May
14
2020
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Adobe announces AI toolbox for Experience Platform

Most companies don’t have the personnel to do AI well, so they turn to platform vendors like Adobe for help. Like other platforms, it has been building AI into its product set for several years now, but wanted to give marketers a set of tools that take advantage of some advanced AI capabilities out of the box.

Today, the company announced five pre-packaged AI solutions specifically designed to give marketers more intelligent insight. Amit Ahuja, VP of ecosystem development at Adobe, says even before the pandemic, customers were struggling to deal with the onslaught of data and how they could use it to understand their customers better.

“There is so much data coming in, and customers are struggling to leverage this data — and not just for the purpose of analytics and insights, which is a huge part of it, but also to do predictive optimization,” Ahuja explained.

What’s more, we’ve known for some time that when there is so much data, it becomes impossible to make sense of it manually. Given that AI deals best with tons of data, Adobe wanted to take advantage of that, while packaging some popular data scenarios in a way that makes it easy for marketers to get insights.

That data comes from the Adobe Experience Platform, which the is designed to pull data not only from Adobe products, but from a variety of enterprise sources to help marketers build a more complete picture of their customers and get answers to key questions.

Customer Insights AI helps users understand their customers better. Image Credit: Adobe

The company is announcing a total of five AI tools today, two of which are generally available with the remainder in Beta for now. For starters, Customer AI helps marketers understand why their customers do what they do. For instance, why they keep coming back or why they stopped. Attribution AI helps marketers understand how effective their strategies are, something that’s always important, but especially in this economy where effectively deploying spend is more important than ever.

The first of the Beta tools is Journey AI, which helps marketers decide the best channel to engage customers. Content and Commerce AI looks at the most effective way to deliver content and finally Leads AI looks at the visitors most likely to convert to customers.

These five are just a start, and the company plans to add new tools to the toolbox as customers look for additional insights from the data to help them improve their marketing outcomes.

May
07
2020
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VC’s largest funds make big bets on vertical B2B marketplaces

During the waning days of the first dot-com boom, some of the biggest names in venture capital invested in marketplaces and directories whose sole function was to consolidate information and foster transparency in industries that had remained opaque for decades.

The thesis was that thousands of small businesses were making specialized products consumed by larger businesses in huge industries, but the reach of smaller players was limited by their dependence on a sales structure built on conferences and personal interactions.

Companies making pharmaceuticals, chemicals, construction materials and medical supplies represented trillions in sales, but those huge aggregate numbers hide how fragmented these supply chains are — and how difficult it is for buyers to see the breadth of sellers available.

Now, similar to the way business models popularized by Kozmo.com and Webvan in decades past have since been reincarnated as Postmates and DoorDash, the B2B directory and marketplace rises from the investment graveyard.

The first sign of life for the directory model came with the success of GoodRX back in 2011. The company proved that when information about pricing in a previously opaque industry becomes available, it can unleash a torrent of new demand.

Apr
15
2020
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Frame AI raises $6.3M Series A to help understand customers across channels

Frame AI, a New York City startup that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help companies understand their customers better across multiple channels, announced a $6.3 million Series A investment today.

G20 Ventures and Greycroft led the round together. Bill Wiberg, co-founder and partner at G20, will join Frame’s board under the terms of the deal. The total raised with an earlier seed round is over $10 million, according to the company.

“Frame is basically an early warning system and continuous monitoring tool for your customer voice,” Frame CEO and co-founder George Davis told TechCrunch . What that means, in practice, is the tool plugs into help desk software, call center tooling, CRM systems and anywhere else in a company that communicates with a customer.

“We then use natural language understanding to pull out emerging themes and basically aggregate them to account and segment levels so that customer experience leaders can prioritize taking actions to improve their relationships,” Davis explained.

He believes that customer experience leaders are being asked to do more and more in terms of talking to customers on ever more channels and digesting that into useful information for the rest of their company to be responsive to customer needs, and he says that there isn’t a lot of tooling to help with this particular part of the customer experience problem.

“We don’t think they have the right tools to do either the listening in the first place or the analysis. We’re trying to make it possible for them to hear their customers everywhere they’re already talking to them, and then act on that information,” he said.

He says they work alongside customer data platforms (CDPs) like Segment, Salesforce Customer 360 and Adobe Real-time CDP. “We can take the customer voice information from all of these unstructured sources, all these natural language sources and turn it into moments that can be contributed back to one of these structured data platforms.”

Davis certainly recognizes that his company is getting this money in the middle of a health and economic crisis, and he hopes that a tool like his that can help take the pulse of the customer across multiple channels can help companies succeed at a time when a data-driven approach to customer experience is more important than ever.

He says that by continuing to hire through this and building his company, he can contribute to restarting the economic engine, even if in some small way.

“It’s a bleak time, but I have a lot of confidence in New York and in the country, in the customer experience community and in the world’s ability to bounce back strong from this. I think it’s actually created a lot of solidarity that we’re all going to find a lot of new opportunities, and we’re going to just keep building Frame as fast as we can.”

Apr
13
2020
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How Adobe shifted a Las Vegas conference to executives’ living rooms in less than 30 days

Adobe was scheduled to hold its annual conference in Las Vegas two weeks ago, but the coronavirus pandemic forced the company to make alternate plans. In less than a month, its events team shifted venues for the massive conference, not once, but twice as the severity of the situation became clear.

This year didn’t just involve Adobe Summit itself. To make things more interesting, it was also hosting Magento Imagine as a separate conference within a conference at the same time. (Adobe bought Magento in 2018 for $1.6 billion.)

Originally, Adobe had more than 500 sessions planned across four venues on the Las Vegas Strip, with more than 23,000 attendees expected. Combining all of the sponsors, partners and Adobe personnel, it involved more than 40,000 hotel rooms.

Once it became clear that such a large event couldn’t happen, the company reimagined the conference as a fully digital experience.

Plan A

VP of Experience Marketing Alex Amado is in charge of planning Adobe Summit, a tall task under normal circumstances.

“Planning Summit is a year-round endeavor,” he said. “Literally within weeks of finishing one of those Las Vegas events we are starting on the next one, and some of the work actually is on an 18 or 24-month cycle because we have those long-term hotel contracts and all of that stuff.

“For the last 12 months, basically, we had people who were working on what we now call Plan A — and we didn’t know that we needed a Plan B and Plan C — and the original event was going to be our biggest yet.”

2019 Adobe Summit stage in Las Vegas. Photo: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

After the team began to wonder in January if the virus would force them to change how they deliver the conference, they started building contingency plans in earnest, Amado said. “As we got into February, things started looking a little scarier, and it very quickly escalated to the point where we were talking really seriously about Plan B.”

Apr
07
2020
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HubSpot unveils new content management system aimed at marketers

HubSpot, the Boston-based inbound marketing firm, announced today it is launching a standalone content management system designed to make it easy for marketing personnel to add and update content.

While content management, in a sense, has been core to HubSpot from the beginning — many companies use their blogging platform, for example — the company built this one from the ground up for marketers, says chief marketing officer Kipp Bodnar.

“For me, the marketer owning the website is one of the most thankless jobs you have. There’s a lot of pain associated with it. Your CEO asks you to update a bio or your legal team needs a new terms of service. Everybody’s coming at you from everywhere and the actual management of websites has just a huge amount of pain associated with it,” he said.

Angela DeFranco, the company’s director of product management, says that HubSpot wanted to address that problem with a product designed specifically for the marketing team. “We wanted to build a content management system and a suite of tools that could stand on its own and take away the pain of content management, not only from the marketer but also from the developer and the people that help the site run,” she said.

The product is built on the notion of themes that allow the marketer and developer helping to build the site to get the look and feel they want, while balancing what De Franco calls “the paradox between powerful and easy-to-use.”

It allows developers to use the languages they want to build the site, while taking advantage of the HubSpot CMS’s modular structure. At the same time, the modules give marketers a friendly interface to make frequent changes required in a modern website.

“When you actually get into the editor and you’re dragging in, for example, your event registration theme module, it inherits the styling and the characteristic, the look and feel of that theme overall that the developers had set up and custom built for your team,” she said.

“The theme module is really the crux of how we were able to achieve some of these more complex functionality features and power, while also allowing that with drag-and-drop ease of use to build a full site as a marketer,” DeFranco added.

HubSpot was founded in 2006. It raised over $100 million, according to Crunchbase data, before going public in 2014.

Jan
27
2020
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Pantheon bets on WebOps as it charts a course to an IPO

It has been 10 years since Pantheon launched. At the time, it was mostly a hosting service for Drupal sites, but about six years ago, it added WordPress hosting to its lineup and raised more VC money as some of its competitors did the same. After its 2016 Series C round, things started quieting down, though the company has clear ambitions to become a public company in the next few years. To chat about those plans and the overall state of the business, I sat down with Pantheon co-founder and CEO Zack Rosen and new Pantheon board member Elissa Fink, former CMO of Tableau.

Maybe the biggest change at Pantheon is that when it launched, its team was almost solely focused on the developer experience. And while Pantheon was essentially a hosting service and offers personal plans, its focus was never on individuals who wanted a WordPress blog (which a lot of companies focused on, especially in the pre-Twitter days). Its efforts always revolved around businesses, large enterprises and the agencies that serve them.

“Back then, our overriding focus was really around the developer experience — the practitioner experience — of using our product,” Rosen explained. “And frankly, at the time, we actually really didn’t know what to call it. It really didn’t have a category, but we always felt it was something new.” He noted that over the last few years, Pantheon started talking to a lot of marketers and realized that the needs of these marketing leaders are driving this space.

Dec
27
2019
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Revenue train kept rolling all year long for Salesforce

Salesforce turned 20 this year, and the most successful pure enterprise SaaS company ever showed no signs of slowing down. Consider that the company finished the year on an $18 billion run rate, rushing toward its 2022 revenue goal of $20 billion. Oh, and it also spent a tidy $15.7 billion to buy Tableau this year in the most high-profile and expensive acquisition it’s ever made.

Co-founder, chairman and CEO Marc Benioff published a book called Trailblazer about running a socially responsible company, and made the rounds promoting it. In fact, he even stopped by TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco in September, telling the audience that capitalism as we know it is dead. Still, the company announced it was building two more towers in Sydney and Dublin.

It also promoted Bret Taylor earlier this month, who could be in line as heir apparent to Benioff and co-CEO Keith Block whenever they decide to retire. The company closed the year with a bang with a $4.5 billion quarter. Salesforce, for the most part, has somehow been able to balance Benioff’s vision of responsible capitalism while building a company makes money in bunches, one that continues to grow and flourish, and that’s showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

All aboard the gravy train

The company just keeps churning out good quarters. Here’s what this year looked like:

Nov
14
2019
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Adobe announces GA of customer data platform

The customer data platform (CDP) is the newest tool in the customer experience arsenal as big companies try to help customers deal with data coming from multiple channels. Today, Adobe announced the general availability of its CDP.

The CDP is like a central data warehouse for all the information you have on a single customer. This crosses channels like web, email, text, chat and brick and mortar in-person visits, as well as systems like CRM, e-commerce and point of sale. The idea is to pull all of this data together into a single record to help companies have a deep understanding of the customer at an extremely detailed level. They then hope to leverage that information to deliver highly customized cross-channel experiences.

The idea is to take all of this information and give marketers the tools they need to take advantage of it. “We want to make sure we create an offering that marketers can leverage and makes use of all of that goodness that’s living within Adobe Experience platform,” Nina Caruso, product marketing manager for Adobe Audience Manager, explained.

She said that would involve packaging and presenting the data in such a way to make it easier for marketers to consume, such as dashboards to deliver the data they want to see, while taking advantage of artificial intelligence and machine learning under the hood to help them find the data to populate the dashboards without having to do the heavy lifting.

Beyond that, having access to real-time streaming data in one place under the umbrella of the Adobe Experience Platform should enable marketers to create much more precise market segments. “Part of real-time CDP will be building productized primo maintained integrations for marketers to be able to leverage, so that they can take segmentations and audiences that they’ve built into campaigns and use those across different channels to provide a consistent customer experience across that journey life cycle,” Caruso said.

As you can imagine, bringing all of this information together, while providing a platform for customization for the customer, raises all kinds of security and privacy red flags at the same time. This is especially true in light of GDPR and the upcoming California privacy law. Companies need to be able to enforce data usage rules across the platform.

To that end, the company also announced the availability of Adobe Experience Platform Data Governance, which helps companies define a set of rules around the data usage. This involves “frameworks that help [customers] enforce data usage policies and facilitate the proper use of their data to comply with regulations, obligations and restrictions associated with various data sets,” according to the company.

“We want to make sure that we offer our customers the controls in place to make sure that they have the ability to appropriately govern their data, especially within the evolving landscape that we’re all living in when it comes to privacy and different policies,” Caruso said.

These tools are now available to Adobe customers.

Oct
21
2019
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Veteran enterprise exec Bob Stutz is heading back to SAP

Bob Stutz has had a storied career with enterprise software companies, including stints at Siebel Systems, SAP, Microsoft and Salesforce. He announced on Facebook last week that he’s leaving his job as head of the Salesforce Marketing Cloud and heading back to SAP as president of customer experience.

Bob Stutz Facebook announcement

Bob Stutz Facebook announcement

Constellation Research founder and principal analyst Ray Wang says that Stutz has a reputation for taking companies to the next level. He helped put Microsoft CRM on the map (although it still had just 2.7% market share in 2018, according to Gartner) and he helped move the needle at Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

Bob Stutz

Bob Stutz, SAP’s new president of customer experience (Photo: Salesforce)

“Stutz was the reason Salesforce could grow in the Marketing Cloud and analytics areas. He fixed a lot of the fundamental architectural and development issues at Salesforce, and he did most of the big work in the first 12 months. He got the acquisitions going, as well,” Wang told TechCrunch. He added, “SAP has a big portfolio, from CallidusCloud to Hybris to Qualtrics, to put together. Bob is the guy you bring in to take a team to the next level.”

Brent Leary, who is a long-time CRM industry watcher, says the move makes a lot of sense for SAP. “Having Bob return to head up their Customer Experience business is a huge win for SAP. He’s been everywhere, and everywhere he’s been was better for it. And going back to SAP at this particular time may be his biggest challenge, but he’s the right person for this particular challenge,” Leary said.

Screenshot 2019 10 21 09.15.45

The move comes against the backdrop of lots of changes going on at the German software giant. Long-time CEO Bill McDermott recently announced he was stepping down, and that Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein would be replacing him as co-CEOs. Earlier this year, the company saw a line of other long-time executives and board members head out the door, including SAP SuccessFactors COO Brigette McInnis-Day; Robert Enslin, president of its cloud business and a board member; CTO Björn Goerke; and Bernd Leukert, a member of the executive board.

Having Stutz on board could help stabilize the situation somewhat, as he brings more than 25 years of solid software company experience to bear on the company.

Sep
10
2019
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Latest Adobe tool helps marketers work directly with customer journey data

Adobe has a lot going on with Analytics and the Customer Experience Platform, a place to gather data to understand customers better. Today, it announced a new analytics tool that enables employees to work directly with customer journey data to help deliver a better customer experience.

The customer journey involves a lot of different systems, from a company data lake to CRM to point of sale. This tool pulls all of that data together from across multiple systems and various channels and brings it into the data analysis workspace, announced in July.

Nate Smith, group manager for product marketing for Adobe Analytics, says the idea is to give access to this data in a standard way across the organization, whether it’s a data scientist, an analyst with SQL skills or a marketing pro simply looking for insight.

“When you think about organizations that are trying to do omni-channel analysis or trying to get that next channel of data in, they now have the platform to do that, where the data can come in and we standardize it on an academic model,” he said. They then layer this ability to continuously query the data in a visual way to get additional insight they might not have seen.

Adobe screenshot 1

Screenshot: Adobe

Adobe is trying to be as flexible as possible in every step of the process, and openness was a guiding principle here, Smith said. That means that data can come from any source, and users can visualize it using Adobe tools or an external tool like Tableau or Looker. What’s more, they can get data in or out as needed, or even use your their own models, Smith said.

“We recognize that as much as we’d love to have everyone go all in on the Adobe stack, we understand that there is existing significant investment in other tech and that integration and interoperability really needs to happen, as well,” he said.

Ultimately this is about giving marketers access to a full picture of the customer data to deliver the best experience possible based on what you know about them. “Being able to have insight and engagement points to help with the moments that matter and provide great experience is really what we’re aiming to do with this,” he said.

This product will be generally available next month.

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