The arms race among top b-to-b brands to acquire, partner with or build the best cloud suite of tools for the CMO is in full swing, with an eye towards creating for them a full customer view utilizing real time data. Here's a look at who leads the pack, what they're using, and what the future may hold:
Overview: The company's core product is a cloud-based customer-relationship-management platform. For seven straight years, Salesforce's CRM has been placed in the "leaders" quadrant for Sales Force Automation by Gartner. The software allows you to track conversations with accounts and contacts, monitor opportunities as they progress through the sales cycle and zero in on sales rep performance.
Latest Offerings: Salesforce has made a serious push into marketing automation. Its latest move was buying ExactTarget in 2013 for $2.5 billion. ExactTarget is a software company that helps marketers figure out when and what to message, and through which device. The ExactTarget buy came on the heels of the acquisitions of social advertising software companies Buddy Media ($689 million) and Radian6 ($340 million)
Key clients: Unilever, CareerBuilder, Sony Playstation
The lowdown: Salesforce sees the world moving towards mobile, social and cloud and is investing to lead in all three realms. Its weakness could be Salesforce's open nature as it allows competitors like Marketo and Oracle's Eloqua to integrate with its platform, giving those companies an opportunity to build their businesses within its own environment.
Overview: Adobe is most known for its creative software -- Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash -- within which many ads are designed. But it has also been working to insert itself into the execution of advertising, playing a role in the life of ads created in its software after they leave it.
Latest offerings: The Adobe Marketing Cloud is a series of point solutions meant to help clients "measure, personalize, and optimize marketing campaigns and digital experiences," according to its own summation. Marketers using this service can combine data across CRM, point of sale, email and surveys to create a single customer view of the customer. The cloud offering also allows for forecasting, tracking social programs, and deploying marketing tags. Adobe has made some big acquisitions to see this vision out, including audience analytics company Omniture for approximately $1.8 billion in 2009, and Efficient Frontier Technology for $400 million in 2011.
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Key clients: Audi, Lenovo, Sony, and U.S. Bank
The lowdown: Adobe is still looking to improve integration with its Adobe Creative Cloud. By integrating Adobe Creative Cloud and Adobe Marketing Cloud, Adobe will try to change how marketers visualize, share, discuss and act on critical information.
Overview: CRM and Enterprise Resource Planning have long been at the core of SAP's offerings, primarily in the on-premises realm. But it's investing billions of dollars in cloud and big , most notably its HANA business intelligence tool, which is being built into every product and service area. Lately, SAP's attentions have been set on competing with the likes of Oracle and IBM in offering other enterprise-level CMOs the ability to maximize their marketing dollars and has made significant investments towards that goal.
Latest offerings: SAP has formed a Social Media Analysis group powered by Netbase. Through the cloud-based product, SAP can help clients turn massive volumes of unstructured social-media data into useful insights. SAP last year bought Hybris, an e-commerce, multichannel commerce data management company. Terms of that deal were not disclosed, but it was estimated to be more than $1 billion.
Key clients: T-Mobile, Société de transport de Montréal (Montreal's transportation authority).
The lowdown: SAP's global VP-Product Marketing Jamie Anderson said it's only scratching the surface of what the company can do for other marketers looking to have a greater view of their customers regardless of where they may be -- email, social media, mobile or web. "Things like CRM and marketing automation, these are a microcosm of a bigger picture," he said. "We are effectively identifying the businesses that can deliver on the best customer experience; the whole topic is about customer engagement and the next generation of customer engagement."
Overview: After Microsoft, Oracle is the country's second-biggest software company. Until recently, it hadn't been a strong player in the cloud-marketing game, but two major acquisitions over the past two years put it squarely among the leaders.
Latest offerings: Oracle acquired marketing-automation company Eloqua in 2012 for $871 million and then Responsys, a cloud-marketing platform, for $1.5 billion. The company hopes to combine these two platforms with its existing tech to offer a complete ecosystem that will enable marketers to engage with customers at every stage of the lifecycle.
Key clients: Twitter, Intel, Dell
The lowdown: The big question here will be whether Oracle can meld its new acquisitions and come up with an offering that works better than Salesforce, which had a head start. Oracle's push here makes Marketo, Eloqua's top competitor, a hot acquisition target. An ad-tech acquisition might also be on Oracle's wish list.
Overview: At one time synonymous with the computer age, and computing in general, IBM has been working towards being known as a cloud services company with a key component being its Enterprise Marketing Management group.
Latest offerings: IBM has been on an acquisition tear to build out its EMM group, with more than $3.5 billion in purchases since 2010, when it bought cloud-based marketing software solutions maker Unica Corp. The latest buy came in October 2013 with the purchase of mobile customer-engagement tool maker Xtify. Through its EMM group, IBM is engaged in cross-channel marketing, marketing performance optimization, and product-mix optimization. It's got an extensive EMM portfolio, which is the centerpiece of its Smarter Commerce initiative and is a recognized leader in marketing automation and EMM solutions by most analyst firms.
Key clients: Land's End, L'Occitane, Burt's Bees
The lowdown: With more than a half-dozen products and over 130 third-party partner relationships under the EMM group, IBM needs to focus on creating a platform that can be surrounded by its partner ecosystem as well as integrations with what it already has. Forrester analyst Cory Munchbach also believes it could potentially purchase one of the few marketing automation solutions still out on the market, such as SilverPop, StrongView or Marketo. "Our next big step, really, is integrating these things," said IBM's director of Smarter Commerce strategy, Jay Henderson. "It's not just enough to buy these companies and run them as separate businesses."