In October 2017, Salesforce launched its IoT Explorer Edition, which is available as an add-on to the various Salesforce Cloud products. With its ‘low code interface’, it will make the industrial internet of things (IoT) far more accessible, helping even the less technically-minded get the most from their IoT data.

A cloud computing company first and foremost, Salesforce may not be the first name that springs to mind when you think about IoT. However, the company feels it could stand to play an often-overlooked role.

While connected devices generate reams of customer data, that data isn’t always readily available to sales and marketing professionals (i.e., the very people tasked with maintaining customer relationships).

That’s where Salesforce’s new product comes in – it links up that data to customer profiles, leading to better-informed customer service, intelligent marketing strategies, and even proactive sales opportunities.

‘We saw a future where businesses of all sizes could collect data at IoT scale, trigger actions with real-time rules and use the power of Salesforce to proactively engage with customers,” said Woodson Martin, executive vice president and general manager of Salesforce IoT.

Salesforce’s eye for innovation

The company has long had an eye for emerging tech. Having begun life in 1999 as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) startup, it rapidly expanded into all aspects of enterprise technology, acquiring dozens of nascent businesses along the way.

Now a Fortune 500 giant, Salesforce has revenues over $10bn and 28,000 employees around the world. Despite its base of legacy technology, it works hard to maintain its pace of innovation, thinking like the startup it once was rather than the industry behemoth it has become.

To take just a few examples, it started offering platform-as-a-service in 2005, before the term was even invented. It began moving into mobile in 2006, and adopted a ‘mobile first’ approach well ahead of the competition. In 2017, Salesforce was named Forbes Most Innovative company for the seventh year in a row.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, its recent innovation efforts have included a big push into AI and analytics, as well as the IoT. With the so-called ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, or Industry 4.0, already disrupting business models, Salesforce wants to help its customers navigate the changes ahead.

According to a recent article in Fortune, co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff has divided his company’s history into three ‘chapters’. These are the cloud (1999-2009), the customer (2009-2017) and now the Age of Intelligence, which starts in 2018. Conceptually, then, the company is preparing itself for a new era, in which technologies like IoT hit the mainstream.

“Salesforce is turning the Internet of Things into the Internet of Customers”

The move into IoT

Salesforce’s interest in IoT actually began some time ago. At its 2013 Dreamscape conference, Benioff held up his electric toothbrush, which was connected to WiFi and GPS. He claimed the ‘toothbrush of the future’ would enable “a whole new level of transparency with my dentist”, memorably illustrating how ubiquitous he felt IoT would become.

Two years later, Salesforce launched its IoT Cloud, which allowed customers to process their IoT-related data without needing to purchase special hardware.

“Salesforce is turning the Internet of Things into the Internet of Customers,” said Benioff at the time. “The IoT Cloud will allow businesses to create real-time 1:1, proactive actions for sales, service, marketing or any other business process, delivering a new kind of customer success.”

Despite the fanfare accompanying its launch, the product was not then commercially available. A press release stated that “IoT Cloud will be in pilot the first half of 2016 with generally [sic] availability later in the year”. At this stage, it was more about getting a head start on the technology – learning what worked and what didn’t early in the adoption curve.

The next notable milestone came in September 2016, when the company announced its IoT Cloud Einstein. Touted as the ‘next generation in Salesforce IoT Cloud’, it integrated AI and machine learning capabilities to ‘unlock a whole new wave of innovation’.

While Salesforce has had some notable pilot customers (not least Lippert Components, Rehrig Pacific, Emerson and Schneider Electric), the IoT Explorer edition marks the first time its product has become generally available. It can be purchased by any organisation with an enterprise license or above, starting at $6,000 a month.

Proactive sales and service with IoT

IoT Explorer is above all easy to use, allowing businesses to create rules-based automation for any connected device, without needing to know how to code.

For example, an electrics company might want to pre-empt a customer’s new purchase, and create targeted sales campaigns accordingly. One way to do this might be to look at customers’ existing electrical equipment – is that performing optimally or is it time for a replacement?

The IoT Explorer can take that performance capacity data, and trigger a notification when it falls below a certain level. This enables the electrics company to time their sales campaign perfectly.

“As IoT adoption continues to skyrocket, businesses will need to find a way to bridge the gap between their connected devices and their customer service”

Another example might be a renewable energy company, which wants to ensure its wind turbines are generating as much energy as possible. Through setting up an automated workflow, it could note when each turbine’s performance drops and trigger a service call. Then, if the problem becomes recurrent, it may be that some equipment needs replacing. This insight could be used to prompt a sales call.  

Since the precise rules are left to the user, there are probably as many use cases as there are businesses. However, the common theme is clear – Salesforce wants its customers "to sell, service and market in a way that sees round corners". 

After all, as IoT adoption continues to skyrocket, businesses will need to find a way to bridge the gap between their connected devices and their customer service. Salesforce’s product is all about removing siloes, ensuring the investment in IoT truly lives up to its billing.

Background image courtesy of Shutterstock

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