At a time when its larger rivals are building up their marketing clouds, SDL is planning to consolidate its cloud in January to just four product groups from the current seven.

The shift in strategy follows a turnaround year for the UK-based customer experience management company, which began 2014 with a major restructuring that is now paying dividends. 

SDL only adopted its focus on customer experience 10 months ago, but is now boasting of record revenue. Executives said plans for the coming year include doubling the global sales team, launching a major brand advertising campaign and, possibly, making new investments in digital agencies and social media.

Rethinking Product Groups

The four remaining product groups will include all of SDL's current capabilities with the intention of making it easier to use them across departments.

"We're not dropping anything," CMO Paige O'Neill told CMSWire during an hour-long interview. "We're consolidating."

The new product line-up is:

  • Digital Platform, which includes the current web, campaigns and e-commerce tools;
  • Knowledge Center will become the new home for its documentation products;
  • Customer Analytics will combine analytics and social media tools; and
  • Language, which will remain unchanged.

O'Neill said the company has spent the last half-year debating the best way to differentiate itself from bigger customer experience management (CXM) competitors. 

"How are we going to come out in this very crowded marketplace with a message that sets us apart from Adobe, the 800-pound gorilla?," she asked rhetorically. " We've got a lot of competitors -- Sitecore on the web side, even Oracle and Salesforce in some areas."

Tony White, founder and CEO of Ars Logica, a web engagement consulting firm, agreed that "SDL has had a difficult time competing against other leading CXM vendors," partly because of a "convoluted pricing and bundling model that has not been well received -- or even understood -- by prospects." 

However, White also cited three other challenges for SDL: products that haven't kept pace with the market, internal strife that hurt sales performance and the effectiveness of its marketing program.

"SDL sales people have told me they get tired of explaining their platform by referring to where in the Adobe lineup a particular capability is found," said White. He said the consolidation plan "can only help SDL in the short-term" while the company addresses its other problems.

O'Neill acknowledge that doubling the sales team will present a new challenge: sales enablement. She called that her second-biggest task in the year ahead.

Language Skills

To help set itself apart from competitors, SDL's management plans to emphasize its strength in language translation tools, a growing area as more companies around the globe to find new customer. Simultaneously, O'Neill said there will be a major push to raise brand awareness.


"In a marketing sense, our biggest challenge for the foreseeable future is going to be awareness. We just don't have the brand awareness that our competitors have," said O'Neill. "Obviously, that problem does not go away overnight."

The company more than doubled its PR budget in 2014 and will increase it again in the coming year, sharpening a focus on top-tier media outlets. 

Its biggest thought leadership campaign of 2014 focused on its own survey of millennials. "That drove tons of lead-gen for us this year," said O'Neill. "A third of our press coverage was from that and 40 percent of our top-of-funnel leads."

Challenging Sector

Clearly, SDL has its work cut out for it. Gartner dropped SDL from the leaders section of its magic quadrant for web content management (WCM), instead listing it as a "challenger" in 2014. Gartner said challengers may "execute well today or may dominate a large segment, but do not demonstrate an understanding of market direction."

A second analyst firm, 451 Research, listed SDL, Sitecore and Acquia as the top three innovators in what it called a "fragmented" and "troubled" WCM field. The researchers noted the entire WCM market is "only about $1.5 billion" and that it "is not likely to grow significantly over the coming years."