Salesforce's new Holy Grail as its customer data platform finally goes on release

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan September 23, 2020
The single source of truth is the new 360 degree view of the customer. Salesforce's new Digital 360 business unit is built around being able to deliver it.


Salesforce began talking up the rollout of its own customer data platform last year, with the offering, Customer 360 Audiences, going into beta at last year’s Dreamforce. It’s finally going mainstream next month, just under a year later.

The confirmation came as part of a wider set of announcements around the creation of a new business unit known as Digital 360, which will oversee Audiences, a rebranded Community Cloud, now known as Experience Cloud, Marketing Cloud and Commerce Cloud, now offering a payment capability delivered via a partnership with Stripe. 

It’s a regrouping of new and existing offerings that has been driven by the context of  real-world events, says Adam Blitzer, EVP and General Manager for Salesforce Digital 360:

In 2020, for digital marketers, for digital commerce leaders, for digital experience leaders, almost every day has seen holiday-level traffic. If you think about the headwinds that are facing most businesses - with stores being shuttered, people at home and shelter in place - that really has brought significant tailwinds for digital. Companies who were 'digital second' coming into the pandemic, it's made them 'digital only' and we certainly think that many of these companies will be 'digital first' as we come out of the pandemic.

When we say digital here, we're really talking about what is in the remit of a Chief Digital Officer, a Chief Marketing Officer, a head of commerce. So we're talking about marketing, commerce and experience technologies. Across this portfolio, we have a very, very significant revenue footprint. Throughout this pandemic, what we see is the 'all digital' customer of the future essentially came early. Certainly you hear about a massive amount of digital transformation and digital acceleration which would normally take years, now taking months.

He adds: 

It isn't just digital for digital's sake; it's digital tethered back to the CRM, back to the customer. And as we've worked with some of the largest customers in the world, one thing has become really crystal clear - our customers want digital transformation across every possible touchpoint. Not just marketing, not just commerce, not just experience. They want integrated products. They want a message from us pitched in their language. And they want a partner ecosystem and services that we can offer that really span all of those. So, enter Digital 360.


At the heart of all this is what Salesforce is pitching as “the single source of truth”, which may sound like an update version of the elusive ‘single view of the customer’ that has been the CRM Holy Grail since time immemorial. According to Blitzer: 

This is really about taking all of your customer data from sales, from marketing, from commerce and putting it in one place, so that marketers can slice and dice and build rich segments and profiles and activate out across any marketing channels for rich personalization and engagement.

Customer 360 Audiences will deal with both online and offline channels, he adds: 

Traditionally that's been incredibly difficult, blending online and offline. And really, that is one of the reasons why you've seen this rise in CDP platforms - in our case, Customer 360 Audiences - as the central repository to get all of your relevant data, all of your relevant customer data, whether it's from your marketing channels, most of which will be online data flowing in, some of which could be offline, such as people attending live events. It could be your sales data, it could be your order data, perhaps that is that is coming from an offline system. Perhaps it is point of sale data rate coming from in-store, so again, sort of an in person interaction...We're bringing all these different data elements together, both online and offline, putting them into one place, so that a marketer or Chief Digital Officer can use them to build profiles, to do personalization, segmentation, and then ultimately activate them on customer journeys. So traditionally it was quite difficult to have that data feeding into one place. The technology to do that has gotten a little bit easier, especially as data lakes have become more and more accessible and then we're able to productize that as data platforms for our customers.


On the rebranding of Community Cloud, the case could be made that understanding communities of users and prospects is critical to personalization. Why then ditch the c-word? Anna Rosenman, VP Product Marketing, Salesforce Commerce Cloud and Experience Cloud, tells me:

I think that that's a really interesting point of view. Personalization is foundational to everything that we're doing across Digital 360, the reason being is that it's not just a point in time of a customer's experience that we need to personalize. It's really that entire end-to-end journey...every interaction from that first marketing email to when [customers] land on your website, make a purchase, to the loyalty program that they sign up for. That's really what needs to be seamless. So personalization is foundational across this entire set of product lines. That's really anchored into, in my belief, a single source of truth and the ability to have more AI, the ability to really connect that end-to- end journey. 

With regard to community being a part of personalization, we still are going to have customers that build these communities of people who interact and engage and have the ability to do Q&A in a personalized fashion and within forums with Experience Cloud. But there's a lot more to it beyond just people interacting with one another. It's really being able to, for example, file for a loan. That might not be something that you want to interact with your peers about, but maybe it's something that's tangential to that experience. So we want Experience Cloud to reflect the entire breadth of what our customers need to do across that journey.

As for that single source of truth angle, the question must surely be whether that’s any more readily achievable than the single view of the customer that still evades so many organizations. Blitzer reckons: 

Single single source of truth has probably been used for quite a while, I'm sure customer 360 has been used for 30 or 40 years. It's certainly the Holy Grail for CRM, to get to that customer 360, that full view of the customer. The way we think about single source of truth is, certainly it has existed in pockets. There's certainly been a single source of truth in sales, right? At Salesforce, you often hear our customers say the phrase, 'if it's not in Salesforce, it didn't happen'. That's a pretty powerful phrase, right? All of their sales data, running on Salesforce. 

The reason that hasn't happened in places like marketing is because marketing is completely dispersed. If you've seen that famous infographic by Scott Brinker, there are 8000 martech vendors, 8000 different logos in that martech landscape. Thirteen years ago, there were 150 logos. So because of that kind of diffusion of martech, it's been really, really hard to get at a single source of truth. The truth has sort of always lived at the fringes. Some of it has been in your email marketing solution, some of it has been in your advertising solutions. You probably use 15 different pieces of martech. Then you add your commerce package, you add your digital experiences layer, and a little bit of your data is in a lot of different places. 

Companies have tried to tackle this in the past, by building things internally...and it was a giant project, typically owned by IT. IT would build something. They would wire up all the integrations, then marketing or the Chief Digital Officer would ask for a segment, IT would give them a segment, and then they would do something with it. By the time that whole value chain went through, it was obsolete. That was sort of the best you could do for a long time. 

Then I think you fast forward to really the past couple of years. Again, as these data lakes have become much more obtainable and much more affordable and product companies like us productize platforms on top, you now get to the point where this is achievable, where you can integrate all of your different sources of data. So you have all this ingress of your customer data, you can build a single source of truth at B2C, at consumer, scale and you can do this really for the first time. So I absolutely think it's much more attainable this time. 

My take

Time will tell on that last point. It’s good to see the CDP finally loose in the wild after such a long build-up and the grouping under a new business unit is a sensible move.