customer experience, Will Salesforce's RelateIQ Acquisition Patch its Data Analytics Gap?

Salesforce's $390 million acquisition of RelateIQ this week strengthens the CRM giant's customer data analytics offerings and could boost its marketing suite, industry analysts told CMSWire.

Salesforce Founder and CEO Marc Benioff (left) on Monday gobbled up the Palo Alto, Calif.-based provider that claims it's known for driving "relationship intelligence," rather than "relationship management."

"Salesforce needed to deepen its analytics offerings significantly, and this acquisition will do that," Michael Fauscette, group vice president of SBS for IDC, told CMSWire this week. "In particular, marketers/companies are looking for insight on prospects and customers to better market, sale and service those relationships."

Big Data Player

RelateIQ is a big data analytics platform that will increase salesforce.com's capabilities and help provide a much better customer data analytics offering, Fauscette added. 

But R Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst of Constellation Research, said the challenge with all cloud companies, including Salesforce, remains analytics.

"While Salesforce has done a great job with reporting to do real analytics, prediction, you have to go to Birst or Good Data in the cloud or take the data out of the cloud back into an operational data store like Teradata or Oracle or IBM or Microsoft," Wang Said. "This defeats the point of having it all in the cloud."

Wang pointed out that Salesforce acquired EdgeSpring last summer. How that fits into this week's RelateIQ acquisition will be interesting, said Wang, who added, "From our research, we understand that EdgeSpring is the core of what will become the Analytics Cloud, a key part of building out the big data and analytics strategy for Salesforce."

Ultimately, Salesforce's move is "much needed" and a "very smart" one. Salesforce has to stay ahead of customer needs.

Further, they must "raise total addressable market so that shareholders don't ask them to show a profit," Wang said.

"Basically, this lets them stay focused on growth ahead of profits," he said.

CRM Innovation

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Andy Byrne, CEO of Clari, a Sequoia-backed new entrant bringing data science to CRM, said Salesforce would be wise to fully leverage its newly gained technology and employees.

"The most successful tend to let their new companies continue to operate at the pace they did when they were independent, fueling their fire and innovation rather than hindering it with too many current standards and regulations," he said.

What is the next wave of CRM that is going to shake up the market? In other words, what innovation is going to rule?

Byrne says that customers want solutions that extend machine learning and data science to provide real time, predictive ​​insight into how deals are managed and executed​.

"But any CRM tool is only as good as the data you put in," he added. "Developing for the mobile medium with a beautiful design creates an exhaust upon which data science and machine learning can devour to define new insights. Companies that can create this type of solution in a format that on the go sales teams actually want to use are the ones that will bubble up to the top in the next era of CRM."

Too Early to Bite?

The opportunity to create a company from scratch that can be an "enduring, iconic business" on its own does not come often, Byrne said.

So should RelateIQ have waited here?

"In most cases, when you are acquired, you are not charting your own course anymore," he told CMSWire. "You are under the auspice of the new company and what they want to accomplish with you. That being said, if Salesforce takes the approach that Facebook has with acquisitions like WhatsApp and Instagram -- one that lets them continue to chart their own course -- RelateIQ will be golden."

Byrne called the RelateIQ acquisition a "testament to the types of improvements that need to be made" in CRM.

"We think it's incredibly validating that a company like Salesforce is recognizing the value of applying data science and machine learning to stagnant CRM," he added.

Road Ahead for Salesforce

Salesforce continues to have a "solid footprint" in sales force automation systems (SFA) and has increased its service cloud offering significantly over the past five or so years, IDC's Fauscette said.

"It also has made some aggressive acquisitions in the marketing cloud space over the past two to three years," he added. "The portfolio there is very good but needs more integration and a better overall story. This acquisition helps with that story."

The biggest area in CRM that needs a boost is a more "comprehensive solution approach" to marketing, Fauscette added.

"Salesforce and Oracle -- and to a lesser degree Adobe and IBM -- are all working on and competing for marketing money, but none of them has everything needed at present," he added. "Each has some of the component parts and is working on putting them together, but each is missing something as well."

Salesforce's strengths lie in its ability to grab mindshare, Wang said.

"Benioff and co. have done a great job showing folks that this is the future," Wang said. "Helping them with analytics on cloud will get them to their next level of their journey."

Wang said he expects Microsoft and Oracle to have an answer for this RelateIQ acquisition.

"But more importantly," Wang added, "it will be interesting to see how the relationships with the cloud BI vendors end up."

A Salesforce media representative referred to a RelateIQ blog when CMSWire asked for an interview.