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A Lot to Like in the Midwest

There was a lot to like at Salesforce ExactTarget’s Connections 2014 user conference in Indianapolis last week. Now all that’s needed is a shorter name. The words “marketing cloud” need to be fitted in there too, but I forget how.

First, a quick shout-out to Indy, home of the big Memorial Day race. I don’t get to spend a lot of time in the middle of the country because I am so often in Boston, New York or San Francisco, and it was nice to experience the Midwest. The city was open and clean, the people were friendly and very helpful. Good on them.

Perhaps it’s ExactTarget’s Midwest roots, but I can see a genuine concern for the customer emanating from the ExactTarget Marketing Cloud and it plays well. For a long time, I’ve been writing that capturing customer data and running random analytics against it is insufficient for modern customer relations, but I’ve been disappointed with what I’ve seen from vendors addressing the issue — until now.

For me, and I write about this in my forthcoming book (consider this a shameless plug), the customer relationship is a process that’s built up from many moments of truth that vendors simply have to be in, and must navigate successfully to endear customers and earn the right to do it again.

Just What the Doc Ordered

Companies too often are unaware of what their moments of truth even are, and consequently — and inadvertently — they disappoint customers. It’s too bad, too, because nobody goes into business with that mindset. However, the disappointment is real, and it results in tepid endorsements to others, aka “advocacy,” which depresses sales and all manner of success in the market.

ExactTarget gets that — and it was wonderful for me to be in the audience as speaker after speaker demonstrated just how ExactTarget enabled them to be in their customers’ moments of truth. Testimonials came from the likes of boutique hotel operator Kimpton, apparel maker Diesel, and a little company from Chicago, McDonalds. I believe it is in the restaurant industry.

What enables these companies and many others to be in their customers’ moments of truth is a new product announced at the conference, called “Journey Builder.” It is just what this doctor ordered. As you might expect from that name, Journey Builder enables marketers to map their customers’ moments of truth so that they can plan authentic and appropriate programs for just those moments.

Journey Builder is not alone; it’s part of a big machine that captures customer signals, and then uses analytics to interpret them and predict customer next steps. That allows the vendor to marshal the right responses.

A complete solution uses Radian6, another Salesforce acquisition, for social listening, and Buddy Media to develop and deploy the right messages at the right time. It also uses its own analytics to evaluate responses and figure out how to improve.

Call for Community

The overt and subliminal message of the event: The journey is the reward. It sounds corny, but it’s true. The journey doesn’t stop, and a good vendor-customer relationship goes through cycle after cycle of listening, responding authentically, and evaluating the results. Lather, rinse, repeat. Simple. Success in today’s journey is what enables us to play again tomorrow.

If there’s a kink in the hose, it is that the moments of truth that Journey Builder maps seem to appear from nowhere. Of course, these moments are distilled from a lot of direct observation and engineered by savvy marketers into the programs alluded to. However, I have a nagging fear that we’ll see a mini-hype cycle develop in which cowboy marketers assume they just “know” what customers want in their journeys and engineer very nice programs that are nonetheless wide of the mark.

In fact, understanding moments of truth is a science all by itself, and that part of the process deserves to be acknowledged. The tools and techniques required have their foundations in community, though, and community was not really on display at this event. So some work on a fuller end-to-end approach still needs to be done, and that brings me back to process.

Journey Builder and its associated parts provide a nearly complete process-oriented approach that sure beats a more transaction-oriented legacy approach. However, we need to close the loop — and that means community — so the cowboys don’t get the wrong idea.

There are huge numbers of companies in the world that have not gotten this religion yet. For many, it will be a big lift, but certainly doable. This kind of attention to customers is not free. It requires technology, methodology and trained people, as well as some new thinking in the corner office. Wait a minute! People, process and technology. Where have we heard that before?

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant's research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and website. He is the author of Hello, Ladies! Dispatches from the Social CRM Frontier and can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Google+.

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