At Dreamforce, Salesforce moves to provide brands with universal customer ID

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Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce, right, speaks as IBM CEO Ginni Rometty listens during the Dreamforce Conference in San Francisco.
Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce, right, speaks as IBM CEO Ginni Rometty listens during the Dreamforce Conference in San Francisco. Credit: Michael Short/Bloomberg

The race is on to provide brands with software that paints a complete picture of their customers and what they want, sometimes before they even know it. It may sound like CMO fan fiction, but cloud computing service providers such as Salesforce, Adobe, SAP, Amazon and Microsoft are all hoping to make it a reality, sometimes spending billions in the process to perhaps achieve that goal.

To that end, Salesforce announced Customer 360 ID on Tuesday at Dreamforce, the company's mega-conference in San Francisco that attracts some 170,000 people each year. The new offering will help brands identify who their customers are and how they previously interacted with them through a universal ID. It will also enable companies to access information on those customers through Salesforce Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud and Commerce Cloud.

Recognizing customers

In other words, a support agent using Service Cloud can now look up a customer's historical purchase history through Commerce Cloud, or the email offers they received via Marketing Cloud—cross-referencing that wasn't previously available. Salesforce is pitching Customer 360 as a way for brands to move away from working in silos, where consumer data is spread across multiple systems, and toward a more unified view of customers. Companies can also access data from any application outside of Salesforce, according to the company, using MuleSoft, a company that it acquired in March for $6.5 billion.

Customer 360 is a necessary step for Salesforce. Patrick Stokes, senior VP of product management at Salesforce. "Any interaction a customer has with your brand should start and end with the customer," Stokes says. But that's challenging, he says, thanks to the proliferation of tech such as the so-called Internet of Things, AI products and mobile. "We want to create a single ID that represents who your customer is across all your applications," Stokes says.

Still, there's much work ahead for Salesforce.

The company's Marketing and Service clouds have been cobbled-together by technology built through acquisition. That approach has worked well for Salesforce thus far, but some marketing tech execs say it could bring unwelcome ramifications over time.

"CRM as we know it today has one massive problem: It makes customers experience a company based on the structure of a relationship database," one executive says, who asked to remain anonymous to protect industry relationships. Consumers "have to deal with how the sales ops team defines you."

To put it another way, technology that's acquired from different parties don't speak the same language, and as a result, there's often no common language across departments.

Growing competition

Meanwhile, Salesforce is also seeing increased pressure from rivals. Last week, Adobe announced that it was buying Marketo in a $4.5 billion deal. And just yesterday, Adobe, Microsoft and SAP announced the "Open Data Initiative" at Microsoft's Ignite conference in Orlando. The effort aims to create a universal system so exchanging data between all three companies is seamless instead of cumbersome. Although it sounds promising, Microsoft did not offer a timetable for when the project would be complete.

"Salesforce is competing with this, as is Adobe, but they have better marketing technology than SAP, Oracle, IBM," another exec says, who also asked to remain anonymous to protech industry relationships. "But [they] are late entrants to the service, commerce and support side of things," adding that Salesforce's most recent move helps them catch up with what SAP, Oracle and others are at least promising.

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