The tech industry celebrated two significant anniversaries this past summer. August 9 was the 20th anniversary of the Netscape IPO. And on September 12, another watershed moment for the tech industry marked its 10th anniversary, to slightly less fanfare — the launch of the Salesforce AppExchange.

The AppExchange, an online marketplace for third-party applications that run on the Force.com platform, was the seminal open ecosystem, coming two years before the first iPhone sent the ecosystem concept into hyperdrive. It now features nearly 3,000 applications that have driven approximately 3 million installs, according to the company.

Ushering in the Era of the Ecosystem

The AppExchange gave wings to the notion that a comprehensive ecosystem, encompassing far more than the features of a single product or one vendor's offerings, can be a breeding ground for innovative complementary applications. The result: Businesses can take advantage of the latest tools and services, and tailor their systems in the context of an integrated, flexible platform.

You would think marketing, with its ever-growing array of tools for managing the customer journey, would particularly embrace a shared ecosystem that makes it easy for developers to integrate products into their platforms. And you would be right.

The marketplace is putting to test the idea that a single vendor can address everything marketers need or want to manage customers. The marketing function encompasses too large a variety of tools for sharing key customer intelligence among all customer-facing functions. 

As a result, the days of the traditional end-to-end solution is over. Today, it’s all about innovative focused applications. Businesses now are relying less on the features of a single product and turning to the breadth and quality of technologies that can be easily meshed into a marketing system that suits the company.

The Vendor Imperative

That’s why vendors must make it easy for developers to seamlessly integrate products into their platforms by providing tools like Software Development Kits (SDKs) and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) so that anyone, anywhere can alter and improve the functionality and help users maximize their current investment.

Integration must be at the very center of how businesses think about marketing technologies. And vendors have to realize they’re one star in a larger constellation of tools that includes CRM systems, content management systems, sales force automation and social media apps.

Another element of today’s environment is that CRM — whether it be Salesforce, SugarCRM, Microsoft Dynamics or something else — remains the overall system of record for customer interaction in most businesses, with marketing systems playing a crucial supporting role as the system of record for customer engagement and behavior. Thus, it’s essential that marketing systems easily integrate with these enterprise-class CRM systems.

A business must decide: What does integration really mean? The answer isn't complicated — it’s making sure marketing people have instant access to CRM data so they can make better decisions, and that sales people get the same from the marketing systems.

Without this integration, the lifeblood of data about the customer journey is cut off. 

Let me explain.

Open to the Future

Data has become marketing’s most important asset. It powers the machinery that turns prospects into leads and those leads into customers. It shows which campaigns and tactics are working or not, and it enables better decisions about what customers and prospects are likely to want next. But acquiring that data and ensuring in-time access to all who need it can be a huge challenge.

Marketers rely on a range of business intelligence and analysis tools for this kind of insight — everything from spreadsheets to tools like Domo, SiSense or Tableau. Many more depend on a marketing automation solutions.

An open ecosystem that fosters integration of all these tools, both the ones that exist now and new ones being developed into the future, is the only way to ensure that people whose job it is to worry about customers can get the data they need, when they need it, in the form they like.

As the Salesforce AppExchange showed the world a decade ago, the model of a vendor focusing on a core strength and having the ecosystem build out the rest is extremely powerful. The open marketing ecosystem will define the path of marketing technology for years to come, enabling an integrated, holistic management system for the entire customer lifecycle.

Title image by Max Williamson