Q&A: Ashling Kearns, VP EMEA marketing, Salesforce: Why AI can help marketers now

James is editor in chief of TechForge Media, with a passion for how technologies influence business and several Mobile World Congress events under his belt. James has interviewed a variety of leading figures in his career, from former Mafia boss Michael Franzese, to Steve Wozniak, and Jean Michel Jarre. James can be found tweeting at @James_T_Bourne.

Artificial intelligence, as well as more general automation technologies, is impacting marketing in a significant way. The promise of getting more analysis done on marketing data – as well as gleaning greater insights from it – is an irresistible one.

Yet it is not merely a case of flicking a switch and letting the good times roll. Writing for this publication in January, Arun Mani, president of Freshworks Europe, warned of a ‘significant disconnect’ between what customers expect and what brands think they are delivering.

Salesforce, with its Einstein portfolio – as well as its acquisition of Tableau last year – is looking to lead the way in AI for marketing. MarketingTech spoke with Ashling Kearns, vice president of EMEA marketing at Salesforce, around how organisations are looking at AI, how the CMO should respond, and the different types of data available to analyse.

MarketingTech: Hi Ashling. Tell us about your career to date and your role/responsibilities at Salesforce?

Ashling Kearns: As vice president of EMEA marketing at Salesforce, I’m responsible for driving marketing awareness and sales pipe generation across the region. Having joined Salesforce nearly nine years ago, its always been my focus to apply my knowledge to help foster an innovative and high-performing marketing team.

Working in the technology sector for 20 years, I’ve been lucky enough to partner with brands that have helped shape my thinking on the industry, this includes BT Global Services, Microsoft and Avanade. I’ve also had some great mentors over the years. In my early twenties, at the first company I joined after university I was very fortunate to be taken under the wing of the general manager. To this day, I credit him for shaping my views about marketing. He taught me the value of integrated marketing, and the importance of solving for the customer and business.

MT: How are organisations looking at artificial intelligence in their marketing initiatives?

AK: According to our research, 79% of top-performing businesses have been using marketing automation for at least two years. The advantages of artificial intelligence (AI) enhanced marketing are difficult to ignore. AI, when used correctly and integrated with a reliable CRM solution can help address the major challenges faced by marketers. Here are just five key ways AI marketing is being used:

  • Centralised data: AI-enhanced marketing automation can help gather, organise, analyse, and segment valuable marketing data automatically, learning and improving as it goes. The data can then be stored in a single, centralised location, for easy use in marketing campaigns
  • Customer predictions: AI can be taught to recognise which customers are likely to engage, and which are not, and how best to approach every client in order to facilitate an effective one-on-one customer journey
  • Client segmentation: AI can review past actions, consider preferences, and recognise similar behaviours across large customer populations. With this information, marketers can then create campaigns designed to reach a large number of clients, and to do so in a way that is customised and personal on an individual level
  • Marketer productivity: By allowing AI programs to handle various repetitive or time-consuming marketer responsibilities, marketers can focus their talents on bigger concerns. This leads to improved marketer productivity, and more effective marketing in general
  • Timely messaging: Marketing AI keeps track of client preferences, analysing actions and determining when would be the best time to contact clients with greetings, offers, or content

MT: How should the CMO utilise this, delegate it and manage this process – working not just with the marketing team but with other C-suite/heads of department?

AK: Marketing will need to work closely with the IT department, and C-suite for funding, to ensure they’ve got the tools to make AI a success. To get themselves heard, there needs to be a mindset shift where marketing is no longer viewed as a ‘support service’ to the rest of the business, but instead a business partner. Being the leaders in realising the benefits AI can bring to an organisation, there’s a huge opportunity for the CMO to be at the centre of business transformation, as companies of all kinds pivot towards the customer.

To get the best out of data-driven marketing teams, you can’t lead with the kind of target-driven approach that would work for sales – marketing is balancing the short-term with the long-term. As such, marketing leaders need to give people the space and creative freedom to explore AI as a new tool at their disposal.

MT: A lot of success in this discipline comes down to the data at marketers’ disposal. Can you get high quality results without high quality data?

AK: Consumers today are rightly sensitive to how brands use their data. The data economy has seen a real crisis of trust in consumer attitudes to how data is collected, used and stored, and as marketers we need to adapt to that shift if we’re going to continue to utilise data effectively and respectfully.

There is currently an over reliance on cookie and device data, and overuse of second and third-party data sets. As an industry, we need to build and refresh first-part data sets in a way that not only gives customers clarity on the types of data being collected and used, but gives them the ability to control it. Being able to engage with the customer directly in this way – to get their consent at each stage – means brands will win their trust.

This approach is ever more critical as brands being to unite all their sources of customer data into a unified single customer view. This is important for marketers to get the most value out of the data they do have access to, while also being able to make each engagement relevant, personalised and convenient.

MT: What are the skills gaps which exist when it comes to data analytics and marketing teams in your opinion, and how can these be overcome?

AK: The Fourth Industrial Revolution is driving transformation, and that has a massive effect on the skills required of marketing teams. While our State of Service report last year found that improving workforce skills is a top priority, most business or department leaders don’t know where to start.

As part of our Trailhead campaign to support the reskilling of UK workers, we’re contributing to this task by aiming to help 250,000 people across Europe work towards a Salesforce certification by 2022. The platform includes specific courses – or what we call “Trails” – for marketers, whether it’s starting with the basics with learning best practice or learning how to navigate Marketing Cloud. The great thing about platforms like Trailhead, is they’re accessible. They can be done anytime, from anywhere, on any device, and by anyone – no matter their current skill level. This is how we will empower marketers to thrive in the digital economy.

MT: How does Salesforce Einstein link into this? What are the key use cases and is there a good customer story you could mention?

AK: Salesforce Einstein AI is the world’s most comprehensive AI for CRM. Capable of handling massive amounts of client and industry data, and still simple enough to use out of the box without an in-depth understanding of computer science, Einstein is built directly into the Salesforce CRM platform.

Armed with the right skills, marketers can take advantage of Einstein’s unique learning and automation capabilities to improve productivity, identify, and segment target audiences, gather and analyse data, create highly-accurate customer predictions, and predict the optimal timing, channel, content and audience for any marketing message.

For example, since adopting Salesforce in 2006, KONE sales professionals in more than 55 countries have used Salesforce to manage opportunities, payments, and orders for both new equipment sales and service contracts. KONE is also working with Salesforce Einstein and IBM Watson IoT to create a single, end-to-end system for KONE technicians that will detect equipment problems and generate automated work orders within Salesforce.

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