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Dreamforce 2018: Salesforce Focuses On Integration, AI

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Last week, I trekked to San Francisco to experience the latest incarnation of the annual Salesforce extravanganza, Dreamforce 2018. There’s no need to repeat last year’s description of the event (you can check that out here); suffice it to say that the 2018 event was as big and as overwhelming as it was in 2017. In his keynote address, Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff’s passion and sense of mission were on full display, approaching that of a Southern Baptist televangelist. His message: the 4th Industrial Revolution is here now, and it’s time for companies, governments, and societies to sieze the moment– and Salesforce will help you!

If attendees only attended the big-tent event, they might be forgiven if they walked away a little long on inspiration and a little short on detail. So, here’s the baseline: Salesforce is the world’s #1 CRM cloud-based platform, with over 150,000 customers. But the Salesforce portfolio goes well beyond the Sales Cloud; its Marketing, Service, and Commerce (formerly Demandware) Cloud solutions are also popular with retailers across the spectrum of verticals and revenue bands. And although the company has consistently delivered about 25% increases in YOY quarterly revenue since 2015 (and in the years before that, even better), it is not resting on its achievements by any means. Now, the company’s focus is on two big improvements: integration of their various Clouds by virtue of it’s recent acquisition of Mulesoft (redubbed Salesforce Integration Cloud), and the infusion of AI into the entire platform with the company’s Einstein technology.

In his keynote remarks, Mr. Benioff laid out the broad lines of the Salesforce vision, and by sharing the stage with “Trailblazers” – people and companies that are on the front edge of Salesforce adoption, he crafted a compelling “carpe diem” message to the assembled. Two of the Trailblazer stories should be particularly interesting for retailers:

The first (surpisingly) comes from Lars Ulrich of the heavy metal band Metallica. Exclaiming that “everything is shrinking into your mobile phone”, Mr. Ulrich explained how the band is using Salesforce technology for fan engagement (Commerce Cloud), promoting their products and live appearances with email campaigns and targeted communications (Marketing Cloud). Metallica also generates support for its charitable foundation All Within My Hands by utilizing the Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud.

The second Trailblazer story that Mr. Benioff shared featured Itallian fashion designer Bruno Cucinelli. Mr. Cucinelli explained how his company is an example of what Benioff called “inclusive capitalism”. The company is using Mulesoft to enable a “Customer 360” (single view of all customer data) from its Marketing and Commerce Cloud implementations.Benioff went on to explain that Customer 360 is now enabled across all Salesforce Cloud applications, connecting customer profiles contained in those applications into one 360° view.

Getting Down To Business

In an analyst “visionary session”, Salesforce President & Chief Product Officer Bret Taylor highlighted the company’s focus on integration - with Mulesoft, and AI - with Einstein (and he added a third focus, “completeness” – more on that in a moment).

Let’s take “integration” first. Mr. Taylor commented that “Salesforce cloud services were built in different ways at different times… (but) now customers want an integrated experience.” In answer to that challenge, Salesforce is now offering “Customer 360”, which in plain language is the joining of customer data from the different Salesforce clouds into a single view – enabled by the Mulesoft technology. Coincidentally, at the analyst reception, I was congratulating a Mulesoft representative on joining forces with Saleforce and joked, “and you thought you were busy before!” She remarked that although the Mulesoft team is certainly busy making “Customer 360” a reality, most interest is coming from companies that want to integrate Salesforce to their legacy applications.

And that indeed highlights Salesforce’s strategy. The company wants to be the customer-facing technology platform of choice. A recent Salesforce study revealed that on average, retailers operate 39 operational applications, and Salesforce wants to front-end those apps with its customer-facing marketing, commerce, and service offerings – while making it very easy for companies to integrate whatever they have in the backoffice.

I wanted to know more about this for a couple of reasons. First of all, as a former CIO I know from first hand experience that integrations between point solutions make up a huge part of the code libraries in most shops, and keeping those integrations running eats up a lot of the available budget of the IT programming team (and that means those valuable resources aren’t developing the new stuff that customers expect). Secondly, at RSR we know from our latest benchmark on innovation in retail (2018 Ramping Up Retail Innovation, RSR Research, September 2018) that “APIs” and “flexible interfaces to legacy systems” are considered among the most highly valuable technologies by retailers.

So Mulesoft (or, Salesforce Integration Cloud) sounds like just the ticket. At another session featuring Unilever Global CIO Jane Moran, Integration Cloud’s capabilities were highlighted. Unilver’s challenge was like so many companies’: it needed to integrate the customer-facing Commerce Cloud with legacy systems, particularly the Product Information Management (PIM) system and it’s Netsuite inventory management system.

Mulesoft creates and maintains what it calls “application networks” with its “design center” – a shared libarary of assets, or connectors, to a wide collection of legacy apps. If an API doesn’t already exist, one can be created by mapping the data transformations needed between the source and destination systems. Mulesoft uses ML (machine learning) algorithms to recommend transformations in a highly intuitive – and fast – way. Once that’s done, the new API is added to the shared library – and that’s important, because now other Salesforce apps can use the API.As an example, Unilever’s Moran showed how a customer order status can not only be shared with the customer via the Commerce cloud, but also with a service agent in the Service Cloud without any additional coding. According to Moran, the Mulesoft technology saves 40-50% of the development time required to connect applications. Not only that (according to the CIO), but getting rid of “tightly coupled peer-to-peer” APIs and replacing them with “loosely coupled” connectors applications enables the company to replace pieces without corrupting the “application network”.

Now let’s take a look at Salesforce and AI. In August 2018, the company acquired Datorama, which offers integrated marketing analytics.I had a chance to watch the app in action, and what it does is “connect and unify” marketing data sources, and then applies AI to discover useful insights in order to help businesses to optimize marketing campaigns.Datorama surfaces cross-platform insights by first creating API-like connectors to data sources; then using AI/ML algorithms to understand and organize both marketing and non-marketing data (for example, weather data) across platforms into a single data model. From there, business users can uncover “genius insights”, ways and places to drive ROI for their marketing campaigns.

AI’s value in designing and executing digital marketing campaigns is becoming increasingly clear across retail. Rob Garf, Vice President of Industry Strategy and Insights at Salesforce Commerce Cloud, shared examples from Shinola and Ralph Lauren that highlighted how Einstein AI enables the retailers to offer personalized shopper marketing that “is not rules based, but intelligence based”, and to deliver “any-channel service”, whether the touchpoint is via SMS, chat, social network, or mobile device.

Completeness

I attended several other sessions that highlighted how Salesforce is making it very easy for customers to use it’s front-end capabilities to service the needs of both consumers and other businesses.There were far too many examples shared at the Dreamforce conference to cover in this piece.But let’s leave it with Bret Taylor’s third focus area: completeness. Salesforce is continually performing “gap analyses” on its own product line to identify areas for improvement.One recently identified gap was B2B commerce.The result was the creation of a new B2B platform specifically targeted for mid-tier companies. Salesforce observed that business buyers are shopping more like consumers on eCommerce sites, and so it created a platform that will accommodate the new behaviors. The company took an “MVP” (minimum viable product) approach to prototype the B2B app, then build out the features as they learned.

Salesforce believes that this “agile” method of bringing new capabilities to market will help them – and their customers – keep in the lead in the 4th Industrial Revolution. And that brings me all the way back to Marc Benioff’s missionary zeal.That’s a man who doesn’t seem to see limits, only opportunities.I couldn’t help but to think that all businesses need a little more of that curiosity and zest.At the conference, Peter Doolan, Salesforce EVP of Digital Transformation & Innovation, said that there are really four revolutions happening now: a “technical” one (driven by AI and acceleration of new concepts), an “erosion of trust” that demands transparency, an “equality” revolution where “every day should be equal pay day”, and a “customer revolution” (with a parallel employee revolution). Mr. Doolan said that “most CEOs are not prepared to discuss these changes.”And so Saleforce is trying to accomplish more than merely sell a lot of Cloud services. It is putting itself forward as an example for others to follow.

It’s a all order – but it it can be done, Salesforce thinks it can do it.

 

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