2018 to 2019 – Customer Data Upheaval


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With the year coming to an end, and 2019 looming closer and closer, it is that time of the year when companies reflect, analyze, and predict in an attempt to gear up for the new year. If we closely examine this year, we find that there’s a storm brewing in the customer landscape that may have significant ramifications in the months to come.

Reflections on 2018

Looking back, 2018 has been a monumental year for the Marketing, Customer Experience, and SaaS Sales space. A lot of significant events happened that have paved the way for how things are going to be in the future! Let’s take a deeper dive into the major milestones of 2018, and how they have (and will) change the SaaS landscape in the years to come.

– The Open Data Initiative

Towards the last quarter of 2018, Adobe, Microsoft, and SAP announced their Open Data Initiative.

“Adobe, Microsoft, and SAP are partnering on the Open Data Initiative to enable data to be exchanged—and enriched—across systems, making it a renewable resource that flows into intelligent applications. With a single, comprehensive view of data, you’ll discover in real-time more about your customers, identify ways to maximize operations, and find new ways to provide the amazing experiences that your customers deserve.”

I couldn’t agree more! I co-founded Strikedeck on the premise that data belongs to our customers, and we serve them by extracting key insights that in turn, enable them to serve their customers better.

So, why am I skeptical about this new initiative? Three reasons.

1. Will these companies be willing to give up control of the data?
2. Can these companies deliver on the promise of interoperability?
3. Is this about genuinely empowering their customers, or an admission that they cannot stop the Salesforce juggernaut?

Don’t get me wrong – Adobe, Microsoft and SAP are very respectable companies that have done a world of good with very innovative solutions that have genuinely helped businesses and consumers improve their lives. Their products are massive repositories of extremely valuable customer data. This announcement makes all the right noises. But will they walk the walk?

– Marketo & SendGrid Acquisition

Adobe officially acquired Marketo for $4.75B and Twilio acquired an email API platform, SendGrid, for $2 billion in stock.

Adobe said that the acquisition will enable it “to offer an unrivaled set of solutions for delivering transformative customer experiences across industries and companies of all sizes,” while Twilio said that the combination “will be a best-in-class cloud communications platform for companies to communicate with customers across every channel.”

In a matter of a few weeks, we got to know that two big email-centered businesses are going to be subsumed by larger entities. Is that a reflection of the fact that we are communicating less through “old world” email, and more through “new world” channels such as Slack and WhatsApp? Is it a result of companies becoming cautious with outreach in the post-GDPR world? Will email have room in the world of communication in the future?

– SAP Acquires Qualtrics for $8B

Shortly after announcing its “Open Data Initiative” with Adobe and Microsoft, SAP brewed another storm in the SaaS world by acquiring Qualtrics for $8B. This acquisition signifies that there is a serious attempt underway to redefine core customer data record by extending it to product, employee and brand experiences. It is an attempt to establish a new order in the larger CRM landscape.

What to Expect in 2019

The three aforementioned acquisitions speak volumes in terms of the evolving best practices in the SaaS corporate space.

The Marketo and SendGrid acquisition opens the floor to a lot of debate about email, as a method of communication. Adobe mentioned how this acquisition is to bolster their solutions around driving engagement and customer loyalty; for Twilio, it was about the future of customer communications. Guess what the common thread in the two acquisitions is? Email! There has been a lot of talk about how email is dead and how communication will happen over newer collaboration tools like Slack. The recent acquisition has concentrated the ownership of customer communication and engagement in the hands of the powerful few – Salesforce, Adobe, Microsoft, and SAP. Amidst this constant rat race, Twilio wants to be the central glue in the ecosystem.

SAP acquiring Qualtrics, which is a leading research and experience management company, projects the future from a customer sentiment stand point. Customer expectations have undergone a paradigm shift in the last 10 years, and the time to gratify has dramatically shortened. This acquisition signifies that every organization will focus on adding customer sentiment data to all other data sources including sales, marketing, and operations, in order to generate business outcomes for all stakeholders.

Looking Ahead

With so many changes underway, it is only a matter of time before a few giants from the SaaS environment dramatically alter the way we communicate with our customers and use our data.

Think about all the two word phrases that starts with the word ‘Customer’- customer support, customer training, customer engagement, customer satisfaction, customer experience, and customer communication. Isn’t it time for all of them to be consolidated into a holistic customer model? Why should a single customer view require data warehouses, data marts, data lakes and the heavy spend that comes with it? This upheaval is most likely to take a turn to become a strong movement in 2019.

Needless to say, ever-evolving customer expectations demand newer response times and engagement beyond just personalization. Only a consolidated and agile customer data model can satisfy this need. Can the tech titans provide that through collaborations, partnerships, or acquisitions? Or, will it be startups that pave the way and deliver what the giants have set in motion? I can’t wait to see what unfolds!


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