Salesforce Marketing Cloud Review
- Variety of features
- Suitable for medium and large businesses
- Steep learning curve
- Not suitable for small businesses
- Expensive monthly cost
Some ESPs (email marketing service providers) remain independent for decades, slowly iterating their engine. Others are bought out and either run independently or integrated into a larger marketing framework. This program, Salesforce Marketing Cloud, represents the latter case.
Way back in 2000, the Indianapolis-based trio of Scott Dorsey, Chris Baggott, and Peter McCormick started an email marketing service company called ExactTarget with $200,000. Over the next 12 years, the company grew to over 200 employees, finally going public in 2012. Salesforce acquired ExactTarget in 2013 for $2.5 billion. Dorsey remained CEO until 2014.
Now called Salesforce Marketing Cloud, this ESP is an enormous marketing platform that is as versatile as it is challenging and expensive to use. As a marketing platform, it allows for precise tracking and targeting of consumer behavior, especially at the higher pricing tiers. The bad news is that Salesforce guards this program like a state secret, making it challenging to get hands-on time with it before you commit to buying.
If you have an advanced enough marketing team and, preferably, an IT department, Salesforce Marketing Cloud can be a great boon to your advertising and customer engagement.
Salesforce doesn’t have a set public pricing scheme for its email service, which means you’ll need to schedule with and speak to a sales rep to get a quote, even if you have very modest emailing needs. It does, however, use a tiered pricing system, so you can expect to pay more the further you creep up the ladder.
The puzzling thing about this is that Salesforce does disclose pricing for many of its other products. Equally as frustrating is the lack of a trial demo. Here too, Salesforce deviates from the policies governing its more well-known product.
Plans have all the features of the preceding tier.
Email, Mobile, and Web Marketing
- Email marketing
- Integration with other Salesforce tools
- Content Management and Workflows
- Predictive Intelligence
- Automation Studio
- Triggered Communications
- Automated workflows
- Journey builder
- Mobile SMS
- Multichannel predictive content
- Advanced reporting
- Real-time data segmentation
- Distributed sending
- Shared content, subscribers, and data
- Locked templates
- Custom roles and permissions
- Business units
Ease of Use
I recommend viewing Salesforce’s email marketing product in the context of the larger Salesforce platform. That said, the Marketing Cloud does a pretty good job of standing on its own.
While most of the Marketing Cloud’s complexity comes from integration with other Salesforce platform features, this is a significantly more advanced ESP than most of its competitors. Some features, like email attachments, even require a basic amount of coding. The upside to this is that if you’re comfortable with AMP scripting, you have an unusually high amount of control over the program. If you just need to send a couple emails, though, it’s more grief than you probably want.
There are a manageable number of a tabs: overview, content, subscribers, interaction, admin, audience-builder, tracking, though most of these come with a number of sub-tabs and functions. Expect to put in some time if you want to make the most of Salesforce’s email marketing product.
In May 2016, Salesforce released a mobile app for iOS which allows you to check and share the metrics of your campaigns on the go. It functions primarily as a reporting tool, albeit a very exhaustive, in-depth one.
All-in-all, managing contacts is fairly simple and should be familiar to anyone who has used an ESP before.
Like most ESPs, you can import your contact list via a .csv file or by importing a delimited file. One of the big advantages of being part of the larger Salesforce family is that you can easily access your contact lists through the platform (provided your plan allows for access). You can also manually enter contacts and assign properties to them, which can help your segmentation efforts down the road.
Subscribers can be assigned “statuses” that describe their delivery history: active, bounced, held, unsubscribed, deleted.
Creating the Email Campaign
Salesforce’s WYSIWYG editor got an upgrade in 2016. While it was always functional, it had looked a bit like it belonged to an earlier era. It’s still as complex as it is powerful.
You can dive into the HTML code of all of the template elements and finely tune their attributes. You can save dynamic blocks that you create for later use. Of course, you CAN just drag and drop elements in and perform the same kinds of cursory tweaks you would in most editors.
I tend to be a little torn when it comes to the complexity of drag-and-drop editors. Hitting an intermediate complexity point is, in some ways, more challenging than designing a simple editor or creating a sandbox for advanced users. At a certain point, it’s probably easier to just design your emails from scratch. Bridging the two domains takes some skill, but Salesforce mostly succeeds.
Sending the Campaign
Normally this is one of the most straightforward parts of an ESP review to write, but there’s a bit more going on here than usual. In fact, this is where Salesforce’s complexity really begins to pay off.
Salesforce heavily emphasizes segmentation and makes it extremely easy to target portions of your list with a user-friendly drag-and-drop system. The amount of data you can work with here is impressive, to put it mildly, allowing you to not only target contacts based on opens and clicks, but on just about any parameter you could think of.
There are also a wealth of automation options, ranging from drip campaigns to what the program calls its “Journey Builder,” a tool designed to deeply engage your more active users. The latter goes beyond email and into mobile app integration, complete with push notifications. The Journey Builder is laid out using a visually pleasing timeline system, which lets you easily create a chronology of interactions with your contacts based on either triggers or time elapsed.
Finally, Salesforce gives you tight control over split-testing, allowing you to customize the percentage of contacts who will receive certain versions of your campaign, randomly split them, or split them based on user behavior.
Email Campaign Reporting
The reporting tools available to you depend, to some degree, on how much of the total Salesforce Marketing Cloud program you’ve bought into. Considering that many ESPs rely on Salesforce integration to deliver high-level CRM functionality, there’s something to be said for going right to the source.
At the most basic level you can view email reports sorted by a number of different factors such as performance, performance over time, and conversions. It’s a fairly basic suite and only scratches the surface of what the broader Salesforce platform can do.
On the other hand, the expanded reporting capabilities of the platform are enormous, so long as you’re willing to spend the money.
If there’s one place Salesforce completely drops the ball with its ESP, it’s in customer service, a problem that includes both its live and archived resources. Given the complexity of the program and the need to interact with customer support to set up your account or even view a demo, this is a fairly big problem.
Support is available through:
- Email: Support can be reached at email@example.com
- Phone: You can contact sales at (866) 362-4538
- Online Help Center: Articles and help pages are available.
- Code Help: A support page is available specifically for the API.
- Facebook: While it’s technically for the entire marketing cloud platform, you can find a lot of marking links here.
- Twitter: Likewise, the Twitter feed offers news and links about marketing products.
- Ideas: The Ideas page is part suggestion box, part community forum.
Negative Reviews and Complaints
Most users, especially advanced ones who are diving into the API, seem to really like Salesforce Marketing Cloud. The parent company, however, has a dark cloud hanging over it in the form of a D- rating from BBB. Most of its demerits come from its unresponsiveness to complaints. User complaints include:
- Steep Learning Curve: This is mostly unavoidable due to the amount of functionality. Salesforce offers, but expect to have to put in some time learning this software.
- Customer Service: Many users found Salesforce’s customer service unresponsive.
- Price: Despite the hidden pricing scheme, users also report that it’s a fairly expensive program.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials
- The Features: Salesforce can do a lot if you take the time to learn it.
- Marketing Platform: As it integrates with a lot of other Salesforce products, you there are a lot of proprietary tools available.
- Powerful API: As a platform, there’s a lot for coders to work with.
You can extend Salesforce’s API with a huge number of integrations, and the company provides good support to coders who want to make modifications themselves.
The company also provides a directory of partners that lists their country of origin, rating, and programs. Take a look and see if the stuff you’d use is in there.
Salesforce takes precautions, including administrative, technical, and physical measures – to help safeguard Data About Customers against loss, theft, and misuse as well as unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration, and destruction. While they claim to follow generally accepted standards to protect information, including the use of secure socket layer (SSL) technology, no method of storage or transmission is 100 percent secure. Users are solely responsible for protecting their passwords, limiting access to their computers, and signing out of the services after their sessions.
Clients of Salesforce are not permitted to send unsolicited messages or emails through their system. When a list is designated as “confirmed opt-in,” Salesforce’s system automatically sends a follow-up email message to each subscriber. The recipient then verifies whether or not they wish to receive communications via email message. Future mailings will only be sent to subscribers who responded affirmatively.
You can read more about Salesforce’s spam policy here.
Given the lack of a free trial and the difficulty of scheduling a timely demo, it’s a difficult program to casually evaluate. Salesforce Marketing Cloud is best thought of as more of an overall platform solution than as a simple email marketing program. If you’re a small company looking to send out newsletters or the occasional event notification, this is way more software than you need to get the job done.
On the other hand, if you’re a mid-to-large company with a dedicated tech support team (or at least a tech-savvy marketing team), Salesforce can provide you with a virtual treasure chest of marketing tools.
The biggest stumbling blocks for this product are its (hidden) costs and slow, uneven customer service. If none of those things deter you, Salesforce has a tremendous amount to offer.
To learn more about how we score our reviews, see our Email Marketing Software Rating Criteria.