Who will win the cloud wars? (Hint: wrong question)

Photo: Nick Kenrick, cc 2.0

Photo: Nick Kenrick, cc 2.0

Like many analysts, I’ve spent the last month or so crisscrossing the country looking at clouds*: marketing clouds, sales clouds, service clouds. I’ve been on busses, at dinners, in keynote speeches and presentations and one-on-one meetings. I’ve collected more badges than I did my first (and only) year in girl scouts.

One of the things that stands out throughout all of these presentations and conversations is how tactically similar yet philosophically different each approach turns out to be. Salesforce, as always, is most forward in its messaging. Adobe is doing a lot of work under the waterline to deepen the integration (and therefore the value proposition) of its marketing cloud. Oracle is using its expertise in data to paint the picture of a customer-centric enterprise. And yes, each approach has its standout strengths and clear weaknesses.

The fundamentals—whether it’s the presentation, the messaging, the suite-versus-point-solution positioning, the discussions of acquisitions and integrations and features—are consistent. And so it tempts us to rate one over the other. Who will win the cloud war? Oracle, Salesforce, Adobe? Will Sprinklr be the dark horse? Someone else?

Except while we argue over the finer points of Adobe’s cloud strategy versus Salesforce’s versus Oracle’s, we overlook one basic fact. The war is over. And not in the “congratulations to the winner; please pick up your statuette” sense. It’s just that looking at it as a “war” doesn’t really cut it anymore.

Paul Greenberg incisively argues in a recent post that we’ve moved past the suite wars and into an age of ecosystems for CRM. Consider the collapse of what we used to call the marketing funnel: awareness, consideration, conversion. Leaving aside that human beings have never been that linear to begin with, the Internet and social web have conspired in the past 20-odd years to upend the “funnel” model.

Instead of a single workflow that culminates in victory conversion, we at Altimeter think about an “Influence Loop,” which lays out a more detailed version of the customer’s path, and which more importantly includes the experience after purchase—the point at which he or she is the most literally invested in the product or service. But another fundamental difference between the funnel and the loop is this: customers can and do communicate with each other in public at every stage. Sellers no longer have the information advantage.


As Daniel Pink put it in his keynote at Oracle’s Customer Experience World last week: (my paraphrase):

Information asymmetry is about ‘buyer beware’. Buyers have to beware because they can be ripped off. We no longer live in a world of information asymmetry; we live in a world where buyers have lots of information about sellers.

But this isn’t the only playing field that’s being leveled. Sellers now have more information about each other. They can integrate tools more easily, build products more quickly, gain access to open data. They can build ecosystems more effectively. Granted, none of this is easy, but it’s easier. And becoming easier still.

And so the dated, us-versus-them ethos of the 90s and 00s no longer applies. It’s not which cloud approach is better or will win. In fact, that old model actually damages each player’s position. Why?

If we’re fighting to beat our competitors, we’re not fighting for our customers. 

Instead, we should be asking:

  1. What is our strategy for serving customers in the cloud economy?
  2. How robust is our ecosystem?
  3. How strong are our offerings in sales, marketing, customer service, commerce? Where they’re not strong, is it in our roadmap, and do we make it easy to integrate other tools?
  4. What is our data and analytics strategy? Does it promote real insight?
  5. Is our offering siloed, or does it facilitate the customer’s sightline across the customer journey, and the business?
  6. Are we spending more time on our competition than on our customers?
  7. Are we thinking past the horizon?

And the most important one:

Do we make it easier for customers to understand and serve their customers?

Let’s be honest; nobody gets a perfect score on all of these questions. Each vendor has strong marks in some categories and weaker ones in others, and it’s always changing. Some have standout infrastructure and weak tools. Others have the opposite. And, yes, we still need to make decisions in a world in which 1,000-plus marketing vendors (never mind web, commerce, service, mobile, sales) vie for our attention.

This isn’t going to get any easier, so we need to start to think about technology selection a bit differently than we did in the past. If we don’t, given the speed of development and the pace of change in general, we risk entering into an infinitely spiraling arms race.

We also need to do some soul-searching. If we really are committed to (in that overused phrase) trying to understand the customer journey, are we willing to give up some short-term budget/power/control/ease-of-use to do so? What does that mean for performance management, bonuses, culture, leadership?

My colleagues at Altimeter and I will be exploring these issues in more depth in upcoming reports. In the meantime, I’d be grateful for your thoughts; what questions should we be asking as we assess cloud vendors? What are the great examples and untold stories? What’s keeping you up at night?

* Thanks and apologies to Joni Mitchell, who I hope is recovering quickly.

About susanetlinger

Industry Analyst at Altimeter Group
This entry was posted in Adobe, cloud computing, Oracle, Salesforce, Sprinklr, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Who will win the cloud wars? (Hint: wrong question)

  1. Great post, especially like the quote “Information asymmetry is about ‘buyer beware’. Buyers have to beware because they can be ripped off. We no longer live in a world of information asymmetry; we live in a world where buyers have lots of information about sellers.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s