Marketing Tech at Dreamforce: A Developing Story

DFAs we brace ourselves for the inevitable barrage of Dreamforce ’14 “takeaways, “learnings” and “insights” blog posts to hit our inboxes over the next few weeks, I figured it may be helpful to recap some of the biggest marketing tech-related comments about Dreamforces of recent years. After all, it’s difficult to takeaway insightful learnings without context – you gotta have a benchmark.

DF10 

Dreamforce 2010 emphasized additions to the cloud database (unsurprisingly) as well as several CRM improvements with regard to mobility, workflow management (Chatter), social capabilities, and business intelligence (an effort to keep pace with Oracle CRM).

Far more interesting, however, was the takeaway shared among several influencers regarding the attendee buzz around marketing automation, which was all but ignored by Salesforce itself.

Jeff Ernst of Forrester titled a subsection of his post, “Marketing automation is still MIA,” relaying that Salesforce responded to analyst inquiries about the absence by referring them to the numerous MA partners in attendance.

Adam Honig had similar remarks in his DF follow-up: “What didn’t Salesforce announce? Review Salesforce’s product line-up, and you’ll notice one cloud is still missing: marketing.” The post provides his reasoning – Salesforce, at that time, had key partnerships with both Marketo and Eloqua (indeed, both have been a Titanium sponsors multiple years over). This, however, doesn’t seem like a good enough reason for SFDC to ignore a rapidly growing and adjacent category. In fact, Jeff Ernst believed SFDC was standing by to see who came out on top before acquiring a MA vendor, Marketo being the No. 1 expected acquisition among marketing tech pundits.  

DF11

The “Social Enterprise” was the big theme of Dreamforce ’11. And new advancements with regard to mobility, custom application development using SFDC database components, and the addition of Java to Heroku to expand the developer community were all key announcements.

But what was again missing from any announcement? Marketing automation.

Gleanster Research’s Ian Michiels remarked that the buzz around automation continued to heat up, and that he “witnessed dozens of prospects playing” vendors – such as Eloqua, Marketo, and even newcomers Act-On and Pardot – against each other. Though SFDC seemed to be standing on the sidelines, Michiels clearly believed this to be temporary when he stated: “I wouldn’t be surprised if SFDC sucked up Marketo in 2012 either.”

Always a fountain of well-written insight, David Raab chimed in on the developing theme of a lack of marketing auto theme: “If the big question on the mind of the marketing automation industry has been whether Salesforce would launch its own product, the show provided what I consider to be a definitive answer: No.” Raab’s reasoning was the most informative to date; Salesforce was looking to double its $2.1B annual revenue, and at the time, the MA space was too small to make much of a dent in that goal. Rather, it had its crosshairs set on bigger targets such as HP and IBM. So why chance disrupting lucrative partnerships with Marketo and Eloqua if there wasn’t much to be gained?

The more important point Raab made is that Marketo and Eloqua, by expanding their initial offerings into what was being called revenue performance management (RPM), chanced waking a sleeping elephant:

Both share a vision of combining marketing automation data with sales data, and ideally with data from other sources…. The bigger the pool of data the marketing automation vendors assemble, the more appealing it looks to Salesforce. And if you combine the data with a claim to managing strategic decisions about marketing and sales programs, you’re definitely poaching on their turf.

DF12

Even with mounting interest among attendees and the remarkable growth within the product category, SFDC continued to sidestep automation. Instead, the importance of social remained a key theme, which, as David Raab noted, “was true but far from novel.”

Matt Heinz commented in his blog that, despite a great number of MA vendors present and a “ton of innovation and execution opportunity ahead,” it was interesting that “In a three-plus hour keynote presentation, Salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff didn’t mention marketing automation once.”

Though Salesforce seemed content with its somewhat removed position, Raab gleaned a couple insights from the floor. First, third-party data providers were in large force throughout the exhibit, signifying easier connectivity to external data sources – which has since become a major topic as the open-marketing-platform model has gained widespread approval. A second takeaway was the emergence of automated lead scoring as a key theme with several vendors in attendance. 

DF13

In June 2013, SFDC finally made its move into the MA space, acquiring ExactTarget and Pardot with it. As Chuck Schaeffer noted while covering of the acquisition, this was far from expected – Marketo had always been the prime suspect.

During Dreamforce ’13, Marc Benioff finally seemed to take a stand on marketing, stating it would be his “next $1 billion business.” The unveiling of Salesforce1 – an application development platform – was intended to facilitate this focus by integrating SFDC’s existing products as well as third-party apps. As Gartner’s Martin Kihn remarked in his DF13 follow-up post, however, “Salesforce1 does little to address current gaps in the company’s pitch to digital marketers,” such as analytics and advertising.

David Raab, in what has become an annually reoccurring post-Dreamforce follow-up, focused on how SFDC addressed the recent ExactTarget/Pardot acquisition. Pardot would be separated from ExactTarget and made part of the Sales Cloud, where it was simply described only as providing lead scoring and nurturing programs. As it turns out, SFDC didn’t end up stripping the B2B MA vendor to this extent (nor did it wind up under the Sales Cloud). But it is currently removed from the Marketing Cloud in its own B2B marketing automation category.

ExactTarget, on the other hand, was to become the branded platform of the SFDC Marketing Cloud for B2C customers, incorporating SFDC’s previously purchased social marketing components, Radian6, Buddy Media and Social.com. The Marketing Cloud has since dropped the ExactTarget branding.

As someone who isn’t able to attend DF14, I’m looking forward to reading about this week’s announcements and opinions and how they pertain to new developments regarding the above narrative. 2014 has been a big year for marketing tech, and especially for MA platforms. Hopefully, Salesforce has some bright lights to shed on the way this product category, as well as newer ones, are evolving.

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