E-Commerce Times

Salesforce’s Triangulation Strategy

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Partnerships may be playing the role usually reserved for merger and acquisition activity in the CRM world right now. Generally a company makes a purchase when it wants to capture the benefits of another business' R&D or established market base. However, at the moment it appears that the desirable targets are too big to swallow, and the result is more partnering between the big guys and the really big guys.

Salesforce has been pursuing this strategy for most of the last year with Amazon, Google and IBM. This says a lot about the state of the marketplace on several fronts.

Joining Forces

First, Salesforce and Amazon announced a partnership in which Amazon and its AWS infrastructure service would become Salesforce's strategic infrastructure
partner when Salesforce absolutely had to deploy a data center in a foreign land.

This makes perfect sense. As I have often said, it makes no business sense to build (in this case, a data center) when you can purchase the solution at a reasonable price on the open market.

As a competitive issue, Salesforce's choice of Amazon is a direct challenge to Oracle, because it offers a safe haven, which enables Salesforce to diversify its partner portfolio while keeping Oracle and Microsoft at arm's length. Given the rumors of Salesforce being acquired by a big tech firm over the last few years, this seems a good way to help preserve its independence.

Much the same can be said of the alliance with Google. This is primarily a play for more small and mid-sized business customers, and it's a good one. Salesforce and Google announced their partnership around G Suite, Google's free office apps.

A while ago, Salesforce and Microsoft created an integration with Outlook, effectively making Outlook another user interface for Salesforce. This parallels Microsoft's own integration with its CRM and Outlook. So this partly neutralizes Outlook as a differentiator in any CRM decision.

Google integration gives Salesforce access to all those G Suite users who need CRM, especially in the SMB space. It also gives Salesforce another way to compete against Microsoft CRM. Of course, the company didn't stop there. Salesforce also now has an integration with Google Hangouts, an effective counter to Skype, which now is owned by Microsoft.

Away from the SMB space in the enterprise market, Salesforce also forged a relationship with Google Analytics. Not that it needs more analytics, but the two partners have developed plausible processes that use Google Analytics to surface macro trends and Salesforce Einstein to go the last mile, a model that works with IBM too.

Salesforce and IBM got closer last week, with Salesforce naming IBM a preferred cloud services provider and IBM calling Salesforce its preferred customer engagement platform for sales and service. The agreement leverages IBM's Watson analytics and its cloud, as well as Salesforce Quip (more office software) and Service Cloud Einstein.

21st Century Information Utility

In all of this, we can see that Salesforce has been working to maintain its independence by linking with anything that can enhance its CRM and make it less desirable as an acquisition target. Of greater importance, it's these relationships and others like them that will help Salesforce reach its goal of US$20 billion in revenue in a few years.

When your revenue needs are this big, you need to leverage the market penetration of similar companies. While all of the companies named are bigger than Salesforce, each needs the bragging rights of working with the most popular CRM in the world.

Another question in all this is what's happening with M&A activity, which seems to lull while partnerships blossom. The merger market is notorious for running hot and cold, and right now it seems tepid, like there's more opportunity for large companies like Salesforce crafting relationships with bigger partners.

It's not clear if this means there are few attractive acquisitions out there, or simply that the times require different approaches to the market.

More than once in talks since Dreamforce last fall, Marc Benioff has used the logic that "my enemy's enemy is my friend." This logic is being played out in the partnerships his company has been spawning. On one level, it's just smart business — but in the back of my mind, I see the information utility of the 21st century forming.

It will resemble the current electric utility in that no single provider will dominate and a high degree of interoperability will be needed. Standards like 120 volt and 60 Hertz electricity are what give us the impression of a continental electric utility grid, but in reality the grid is made up of smaller vendors adhering to the standards.

Likewise, there's no single vendor capable of dominating the information utility market, and standards will be vital. That's why it's so important when a company like Salesforce inks partnerships. These incremental agreements have more significance than the announcements might allude to. They are steps on the road to something bigger.

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can't Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. He can be reached at

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E-Commerce Times

New Service Aims to Ease B2B Tech Purchasing Process

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TechTarget last week launched Deal ScoreCard, a quarterly report designed to help B2B technology executives make better purchasing decisions.

Deal ScoreCard covers 20 technology product market segments across the storage, data center, cloud, and end-user computing enterprise technology markets.

It leverages proprietary buyer-generated data across four categories:

  • Pre- and post-purchase data;
  • Web interest data; and
  • Buyer narratives.

"This content is specifically designed to aid enterprise technology buyers in making real purchase decisions," said Bill Crowley, TechTarget's EVP of data business.

Pre-purchase data is gathered from interviews and surveys with IT buyers after they have confirmed a project in the technology area of the research, such as converged infrastructure, but before they purchase the technology, he told the E-Commerce Times.

Post-purchase data is gleaned from IT buyers after they have bought technology.

For Web interest, Deal ScoreCard shows subscribers the relative interest in categories of users' activity on TechTarget's website and their email activity, Crowley said. It also indicates how the interest trends over quarters, which topics and articles are the most popular during the quarter, and which white paper topics are most popular in email promotions.

Deal ScoreCard reports verbatim quotes from interviews with buyers on major research topic areas for buyer narratives.

Focus on Information

Among Deal ScoreCard's benefits:

  • It shows the ranked importance of different pain points, initiatives and features in buyers' minds before and after purchase, and the relative strengths of a company's products and those of competitors;
  • It lets sales leaders compare their companies to market leaders and the competition, understand what concessions competitors are offering in deal cycles, and get quarterly updates on the data directly relevant to decisions about training, as well as demo and pitch construction;
  • It helps content marketers improve positioning, message development and content by showing them the most important and fastest-growing topics, and by noting which topics their company is relatively strong or weak in; and
  • It gives competitive intelligence teams a more independent, detailed and regular view of market dynamics than available in customized reports by including pre-purchase shortlist insights, along with unbiased win/loss buyer data.

"We've seen a huge shift in both B2B selling behavior and in B2B buyer preferences, the former being driven by the latter," said Joe Andrews, VP of marketing at

Buyers used to "rely very heavily on the knowledge and charm of sellers," he told the E-Commerce Times, but "today [they're] much more informed when they enter the sales conversation and have higher expectations."

TechTarget monitors online behavior across 140 enterprise technology-specific websites it owns, and more than 10,000 topics, TechTarget's Crowley said.

"Since we own the content and can identify active users, we're able to easily monitor visitors' behavior and our over 18 million registered members, and catalog activity against specific topics," he noted. "This is processed and made available to drive our portfolio of data-driven products and reports."

Moving to Real-Time Data – or Not

Businesses increasingly seek real-time business data on which to base their decisions.

"It takes weeks to drive data into product and policy decisions," noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

"If you already start a quarter back, by the time you respond to a market change you'll likely be too late to truly benefit from it," he told the E-Commerce Times.

However, TechTarget doesn't publish in real time, "because we need time to do quality control on responses and bring the various types of data into a single report and create a cohesive package," Crowley noted. "We collect data right up to the time we compile the report."

Creating the data is the hard part, he pointed out, but network and processes that the company has put in place over almost 20 years allow it to produce and manage very high-quality data.

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.

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E-Commerce Times

AT&T Raises Eyebrows With Call for Internet Bill of Rights

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In an open letter and a series of full-page ads in major newspapers, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson on Wednesday urged Congress to enact an Internet Bill of Rights and to bring the Net neutrality debate to an end.

Although AT&T supported the Federal Communications Commission's December vote to repeal its Net neutrality rules, the company has called on legislators to establish new laws to regulate the Internet.

AT&T wants to make sure there is a transparent and open Internet for all consumers, Stephenson maintained.

"Legislation would not only ensure consumers' rights are protected, but it would provide consistent rules of the road for all Internet companies, across all websites, content devices and applications," Stephenson wrote in the open letter.

AT&T objected to regulation under Title II, but it supported the Net neutrality rules the FCC established in 2010, which did not rely on Title II regulations, noted company spokesperson Michael Balmoris.

"The purpose of today's open letter calling for an Internet Bill of Rights was to begin a dialogue on a comprehensive framework for basic consumer protections on the Internet that applies to all Internet companies," he noted.

Questionable Motives

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who supports a bipartisan resolution that has the backing of 49 Democrats and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, criticized AT&T's call to action in a tweet on Wednesday.

.@ATT wouldn't have to take out a full-page ad in the @washingtonpost to convince you that they support an open Internet if they did the one thing that permanently protects it: support my CRA resolution to restore #NetNeutrality. pic.twitter.com/dLsKsLKtvp

— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) January 24, 2018

Open Internet advocacy groups also questioned how AT&T could reconcile its request for congressional action with past efforts to revoke Title II.

Fight for the Future characterized AT&T's move a "cynical attempt at misinformation" and said "zero real Net neutrality supporters are fooled" by the open letter.

"AT&T is full of it, and this latest push from them reeks of desperation," Evan Greer, campaign director at Fight for the Future, told the E-Commerce Times.

AT&T's push for congressional action falls short, according to Public Knowledge vice president Chris Lewis, because concerns go well beyond pure Net neutrality issues, and it could take years for Congress to upgrade federal communications law for the modern age.

"First things first," he told the E-Commerce Times. "Let's make sure consumers are protected with this basic Net neutrality protection."

Uphill Climb

AT&T is one of the few major broadband companies that will benefit from Net neutrality being overturned, according to Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates. Verizon and Comcast are also in that group.

It's very unlikely that Congress will be able to roll back the FCC's decision, he told the E-Commerce Times, because the commission carried out a policy favored by the Trump administration, and the current Congress has done very little to push back.

The AT&T campaign could be a reaction to the groundswell of opposition to the FCC repeal coming from consumers and Silicon Valley, argued independent analyst Jeff Kagan.

"While I believe AT&T is happy with the recent FCC decision on Net neutrality, they see the writing on the wall that the other side will simply not stop," he told the E-Commerce Times.

In the meantime, the U.S. General Accounting Office has agreed to investigate potential fraud in connection with the FCC's rules reversal. Net neutrality proponents have alleged that 2 million fake public comments were published in an effort to sway opinions during the process that led up to last month's FCC 3-2 vote.

The investigation should begin in about five months, according to GAO spokesperson Chuck Young.

"Once it gets under way, one of the first steps will be to determine the exact scope of what we will cover and the methodology to be used," he told the E-Commerce Times.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is leading a coalition of 22 states that are suing to restore Net neutrality, praised the GAO decision to investigate. His office has been investigating the fake comments since last spring, as submitting comments using stolen identities of real people constitutes a crime under New York state law.

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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E-Commerce Times

Self-Service AI Aims to Grease the Wheels for B2B Sales Teams

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SalesDirector.ai this week released a self-service version of its artificial intelligence sales execution and sales forecasting platform for B2B sales teams.

The system provides enterprise-grade AI to sales teams in less than five minutes, according to the company. Like the regular SalesDirector.ai platform, the self-service version is offered as a service.

"There's no need to configure, program or set up how you sell, and train the AI — no need for admins to connect to systems," said SalesDirector.ai CEO Babar Batla.

"Our prior product required a few weeks' work to configure the AI system to understand [clients'] sales methodology, process and playbook," he told CRM Buyer. "Our new offering doesn't need that — customers can start on their own. Same value, but a revolutionary onboarding and setup."

Sales executives "are overwhelmed by data and solutions to help them sort through what are the important signals that impact deal closure and improve seller performance," noted Cindy Zhou, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

"AI solutions have the ability to answer these questions," she told CRM Buyer.

The product targets businesses with 50 to 1,000 employees.

"These companies have all the same problems as big companies, but don't have the know-how, resources, budget, or the patience to put an AI system for sales in place," Batla pointed out. "So we take care of it."

Potential customers can access the platform through the "Try Now" button on SalesDirector.ai's website and begin using AI and machine learning in their sales process without needing to implement the software and related services.

Annual contracts for the platform cost upwards of US$1,000 per user.

Productivity Features

The SalesDirector.ai platform connects with Microsoft and Google email and calendar applications on the server side, "so there's nothing to install on the Outlook or Google Mail client," Batla said.

It also connects with the Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics and NetSuite CRM platforms.

"We get data from CRM, but most of the interesting data is sitting in the sales reps' mailboxes and calendars," Batla remarked.

Both versions of the platform correlate all the interactions with buyers that are journaled in email, calendar and call logs, and provide various capabilities without the need for any data entry.

Among the tools for sales leaders:

  • Forecasts based on observed activities and relationship milestones;
  • The ability to manage the pipeline by exception to quickly identify corrective action and improve win rates; and
  • Training mechanisms, along with the ability to hold sellers accountable to the company's sales best practices.

The platform helps sales reps do the following:

  • Stay organized around all their deals, keeping things from falling through the cracks;
  • Come better prepared for deal reviews; and
  • Focus on value-added discussions with managers and overlay teams, again without needing data entry.

The initial run to correlate data takes two to three hours, Batla said. After that, incremental correlations, which execute "much more quickly," are done multiple times daily.

"The key component is using machine learning to analyze the data from a multitude of sources to surface insights for forecast accuracy," Constellation's Zhou pointed out. "The problem is, most companies have data quality issues that impact the effectiveness of the algorithms."

Coaching Features

The SalesDirector.ai platform leverages data to provide real-time coaching in sales execution.

"We can do basic things like setting up the next meeting, engaging with more than one person on a deal, and making sure a particular contact isn't ignored on a deal," Batla said.

The platform also offers advanced coaching. Based on the sales opportunity, it can advise sales people when it's appropriate to take the following actions:

  • Engage with the buyer who makes the purchase decision;
  • Send the discovery call follow-up; and
  • Send the contract.

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.

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E-Commerce Times

Google’s Ad Mute Option Could Be a Valuable Messaging Tool

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Google on Thursday announced a new feature that will let users mute so-called
"reminder ads" in third-party apps and websites that are powered by
its ad engine. It plans to expand this feature to its own services, including Gmail, YouTube and Google Search, in the coming months.

The new tool is the latest addition to Google's dashboard for ad controls, first launched as Ads Preferences Manager back in 2009. The addition of Ad Settings and Mute This Ad will allow users
essentially to block certain ads on Google, on websites and in apps.

This new capability is meant to address a common experience after users have viewed products on some e-commerce sites. Even after having purchased a similar or even identical product on another site, users often receive reminder ads based on their past browsing activity.

Now users will be able to mute those ads across devices, so that
blocking an ad on a smartphone, for example, will result in blocking it on all other devices tied to their

Google Ads Settings smartphone display

How to Mute

To mute an ad, users need only pull up the Ads Settings dashboard
on Google and scroll down to Your Reminder Ads. From there,
a simple click is all it takes to stop an ad from appearing.
Muted ads will not appear again for at least 90 days. However,
this feature currently works only on non-Google websites — and
if a site is serving ads that aren't controlled by Google,
using the mute option will have no effect.

"Google is taking brave steps into the politics of advertising these
days," said Josh Crandall, principal analyst at Netpop Research.

"They are releasing their Chrome based Adblock Plus and now have
announced ad controls," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"On the surface these moves might be seen as contradictory with
their business model, but Google is slowly changing the rules to
protect the long-term strength of online advertising," added Crandall.

The ad mute function is just a tweak to Google's longstanding policy, suggested Paul
Teich, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

"Google had already let consumers block specific ads," he explained.

"The new features give consumers more control over what types of ads
they see, let consumers block specific advertisers, and implement
these features across devices and platforms," Teich told the
E-Commerce Times.

"So, consumer ad preferences will follow them from PC to smartphone to
smart speakers, smart TVs, etc.," he added. "The cross-platform bit is
key, because consumer preferences are now stored in Google's cloud."

Win-Win Proposition

It would seem that users will benefit from this change, but Google
wouldn't be making it if it were not beneficial to its ad

Users may be able to mute reminder ads, but that won't make advertising go away.

"Any time users can signal their interests in what they want to see,
and what they don't, it is beneficial to the ad industry," noted Netpop's Crandall.
"It means Google will find it easier to track individual preferences
and correlate preferences across vast numbers of consumers."

This will give Google better insights into their ad
customers' company and product brand perception, as well as advertising
strategy effectiveness Tirias' Teich observed.

"All of this will help advertisers and publishers increase ad
effectiveness, while Google's advertising supply chain will get better
at reaching individual consumers with ads for brands and products they
are more likely to relate to and click-through," he said.

For Google, more relevant and
contextual advertising ultimately could result in a higher yield.

"Users who take control of what makes it to their screens are more
likely to be interested in the messages that are presented to them,"
said Crandall. "The relationship between user and advertiser will
evolve over time from one that sees advertising as a necessary evil to
another way of perceiving advertising messages as a valuable component
of the online experience."

Peter Suciu has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2012. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile phones, displays, streaming media, pay TV and autonomous vehicles. He has written and edited for numerous publications and websites, including Newsweek, Wired and FoxNews.com.
Email Peter.

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