Salesforce.com Acquires ExactTarget: How It Could Impact Content Marketing

Salesforce.com Acquires ExactTarget: How It Could Impact Content Marketing image content marketing salesforce exacttargetSalesforce.com Acquires ExactTarget: How It Could Impact Content MarketingI met (if you can call it that) Marc Benioff in 2003. It was at one of the first DreamForce conferences, and the company I was working for was one of the exhibitors. As he breezed by me with his (even then) sizable entourage, I told him that I thought DreamForce was one of the smartest content marketing moves he could make. He just kind of looked at me (in the way that only Benioff can), quizzically muttered, “thank you,” and then saw General Colin Powell (who was the keynote that year) and moved on.

A decade later, DreamForce is one of the most successful user conferences (and, I’d still argue, content marketing) ever. You can say Benioff is a lot of things, but afraid to make a bold move is not one of them. In what will be the largest acquisition in the history of his company, Salesforce.com will purchase interactive marketing hub ExactTarget for about $2.5 billion. For those keeping score, that’s $33.75 per share — or about a 53 percent premium on ExactTarget’s stock price as of yesterday. Oh, and it’s a little less than 10 times the company’s total revenue in 2012. Yeah, I think it’s safe to say that Marc wanted ExactTarget.

This complements the company’s purchase of Buddy Media last year which, at the time, was a big purchase at $745 million. ExactTarget will be Salesforce.com’s 11th acquisition (that I’m aware of) in just over 24 months. For a little perspective, let’s just look at the last 10 companies it acquired, and what they do:

What can we conclude? Well, what jumps out to me is that over the last two years, Salesforce.com has spent more than $3 billion to really develop two areas: employee engagement/collaboration, and a full suite of external marketing software. With some exceptions (I’d argue that it still doesn’t have a viable web content management system), all of it strikes me as Salesforce.com’s understanding that employees must be empowered to collaborate about customer relationships, and that content-driven marketing strategies are driving business results both internally and externally.

A positive step toward CMO/CIO alignment

In the company’s acquisition announcement, Benioff quotes the (now too often mentioned) prediction by Gartner that, within the next three years, the CMO will spend more on technology than the CIO. He continues by saying “The addition of ExactTarget makes Salesforce the starting place for every company and puts Salesforce.com in the pole position to capture this opportunity.”

Belabored racing metaphor aside, I don’t think that either one of those things are necessarily true at this point. I’ve gone on record before as saying that if the CMO spends more than the CIO, then we should all say “uh-oh.” At CMI, our experience is that savvy CMOs and CIOs are starting to actually align their technology strategies and purchases, rather than compete for budget. This is an absolute must if an enterprise is going to manage consumer engagement. The CMO must create, manage, and optimize content and story through every digital touch point. And the CIO must connect the technology and acquire the data that will optimize the experiences across all of them.

This is why I think the ExactTarget acquisition could be another positive step toward this alignment. If executed well, Salesforce.com has an opportunity to connect the dots of customer engagement and collect the data — from the tippy-top awareness part of the funnel all the way down to brand evangelism.

But they’re not alone. Marketo (which I honestly thought would be Salesforce.com’s next acquisition) debuted an $80 million IPO just last month and will now almost certainly be hungry. Oracle paid $871 million for Eloqua and has been working on aligning content and marketing software for some time. And IBM has been quietly gobbling up marketing and content related software for the last two years (e.g., Unica and CoreMetrics).

Who will win? As I said, it will all come down to execution. Salesforce.com now has a whole mess of people, technology, and cultures to integrate and unify into one big happy suite of collaboration, customer, content, and marketing goodness. Salesforce.com has a bit of a better record than Oracle or IBM on that score, but we marketers shouldn’t underestimate the complexity of pulling all those pieces together.

Who’s next? Watch the “content marketing disrupters”

The other thing to watch is the disruption that’s currently happening across all manner of content and marketing software. As the big companies get bigger and more complex, there are smaller content marketing-specific solutions that are wedging themselves into the hearts and minds of the enterprise marketer. Just as Salesforce.com did back in 1999 when it disrupted giant companies like Siebel, small, focused start-ups have the potential to offer faster, more agile ways of handling some of the content marketing approach. We’re starting to really cover these technologies at CMI, and will be offering our first research report on content collaboration tools here in the coming weeks.

And, on a final, more personal note, we simply couldn’t be happier for the folks over at ExactTarget. They, as well as many of their voluminous alumni, have been friends of CMI since our very humble beginnings. They are a class act through and through — and we wish them well as part of the Salesforce.com suite of marketing solutions.

For more perspectives on how the latest industry news affects content marketing, register today for Content Marketing World 2013.

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