SDL pushes for leadership in emerging market for Digital Customer Experience Management solutions


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This week I attended SDL‘s annual customer conference in San Jose, and spent time with executives to learn more about the company’s strategy and solutions in CXM (Customer Experience Management).

To sum up, I came away impressed that SDL leaders “get” what Customer Experience is really about, and that the firm is making a mark in the emerging and important market for digital CXM solutions.

What is CXM?

In CEO Mark Lancaster’s keynote, he defined CXM as “a strategy and practice for managing experiences online and offline to acquire, retain, and turn customers into satisfied and loyal customers.”

Chatting with Lancaster afterwards, I said that if you substituted “CRM” and “relationships” for “CXM” and “experiences,” you’d have nearly matched a definition for CRM that I pitched 10 years ago in keynotes. That brought a grin, and a comment that industry terms do come and go.

Others have defined CXM more narrowly as technologies and systems. In 2011, Forrester analyst Brian Walker defined CXM as: “A solution that enables the management and delivery of dynamic, targeted, consistent content, offers, products, and service interactions across digitally enabled consumer touchpoints.”

And he also wrote that, “CXM technologies should not be confused with the profession of understanding and leading customer experience design activities.” That profession being more commonly known as CEM, of course.

SDL appears to want to meld strategy, practices and technology all together a la CRM, which didn’t work out too well. Eventually, CRM became mainly defined as technology, because of massive vendor marketing behind the term. That would be an unfortunate outcome for the CX movement.

CX technology ecosystem

Anyway, since we’re talking about technology, let’s step back for a moment and consider the entire ecosystem of solutions that could be applied to CX, including:

  • Listening: EFM, social monitoring
  • Analyzing: Social intelligence, multichannel, predictive
  • Delivery: CRM, contact center, web content management

SDL essentially is focusing on a digital slice across these 3 three areas. CRM and contact center vendors, which are also repositioning as CX providers, have their center of gravity in customer transactions and non-web interactions, respectively.

For example, SDL’s social listening/analytics is via the 2008 Alterian acquisition, the latest in a series of acquisitions over a ten year period. But of course there are many vendors active in survey-based EFM systems, and some are expanding to include more digital and operational listening posts.

The core of its SDL’s CX delivery capability is Tridion, a Web Content Management (WCM) solution that has been well-regarded by analysts. And, of course, language translation is what really sets SDL apart from other WCM players, putting the “global” in its global customer experience management solutions.

CX strategy is not just about digital touchpoints

Let’s remember that CX is not just about automating touchpoints. Experiences include people, stores — any interaction with a brand that creates a perception. CEM should encompass all the moments of truth, not just those that can be conveniently digitized.

SDL executives say they understand this, and offer consulting services to provide the consumer research, journey mapping and strategy development needed to their clients to be successful. This is a positive sign that SDL is not treating CXM just as a marketing slogan.

DXM platform war brewing

I hope you’re not overloaded with acronyms, because I’m going to use DXM (Digital Experience Management) for this closing bit. DXM = solutions for digital CXM.

In his keynote, Lancaster emphasized that “there is no such thing as a CXM suite.” True enough, and yet, he seems intent on creating one (for the digital part of CXM, that is). Through acquisitions and integration, SDL is working hard to bring together more of the pieces so that customers didn’t have to. Over the next 5-8 years you can also expect to see SaaS (cloud-based) solutions introduced, he says.

SDL is holding its own with the much larger Adobe and another strong competitor Sitecore, according to an April 2013 Forrester report: “All three vendors provide a solid set of tools enabling marketing and eBusiness professionals to manage content, deliver engaging experiences, and measure results.”

Of course, Forrester notes a number of other strong players making moves in the DXM space, including Acquia, Ektron, HP Autonomy, IBM, Microsoft, OpenText and Oracle. Lancaster acknowledged that SDL needs to invest more in marketing and sales, and I agree. Product innovation, which seems to be SDL’s main strategy so far, is not the only factor in software company success.

Just as we’ve seen with ERP and CRM before, it will likely boil down to 2-3 major multi-function platform players, and others will be acquired or remain smaller specialty providers as the industry consolidates. Overall, I see SDL positioned well for the DXM platform war that’s building. With the self-described “techie” innovator Lancaster at the helm, and a boost in marketing/sales investments, SDL has a solid chance to be one of the last DXM vendors standing.

Further reading:

Disclosure: SDL invited me to this event and give me a free pass. This post is part of my independent coverage of industry trends and is not meant as an endorsement of SDL or any other company mentioned. SDL has not been a CustomerThink sponsor within the past year.


  1. Along with Bob, I also attended SDL Innovate 2013 global customer conference in San Jose. What I saw there shows me that the industry is poised to make a leap ahead in terms of integrated omni-channel customer engagement and that product suites like what SDL is assembling will provide a formidable set of technologies for any brand.

    But what I think is even more important is that the people at SDL understand that its not just great technology that will fuel the revolution in customer experience, its the thoughtful integration of their technology into a comprehensive mix of people, processes and technology. And that even their great technology is not a silve bullet to fix broken experiences overnight.

    I spoke with a lot of clients and marketing executives while I was at Innovate. To a person, they were committed to making their brands, their communication and their products more relevant to their customers. And that is where success lies and that is where the real battle will take place. Technology is required, but it needs to be a part of the solution, not the solution.

  2. Bob, thank you for your inspiring blogpost.

    I see more and more vendors building a big suite with multiple acquired solutions to help organizations with their CXM strategy. SDL is one of them. Innovations come from outside. That’s not a shame. Others like IBM, Oracle or Adobe follow the same path. And yes, they need the people and process approach to make it work. But their is another element when you want to be a future CXM or DXM (I like the acronym) leader.

    DXM will ask for a specific capability: Realtime. It’s one of the reasons why FaceBook works so well. And consumers getting used to this level of experience. The traditional suits, including SDL, are getting better in real time delivery but other processes like decisioning are very very slow. They just can’t catch up with the continuously changing state of the individual after each interaction. The suits should start to execute the listening, analyzing, decisioning and delivery cycle within 24 milliseconds for each and all individual customers. Simultaneously. Continuously. In any communication. If not, their will be no winner but only suites who live on as a set of well acquired solutions to help with CXM.


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