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Six Salesforce marketing automation pros and cons

Salesforce Marketing Cloud is chock full of features to help you manage customers, but it still lacks some important features. Consider these strengths and weaknesses.

Marketers have plenty to like about the Salesforce marketing automation platform -- but there are also some downsides...

to it that companies should consider.

The Salesforce Marketing Cloud provides a single environment to manage all communication channels. The Marketing Cloud, part of the Salesforce Customer Success Platform, includes email, social media capabilities, mobile messaging, ads and more. It's all built on a common platform to manage customer data, analytics and, most important, Journey Builder.

The Salesforce marketing automation platform doesn't do everything, though, and some of its shortcomings may limit its usefulness for your team. Here's a rundown of Salesforce Marketing Cloud strengths and weaknesses to consider.

Three Salesforce Marketing Cloud strengths

  1. Listening and responding. If the customer is in control of its journey, the marketer needs to respond and guide it. At its heart, the Salesforce Marketing Cloud is designed to enable marketers to listen to what customers and prospects are doing, then deliver personalized interactions based on what the customers and prospects have already done or likely will do in the future. Listening drives personalized customer interactions. Let's take a look at how this plays out in the Salesforce marketing automation tool, Journey Builder.

    Journey Builder listens to what customers are doing and guides them down the path that best fits their needs and preferences. "With Journey Builder, marketers aren't just doing batch import contacts and then sending them down a campaign path. Rather, you are listening for customer behavior that can trigger action on your side. Did someone tweet, abandon a cart, call into the service arm?" said Meghann York, director, product marketing for Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

    Once a customer is in a journey, the Salesforce Marketing Cloud continually listens for behavior -- for example, did this customer open an email? It drives behavior based on that action. All this keeps the focus on individual journeys, not market segments. This enables Marketing Cloud retail furniture customer Room and Board to deliver more relevant, tailored ads, email messages and more to their customers for improved response rates, according to York.

  2. At its heart, the Salesforce Marketing Cloud is designed to enable marketers to listen to what customers are doing.
    Past behavior predicts future actions. The Marketing Cloud uses a customer's behavioral history and attributes to predict what he is likely to do next. Is he likely to unsubscribe? Open an account? Make a purchase? The Marketing Cloud then delivers a customized journey based on that understanding. For example, if a customer is likely to make a purchase, Marketing Cloud might provide customized product recommendations. This is part of an emerging trend where vendors apply analytics to drive the customer experience rather than just to report on whether they are a qualified lead.

  3. Marketing based on customer health. Customers will be more or less receptive to certain messages based on their satisfaction level, also known as customer health. For example, a customer who has opened a severe customer service case may be less responsive to renewal offers. The Marketing Cloud can change marketing activities based on signals coming from Salesforce Service Cloud. That might include temporarily suspending marketing activities until a severe service case is resolved.

    Once the case is closed and the Marketing Cloud sends a customer satisfaction follow-up, The Marketing Cloud can listen for sentiment to determine the best path for the customer; it can even create a task in Sales Cloud, York said.

Three Salesforce Marketing Cloud weaknesses

While the Salesforce marketing automation tool has many strengths, a few shortcomings are apparent as well, particularly concerning account-based marketing, ease of use and analytics.

  1. Analytics with external buying signals: The Marketing Cloud's predictive capabilities are compelling but they'd be even better if they included external buying signals, such as those available through third-party predictive analytics vendors. Third-party models can be constructed from hundreds of internal and external buying signals but the Marketing Cloud analytics tend to be mainly internally focused on signals coming from within the Salesforce Marketing Cloud, ignoring third-party sources.

  2. Complexity. Any enterprise-grade marketing automation platform has inherent complexity, and The Marketing Cloud is no exception. Salesforce has made great strides in unifying the experience among applications, all sitting atop the core platform. Still, some users complain that the UI is complex and at times inconsistent with other applications in the suite and therefore confusing. Bottom line: If you are deploying a full-featured platform like the Salesforce Marketing Cloud, you need to invest in learning how to use it.

  3. Account-based marketing. The classic enterprise marketing challenge is that marketers market to people while sales people sell to accounts with many individuals who influence the buying decision. Account-based marketing puts the marketing focus on the account as well as the individual, for greater alignment with sales. Neither the Salesforce Marketing Cloud nor the other marketing automation vendors offer these capabilities today.

Next Steps

An introduction to Salesforce Marketing Cloud

Oracle Marketing Cloud updated, with focus on data

Learn more about the Adobe Marketing Cloud

This was last published in April 2016

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