Salesforce, a cloud-based CRM company, says it has tripled its return on ad spend when using an analytics tool to focus on the prospects most likely to purchase its software. Inc.—a 19-year-old firm with $10 billion in sales, its name on offices around the world and its headquarters at Salesforce Tower, the tallest building in San Francisco—still has to work hard like anyone else to reach the right customers.

Salesforce starts with the analytics

The trick is to find ways to more quickly identify prospects with a high tendency to buy something, says Ben Howell, senior director of demand generation. “We use analytics as a flashlight to shine on companies we should focus on, because we know of their interest,” he says.

We use analytics as a flashlight to shine on companies we should focus on, because we know of their interest.
Ben Howell, senior director, demand generation Inc.

Since deploying a new marketing analytics tool in January 2017, Salesforce has produced such metrics as a 270% increase in converting marketing prospects to buyers, resulting in a 200% increase in a return on ad spend, Howell says. If Salesforce spends $1,000 on targeted ads using its marketing analytics tool, it averages a $3,000 increase in sales compared to when it doesn’t use that marketing tool, he adds.

The marketing analytics tool, Company Surge from Bombora Inc., uses an online database that compiles the web-browsing activity of some 3.5 million companies across thousands of websites. The websites feature content on about 4,500 topics related to business and industrial products and services.

Salesforce uses Bombora to find an interested audience

When Salesforce wants to run online or print ads for one of its cloud-based software products, such as Sales Cloud for sales agents or Service Cloud for customer service departments, it pulls from the Bombora database names of companies whose personnel have recently increased their visits to websites featuring content on software tools for sales teams and customer service reps.


Bombora doesn’t identify the individuals who have visited particular content sites. But because many of these people browse the content sites from their workplace computers, Bombora records their corporate internet domain names.

Salesforce logs onto a Bombora online dashboard, where it can view heat maps and reports showing increases in online visits to particular types of content. It can pull lists of company names associated with visits to content related to its products—such as news articles on or white papers on a business research site—then use its own marketing tools to run online, print and direct-mail ad campaigns targeting the identified companies. Targeted online ads may include campaigns on Google and Facebook designed to reach particular companies, Howell says.

In some cases, Salesforce will also have in its CRM system records of individuals and their contact information at the identified companies, and will then reach out to them with personalized marketing messages.

“My goal is to get them to click on ads that brings them to a web page to learn more about our products” and make a purchase, Howell says. “Once they click on ads, we then try to push them to higher-converting assets—for example, online demos and offers of software trials that have better conversion rates.” He adds that this has helped to drive more sales through online self-service purchasing as well as through sales reps who can focus more on prospects likely to complete an order. “When reps know a prospect has clicked on content in a Bombora campaign, they know there’s a good rate of purchasing,” he says.


Audience development is an ever-evolving strategy

Since deploying the Bombora tool, Salesforce has learned ways to get more out of it, Howell says. For example, Salesforce also uses its own Einstein artificial intelligence software to monitor traffic on its website and identify lists of new or existing customers who appear by their browsing behavior to be ready to make a purchase.

“We may get a list of 1,000 names that Einstein says we should try to sell our Service Cloud software to,” Howell says. Salesforce will launch paid search ads, direct mail and social media ad campaigns against that list, and then also use Bombora to identify and further target companies on the list who subsequently increased their visits to related content sites. “We use Bombora to see if we should focus on some companies more than others,” he says.

Bombora makes its technology available under a software-as-a-service model, which lets clients access it via a web browser without having to install it on their own servers. The company doesn’t publicize the cost of running its software, which is based on the number of topics a client tracks.

Bombora requires its direct clients to subscribe to 25 or more topics, a threshold that typically appeals to large companies with big marketing budgets, says Charles Crnoevich, Bombora’s head of partnerships. Clients can either purchase Bombora’s software directly from Bombora, or through marketing services firms they may already be using, such as Everstring, Marketo, Radius and Terminus, he adds.


Small and mid-size businesses with more modest marketing budgets can subscribe to just a few topics by working with marketing services firms that cater to SMBs, including Contanuity and Signal HQ, Crnoevich says.

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