Corporate Innovator: Meghann York, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Salesforce

Steven Loeb · November 7, 2018 · Short URL:

York came to Salesforce after its acquisition of ExactTarget in 2013

While most entrepreneurs want to be the one to discover the next Amazon or Twitter, oftentimes major technological shifts are coming from the big companies, the players that have been on the scene for years, if not decades. Those companies have survived because they know how to pivot. They're the ones who either seed new ideas or acquire them and distribute them. 

In this column, we talk to those companies and their innovators who are preparing them for what's coming.

One space that has seen a major shift is digital marketing, thanks to a proliferation of big data that have given brands and marketers greater insights into their customers. Not to mention the proliferation of devices, allowing them to send ads to their customers at literally any time of day, on any device. 

Salesforce is one of the companies that has been on the leading edge of this trend, thanks to its Salesforce Marketing Cloud, which does marketing automation and technology for B2C companies, along with its AI solution, called Einstein, and Pardot, which does marketing automation specifically for B2B customers.

I spoke to Meghann York, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Salesforce, about how marketing has been evolving, what technologies are driving that and where she sees it going next.

VatorNews: Tell me a bit about your background and what you do at Salesforce.

Meghann York: I am a senior director of product marketing for Marketing Cloud. My background with Salesforce really started in the startup world; I worked for a startup here in Indianapolis called iGoDigital, which did personalized retail solutions, kind of in the early of AI. We were acquired by ExactTarget, here in Indianapolis and then Salesforce made their acquisition of ExactTarget, so that’s how I landed at Salesforce. But I definitely still have some startup blood running through my veins.

VN: How have you seen digital marketing change in recent years thanks to the incorporation of technologies such as AI and machine learning?

MY:  I remember back in my iGo days, we just started talking about, 'Right person, right channel, right content, right time.' That phrase has become sort of beaten to death. But with the evolution of AI and all the automation and technology, we’re actually able to deliver on that targeting at a broader scale, with availability to more businesses. Maybe five years ago, it was just an idea, but it was where real pioneers were going. Now we have the technology to be able to deliver on that. 

VN: What does that mean for brands? How has their targeting changed thanks to those technologies?

MY: I think a lot of that is centered around AI and AI-powered technology. So, previously, we had to rely on manual process to do all of those things, for segmentation or content development. And we also had to look at backwards data and then make some best guesses, based on historical data, about what we should be doing in the future. All of that was really hard and it was also really, really difficult to do that a true one-to-one basis. We just can’t manually keep up with the number of channels there are, how quickly a customer’s behavior and intent changes. With artificial intelligence we’re really able to do that now. We can, in real time, capture customer behavior, make predictions about what they’re going to do next, and then, in real time, make decisions about what content they should see or where they should go next, delivering them just seconds later after we’ve crunched those numbers in the background. AI is really taking over and powering some of those things that we used to try to do manually but it was just impossible to do it at that scale.

VN: What are some of the other technologies that have impacted the space that people maybe haven’t been paying close enough attention to?

MY: I think IoT is super interesting and it might be something that everybody is still trying to get their heads around a bit. If you think about all of these devices that are becoming commonplace, from our watches to our refrigerators to our thermostats, all of these different things, it’s really data that drives personalization. Now customers are having more data inputs than we’ve ever had before, so marrying IoT with AI is going to be an area that we start to see more and more innovation in.

I’m also really excited about the possibility of voice. We all have our Alexas and things like that to be able to change the music or turn up the volume in our living rooms, so we’re really thinking about how we can use voice to empower business users as well. A salesperson on the go who wants to update a record after a customer meeting or something like that, how can we be leveraging voice to make that more efficient? And then something we’re always thinking about is: how do we take these technologies that people are to used to using in their personal lives and infuse into their business lives as well to make them more effective and efficient at their jobs?

VN: Do you already see voice being adopted in the enterprise? Or is that something that you want to see happen down the road?

MY: It is happening now. At Salesforce we launched Einstein Voice at Dreamforce for just those types of situations, being able to ask Einstein to update a record for you or take some notes and put it in a customer record after a call. Really across the board, our B2B and B2C lives are coming together more than that they have before.

We have great research from something called the State of the Connected Customer report and it says that all of these experiences that people have in their personal lives, they want to have in their business lives as well, and they’re buying in a B2B setting just like they’re buying in a B2C setting. So, I think we see more and more the lines between those crossing and everything we’re getting used to having in our personal lives we’re going to want to have those in our work lives as well. So then, we, as a company, need to be on the leading edge of how we bring those together.

VN: What kind of ROI have your customers seen thanks to AI?

MY: We have some great use cases and examples. Something I think that’s really important to talking about when you talk about AI is that we’re a lot further than we were five or six years ago, but companies are still really trying to get their heads around what they do with AI. At Salesforce, we’re really committed to making AI approachable and usable and not something that a company need to spend millions of dollars and a few years to figure out how to implement.

This relates to the question about ROI because, for example, in our email marketing platform we have something called Einstein Engagement Scoring, so we can tell marketers, of their customer base, who’s most likely to click on an email, who’s most likely to unsubscribe, and who’s most likely to make a purchase. So, we have marketers who are going in there and segmenting their risk. For example, ‘Let’s not send the weekly campaign to people who are likely to unsubscribe, let’s send a few more emails to people may be likely to make a purchase to get them over the line.’ It’s fairly simple use cases like that for AI that you used to have to have a team of data scientists to be able to understand those types of metrics. We’re baking those types of metrics right into the platform, so then your email marketer, not a whole data science team, can take advantage of things like that. That’s where our customers are seeing ROI from AI because they’re applying it to really, really specific use cases.

VN: How do you balance privacy versus personalization? How do you give users something that is relevant for them without being invasive? 

MY: That’s on the mind of every marketer so we’ve done a lot of work on our end as far as GDPR compliance and things like that, to help enable our customers to be able make sure that they’re doing everything they need to do to respect the privacy of their customers.

Like I said, we have that that Connected Customer report, and customers are saying that they are willing to give up some of their data if the business turns that around into things that are valuable for them. So, I think that’s what companies really need to be thinking about, not, ‘Here’s all this cool customer data piece and here are all the I can do with them as a marketer.’ The conversation needs to be, ‘Is what we’re doing really adding value to the customer?’ That, I think, will answer some of our questions around data and privacy, if we’re making sure that we’re keeping the customer in mind at all times and we’re not thinking business first. If we're thinking not about what provides value to the business, but what really provides value to the customer, knowing that business value will come from that.

VN: People seem to be willing to give up some privacy but not too much.

MY: It’s up to each one of the businesses to know their customers well enough and know where that line is and make sure that they don’t cross it. That study shows that Millennials have a little bit more leeway than other generations do, so businesses just need to be really in tune with their customers and where that line is and make sure that they don’t cross it and not use technology for technology’s sake, but for driving that value for the end customer.

VN: Salesforce bought Datorama earlier this year and introduced it as part of Marketing Cloud in September. Can you walk me through how the product works?

MY: We did a great demo of Datorama in that keynote at Marketing Cloud and I think it showed very clearly the benefit of it. One of the things that Kat, who was one of the co-founders of Datorama, said in the keynote is their motto is ‘clicks, not code.’ We know that, for a very long time, marketers have been trying to bring in all of these different measurement tools together so they can really understand from A to Z how their marketing campaigns are performing. Just like how we talked about on the segmentation side, it was really, really hard. You needed a really technical person to do it, and when companies changed their APIs they had to rebuild their whole structures, so what Datorama wants to do is making it very easy with pre-built configurations of some of the most prominent measurement solutions, making it really easy for marketers to bring those in, have that single force of truth for their data and really understand how all of their different marketing campaigns are performing.

VN: What kind of returns have brands seen from using Datorama so far?

MY: Warner Brothers is a great example of a company that’s been a Datorama customer for a really long time and has seen great returns. They’re a really, really broad scale company and they operate at a really, really high velocity so what they’re able to do is bring in ticket sales information, they’re able to bring in social performance data, content performance, just to really understand how all their different marketing campaigns are performing in different regions against ticket sales.

One of the things we’re really proud of at Salesforce is this ideas of 'Salesforce on Salesforce,' and how we use our own technology. Salesforce has actually been a Datorama customer for a long time too and that idea of bringing in both some of our more consumer facing data from social networks and things like that, and also marrying that up with the data that lives in Sales Cloud, and talking about our offline conversions and things like that, is also a very cool use case of us. We call it, ‘drinking own champagne,’ and using our own technologies in a B2B setting to see the full breadth of campaigns, all the way from digital advertising to that one-to-one relationship with a sales rep closing that deal.

VN: What kinds of insights has Salesforce gotten from using own technology?

MY: First and foremost, for all of our customers it’s giving us credibility because we’re saying, ‘Hey, we’re running our marketing on this, we’re running our sales or service teams on that.’ It also just gives us insight. I am on the product team so it’s really awesome because it gives us insight into customers who are using our product day in and day out to say, ‘What do you need next? What isn’t here that wish was in here?’ Our internal stakeholders are really, really good for the feedback and they help us a lot with our road map items too.

VN: Last month Salesforce acquired email marketing company Rebel. How will Rebel help enhance Salesforce Marketing Cloud going forward?

MY: We always joke that every year some article comes out that says, ‘Email is dead.’ It’s just an internal joke with us because we know, from our customers, email is far from over. Marketers have added on a lot of channels but email is still such a very, very important piece of any marketer’s marketing mix. So, because our roots are in email marketing and we have so many innovative email customers, we want to keep thinking about how we innovate that email product. A lot of that data collection and removing the friction from the conversion process, making the customer experience better in email, those are some of the reasons that we thought Rebel was a really good partner for us. We’re excited to have that team on board.

VN: When do you innovate internally versus going out and partnering, maybe even acquiring other companies? Why purchase Rebel, for example, rather than develop a solution in-house?

MY: What I know from the product side is that we are constantly innovating and are constantly figuring out solutions for our customers. Our Einstein Engaging Scoring feature, that was a Salesforce developed innovation, so I can attest to the fact that we are doing a lot of internal innovation.

We are 100 percent focused on our customers and what they need next. So, any product innovation that we are doing is going to be centered on what our customers are telling us they need right now and then where they’re telling us they want to go. In product marketing I’m involved in a lot of those conversations with our customers. So, then, like you said, the next conversation goes to: do we build that ourselves or do we buy it? One of the things I can definitely say is that no matter where the innovation is coming from, it’s 100 percent centered on the things we’re hearing from our customers.

VN: Where do you see digital marketing going next? What technologies are on the horizon that will get it there?

MY: One component of this that is not a technology answer but I think is really interesting is this idea of organizational alignment around customer experience. In a lot of cases, organizations are not hurting for the technology; what they realize is they are not internally aligned to really be able to take advantage of all the technology that’s out there. That’s what I see that a lot of our customers are talking about, ‘How do we make sure that our teams are integrated enough, and working together enough, that we can take advantage of the technology?’ For example, we talked about data, for marketers one of the biggest challenges I hear the talk about is, ‘Hey, we want to do all this cool stuff that you guys have available, but here’s the problem: this piece of data lives over here, this piece of data lives over here, and this piece of data lives over here. This other department is telling me it’s going to take two weeks to get that piece of data.’ You know how organizations are. So, that’s one interesting thing that I see and I think we will see a major, major shift in how marketing teams are aligned. Some of our more innovative customers, instead of having their email marketing team and their ads team and their social team, instead they’re saying, ‘Here’s our onboarding team, and it’s cross channel team of people from different disciplines, but their sole focus is how to best onboard customers.’ And then maybe another team on is focused on engagement and another team is focused on retention. I’m not trying to avoid the question about the technology but I think that organizations have a lot of work to do to integrate themselves to take advantage of the even the things that are available now.

Then I think we’ll just continue down the path around artificial intelligence; we’ve only scratched the surface of things that we can do with it. So, we will just continue to innovate there, and continue really to see how customer’s expectations change. Every marketer is trying to keep up with their customer expectations, and so they’re going to have to continue to lean on AI as customers are asking for more personalization everywhere. Also, connected customer experiences, or making sure that all of the information they’re receiving in email is the same information they’re receiving when they see an ad, or information they’re getting when they talk to their sales rep. I think we’ll continue to see customer’s expectations increase in those areas, and businesses leaning on technologies to be able to do that.

VN: What are some innovative growth areas that are priorities for you in 2019?

MY: One thing I’m really excited about, that we haven’t talked about yet, is our partnership with Google. We announced the partnership last summer and it’s been really, really cool. I’m sure you’ve seen, from your perspective, companies coming together and making these partnership announcements and then you say, ‘What did they really do together?’ So, from our perspective, I’m excited because, in addition to the AI and other things we talked about, the Google partnership is something that I work on every day. I’m so excited to see that partnership continue to grow and coming together more in products.

So far we have launched a journey analytics dashboard between Marketing Cloud and Google, where marketers are able to see how are people interacting with email and mobile message and how that is impacting what they’re doing on the Web. Then it's, 'How can we reengage them in email and mobile and ads based on what they’re doing on the Web?' That continuous circle of customer experience and making sure all those things are connected and really relevant, that’s what we’re thinking about as far as how Salesforce and Google are coming together. We’ll continue to figure out how we can help marketers best use our technologies together to better deliver some of these things that they want to deliver on.

VN: Is there anything else you would like me to know?

MY: Just the customer success that’s coming out of these innovations. I know you’re focusing on big companies but I think in the startup world, every single customer you have is so important to your livelihood as a business, so you are intrinsically focused on customer success just because of the nature of how you’re operating. One of the things about Salesforce that is really cool, and why I’m still with the organization, even though I did have that startup background, is our focus is still there. So, with all of these things we’re talking about, AI and the Google partnership and Datorama, the focus is still around customer success.

(The Meet the Corporate Innovator series is brought to you by Advsr, a startup advisory firm in the business of starting conversations and sparking big ideas.) 

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