Salesforce Connections Event Report

Last week I attended Salesforce’s Connections “World Tour” in New York. As I have attended nearly a dozen such user conferences over the last three months, I feel well-qualified to say that the company’s customers are some of the fiercest networkers I have ever met. And, surprisingly, I found a pretty strong willingness to cross industry lines to learn from each other – I was at one table where an insurance company, a non-profit, a brand manufacturer, and a bank were all swapping tips on which tactics worked best on Facebook vs. Instagram vs. Pinterest.


But the most interesting part of the conference for me was the theme – one focused on the changing landscape of marketing and how companies are managing as whole chunks of what consumers expect from them shift and morph and move around. This was mainly expressed as the blurring lines of CRM, but it also was reflected in a strong focus on the digital marketer.

It wasn’t that long ago when I wrote about the growing conflict between CRM and “DMP” or Digital Marketing Platforms. Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud sits right at the intersection between these two – to their definite benefit. In one of the keynotes Scott McCorkle stated that marketers need every ounce of available information about customers in order to be successful. They don’t need to just have it, they need to use it. The argument about CRM vs. DMP shouldn’t be about one or the other, it should be about how to get both at the same time – on the same platform. Thus the blurring lines in CRM, and the rise of the digital marketer.

After the keynote, there was a session for Q&A with Scott among press and analysts. It was there that I heard the most interesting concept from the whole event – one that RSR is thinking about as well. During that session, Scott talked about how last year they had done a big session with Fitbit on how the company manages all the data its customers throw off on a day to day basis. I don’t know exactly how much that is, but as someone who wears a Fitbit, I know from personal experience that it is an incredibly large amount. I wasn’t at the event last year, so that’s the extent of what I know about what happened.

What was interesting, though, is that Scott said they got a lot of feedback from customers that while Fitbit’s story was interesting, customers didn’t really find it valuable. Their reason? Because they don’t have products like Fitbit that pour an incredible amount of data into the ecosystem. On stage in the keynote, Scott acknowledged that feedback with a different thrust in the examples they used of companies taking advantage of the Salesforce platform. Back in the analyst session, he said that while he appreciated their point of view, he thought it was short-sighted.

I agree. I think there are two places where companies – and retailers are probably more likely to fall into this than other vertical – miss the opportunity because they don’t think it applies to them.

Products are data. This is the first miss. Which is ironic, because retailers more than anyone have learned that the information about a product can be at least as valuable, if not more so, than the product itself. This is a basic assumption – perhaps even a law – of selling on the internet. If the information about a product is not as valuable as the product, then selling on the internet by default would never have worked. So even though retailers inherently understand that products are data, they clearly haven’t internalized that notion, if they think that Fitbit’s story doesn’t apply to them.

The only difference between Fitbit and any other retailer is where in the purchase lifecycle they have focused on using data generated by products. Any retailer selling online is focused on using data about products early in the lifecycle – to convince consumers to buy them. Fitbit, on the other hand, is focused on later in the purchase lifecycle – on product use. Fitbit collects an enormous amount of intimate data about me – how well I sleep, when I sleep, how many calories I burn a day, my average daily resting heart rate. How does that help Fitbit? I have no idea. But I’m sure it gives them a heck of a lot more opportunities to create new products and services for its customers than if they didn’t have that data.

Data is for customers too. The second miss is in believing that the most value to be gained from data about products is for internal use – internal to the brand or retailer. RSR’s analytics benchmark this year found that retailers are turning a bit more inward in their view of analytics – focusing on how they can use customer data to better inform employees rather than looking at how to use analytics to better inform customers.

Informing employees is a gap that needs to be closed – especially store employees, who are currently at a huge disadvantage compared to customers with smartphones. But thinking only about internal use is very short-sighted. Retail, in order to survive the race to the bottom on price, needs services. Services drive people to stores, and valuable services that accompany products makes consumers less price sensitive – and gives retailers an opportunity to differentiate.

Services come from using data to help customers. It can be as stupidly simple as letting me know how frequently I buy cat food and reminding me that I probably need to buy it again this week. Or it can be as complex as “When you have a glass of wine after 8pm, your sleep tends to not be as restful” – which is exactly the kind of insight I expect to get from Fitbit, someday. Hopefully, someday soon.

If manufacturers have their way, pretty much every major object we own will throw off data. And it won’t be long before there is an ecosystem around sharing that data, consuming it, and providing insights based on that data. So yeah, I can understand how a grocery store might sniff at the idea that Fitbit’s story could apply to them. The can of peas in my cupboard isn’t going to be sending sensor data into the network any time soon, and other than frequency of purchase or (I shudder to think) a nearing expiration date, what could anyone really do with that information anyway?

But it’s also incredibly short-sighted to think this is the be-all / end-all of that story. Samsung wants to sell me a smart refrigerator some day. If that refrigerator knows its inventory, wouldn’t my grocer also want visibility into that? Yes, a grocer might not be the one creating the products that generate all this data, but they still may be a consumer of that data – and they may make or break their future on how they can turn that data into services that consumers will pay for, like automatic delivery of groceries.

Any retailer these days can sell a can of peas – Amazon is getting closer to that reality, and the CPG companies themselves aren’t that far behind. This is a real threat to even something as mundane as a can of peas on a grocery shopping list. The real value in retail is in what you can do with information from products to help consumers solve their own problems. If you can do that, you’ll have a loyalist for life.

And, to bring it back to the company that inspired this article, kudos to Salesforce for recognizing the need – and preparing for it now.