Salesforce email announced its intent to acquire email marketing and marketing automation vendor ExactTarget for ~$2.5B or $33.75/share, ending a few years worth of speculation as to which marketing automation vendor it would eventually acquire. The leading contender up to last December was marketing automation heavyweight Eloqua, but Oracle ended that line of thinking by acquiring it for $871M or $23.50/share. The field was still fairly ripe with candidates including the other market leader, Marketo, which just went public last month. Other contenders could have included Responsys, Silverpop, and Yesmail. While Marketo might have seemed the most obvious target after Eloqua was swept off the table, there's a sense that it would have always been expensive and particularly now after the very successful IPO. Among the other contenders though, ExactTarget had something that the others were lacking, strong marketing automation capabilities from a product that was acquired last October, Pardot. Although only slightly under $100M acquisition, Pardot is a big part of the whole deal in my opinion.  

Make no bones about it, the price is high; and that makes one wonder if there was, as Salesforce hinted yesterday, another bidder? Who that bidder might have been though, is a little perplexing. Both SAP and IBM need a marketing automation solution, but neither seemed very interested in ExactTarget, although what happens behind closed doors is anyone's guess. In SAP's case I admit that I've though for a while that Marketo might be its target acquisition, particularly after Oracle bought Eloqua. I suppose the other bidder could also have been Microsoft, but again, that's blind guessing.

So why all the interest in marketing automation software all of a sudden? It's what I'd call the CMO opportunity. The leading enterprise trend today is focused on customer experience (CX), and the CMO is emerging as the key executive in most company's CX strategy. And the CMO role is in flux, requiring many CMO's to work way out of their comfort zone with lot's of new digital marketing technology. In fact in many companies the CMO is starting to feel like the Chief Digital Officer. Many CMO's are now managing quite large technology budgets and struggling to solve a deluge of new marketing and CX problems. Today, there are few "complete" solutions available for CMOs that are integrated and flexible to fit a changing / evolving CX strategy. This has led many marketing executives to end up with a fragmented and complex environment of disparate technology that does not solve their problem. CRM vendors are starting to respond and put together solutions and the battle ground is heating up significantly.

Salesforce had moved over the past couple of years to add social marketing capabilities by buying social media monitoring / analytics vendor Radian6 and Buddy Media but this still left a large hole in the middle of the marketing cloud. This deal is designed to strengthen the marketing cloud around the social assets by adding strong lead management, email marketing and marketing automation. Salesforce needs to broaden it's offering in the marketing cloud, which it had not really addressed in a comprehensive manner in the past. Its SFA offering is seen as very strong, after all it started with this pillar and in recent years it has added significant capabilities to its Service Cloud, but core marketing remained a question that now has an answer.

The addition of core marketing automation, lead management, etc. to the Salesforce Marketing Cloud should help position it more effectively against some of its key competitors, most specifically against Oracle, which has acquired several cloud assets for marketing over the past 18 months and has assembled a very strong set of capabilities, although it is still in the process of integrating some of the solution. The acquisition should also put pressure on SAP and IBM to add to their cloud marketing portfolios, which may lead to more acquisitions shortly. The big question will be how tightly Salesforce decides to integrate ExactTarget into the rest of the Salesforce platform, something that for now is an open question especially since it was indicated that ExactTarget will continue to operate as a stand-a-lone entity. Still, I expect to see some aggressive moves by Salesforce to go after its own customer base and compete more directly with Marketo and Oracle in marketing.

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