The Email Platform Landscape: Focus on Exact Target

“What’s the best email marketing provider for Salesforce?” It’s a question that tops LinkedIn forums and Success Community boards every month. There is no perfect solution for all companies; individual needs and usage drive compatibility. But recent developments have propelled Exact Target to the forefront. Here we’ll take a look at Exact Target and its role within the Salesforce universe.    Exact Target Marketing Cloud

Salesforce email marketing providers can be broken down into three major groups: budget, mid-range and automation. Budget includes all within the Mail Chimp and Campaigner realm - cheap and you get what you pay for. Mid-range can vary quite a bit on performance and price. Exact Target falls within this realm, as well as cost saving options of iContact and Vertical Response. Exact Target offers, as an add-on, marketing automation without lead scoring – their “Interactive Marketing Hub”. Lastly, full automatio­n studios and content marketing platforms include Hubspot, Eloqua, Pardot and Marketo.

Often times, the superior performance of a platform can be as temporary as Google+; flash in the pan and months later you are left with a dud. Keeping up to date with the platform landscape helps you as the customer understand and better track the ebb and flow of major players in the market – and in turn make better purchasing or contract extension decisions. Let’s take a look at the state of the industry before reviewing Exact Target.

Salesforce Email Marketing Marketplace

Pardot, a relatively small player in marketing automation, was acquired by Exact Target in October of 2013. It would have been a superior offering had the two products merged into one. Instead they were sold separately and there was very little up or cross selling for the platforms.  

After the Eloqua purchase by Oracle at the end of 2012, the landscape of Salesforce marketing email platforms shifted dramatically. What was previously seen as one of the best choices for marketing automation suddenly gave Salesforce customers pause, allowing Hubspot and Marketo an added edge. Naturally users were concerned about integration support and future product development of Eloqua moving to focus only on Oracle. In addition, Hubspot had turned up the marketing heat for the last two years at Dreamforce. They said it loud and clear that they were in-it-to-win with thousands of stuffed unicorns on the expo floor. 

Five months later on June 4th, the purchase of Exact Target/Pardot by Salesforce put Eloqua last place in the race. Exact Target has always held strong market share with marketing savvy SMBs and Fortune 5000’s. As the new golden child for Salesforce, their place seemed guaranteed. That held true for a good month before the Oracle partnership with Salesforce was announced a few weeks later. As mergers and acquisitions expand companies and new players emerge, the end of 2013 could prove to be anyone’s prize.

Exact Target – A Major Player Leads the Pack

Companies that have properly set up their marketing home-base in the campaigns object find Exact Target to be a dream come true. After a few clicks to set up the initial campaign, an Exact Target email can be delivered or scheduled within minutes. They are strong on the basics: global suppression lists, easily filtering and the ability to run reports for standard objects. Metrics are pushed into Salesforce as a new related list quickly and accurately. Sent, opens, clicks, unsubscribes, and bounces are tracked live with no need to request a sync. The ability to keep all data within Salesforce eliminates some platforms’ need to keep two different data sets.

Exact Target is touted by companies worldwide and consistently scores high on customer service, but still holds many functional drawbacks. It has not yet mastered the turn-key installation of lower level providers; requiring at least 1-2 hours with testing. The marketing automation suite within the Exact Target studio is drag-drop functionality, but doesn’t provide triggered sends via Salesforce without intense coding. Reporting can be weak when done within Salesforce, requiring users to run duel reports in both platforms to gain a full scope of the campaign. There is also no way to avoid entering Exact Target, all content must be loaded from its separate login. A/B testing is still a manual process of splitting campaigns in Salesforce, a gripe this marketer has complained about for over four years (however A/B testing is an option in the non-Salesforce version of Exact Target). 

The acquisition by Salesforce should, in a perfect world, lead to greater integration points, ability for A/B testing and one-touch bounce management system. Adding the option to quick-load html directly from within Salesforce would also take Exact Target heads above the competition.

However, many Salesforce acquisitions have left customers scratching their heads and led the product straight to the grave; case in point - Activa chat. One of the best application products in the Salesforce marketplace, Activa chat was subsequently abandoned as a standalone product after the purchase, assumingly to push customers into the Service Cloud. Since Salesforce and Exact Target are built on two different languages, merging the two systems into one would not be possible. It is more likely that the Pardot piece would break off and merge into Salesforce, leaving Exact Target in limbo. Keep posted to the unfolding of the Oracle partnership in Q3 and Q4. This will certainly drive the final direction of the Exact Target suite of products.