A B2B Perspective of Dreamforce

In case you missed it (insert wink and a smile here), last week was Salesforce.com’s user conference, Dreamforce, arguably one of the largest events in the industry, if not the most entertaining.  I mean, who doesn’t like Will.i.am, Cake (thank you to Silverpop), Metallica and more parties that one can possibly handle. Oh yeah, there were a ton of user sessions too.

This was my fourth Dreamforce, and I’d like to offer some observations from the perspective of someone who lives in the B2B marketing & sales space.

Observation 1:  Salesforce.com is not going to acquire a Marketing Automation Vendor anytime soon

While many were eagerly awaiting an acquisition announcement during the keynotes, nothing of consequence was announced.  As he has the last few years, Marc Benioff focused on Salesforce.com’s social capabilities. I believe this will continue to be the focus of the company in the foreseeable future.

However, there was quite a buzz as many tried to discover which marketing automation platform Salesforce.com decided to purchase for their own use. The fact that they chose to outsource marketing automation seems to indicate that Salesforce.com recognizes that they are not an automation player after all, further giving credence to the idea that CRM cannot provide marketing automation.

Observation 2:  Marketing Automation is Alive & Well

Despite the assertions (by a select few mind you) that marketing automation is past its prime, you would not have known it by the show of force from the automation vendors in the exhibit hall.  Marketing Automation row, as it seemed to be named, was anchored by Eloqua & Marketo directly across from each other. Adjacent to them with more than significant displays were Pardot & Silverpop.  Other vendors on display were Genius, eTrigue, HubSpot, Aprimo and ActOn to name a few.

However, it was not simply their presence at the show that made the statement. It was the continuous flow of traffic in each of the exhibits.  In the time we spent with each vendor, we saw and heard firsthand how attendees are catching on and understanding the value that marketing automation solutions bring to the table.  Several of the vendors said that the traffic they were experiencing far exceeded their expectations.

Observation 3:  B2B Marketing Continues to Mature

The conversations we had around marketing, demand generation and lead management were elevated at this year’s conference compared to those in years past.  Instead of asking “What do we need to do?”, the marketing executives and practitioners that we spoke to were saying things like “We know we need lead management process, and understand what it will do for us. We just need help in actually making it happen.”  Statements like “Visibility into pipeline by marketing”, “Ability to track marketing contribution to revenue”, and “Develop an end-to-end lead management process” were more the norm than the occasion this year.  This maturity was confirmed by many of the exhibitors that we informally surveyed about the level of attendees and the discussions they were having.  Overall, the B2B marketer seems to be maturing.

Observation 4:  Salesforce.com Needs Better Content 

I’m sure there is probably no better place to get hands-on training if you’re a Salesforce.com user or administrator. However, when it came to the “informative” or “thought leadership” content, there was a severe gap.  Our own experience, as well as much of the feedback from our colleagues and customers who attended, indicated as much.  We observed many sessions where people left in droves during the presentation. To us, this seems to be an indication that today’s buyer will not stand for being “sold to”.  I was told by many that the sessions they attended were more like commercials for the session sponsor.  Salesforce.com, if you’re reading this, I suggest that you focus on improving the content significantly, perhaps by previewing presentations to confirm that they are more thought leadership, and less promotion.

If you have not attended Dreamforce in the past, I highly recommend you add it to your calendar and budget for next year.  It is an ideal place to network, connect and learn from other users.  I look forward to seeing what is in store for next year!

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