Delivering Episode 6: What We Saw at Salesforce Connections

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In this episode of Delivering, host Jason Rodriguez reports back from Salesforce Connections, digging into what the Litmus team saw and what it potentially means for email marketers.

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Episode Transcript

Conferences are a great way to keep up with industry trends. On top of sessions run by leading experts and the occasional workshop, conferences are a great way to connect with other people in the industry, discuss challenges and priorities, and keep your finger on the pulse of a fast-moving market. Last week, I had the opportunity to attend and speak at one of the biggest conferences of the year, Salesforce Connections, with a few folks from the Litmus team. In this week’s episode of Delivering, I’ll dig into what we saw at Connections and what it all means for email marketers everywhere.

Welcome to Delivering, a podcast about email marketing strategy, design, development, and the broader email industry. Delivering is brought to you by Litmus, the creative platform used by over 600,000 email professionals to design, test, analyze, and collaborate on better email campaigns for happier subscribers. Learn more and try Litmus free for seven days at litmus.com.

One of the biggest conferences of the year, Salesforce Connections, took place last week in Chicago. I was lucky enough to join the thousands of other marketing professionals (along with some colleagues from Litmus) to see not only what’s new in the Salesforce ecosystem, but what trends digital marketers are talking about this year.

Key Takeaways

The first thing to know about Salesforce Connections is that it’s not just email. Other events, like our own Litmus Live conferences, dedicate 100% of the content to email marketing. But Salesforce is a massive company, with more than a few clouds to its name, so there was a lot going on over the course of three days. Two things became clear very quickly, though:

  1. There’s a ton of buzz around machine learning and AI, both in email and the wider digital marketing landscape
  2. There’s still massive interest in email marketing

The Role of AI

The first point was made evident by some of the vendors and speakers in attendance. Companies like DataDome, Bloomreach, and Phrasee – who all market around AI’s value – helped fill out the conference expo hall, while all three days had schedules packed with AI-focused sessions. While there are clear marketing reasons for AI’s inclusion in the schedule, namely because of Salesforce’s premier AI-driven analytics platform, Einstein, it was interesting to see how well-attended AI-focused sessions were this year.

But artificial intelligence went far beyond analytics and data management. There were multiple talks on using AI-powered tools to enhance personalization in email. Or to help grow your content marketing capabilities. There were even some sessions on using AI in sales, which makes sense given the audience.

But it’s very clear that AI isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’s a trend that will be with us from here on out, so email marketers need to make peace with it, if they’re not already embracing AI-powered platforms.

The Importance of Email

As an email marketer, the second point was extremely validating. Although email wasn’t the main focus of the conference, Salesforce Marketing Cloud (formerly ExactTarget) is a huge platform, with email marketing at its heart. There were multiple sessions on email and, while I don’t have any official stats, it seemed like the email sessions were among the most popular.

I tried and failed to get into a session on building personal experiences in email on day one because it was already packed. And the amazing panel from the Women of Email was standing room only, not surprising given the panelists and topic, but very surprising seeing as how it was the first session on day two of the conference, post conference networking party the night before. And my and Mark’s email session had people crammed into seats, grabbing spots on the floor, and craning over one another to get tips on accessibility in email. Mark’s follow up session on interactivity in email, with his colleague Manisha Shah, took over a quarter of the expo floor. It had to have been the most packed session outside of the larger “Super” sessions and keynotes.

Email marketers should be emboldened by this. While email is just one part of a wider omnichannel marketing strategy, it’s at the heart of that strategy for a lot of companies. It seems like more people than ever are beginning to understand the power and value of email and investing in it accordingly.

Diversity and Inclusion

One of my favorite aspects of Connections was the strong focus on diversity and inclusion. From registration to the actual content, Salesforce went out of its way to create an inclusive experience. Each attendee was given a badge to let others know about their pronoun preferences. Apart from the Women of Email panel on day two, there were multiple sessions on diversity in marketing and creating accessible and inclusive experiences for customers. While Mark and I hit on the design and coding aspects of creating accessible emails, my favorite session was probably the one called, “Creating Impact with Inclusive Marketing”, which featured women from Hyatt, Hearst Publishing, Deloitte Digital, and Salesforce talking about their experiences creating more inclusive content, strategy, and teams.

Outside of the sessions dedicated to diversity and inclusion, it was inspiring to see so many people from different backgrounds up on stage. Salesforce does an amazing job embracing and promoting people regardless of their gender, race, religion, sexual preferences, and backgrounds, and it’s something I wish more conferences would focus on, too.

Struggles with Process

My last big takeaway was how much people still struggle with process, especially when it comes to email marketing. Litmus sponsored a booth at Connections, which means we spent A LOT of time talking to attendees about their email teams, tools, process, and, most importantly, challenges.

I can’t recall a single person claiming they were 100% happy with their email program and process. More often than not, they’d candidly discuss issues with stakeholders, the cobbled together tools they use, and all of the hurdles they have to jump through to get additional resources to help them with their jobs.

This was in stark contrast to the popularity of email I mentioned earlier. While businesses seem to be embracing and investing in email, a lot of times that happens at a higher level in the organization. The people in the weeds, working with email on a daily basis, are usually left trying to implement yet another new tool or platform into an already unwieldy process. There seems to be a big disconnect between larger marketing goals and how they’re implemented at the ground floor, and there’s a ton of room for improvement throughout.

Although there were dozens of vendors at Connections, few of them seemed focused on improving the process of getting marketing deliverables out the door faster and more reliably. It seemed like most were focused on either consulting or analyzing data that comes from publishing those campaigns. Which is why we were so glad to be there to talk to people about the mechanics of managing campaigns and working across teams.

It was fun to see people’s faces light up when we talked about Litmus’ integration directly inside of Email Studio in Marketing Cloud, especially when we showed off dynamic content and AMPscript getting pulled into their Email Previews. It was even better when we took people through Litmus Proof and how it streamlines so much of the tedious review and approvals process. We even gave a few folks a sneak peek at some work we’ve been doing to improve the email production, QA, review, and approval process, which we’ll be talking about more over the coming months…

The overall impression I got, though, was that there’s still a lot of work to be done to improve the lives of the every day marketer and, through them, all of the subscribers we care about so much.

Wrap Up

All-in-all, Salesforce Connections was a great conference and one we were thrilled to be a part of. We’re looking forward to continuing the conversations started on the conference floor and coming back next year to start new ones.

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Head over to litmus.com to start your free, 7-day trial of Litmus, and start sending better emails today.