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News Analysis

What's Behind the Vision for the Salesforce CMS?

7 minute read
Dom Nicastro avatar
CMSWire caught up with Salesforce executives about the capabilities of its new content management system.

Salesforce isn’t trying to compete with the Web Content Management (WCM) behemoth providers with its new Salesforce CMS. Rather, the evolution and debut of the CMS offering speaks to the “fragmentation of content” and customers’ desire to better connect content experiences throughout the Salesforce ecosystem.

Salesforce officials recently shared those thoughts with CMSWire about the new kid on the block in the WCM world, The Salesforce Content Management System (CMS), a hybrid CMS the CRM giant debuted in November. “This speaks to the fragmentation of content,” said Khushwant Singh, vice president of product management for the Salesforce Community Cloud. “Many of our customers came to us saying they’ve got other CMS systems in place, but the content is very much fragmented and they have to recreate the content for each one of their different endpoints. It’s not close to their CRM. It's not close to their customer data. And that was another motivation that drove us to this.”

Welcoming a New CMS Player

It was big news for the WCM industry when Salesforce CMS debuted last fall. The CRM giant has been challenged to produce a content story by analysts. Of course, Salesforce's bread-and-butter is CRM, and it's what pulling in the big bucks for the $17.1 billion company.

Salesforce recognizes it’s not the “only kid on the block,” as Singh puts it, and they envision Salesforce CMS coexisting with other WCM providers. For now, this is not a move to compete with Adobe, Sitecore, Episerver, Acquia or any of other recognizable WCM providers. In fact, Salesforce still offers Salesforce CMS Connect, which allows Salesforce customers to embed assets from a third-party CMS in their Salesforce community: they can connect CMS components, HTML, JSON, CSS, and JavaScript and support personalized content from systems like Adobe Experience Manager (AEM). The connections also include Drupal, SDL, Sitecore and WordPress. 

Salesforce naturally has a lot of faith in CMS, and WordPress, particularly. Salesforce Ventures, the company’s corporate investment arm, in September announced a $300 million investment into Automattic, the company behind WordPress, the world's most popular WCM.

Salesforce CMS is proving to be another way the company is doubling down on content, officials said. “Many of our Salesforce customers have come to us saying they are investing heavily in Salesforce,” Singh said. “And as we think about streamlining our IT infrastructure and ensuring that we're building experiences around the customer’s data, this motivated us to have a Salesforce CMS offering that is built on the platform itself.”

Related Article: Salesforce CMS — The Trojan SharePoint of our Time?

Salesforce Has Been Down This Road Before

When we say “new CMS player,” we may want to say, “new-ish.” Industry watchers should note this is not Salesforce’s first CMS play, according to Tony Byrne, CEO and founder of technology evaluator Real Story Group. Byrne reported Salesforce has had a CMS story for quite a while. He cited a "site.com" hybrid CMS/portal offering in 2012 at a time when Salesforce “hyped it as the web platform of the future for inbound marketers.” That faded away, however. That said, he suggested buyers wait a year before investing in this platform to "assess the true level of Salesforce commitment to its CMS.”

Cutting Out Slow CMS Legacy Tech

Salesforce officials, however, say they are fully committed to the new CMS offering because of customer demand. Legacy content management systems couldn’t cut it for existing Salesforce users because generally they reported them to be “monolithic and inflexible and disconnected from a lot of the customer data that is driving that personalization of engagement,” according to Anna Rosenman, vice president of product marketing for Salesforce Commerce Cloud & Community Cloud. 

Broadly speaking, Salesforce offers Salesforce Customer 360, which Salesforce bills as a way to connect marketing, sales, commerce, service and IT teams with one integrated CRM platform. It also offers a number of other experience software products, including Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Salesforce Community Cloud, Salesforce Commerce Cloud and Salesforce Service Cloud.

Deploying content to these systems within the Salesforce environment was a “very manual and slow” process, Rosenman said. “How can we make this easier and turn every single team into an experience and content team and help solve that problem? This is really why we launched Salesforce CMS. … In today's omni channel, multi touch world, our customers need a CMS that is fast to create content, but also flexible. There are CMS systems where the content and the presentation layer are inextricably linked and you aren't able to deliver that content onto the mobile app or on the social page. That doesn't work anymore. Ours is always going to be fast, and always going to be flexible.”

One highlight Salesforce touted when it launched Salesforce CMS was its ability for users to use Experience Builder and Commerce Page Designer and drag content components onto the website, portal, forum, or commerce storefront.

Screenshot of what users see when using the Salesforce CMS

Learning Opportunities

CMS in Salesforce Customer Plans

Salesforce launched its Salesforce Spring ‘20 release Feb. 18, and many customers see Salesforce CMS as complementary. 

The Spring '20 release includes:

  • Marketing Audience Studio: Identity: enables customers improve the reach of email campaigns
  • Einstein Analytics for Consumer Goods: adds to recently announced Consumer Goods Cloud that provides retail insights
  • myTrailhead for Customers and Partners: allows businesses to train and enable their external teams
  • Salesforce Data Mask: this product allows customers to protect valuable information in their Sandbox test environments

Related Article: Will Salesforce's CMS Help It Dominate the Digital Experience Market?

Separating Visual Layer From Data

The most significant problem that Salesforce CMS addresses is the previous inability to manage the visual presentation of record-centric content without requiring customization via code, according to Phil Weinmeister, VP of product management at 7Summits and a Salesforce and Community Cloud MVP. “Salesforce CMS finally provides the ability to present rich, data-driven content through clicks, not code,” Weinmeister told CMSWire. “Let’s say you previously wanted to present a list of custom records as a single grid with an image and a description for each record; that was not possible without customization before Salesforce CMS.”

Organizations can completely separate the visual layer from the data and control a multitude of configurations to present content in a tailored, intentional way, Weinmeister said. “Additionally, CMS allows for true management of content from the Salesforce platform, enabling organizations to create a single piece of content that can be surfaced in multiple places simultaneously — and each with unique visual attributes,” he said.

The main challenge, Weinmeister added, is the speed at which Salesforce can expand CMS across the entire platform. “Right now, CMS works in Community Cloud for communities and commerce, but there are tons of other use cases across the platform that would benefit from CMS being enabled,” he said. “I’m staying tuned to see the speed at which CMS can evolve.”

No Competition Here

Salesforce said this is an internal play for WCM for now, and competitors at major WCM vendors don’t see Salesforce as a challenge to shake up market competition at the top. Haresh Kumar, director of product marketing at Adobe AEM Sites, said the Salesforce CMS is limited to their own applications. “Salesforce CMS today was really born out of and largely usable within the context only of Salesforce Community Cloud,” said Matt Krebsbach, vice president of strategic messaging and communications for Sitecore. “ …We absolutely don't see it as a direct competitor to Sitecore Experience Manager.” Salesforce CMS is likely served for Salesforce customers who already have a CMS system and want a “different conduit into Community Cloud systems or some other Salesforce applications,” according to Krebsbach.

Nate Barad, who works in product marketing and strategy for Episerver, said Episerver sales teams aren’t sweating the entry of Salesforce into the CMS market. Its entry, however, speaks to the democratization of content, he said. “It reinforces how important content is,” Barad added. “If it wasn't important, Salesforce wouldn't be continuously talking about it. …  Content is the exchange or the currency of visitor information. Anytime we get visitor information, it's about content. They've read content, they've processed content, they've done something with content. So certainly for the CMS industry (Salesforce CMS) does more positive than negative.”