Salesforce logo on a wall.
PHOTO: Willis Lam

Salesforce probably will not make an appearance in any upper-right analyst Web Content Management (WCM) quadrant in the near future. Salesforce released Salesforce CMS this month but has a long road ahead if it wants to be in the conversation with some of the so-called leaders of the WCM world like Adobe, Sitecore and Episerver.  Analysts shared those views after Salesforce, the CRM giant, fulfilled a long-standing gap, Nov. 7, in its digital experience software offerings with the Salesforce CMS release. “Right now, I am struggling, and the buyer side is struggling, to look at Salesforce CMS as a standalone best-of-breed tool that can compete against the Adobes, Sitecores and Episervers of the world,” said Irina Guseva, Gartner’s senior research director for Digital Experience Platforms and WCM. 

Two-Year Road Ahead for Salesforce CMS?

How long is the CMS Road for Salesforce? At least two years, according to Melissa Webster, program vice president of content and digital media technologies for IDC. In a note shared with CMSWire, Webster cautioned this release is "Version 1.0," and Salesforce will take at least two years to build out the capabilities that “mature content management products offer today.”

“Salesforce CMS,” Webster added, “won't pose any immediate threat to Adobe or to Salesforce's many web content management partners including Sitecore and Episerver. And that may, in fact, be Salesforce's initial strategy: Offer just enough for simpler use cases, corner sites, launch sites, internally facing sites, and ‘commodity; public-facing sites while continuing to partner with the long list of web content management systems that are already well established in the marketplace.”

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

Headless APIs Launching Later

How is Salesforce positioning its CMS? Salesforce refers to its CMS as a hybrid CMS. “Your teams can create content in a central location, and syndicate it to any digital touchpoint, whether it’s an experience powered by Salesforce or another system,” according to the Nov. 7 post by Adi Kuruganti, general manager of Salesforce Community Cloud and senior vice president of product management for B2B Commerce. 

Kuruganti touted CMS users ability to choose from two of Salesforce CMS’ “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” (WYSIWYG) tools: Experience Builder and Commerce Page Designer. “They can build an experience declaratively, and drag content components right onto the website, portal, forum, or commerce storefront,” he wrote. “Both of these tools are developer-friendly, too, which is perfect if your design and development teams want to build the experience with code. If you want to deliver content onto a third-party site, experience, or mobile app, you can use our headless APIs to deliver content smoothly.”

However, Webster noted Salesforce APIs won't be published until early next year. Webster added Salesforce does not currently have plans to support GraphQL, “which has become a de facto API standard for ‘born headless’ CMSs. Still, we think its ‘content hub’ strategy — a common set of content services across its portfolio (including Salesforce's developer platform) — is the right strategy.”

Other Salesforce content management products in past years “haven't built a lot of traction," Webster added. “The timing is right, however, for this latest initiative as there is growing interest in SaaS content management and plenty of need among brands to more effectively leverage customer data in the service of compelling digital experiences," she said.

Headless Content as a Service Is Path Forward

Salesforce may be on the right track branding as hybrid and headless. Gartner predicts by 2022, 80% of digital experience platforms will be deployable in a hybrid headless fashion. Gartner researchers push the notion of hybrid headless content as a service (CaaS), where users can choose a pure headless mode or in a traditional front end/content delivery mode. "This is done from the same system, based on the same back end/content repository," according to Gartner's October headless hybrid report. "Content can be accessed as a service, exposed via APIs and delivered to any channel or device throughout the customer journey. Its differentiating paradigm is that it’s almost always componentized, granular, atomic-based content."

Related Article: 24 Headless CMS That Should Be On Your Radar in 2019

Market Confusion Still Exists

So what are the messages to Salesforce customers or those with existing CMS software needs? Market confusion will continue, Guseva told CMSWire, because buyers still struggle with a minimal set of content management functionality that may not cut it for all scenarios. Therefore, a “second CMS” will still be required in many scenarios, she added.

Guseva noted before the release of Salesforce CMS, the CRM giant offered CMS Connect, which allows Salesforce customers to connect CMS content to Salesforce software by embedding assets from a third-party CMS in their Salesforce community. Users can connect CMS components, HTML, JSON, CSS, and JavaScript to customize software.

CMS Connect supports content from:

  • Adobe Experience Manager
  • Drupal
  • SDL
  • Sitecore
  • WordPress

The confusion stems from Salesforce customers not having a definitive CMS roadmap, Guseva said. Do they go with Salesforce CMS? A best-of-breed CMS? A third-party connector from CMS Connect? The urgency around content management was and still is there now. “But,” Guseva said, “there is no certainty that Salesforce CMS will be able to accomplish and address that urgency and those needs,” Guseva said. “So that's the confusion. Where do I go? How do I manage my digital presence, which is my cornerstone and my mission critical capability, without having a clear picture of where to go?”

Second CMS Is a Likely Scenario

Salesforce lacks the brand awareness in WCM and brings “minimal feature and function sets” and therefore won’t be able to immediately compete directly against best-of-breed, traditional or even headless content management technology, according to Guseva.“They can be in a position of being a second CMS,” Guseva said. “I can imagine a scenario where the customer has maybe Community Clouds or other clouds, and they want a pure, traditional CMS to be on top of it,” she said. “So they can go to somebody like Contentstack or Contentful. This is what SAP is doing. They have have very little content management functionality in their DXP so they partner with Contentstack. I can see that second CMS paradigm happening for Salesforce.”

Related Article: How to Categorize the Web CMS Marketplace

Connective Tissue, Usability Will Be the Difference

That’s why Guseva was surprised Salesforce did not acquire a CMS such as Contentful or Contentstack, which each offer cloud native modern architecture that would fit well into the Salesforce ecosystem. Going the organic route, Salesforce CMS should serve as a layer and connective tissue throughout all their clouds to help customers who already use one or more of the Salesforce clouds, Guseva added. 

And, to be competitive in the CMS market, it will come down to usability. Things like workflow, components and content types are table stakes now, Guseva said. Usability could the “differentiator that could possibly put Salesforce on the web content management map.” 

Salesforce CMS in its beta stage in the Summer ‘19 Release Notes touted the following capabilities: 

  • Assign content access with new contributor roles that don’t require administrative access to communities.
  • Create one or more CMS workspaces to organize content and share it across multiple communities at once.
  • Create a full sandbox to play around in safely before making Salesforce CMS part of daily community life.
  • Reuse content published from one or more CMS workspaces.
  • Curate content into collections that automatically refresh as content changes.
  • Reuse existing CRM data, such as inventory, to help users find what they need.
  • Connect to an external CMS to reuse content already hosted elsewhere with CMS Connect.

Positive Step in CRM-CMS Integration

Webster sees the Salesforce CMS move as an overall “very positive step" for Salesforce. Its integration with its well-known CRM will be a strength, she added, making it attractive for customers building intranet and extranet applications that serve authenticated users. “Enhancements planned for 2020 should give Salesforce CMS a path to supporting high-traffic public-facing websites,” Webster said. “As the new content services are integrated into Salesforce's various cloud offerings, customers will start to benefit from the standardized approach to content management.”

Salesforce is in the process of integrating its new content services into its various cloud offerings starting with Salesforce Platform, Community Cloud and Service Cloud, according to IDC’s Webster. Salesforce plans to integrate the content services into Marketing Cloud and Commerce Cloud next year. 

Related Article: Web CMS in 2019: From Headless to Content-as-a-Service

'Pervasiveness of AI' At Stake

Beyond the pure content management functionality discussion, some see the Salesforce CMS news as an even larger signal around things like artificial intelligence. “The backdrop here is that the pervasiveness of AI is all around us,” said R Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research. “The visible areas focus on Voice UX and contextual recommendations that Einstein will provide.”

The value, Wang added, is in the ambient experiences that emerge when a casual suggestion is made. “You don’t want AI in your face, but you appreciate an automated recommendation or subtle suggestion to make your day more productive, unlock an insight you may not have thought of, or help you prevent a disaster from happening in compliance or regulation,” he said. “What we are seeing from this Dreamforce is this pervasiveness of AI and how it will be used throughout the Salesforce products and how industries will be impacted by these advancements.”