSense.

Image credit: FT.com