Getting Engaged and Experienced in Vegas

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[REPOST: APRIL 2022]
What happens in Vegas: Sitecore Symposium, where Sitecore rolled out the latest version of its Customer Engagement and Experience solution.

Keynote-worthy CEO

Judging by his razor-sharp, on-point keynote, Sitecore CEO Michael Seifert, who I interviewed on an earlier sojourn to Vegas, was born for the stage, personable and well-paced as he spoke to the +/- 2,000 Symposium attendees. The theme of Seifert’s talk and the conference was: “Own the Experience.” Another oft-repeated phrase at the event was “Customers for life.” In fact, Sitecore Chief Strategy Officer Darren Guarnaccia said in his Product keynote: “We want to be the preferred tool for customer experience developers, marketers and merchandisers…this is a platform for life.” In this analyst’s view, Sitecore is well on the way to actualizing that vision.

Quotes & Highlights

Some notable quotes and concepts jumped out of Seifert’s keynote:

“This is the opportunity of our times: to present the right experience at the right time… the most important opportunity in today’s environment.” JeffTake: This is why both customer experience analytics and real-time analytics, two areas of focus for us at Stratecast, are so important today.

“An experience creates a lasting memory, and that beats content…but you must know the person to provide the experience, so that requires context…and, to bring it full circle, you must have creative, emotionally-engaging content.” JeffTake: we’re talking a lot about content and context, plus sentiment analysis, at Stratecast these days, and this encapsulates a lot of the ‘why.’

“Consumers are getting MAD: marketing attention deficit.” He explained they are bombarded with email, then Internet banners and popups, and they tune out whatever is perceived as an interruption or not relevant. JeffTake: this gets to the essence of speaking with and making friends with your customers and prospects, not “marketing AT them,” which is supposed to be the hallmark of digital communications as opposed to so-called traditional marketing.

Key Challenges

Seifert talked about how marketers now have plenty of tools at their fingertips, but that technology is starting to overwhelm them. They face too much complexity; it’s becoming an arms race. He cited stats from the Digital Analytics Association that 50% of marketers’ time is spent gathering and analyzing data. And how, even after they’ve assembled all of that data, they still do not have a comprehensive view of the customer, just bits of it.

Remember, Seifert pointed out, that Amazon, for example, started out only selling online, which makes it simpler. Many organizations, however, have storefronts, distributors, other marketing, sales, and service channels and touchpoints from which they must gather info, and to which they must impart new ways of better serving customers. The idea is to capture all relevant data—but SIMPLIFY.

Sitecore Solution: Customer Experience Platform

Seifert next brought Guarnaccia on stage, and Guarnaccia showed a few dashboard screens from Sitecore’s new Experience Profile. Throughout the event, a number of Sitecorians referred to the Experience Profile as “The exFile.”

Sitecore’s “exFile” (which, come to think of it, could also be a great name for a database of ex-spouses and other partners) provides a current and comprehensive view of the customer. It builds that view based on data flowing into the also-brand-spanking-new Sitecore xDB and its Experience Database, built on MongoDB, with connectors and Sitecore application software. Guarnaccia explained how now you can collect all the information from social, internal, and external sources and really see who this customer is, what they like and don’t like, what they have been doing on your site (and other sites), and all in all, how they are interacting with your business. Thus armed, you can predict what they likely want to do or see next and provide what he termed “experience optimization”: tracking, visualizing, and predicting, then generating dynamic personas and lists for immediate action. JeffTake: first, this discussion points out the importance of Stratecast’s 39 Data Sources Enterprises Need to Access. Second, Sitecore nailed what we have been urging the market to do for years: provide solutions that empower users to ANALYZE, THEN ACT.

Product Keynotables

Next, Sitecore VP Product Marketing Mark Floisand joined Guarnaccia on stage, and the two discussed some of the platform’s recent growth stages: Version 7.0 was about content. 7.1 was mostly about the user interface (UI: the SPEAK framework). 7.2 was about integrating Commerce Server. With 7.5 (the current version as of Symposium), Sitecore re-architected the platform to add the new xDB. In 8.0, Sitecore 8, the company was adding exFile, plus easy test and optimization for all website changes plus integration with Cloud ML on Azure to do predictive re-segmentation and next-best-experience offers. They announced that Sitecore 8 was in so-called “lighthouse” customers now [JeffTake: heavy beta with a trusted shortlist of top customers] and would be available for technology previews in November, with GA slated for next year.

Next, Sitecore partner Coveo dashed up on stage with breaking news: a free version of its enterprise search product for all Sitecore customers.

Commerce Server is an acquired addition and integration of eCommerce capabilities including merchandising, shopping cart, and more. Stratecast met separately with Sitecore Director of Product Marketing Wayne Smith, who told us they have been “skilling up” since the acquisition, and that a number of Commerce people came aboard along with the technology. A recent blog post by Guarnaccia talks about all of this and establishes a Customer Lifecycle that is far more extensive than most of what has passed for “product lifecycle” in the industry for, like, ever. With Commerce Server, Sitecore can now map, monitor, and act on everything from initial customer awareness through consumption and advocacy. JeffTake: this means acting as a reference customer, including on social media and as a positive contributor to things like a positive Net Promoter Score.

Author and marketing and sales strategist David Meerman Scott was an entertaining guest speaker, emphasizing, among other things, “humanizing” [personalizing] marketing. He also hit the real-time button HARD: ahh, a speaker after Stratecast’s real-time-data-espousing heart.

Other Insights

Microsoft has named Sitecore its top independent software vendor (ISV) partner several years running. Sitecore VP Business Development Jean-Paul Gomes told us “the Microsoft connection” pulls through major revenues for Sitecore. Gomes is an ex-Microsoft exec who is still well-connected there and spends much of his time at Microsoft’s Redmond, WA, campus. Sitecore’s partner roster reads somewhat like the Library of Congress, but the company told Stratecast it is moving toward having fewer partners to focus on bigger targets. That sound like “we’re going up-market” to me.

Like virtually every provider, Sitecore strives for replicable processes, but the fact remains that most Sitecore implementations are still one-off affairs because organizational structures, politics, digital maturity, and technical challenges are always different. Sitecore’s SBOS (Business Optimization Services) offering helps with this, and Sitecore has a number of implementation partners it certifies for various competencies.

Sitecore also offers solutions including Komfo (social media monitoring, analytics and publishing) and Print Experience Manager (formerly Advanced Print Studio, or APS), but did not heavily emphasize these at the conference. Nor was there talk about privacy and security in any of the sessions or briefings we attended. Best insight on privacy was an answer from panelist Avanade: “Get tight with your legal team.” (Avanade is a Microsoft/Accenture partnership that provides consulting, implementation management, and managed services.) We at Stratecast have a LOT to say about privacy…but hey, that’s part of why we are here.

From partnering to competing, Sitecore sees its primary competitors as Adobe and Salesforce — to which Stratecast adds others, principally MarketoSilverpop, and IBM Tealeaf, and on the telecom side, Alcatel-LucentComptel, and Amdocs Actix.

Stratecast: THE LAST (Bloggable) WORD

As the cynical analyst, I keep wondering how Sitecore can continually remake and reposition itself to meet changing markets:

In years past, the biggest name in chargeable web content management (WCM, which, btw, is still raging full force under the hood)… Add analytics and marketing automation and it’s a customer engagement platform…

Now a MongoDB-fueled customer experience solution.

Somehow Sitecore does it. Or is doing it. Again. Remember, GA of Sitecore 8 is not until sometime next year. So the jury is still out, the pudding is not really proven, etc. — we’ll see what we see when Sitecore 8 hits the market next year.

Many Sitecore customers are running multiple instances of the platform and using different aspects of it, depending on their varying levels of digital maturity. Additional functions are being added and carefully integrated, because Sitecore’s most advanced customers want them and Sitecore believes all customers will need them.

Event-wise, Sitecore Symposium was really well managed. Oh, and each attendee got a copy of the book Connect: How to Use Data and Experience Marketing to Create Lifetime Customers, written by three Sitecorians: Lars Birkholm Petersen, Ron Person, and Christopher Nash.

In fact, hey wait a minute, this analyst provided a quote for the book and I’m still waiting for my copy signed by the authors, or at least by Petersen. How about it, Sitecore?

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