By Robert Rose published June 4, 2013

Salesforce.com Acquires ExactTarget: How It Could Impact Content Marketing

content-marketing-salesforce-exacttargetI met (if you can call it that) Marc Benioff in 2003. It was at one of the first DreamForce conferences, and the company I was working for was one of the exhibitors. As he breezed by me with his (even then) sizable entourage, I told him that I thought DreamForce was one of the smartest content marketing moves he could make. He just kind of looked at me (in the way that only Benioff can), quizzically muttered, “thank you,” and then saw General Colin Powell (who was the keynote that year) and moved on.  

A decade later, DreamForce is one of the most successful user conferences (and, I’d still argue, content marketing) ever. You can say Benioff is a lot of things, but afraid to make a bold move is not one of them. In what will be the largest acquisition in the history of his company, Salesforce.com will purchase interactive marketing hub ExactTarget for about $2.5 billion. For those keeping score, that’s $33.75 per share — or about a 53 percent premium on ExactTarget’s stock price as of yesterday. Oh, and it’s a little less than 10 times the company’s total revenue in 2012. Yeah, I think it’s safe to say that Marc wanted ExactTarget.

This complements the company’s purchase of Buddy Media last year which, at the time, was a big purchase at $745 million. ExactTarget will be Salesforce.com’s 11th acquisition (that I’m aware of) in just over 24 months. For a little perspective, let’s just look at the last 10 companies it acquired, and what they do:

What can we conclude? Well, what jumps out to me is that over the last two years, Salesforce.com has spent more than $3 billion to really develop two areas: employee engagement/collaboration, and a full suite of external marketing software. With some exceptions (I’d argue that it still doesn’t have a viable web content management system), all of it strikes me as Salesforce.com’s understanding that employees must be empowered to collaborate about customer relationships, and that content-driven marketing strategies are driving business results both internally and externally.

A positive step toward CMO/CIO alignment

In the company’s acquisition announcement, Benioff quotes the (now too often mentioned) prediction by Gartner that, within the next three years, the CMO will spend more on technology than the CIO. He continues by saying “The addition of ExactTarget makes Salesforce the starting place for every company and puts Salesforce.com in the pole position to capture this opportunity.”

Belabored racing metaphor aside, I don’t think that either one of those things are necessarily true at this point. I’ve gone on record before as saying that if the CMO spends more than the CIO, then we should all say “uh-oh.” At CMI, our experience is that savvy CMOs and CIOs are starting to actually align their technology strategies and purchases, rather than compete for budget. This is an absolute must if an enterprise is going to manage consumer engagement. The CMO must create, manage, and optimize content and story through every digital touch point. And the CIO must connect the technology and acquire the data that will optimize the experiences across all of them.

This is why I think the ExactTarget acquisition could be another positive step toward this alignment. If executed well, Salesforce.com has an opportunity to connect the dots of customer engagement and collect the data — from the tippy-top awareness part of the funnel all the way down to brand evangelism.

But they’re not alone. Marketo (which I honestly thought would be Salesforce.com’s next acquisition) debuted an $80 million IPO just last month and will now almost certainly be hungry. Oracle paid $871 million for Eloqua and has been working on aligning content and marketing software for some time. And IBM has been quietly gobbling up marketing and content related software for the last two years (e.g., Unica and CoreMetrics).

Who will win? As I said, it will all come down to execution. Salesforce.com now has a whole mess of people, technology, and cultures to integrate and unify into one big happy suite of collaboration, customer, content, and marketing goodness. Salesforce.com has a bit of a better record than Oracle or IBM on that score, but we marketers shouldn’t underestimate the complexity of pulling all those pieces together.

Who’s next? Watch the “content marketing disrupters”

The other thing to watch is the disruption that’s currently happening across all manner of content and marketing software. As the big companies get bigger and more complex, there are smaller content marketing-specific solutions that are wedging themselves into the hearts and minds of the enterprise marketer. Just as Salesforce.com did back in 1999 when it disrupted giant companies like Siebel, small, focused start-ups have the potential to offer faster, more agile ways of handling some of the content marketing approach. We’re starting to really cover these technologies at CMI, and will be offering our first research report on content collaboration tools here in the coming weeks.

And, on a final, more personal note, we simply couldn’t be happier for the folks over at ExactTarget. They, as well as many of their voluminous alumni, have been friends of CMI since our very humble beginnings. They are a class act through and through — and we wish them well as part of the Salesforce.com suite of marketing solutions.

For more perspectives on how the latest industry news affects content marketing, register today for Content Marketing World 2013

Author: Robert Rose

As the Chief Strategist at the Content Marketing Institute, Robert Rose leads the client advisory, education and technology practices for the organization. As a recognized expert in content marketing strategy, digital media and the social Web, Robert has helped large companies such as AT&T, KPMG, PTC, Petco and Nissan tell their story more effectively through the Web. Robert's book with Joe Pulizzi Managing Content Marketing is recognized as the "owner's manual" for deploying a content marketing process. In addition to CMI, Robert is also a Senior Contributing Analyst with the Digital Clarity Group, and the Chief Troublemaker for Big Blue Moose. In addition, Robert is an instructor for the Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. Follow him on Twitter at @Robert_Rose.

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  • Chris Gaffney

    Great post Robert. I think you got a true snapshot of a very exciting time in the marketing automation and content marketing universe. Have you seen my boss’ reaction yet? Thought it might interest you! http://www.volacci.com/blog/ben-finklea/2013/june/04/salesforcecom-acquires-exacttarget

  • michael weiss

    You said perfectly – The CMO creates and the CIO connects. It’s the perfect marriage of content and technology. The technology is the platform for which the marketer can stand on and speak. Nice job Robert.

  • http://twitter.com/dougkessler dougkessler

    Nice one. My money was on Marketo being Salesforce’s next acquisition, too. (What does my money know?)

    I gave a first response to the deal, too: http://www.velocitypartners.co.uk/our-blog/salesforce-acquires-exact-target-what-it-means-to-b2b-marketers/

  • Jonny Rose

    Interestingly, our perspective was that this Salesforce/ExactTarget acquisition is *stil* missing the boat on content marketing.

    Or as we’ve called it, a ‘Mega-vendor mega-omission’: http://www2.idioplatform.com/salesforce-acquires-exacttarget-still-no-decisioning-capabilities/

    Here’s hoping these guys move to appreciate the boon that is CM :)

  • http://www.smartbugmedia.com/ Ryan Malone – SmartBug Media

    SFDC’s acquisition strategy seems a bit disconnected to me. Sure there is a value in intercompany social media, but the internal tools for SFDC are really book and much less intuitive than even Yammer or IM. My best is Hubspot is the next acquisition. They already own part of it anyway.

  • http://www.brainrider.com/ Nolin LeChasseur

    This is largely a play for the Pardot piece of ExactTarget, with all due respect to the other great aspects of ET as a company. (nicely covered by Jonathan Block at SiriusDecisions already: http://www.siriusdecisions.com/blog/salesforce-com-buys-exacttarget/)

    When you look at the deal through the lens of adding robust B2B marketing automation to the Salesforce.com platform, it makes 100% sense and is a pretty reasonable price compared to the alternatives.

    It’s also a big leg up for the Pardot B2B cross-sell into ET’s client base. Going in with a joint SFDC+Pardot value prop is infinitely stronger than trying to sell marketing automation alone to a CPG company.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com/ jaybaer

      It’s a deal that would not have been done without Pardot, but recognize that the Pardot contribution to ET revenue is very small. If this was a straight CRM tech play, they would have bought Marketo.

      • http://www.brainrider.com/ Nolin LeChasseur

        Perhaps, but that kind of assumes that Marketo = ET+Pardot from a tech perspective. I think that’s a stretch.

        Sure, revenue is a piece of the valuation. But I’m not sure it was as significant as the tech, the subject matter expertise, and the cultural fit.

        Only few truly know the answer, I suppose.

  • Brian Hansford

    Nice analysis. Salesforce needs to demonstrate they can execute a solid integration (business & tech) with all of these platforms into their “Marketing Cloud.” Not an easy undertaking, of course. I was convinced and very openly predicted that Salesforce would buy Marketo. Now I think Marketo is a prime candidate for Adobe and they would be a great fit. Marketo is now a $1B+ acquisition.

    I’m not worried about the popular discussion of aligning the CIO and the CMO. Content marketing and curation opportunities are huge with all of these platforms.
    I’m concerned about the how the CMO aligns better with Sales. Right now with the acquisitions Salesforce has made, the pieces don’t really tie everything together so the CMO can tell a great story with impact to revenue. These acquisitions don’t make it any easier for the CMO and the CRO/CSO to develop a reliable and cohesive story that predicts revenue impact and helps drive process improvement. Yes, ExactTarget Pardot integrates with Salesforce. But when you try to drill into real campaign and revenue influence it is clunky, hard, and filled with some analytic voodoo. Bottom line: How do customers win?

    Interesting times ahead.

    Brian Hansford
    Heinz Marketing
    Tw. RemarkMarketing

  • JasonWBall

    Good analysis. I was another one voting it’d be Marketo (no wonder my investment strategy sucks).

    As others have mentioned, the key will be in making it work on the ground for real-live marketers. I still have way too many meetings with clients who’ve invested in one of the main MA solutions but are seeing precious little value beyond old-school batch-and-blast (which they could do just as well/badly beforehand). And this can be a year after buying their chosen solution. Perhaps there’s more scope for a greater professional services capability (and not just the standard training).

    One aspect that these acquisitions highlights for me is the continued importance of outbound activity for content marketing. While the idea of inbound-only is seductive and gets a lot of screen real-estate, certainly in B2B where I specialise, the bulk of content marketing activity is still dominated by outbound (primarily email-based) communications. It’s also where the bulk of the results are coming from.

    It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the mid-market/SMB end of the market. Personally I’d love to see some kind of HubSpot + Unbounce + MailChimp type of combination. While each has a fair degree of overlap, the combination would move towards fixing some areas of weakness within each.