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One year on - How is ExactTarget settling into the Salesforce way of life?

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez July 30, 2014
Summary:
We interviewed CEO Scott McCorkle about the integration progress between the two companies and about ExactTarget's first wave of significant product releases since the acquisition.

It has been just over a year since Marc Benioff closed a $2.5 billion dollar deal to acquire ExactTarget, in what was seen as a bold and brash attempt by

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Salesforce.com to flex its muscles and align itself with the cloud marketing big boys. Benioff left very little doubt about his intentions and made it very clear to the industry that he is dead set on creating his next $1 billion business on the Salesforce platform, with the marketing cloud. As we said last year, all very Benioff.

Benioff said when the announcement was made:

This is an historic day for cloud computing. I have never been more excited about anything else we’ve done at Salesforce.com. No-one will now doubt that Salesforce.com is now number one in enterprise marketing. 

We absolutely have a huge goal. Of course, we have a multibillion-dollar sales product line. We’ve got our service cloud coming into a $1 billion product line. We have a clear trajectory in the third product line heading into $1 billion very rapidly, which is our platform and now we have a fourth. And this is a clear product strategy for Salesforce to take it into the future.

Well, at least we know where we stand.

However, at the time questions were raised about the cultural differences between the two companies, with ExactTarget being based in the 'friendlier' Midwest and Salesforce being fully embedded in the brashness of Silicon Valley, as well as concerns about how the products will be integrated and how customers using ExactTarget would feel if they were also bought into Salesforce competitors for CRM. But today I was lucky enough to attend a briefing with new Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud (what a mouthful) CEO, Scott McCorkle, to discuss the progress to date and get a rundown of the latest releases – and I can report that it's all still very much happy families. McCorkle said:

So, it's the anniversary of the acquisition. When it happened, we believed it would go well. We saw such cultural alignment, both companies have a focus on innovation, each organisation focused on customer success and making our organisations the best place to work. It feels like we have been here all along – we see great employee engagement and great innovation.

And to prove ExactTarget Marketing Cloud hasn't spent all its time just getting to know its Salesforce colleagues, McCorkle was pleased to announce the next generation of Journey Builder – the first major release since integrating with Salesforce.com. Journey Builder essentially aims to help companies map customer journeys to digital marketing interactions across email, mobile, social, web and connected devices. It's essentially made up of three core elements:

  • Journey Maps – This is a drag and drop interface that lets marketers map the 'exact' path customers will experience with a brand across all touch points and channels. Customers will be able to, according to McCorkle, measure performance, optimise for the best results and create a holistic visual chart of how customers experience a brand. A demo was given at the event and I must say it looks quite impressive.
  • Journey Triggers – This allows marketers to predict and automatically deliver messages to customers via the best channel, with optimised timing, by setting up intelligence triggers. For example, marketers will be able to automatically trigger content and offers based on customer behaviours, such as abandoned shopping cart, abandoned web browser, affinity changes etc. This is also where the ExactTarget Marketing Cloud will be focusing on strong integration with other Salesforce products, such as the Service Cloud – so that if a customer is having a problem resolved using the Service Cloud, this can then trigger an action for the marketer.
  • Journey Metrics – This allows marketers to analyse and visualise which channels, messages and times are performing best, beyond just clicks and conversions. ExactTarget claims that marketers will now be able to track and test every part of the journey in real time.

The full release will be available in the third quarter of this year and pricing starts at $5,000 per month for a subscription license, along with tiered pricing based on the number of messages sent.

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McCorkle is very happy to be a part of the Salesforce.com family

After McCorkle's presentation, I got the chance to sit down and have a 1-on-1 interview with him about the progress of the integration with Salesforce and to find out his views on how the companies he is selling into are dealing with the challenge of marketing to customers that now have so much control over how and where they shop, across so many channels. My first question to McCorkle: What stage are ExactTarget at in terms of full integration with Salesforce? He said:

It's been going great. Organisationally the integration is complete, we are part of Salesforce, the Buddy Media and Radian6 teams are part of the marketing cloud, everything is aligned. We have been working on the product integration since the beginning, which takes longer. 

We have a lot we are announcing with Journey Builder, the idea that all the other parts of Salesforce can make triggers in Journey Builder happen and activities can do things in those other products - that's really the powerful integration we are most focused on, having Journey Builder at the centre and having it connect to all the capabilities across all of Salesforce.



I then pushed McCorkle to give us some timelines on when he thought most of the integration pain would be over – largely with regard to the product integration – but he said that he didn't think this would be a one off project and that the Marketing Cloud would continue to add more capabilities as Salesforce continued to mature elsewhere. McCorkle said:

We are always working with  our customers on what they want and it's almost a 'never finished' on the product plan. We have been an AppExchange for seven years and we have many, many customers that are integrated through the ExactTarget capabilities in AppExchange. We really started from day one with integration, we've expanded that with Journey Builder at the centre, it's really a continuous path of adding more capabilities. As Salesforce adds more, we will add more. It's really a long roadmap of continuous innovation, there's no finish line.

I also asked if he thought the Marketing Cloud was on its way to becoming Salesforce's next $1 billion business, as envisioned by Benioff – but given that it's the company's quiet period, this is the best I could get out of McCorkle:

Those are things that Marc gets to say [laughs]. What's fun for us is being part of a top ten software company. We were proud of our execution, but now the platform we have is a top ten software company, the sky is the limit.

I'll take that as a tentative yes. He also dismissed the concerns that customers that had bought into ExactTarget, but were using a Salesforce competitor, were going to be worried about the acquisition by saying that the product has been an open platform since its inception and that he is committed to keeping

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it open.

However, what really struck me about McCorkle's earlier presentation was how he envisions Journey Builder being used as a tool to let companies take control of their customer interactions. What I mean is that usually when I speak to companies about how they market to their customers, most of them spend half their time trying to figure out where the hell their customers are even interacting with the brand – Mobile? Social? Web? Email? It's not easy and they often chase their tails.

But ExactTarget's view of marketing with Journey Builder is that you take control and you map where you think it would be best and most convenient for your customers to interact with your brand. McCorkle gave the example of a fitness bracelet that monitors your health through an app. When you buy the product, you activate it and immediately get a welcome email telling you to download the app. If you then have trouble using the app or working the bracelet, there is an SOS button on the app to call directly to a customer service agent. You are then informed via emails of your progress (or lack of it) throughout the week. If you don't access the app following emails to check your health stats, you are sent a push notification. You are offered the chance to share your stats via social media. You are congratulated via email when you hit important milestones.

All of this is mapped on Journey Builder and monitored with metrics to assess how successful each proactive action is. None of it is about guessing how your customer is using the product, you are pretty much in control. McCorkle said to me that he believes that the usefulness of this tool will come from how it communicates to organisations via its visuals. He said:

I think that's what's so powerful about Journey Builder, is it gives these organisations help. It's not just technical help, or software that knows how to do that, it's visual, it's a communication tool. It's about having the organisation understand what the goals are, how they will execute this new strategy. I think if we can have a Journey Map become the communication tool, you can look at it, it becomes more tangible – there's power in visualisation and in expressing ideas graphically. I think that's a big tool in helping with change management.

And then it's about experimenting until you get it right, McCorkle doesn't believe it is an exact science. He said:

You're having a point of view, you're trying to determine intent, and then can act in that way. If you don't start you'll never know and it's okay to experiment in how you engage with customers, then measure the reaction. You can discover intent with that reaction as well. But I think if you approach customers with a point of view of what you think is good, that's better than just being passive. Better than chasing. 

Trying, doing, experimenting – you can't be afraid to try, test, learn. Marketing is a science and art, and we should not lose part of the art.

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