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Are you ready for an enterprise marketing platform?

Has your company's needs outpaced the abilities of your marketing platform? It may be time to make the jump to the Salesforce Marketing Cloud. Here's what to consider.

While it's a good problem to have, growth brings more for an organization to manage. You may find that your homegrown or small and medium-sized business-geared marketing automation platform can't adjust to new needs. You likely have more prospects you want to reach, and you want to reach them in a more carefully timed way. You may also want to craft messages to address prospects' and customers' specific needs and preferences.

If you lack these capabilities in your current enterprise marketing platform, you may have come to the point where you need to upgrade for scale, speed, efficiency, insight and personalization.

If so, it may be time to look at marketing automation options that include HubSpot, Marketo, Oracle Marketing Cloud and the Salesforce Marketing Cloud. You need to evaluate each platform to determine which is best for you, but here we'll focus on Salesforce's Marketing Cloud.

Salesforce has addressed some of the critical functionality that companies need as they grow and must scale communications. The company's tools tackle development of marketing campaigns, identification of audiences, personalization of messages and customer journey building to better target customers at various stages of their interaction with a company.

Salesforce Marketing Cloud: Then, now

After acquiring Radian6 in 2011 and ExactTarget for $2.5 billion in 2013, Salesforce fleshed out its marketing capabilities. Prior to officially launching its Marketing Cloud, Salesforce acquired social media listening platform Radian6 for $276 million in cash and $50 million in stocks. Radian6 aimed to help companies monitor what customers and prospects say on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and blogs and to gain insight on their behavior. Then Salesforce expanded the Marketing Cloud with its $2.5 billion acquisition of ExactTarget and Pardot, enabling more targeted and granular communication with customers and prospects.

With the ExactTarget acquisition -- the largest Salesforce had made to date -- the Marketing Cloud brought a couple of enhancements, including deeper personalization capabilities for messaging and greater social media capability in campaigns. Since that time, Marketing Cloud has also enhanced its offering for personalized tracking of customers and prospects with Journey Builder.

What to look for

Organizations in the market for a marketing platform should seek out the following capabilities:

Multichannel marketing automation. For publishing and promoting content that helps marketers engage customers across several different channels, particularly mobile and social. It also needs automation for the intelligent algorithms that sequence how that engagement happens. The ExactTarget acquisition greatly stepped up Salesforce's multichannel capabilities, better enabling the Marketing Cloud to aggregate communications from email, social, website or other channels.

Lead management and scoring. Scoring enables marketers to apply values to different prospects according to their readiness to buy and apply sales efforts to the most promising leads. When a lead enters the marketing automation system, it receives a score based on activities -- browsing behavior, email clicks, and so forth. Lead scoring enables better communication between marketing and sales and an automated communication thread: When a lead score reaches a threshold value, the lead is considered sales-ready and automatically forwarded to a sales rep for immediate follow-up.

The crown jewel of Salesforce's lead management abilities is Journey Builder, which enables marketers to identify, map out, and track how customers and prospects interact with companies and where they are in a buying, or customer, lifecycle.

Content marketing and management tools. These kinds of tools enable you to create content -- and reuse it in multiple campaigns or different channels -- without having to reinvent the wheel. These tools also help create landing pages to greet website visitors who arrive at your site, and they help you customize and personalize content to various segments of your audience or prospects.

Social media management tools. With social media management and monitoring tools, you can gauge the comments that customers and prospects make about your company, products and services, and ingest that data into your marketing automation and CRM systems. You can also target customized content to them by automating social sharing and incorporating response data back into your systems. While some have argued that Salesforce's acquisition of Radian6 in particular diluted its social media capabilities, Salesforce has enlisted Radian6 and Buddy Media to monitor, track, and analyze customers' and prospects' comments on social media. 

Analytics capabilities. Analytics capabilities are immensely important to get information about customers and prospects while gauging the effectiveness of campaigns powered by your enterprise marketing platform. Analytics enable you to track online visitor behavior on websites, in email campaigns, even data from phone calls and other nondigital channels. Analytics tools can help you evaluate your customers' and prospects' attitude about the brand, products and services on social channels.

Salesforce has also incorporated integrated analytics to its platform with the Salesforce Wave Analytics Cloud, soon to be natively embedded in the Marketing Cloud. To date, Salesforce has brought analytics natively to the Sales and Service clouds.

That makes sense, because it's where most customers begin Salesforce adoption. Most customers start by implementing the Sales Cloud for traditional customer relationship management and sales force automation. But as they grow and become more sophisticated, they may recognize that they need the Marketing Cloud to bring things to the next level. They may need to better cultivate relationships with prospects or leads. According to Blue Wolf Group LLC's State of Salesforce 2015 report, about 86% of 1,500 respondents had Sales Cloud installed, whereas 51% had Service Cloud and 40% had the Marketing Cloud installed.

How Salesforce Marketing Cloud fits in

Integration between the Marketing Cloud and Sales and Service clouds is an important part of the story. It sits on a different Salesforce instance and integrates with Salesforce CRM and other resources to combine contact and marketing information into one database. The ability to bring in this data automatically allows for a one-stop-shop for all marketing campaigns: Targeted campaign lists can be set up in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud or Marketing Cloud, without requiring admins to build multiple files among databases for the right information. For large enterprises, this is critical for more flexible, faster market response times. In the past, IT had to build lists for each campaign outside marketing automation software using SQL queries, which could take weeks. Of course, this requires a lot of heavy lifting during implementation, but its means less time long term for marketers to complete their campaigns.

Usability is also a key facet of all Salesforce applications, which are known for ease of use. The Marketing Cloud has an intuitive user interface for marketers to plan all interaction with customers, from lead generation to contract renewal, with a click of a button. Journey Builder is core to this functionality. The Salesforce Journey Builder enables users to build complex campaigns with multiple responses depending on the actions of the contact. Campaigns can start at a website or inside a store and end with a suite of email messages or push notifications to a phone -- all based on the journey and actions of a customer or prospect.

A lead, for example, can be captured by the website and can generate an email based on the contents of a customer's cart or which pages were viewed to promote a certain product. If that lead enters a store and has the company app, a push notification can be sent with a coupon for the individual to use inside the store that day. If the customer does use the coupon, an email can then be sent to thank him for his loyalty; if they do not use it, an email can be sent for a coupon to use on the website. The possibilities are vast, and it only requires one system to execute, without the need for intensive IT development after implementation. Marketing Cloud's strength is based on this personalization and broader audience segmentation within its journeys.

Even small businesses should explore a journey-based marketing model.

As with all technologies, Marketing Cloud won't serve all company needs. This is not the same product as, for instance, a ConstantContact, and the price reflects that. Marketing Cloud's strengths really present themselves in larger engagements and with more complex marketing campaigns, not just one-off email exchanges. Arguably, even small businesses should explore a journey-based marketing model, but it may be hard for smaller institutions to engage with a product like this as their first cloud-based marketing solution. It is likely cost-prohibitive depending on the features chosen, because the application is split into many different parts so that organizations can choose which features they want.

Social media or mobile campaigns, for example, need additional licenses from the purely email-based marketing features. Additionally, every email sender needs a license. This number of licenses can add up quickly in addition to a company's investment in the Salesforce CRM licenses. Finally, it is also likely necessary to engage consultants for the implementation, which Salesforce or at third party can provide.

In-house expertise or consulting help, is also a factor. In the Marketing Cloud, configuration is more complex than its long-term management. Application programming interfaces or FTP processes must be created for ongoing flow of information between marketing cloud and other databases. For Salesforce CRM connections, field mapping is necessary, and Salesforce admins need to understand their field names and data intimately. So, for example, when mapping Marketing Cloud attributes to fields in Salesforce, you need to map to fields of the same data type: The date field in Salesforce should be mapped to the date field in the Marketing Cloud. Marketing Cloud can map to some field types in Salesforce but not others, however. If fields don't map among Marketing Cloud and other sources, the data may not import correctly -- or at all.

Companies have to decide which employees own the management of the Marketing Cloud and its campaigns, as well. The company should decide who will manage the various segmentations of marketing campaigns, how security should be set up, and how business units should be formed. To ensure that the email messages get to the inboxes of customers and leads, it is recommended to engage a consultant for Web-based integration, such as with subscription management pages, and so forth. Complex templates should also be created to enable allow marketers to adjust for each email, rather than requiring them to re-create complex HTML.

Once configured, marketers need to be trained and then can start building customer journeys from day one, combining all the features needed for a successful campaign. Everything is drag and drop along with standard features like AB Testing, reporting and subscription management.

Is Salesforce Marketing Cloud right for your company?

If your company has exceeded the capabilities of its current platform, it may be time to consider an enterprise marketing platform. As you evaluate Salesforce and other technologies, consider your installed technology portfolio in terms of integration issues, your needs in a marketing platform and your in-house expertise, among other factors. Price and licensing may also be considerations.

Salesforce may be appealing because of its array of features and its user-friendly interface. But configuration and initial setup can be factors, so don't lose sight of what it takes to bring Marketing Cloud to your company. With its several acquisitions, Salesforce has already begun to build out its Marketing Cloud with a spectrum of features, from social media marketing to customer journey mapping and multichannel marketing. For those already using CRM or creating complex marketing campaigns on a regular basis, the Salesforce Marketing Cloud may just suit your needs.

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