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Putting Adobe's partnership strategy to the test - Workfront's view from the Adobe Summit

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed April 3, 2019
In the era of customer experience, partnerships are high stakes. No single vendor has the data to deliver on CX promises. Here's my take on Adobe partners at the Adobe Summit 2019, from ServiceNow to Workfront.

Paige Erickson of Workfront at Adobe Summit

Most enterprise software vendors say big things about how important their partner community is. The effectiveness of that partner strategy is another question.

Adobe certainly qualifies on the "partners matter" PR front, with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella as a focal point of the Adobe Summit 2019 day two keynote.

That carried over for most of the customers I talked with. Avianca Airlines cited Microsoft's close partnership with Adobe as vital to their transformation strategy (Adobe Summit 2019 - how Avianca Airlines is facing the transformation challenge).

Behind the skirmish to win the customer experience game is the need to construct a viable customer data platform (CDP), which is why "CDP" is a dark horse candidate for unwanted acronym of the year for 2019.

Partner data and customer experience - on ODI and ServiceNow

This sheds new light on Adobe's involvement as a founding member of the Open Data Initiative (ODI), along with Microsoft and SAP (Adobe issued news updates on ODI from the Adobe Summit). Customer experience is impossible without data interoperability - well beyond marketing and sales data. This also ties to Adobe's ServiceNow partnership announcement - service data is part of this mix as well. As CRM godfather Paul Greenberg told me during the Summit:

It could be a valuable partnership... The ServiceNow customer data and the Adobe data are going to kind of be available together, which gives Adobe a longer look at the actual customer journey. And it's meaningful because Adobe has never had access to service data.

Personalization falls short without this kind of data continuity. Greenberg thinks both vendors can gain if they execute on this partnership:

ServiceNow is highly operational in what they do. So they don't have, in effect, let's call it the right brain pieces to how customers interact and act. Adobe brings data over from [that customer journey]. The combination makes for a very powerful look, and aids hyper-personalization, so to speak, on both sides. If you give any credence to that term whatsoever.

Greenberg isn't easily charmed by partnership keynote proclamations, but he does see Adobe's progress:

Adobe made a commitment, what was it, three years ago, to the idea of an open ecosystem. One of the things they said about it was: if there was a partner who did something better than them that they did, they would go with that partner. And to their credit, they're proving that's what they're doing.

Workfront on overcoming noisy marketing tools

I put Greenberg's words to the test by meeting with several Adobe partners, including Paige Erickson, SVP Business Development at Workfront. It's not hard to see the connections between Workfront's next-gen project/work management solutions and the Adobe Creative Cloud, but what is the impact for customers? We started with marketing dilemmas: how are marketers coping with that noisy collection of marketing tools they must cobble together every day? Erickson told me:

Really, they're trying to do a lot. They have a lot of technology and they're not necessarily using it all in a very efficient manner.

I've seen data that marketers use as many as twenty different tools on a regular basis.

I think that sounds about right. Especially for an enterprise-class company. A lot of times the marketing department has been able to buy those tools themselves.

As I said to Erickson:

That's not a marketing stack, that's a mess.

Workfront believes they have a role to play here:

We're able to come in and help companies rationalize that stack, and start figuring out what's most important. We can help them by automating the processes that they need to get automated, giving visibility into what the teams are working on.

Workfront's survey of 248 Adobe Summit attendees found that "79 percent do not feel the apps they use interact seamlessly with one another." If Workfront couldn't integrate with a range of tools, they'd run the risk of just adding to the noise. Erickson says that's what brings them to the Adobe Summit.

If they're using a marketing financial performance solution, we can integrate with that. If they're working with Adobe Creative Cloud, we can integrate with that. And then on the other end, with Adobe Experience Manager storing the content, we can integrate with that too.

Productivity dilemmas in Adobe and beyond

I'm a sucker for a workplace productivity discussion. I obsess about the contradiction with the "smart" mobile technologies that are supposed to make us more productive. Yet more and more folks seem to feel overwhelmed by the noise and the pings. Are we really advancing our cause? Are we getting things done in a strategic way, or just doing corporate whack-a-mole, reacting to electronic interruptions? Erickson:

One of the stats that we look at is that how much time do you actually spend doing real work, versus the meetings, and the text messages, and the emails, and the phone calls, and all the interruptions. The more that you can eliminate some of that, which is what we also help do, you get more of your real work done.

Some of those interruptions aren't coming from the outside, however. They are coming from navigating between apps and trying to connect information. For example, moving workflows from the Creative Cloud to the Adobe Experience Manager. Is that where Adobe sees a role for Workfront? Erickson says yes - Workfront is able to thread those workflows together.

I think Adobe sees it as well, that there's this workflow that needs to happen in between those two clouds, and we are that secret sauce that enables that.

What would be an example?

If you're in Creative Cloud, you don't have to leave Creative Cloud. You can send the proof of whatever you want to have your manager review through Workfront. They look at it and send it back, mark it up, and that's very seamless. Once you've got to a final, if you've created a campaign or something like that, then you send it over through Workfront, and we'll put that in with our AEM integration, and then you can go ahead and deploy that campaign through Adobe.

Since Erickson joined Workfront in October 2016, her job has been to expand their own partner community. From a strategic standpoint, Adobe is one of Workfront's main partners, along with Salesforce and Google. Alliances with systems integrators have paid off also; Erickson says 20 percent of Workfront's revenue is now partner-influenced.

That type of growth is a good sign. An even better sign is when your customers are passionate enough about what you do that they sing your praises - even when you don't know about it or aren't in the room. Erickson says that's exactly what's happening at the Adobe Summit.

My take

To take the pulse of a partner community, you have to walk the floor. I heard from plenty of partners that echoed Workfront's enthusiasm about Adobe's current partner approach. In particular, I enjoyed talking to Rachel Lane of Medallia.

At first, Medallia's "Experience Cloud" sounded like a potential conflict with Adobe's own customer experience push, but Lane told me Adobe has welcomed Medallia's ability to pull in "voice of the customer" feedback across a number of key industries, including retail, financial services and high-tech.

If Adobe can maintain that type of openness without the bull-in-China-shop danger that larger vendors can pose to smaller partners as they expand their larger footprint, that bodes well. We'll see how this unfolds.

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