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Salesforce Customer 360 promises will be clearer in 2020

Salesforce expects to show off what customers are doing with Customer 360 at its next Connections conference in 2020, along with some new integrations.

The big news out of Salesforce's Connections conference this week was a preview of what's coming in the company's Customer 360 platform, due out for general availability in November. Customer 360 will integrate data from a variety of sources to give sales and marketing people a single view of the customer so they can make more intelligent and relevant sales pitches. 

The next Connections conference is a year away. And, of course, Salesforce tends to make its biggest announcements at Dreamforce in the fall in San Francisco. But Connections is important to marketers, and the event builds on a conference sponsored by ExactTarget, the digital marketing company Salesforce acquired in 2013 for $2.5 billion.

So, will the big news at next year's Connections be more products that customers have to hurry up and wait for? It's hard to know, but Martin Kihn, senior vice president of product strategy for Marketing Cloud at Salesforce, said next year's Connections should feature more real-world use cases and advances in Customer 360 and other Salesforce products that have yet to see the light of day.

Martin Kihn, senior vice president of product strategy for Marketing Cloud at SalesforceMartin Kihn

"We're pushing hard on Customer 360, and a major or secondary theme for a couple of years for us -- including the next Connections -- will be to show off what customers are doing with it," Kihn said.

Dreamforce is scheduled for Nov. 19 to 23, the same month the core identity portion of Salesforce Customer 360 is slated to be generally available. The next Connections conference is scheduled for May 4 to 6, 2020.

Kihn said he expects there will be a lot of new information at Connections 2020 related to how Salesforce is integrating new products currently in development, as well as recent acquisitions.

"You'll hear us talk more about the integration of products like Social Studio and Journey Builder in the cloud," Kihn said.

The future is data

However, ThinkJar analyst Esteban Kolsky said the more significant evolution for Salesforce isn't about delivering new applications, but developing its data platform.

Customer 360 is an aspiration. You never connect every channel and source, but you can at least get close and make it accessible with AI, which is what Salesforce is doing.
Ray WangAnalyst, Constellation Research

"Today, you need programs like Social Studio and Journey Builder, but I don't think Salesforce is going to need to keep selling you all these different applications," Kolsky said. "The direction should be more about building out a better data platform with microservices."

Data was indeed a central topic at Connections, where company executives discussed how Customer 360 will connect customer data across Salesforce and third-party applications with a single customer ID. Salesforce also plans to incorporate a customer data platform (CDP) that builds on this unified identity foundation to give marketers the highly sought-after single view of the customer. 

With a number of companies already offering CDPs, Salesforce is considered late to the party -- an assertion Kihn was quick to challenge.

"When we started hearing from customers asking about CDP, it wasn't clear to us [that] we had to build something new, because we already had a lot of what they were looking for," Kihn said.

"There are probably over a hundred vendors that offer what they call a CDP, and I'm familiar with most of them," Kihn continued. "Many of them are essentially a database with no customer engagement. Or, at the other extreme, there are things like retail engagement systems. You need three or four different 'CDP' systems to get to what we're doing."

Erik Archer Smith, marketing director at Treasure Data in Mountain View, Calif., said his company has an advantage as a smaller, "pure-play" CDP provider.

"If you are a giant enterprise or Adobe or Oracle loyalist, you might be fine with the two-year feature improvement cycles," Smith said in an email. "For more aggressive enterprises, the speed of companies like Adobe and Salesforce is not going to cut it. They want to move faster, and they want to move now -- and that is still where we play strongly."

Stay tuned for more AI advances

Constellation Research analyst Ray Wang gave Salesforce credit for having a big vision. He noted it's virtually impossible for any company to completely integrate all customer data across every channel in real time, but even coming close to that ideal will be a great advance.

"Customer 360 is an aspiration. You never connect every channel and source, but you can at least get close and make it accessible with AI, which is what Salesforce is doing," Wang said.

On the AI front, Wang also noted that Salesforce's Einstein is only the start of more sophisticated artificial intelligence to come.

"Let's be honest -- AI is not really here yet. But the conversation now is about machine learning, and we're going to see some real advances in the next 12 to 18 months," he said.

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