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Inside the Salesforce strategy: Acquisitions, AI and Commerce Cloud

Salesforce Einstein and Commerce Cloud are at the forefront of this year's Salesforce strategy, but the company works to gain momentum around IoT Cloud.

The Salesforce strategy to expand beyond its traditional functionality while remaining true to its core capabilities in customer relationship management has been largely successful so far, but there's more work to do.

Over the course of this year, it has extended even further into new areas, including artificial intelligence (AI) and e-commerce. At the company's annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, Salesforce fleshed out this vision with two key new offerings: an AI technology called Salesforce Einstein and the Commerce Cloud, which combines traditional sales, marketing and service with new e-commerce functionality.

These offerings come by way of innovation, but also through a series of fast-and-furious acquisitions. This year, the company spent approximately $700 million in AI purchases and more than $4 billion in acquisitions in 2016 as of September.

But with acquisitions come new responsibilities. Salesforce has to integrate the technologies it purchases and bring new capabilities into the Customer Success Platform in short order. The company was able to do that with SteelBrick's configure, price, quote (CPQ) software, which it acquired in 2015, and infused Einstein capabilities to create Salesforce CPQ less than a year later. The forward-looking Salesforce strategy is similar; the company must integrate Demandware, the foundational technology for Commerce Cloud, into its portfolio.

SearchSalesforce sat down with Stephanie Buscemi, executive vice president of product and solutions marketing at the company, to discuss the Salesforce strategy for new offerings and the progress of existing ones, including Internet of Things (IoT) Cloud, which launched last year, but whose customers are largely still testing the IoT device and data management platform.

Stephanie BuscemiStephanie Buscemi

How does Einstein advance what Salesforce has been doing to make all its systems intelligent?

Stephanie Buscemi: We built it right from the core. It's Einstein inside [the platform]. I look at it as the next step [for the platform] ... It's the final mile in giving people data insights.

There is more data than ever, but we can't seem to get business use out of it. They haven't really been able to tap in at scale. Give it to users in their workflow in a way they can leverage and get the most value out of it.

You could give a salesperson a beautiful report, and it could show there are 12 new sales opportunities in a given region. But AI takes it further. It's bringing productivity by automating and letting sales reps take action on it right in the application. All the data is right there, not in a separate report. It's telling you the best way to interact with that customer or prospect and when is the right time to interact.

How is Einstein different from other AI platforms?

Buscemi: Einstein is a differentiator because we built it as a layer in our platform. We did a lot of acquisitions, but we have always been committed to building the platform and an ecosystem that people want to build their business around [or] partner with. We continue to focus on enriching the platform, and Lightning Experience is key to that. It's about democratizing the access to [development]. The ability to go from no code to low code to code with Heroku allows even business users to build great mobile, desktop apps -- and it’s fast for everyone.

Trailhead [the educational program for developers and novices] has been a huge game changer to extend the value of our platform ... Anyone can go in and learn to get the benefit from platform, build the apps. Trailhead -- the certifications, the badges -- is creating a whole ecosystem of jobs.

Commerce Cloud features Einstein and merges e-commerce, marketing and other technologies. How does it travel the line between serving up relevant content and not intruding on consumers' sense of privacy?

Buscemi: We're taking intelligence off live data, and we're proactively making personalized recommendations on the likelihood to engage based on groups of people with like attributes.

I don't think it becomes a Big Brother creepy thing. If I'm on an Adidas site, the site has a certain amount of information about me. Commerce Cloud can tell me what people like me have been buying. It helps retailers understand the correlations and optimize merchandizing on a site or in a store based on a person's profile. So, it's all about creating a better experience for the retailer and the shopper. It certainly doesn't break privacy rules. It's a way to break down clutter for consumers and retailers.

Commerce Cloud can tell me what people like me have been buying. I don't think it becomes a Big Brother creepy thing.
Stephanie Buscemiexecutive vice president of product and solutions marketing at Salesforce

Let's talk about getting customers to the next level with IoT. How will that happen?

Buscemi: IoT Cloud is strategic to the company. Connecting to the internet is essential to creating solid customer experience. The key right now is to further mature the product for scale.

We spent quite a bit of time getting the product where it needed to be and getting our customers successful, and that's how we will go from customers in double digits to massive numbers of customers.

The state of a company's data is a huge challenge to manage. Our job is to make sure that our connector strategy makes it as easy as possible to ingest from all of a company's many data points. That is one of the things we have been working on -- to go from near-real-time to real- time data. How does that data come in, what is the frequency, what is the quality?

Let's talk about your acquisition strategy. How do you integrate companies you've acquired?

Buscemi: When we make a decision that there is something adjacent to our business, we are willing to pay a premium to buy the market leader. We want to ensure we get the best product and the best talent in the market. We did that with SteelBrick, and we just did that with Demandware.

When we bring them in, we have a method to bring immediate value to our customers and what is the longer-term roadmap. With Quip, we launched a Lightning component to enable all teams to create documents within Salesforce within weeks of the acquisition. We wanted people to collaborate on documents, but we had to bring it right into the workflow.

What about other partners that you didn't choose to build into the platform, such as Apttus?

Buscemi: We saw, increasingly, that customers wanted CPQ delivered directly from Salesforce. But a lot of customers are active with other apps, and we continue to work with Apttus because we want to give people choice. You can't have an open platform and run it in the ecosystem if you say, 'We bought one company and now we're going to alienate another.'

Can you talk about an area this year where you faltered and one where you succeeded?

Buscemi: An area that we're going to fulfill is continuing to bring together all the customer touch points. The lines are blurring between sales, service, marketing and IT in terms of creating that integrated customer experience and now bringing commerce into that. B2C companies are cheering from the mountaintops to bring the commerce piece in with Commerce Cloud.

We have made a lot of improvement -- and should have faster -- on starting to bring the Lightning Experience integration to Marketing Cloud. We're now delivering that, and we can't be doing it fast enough.

Check out all our Dreamforce 2016 coverage and related content here.

Next Steps

With Demandware purchase, Salesforce delves into e-commerce

Partnerships will define success or failure for IoT Cloud

Commerce Cloud brings e-commerce to Salesforce

How Salesforce's acquisition of CloudCraze aids customers

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