CMO interview: What Salesforce's lead marketer sees AI and IoT doing to customer engagement

Global chief marketing officer of the CRM vendor, Simon Mulcahy, calls for more marketers to embrace 'pipeline science' and integrate with other business functions

Simon Mulcahy
Simon Mulcahy

Fourth industrial revolution technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) will not only force marketers to be more scientific, they’ll also require them to think beyond their function and to next best actions for customers across an organisation.

That’s the view of Salesforce global chief marketing officer, Simon Mulcahy, who caught up with CMO during the recent Dreamforce conference in San Francisco to discuss the key product and industry messages from the event, and the growing importance of customer advocacy as a strategy.

There’s no doubt AI and IoT are going to be massive game changers, opening up more data sets and actions in real time and enabling the next level of personalisation, Mulcahy said.

“And it will force marketers to be even more scientific,” he said. “The best way I’ve found of internalising this is to stop thinking of it in raw terms of marketing. How you know when a customer needs the next touchpoint from you as a company? And what are you packaging up and delivering to them?

“That IoT data is going to trigger the next best action. It could be a service moment, like the elevator being jammed, or someone needing a new piece of equipment and pressing a widget. The whole company is going to have to take that data and do a next-best action as a company.”

Just trying to tackle these needs in marketing will create more fragmented experiences for the customer, Mulcahy said.

“The more holistic it is, and the more sales, marketing and service all leverage that data, the more marketing just becomes a great experience and the quality overall will rise,” he said.  

“You still have to package up what you need to deliver to that customer in that moment, and that requires creativity and channel choice. But the sales/marketing/service starts to blur and it just becomes about the relationship.”

Democratising AI’s application in marketing

One of the many announcements made at this year’s Dreamforce was MyEinstein, a new platform service based on Salesforce’s Einstein AI platform allowing business administrators to build custom AI-powered apps across any of the vendor’s cloud-based offerings. Einstein Prediction Builder, for example, allows customers to create custom AI models that can learn from and predict outcomes for any field or object in Salesforce’s core platforms.

“What that means to me is I don’t have to rely on a very costly and scarce resource within the company to build apps,”Mulcahy said of MyEinstein’s impact on marketing. “I have the data, but I need the tools and people. With MyEinstein, I don’t need all the people any more, the app will take care of it. Very quickly, I can now build apps doing quite specific things.”

For Mulcahy, the future belongs to marketers who subscribe to the concept of data-driven, “pipeline science”.

“I have a very clear picture not just of the output metrics, such as pipeline and revenue, but across performance at every level and every touchpoint I have with my customers,” he explained. “It’s not just the generation of pipeline, but how everything I’m doing converts customers to evangelists as well. That’s the lens I put on everything we do.

“I need the data to achieve that. Then, the more I can have that data be smart data, the more I can turn it into intelligent next steps. It’s not just the decisions happening at my level; the more I can delegate those decisions down and as close to the end customers or marketers engaging with sales, the better.”  

But democratising tools such as AI and giving more capability to the frontline could generate more confusion as to how AI should be used appropriately. Despite this, Mulcahy said he’s not worried people won’t understand the power of what they have at their fingertips.

“First of all, you have to root yourself in the simple thing that it’s all about the customer,” he said. “As long as you have that in place and you’re clear on what the end state is and what you’re all moving towards, it should be fine. More and more, you have to create complete visibility across everything that’s happening across marketing. These tools will help you do that.

“What they’ll also do hopefully is improve the quality of the end touchpoint with the customer. Right now, in the worst case scenario, marketing is using lots of tools to spray and pray at their customers. If you can create a much more intelligence system, where marketers are fuelled with much better technology, they’re probably touching the customer much less, but more at the right time, with the right message that provide the right help.”

If anything, what will happen is marketing will be less its own discrete organisation, Mulcahy added. “The customer doesn’t see it like I’m in a service moment, or a marketing moment where they’re open to learn. But we have had to organise our experiences like that,” he said. “With these tools, that will be become less like that from the brand side.”

Marketing as team player

If this year’s CMO50 was any guide, marketers are already actively building relationships across functions and working with these teams, from service to strategy, digital, product, HR, finance and more. Again, this raises the question: What is the modern marketer’s role?

Mulcahy agreed marketing today is a very tough job and one that’s broadened its definition.

“Marketing is so different now, and extends from onboarding your employees and getting them up to speed with the latest messaging faster, so when they’re on the field, and interfacing with customers, they’re on-message, educated and can ultimately represent the brand,” he said. “Then it goes through every other touchpoint, which allows a company to keep its employees as a fundamental part of brand, all the way through to awareness generation in the marketplace and ensuring the sales cycle is optimised.

“Some of that should be in marketing, but you can’t say marketing really happens in marketing now. Marketing should be happening in every single place in a company.”

The CMO’s role then is to enable and instigate marketing at every level of the company, Mulcahy said. “That means the chief equality officer is a marketer, as is the head of HR, and the CEO is ultimately a chief marketing officer,” he said. “Our job is to make sure all of those people are on their A game, and the team can enable them. The CMO’s job is less the person that markets. That’s the big difference.”

Acquisition to advocacy

Another key announcement made at Dreamforce was general release of Salesforce’s online education platform, Trailhead, for third-party customisation. Mulcahy described the emphasis on customer-led education as the biggest shift Salesforce is making in terms of go-to-market approach.

The trigger Mulcahy referred to is massive degradation of trust in institutions and civil society exacerbated by fourth industrial revolution technologies such as AI.

“It’s not just that the technologies are so powerful; it’s the fact that everybody can use them,” he commented. “The more we can make them available for everyone, the better.

“As I think about this world where trust is being eroded and coming down, the marketer is really low on the totem pole. End consumers are putting everything they can in front of them to protect themselves from adblocking to spam filters. Marketers are being pushed back.”

Regaining trust means marketing less and partnering more with customers, Mulcahy continued.

“Everything I’m trying to do is about equipping, enabling and inspiring customers to talk about us,” he said. Mulcahy noted 300 sessions run by customers are taking place globally following Dreamforce to share insights about the content of the event. In addition, 600 conference sessions were run by customers with no involvement from Salesforce.

“It’s a really clear brand strategy: We trust our customers,” Mulcahy added. “By trusting them, we have to serve them and more sure they’re successful. So our marketing is now back into making sure our products work, that our customers are successful, and they will then talk about and evangelise us.

“It’s fundamental to my marketing strategy. I want to do everything I can to inspire them to share their story.”  

  • Nadia Cameron travelled to Dreamforce as a guest of Salesforce.

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