The Future of Retail: Q&A with Salesforce's Retail Leader Ben Cesare

As digital commerce proliferates, consumer expectations for shopping ease, speed, and personalization continue to grow and define the future of Retail. Omni-channel digital commerce is an increasingly important differentiator for Retailers, who are leveraging platform solutions to provide the functionality, agility, and scale needed to create better experiences for customers and employees alike. And as we found out in our annual report about how the best companies use the world’s #1 CRM, The State of Salesforce, the best companies are combining Salesforce Commerce with other Salesforce Clouds and adopting emerging technologies that unify the end-to-end customer experience, both in-store and online.

To explore more about what digital commerce, AI, and the Salesforce and IBM partnership mean for the future of retail, we interviewed Ben Cesare, Retail Industry Solution Lead at Salesforce, who works with multiple teams to solve the most pressing issues for retailers leveraging the Salesforce Platform and Ecosystem.

  • In recent years, the relationship dynamics between customers and brands have been evolving. Ben, what do you see shifting, and from your point of view, what's driving this change?

    Historically, relationships between brands and customers were based on advertising, usage, and overall brand experience. Much of this is true today. However, brands can have a much richer connection to customers via an ever-increasing amount of touchpoints: Social and Mobile are immediate destinations, but these experiences are now powered and extended by richer content –video, voice, reviews– and contextualized for the benefit of the customer. This makes it necessary for retailers to augment current methods with new approaches to understanding and connecting with customers in a whole new way.
  • Where is the biggest, most immediate opportunity for retailers and consumer goods companies to make an impact?

    I believe it is all about being customer-centric. This surfaces with an increase in contextual selling, multi-channel approaches, and highly personalized experiences. Brands have to make those connections where customers are spending their time, but it must have a high degree of relevance to the customer.  In short, the more relevant the message shared in the right places can make the difference between adding to the noise in the market or rising above the ever-increasing amount of media with messaging that matters.
  • There's a lot of talk about using customer data to create better experiences. How is the Salesforce and IBM partnership uniquely suited to help retailers and consumer brands excel in data activation?

    There sure is an amazing amount of data available to retailers today! The challenge is making it useful to the point where you can create relevant customer experiences while driving operational and business success for the retailer. Superior customer experience at the expense of the retailer does not provide the win-win we look for.  Therefore, we focus on two distinct paths when looking at data. First, we must identify what is really relevant to the customer; the right product, right price, right place is a good starting point. And, extending it to great service and creating a platform where you continually learn about the customer throughout the entire experience journey is key to lifetime customer value. With Salesforce and our Customer Success Platform, we ensure a great experience from Marketing to Commerce to Service - all powered by the right forms of data.  So what type of data informs our Engagement layer?  This is where our partnership shines and IBM's strength in understanding the value chain brings a higher level of meaning to the customer; To get it right, we must look at several systems of record: Social data, merchandise/assortment, pricing, cohort, and of course historical transactional data. By combining this data with a superior system of engagement, we can surface the best insights that power the right promotions to the right customer segments; And when you marry the right data with the best Platform for customer engagement, you have a winning formula.
  • The buzz around AI continues to grow as use cases begin to mature. How should consumer brands think about being strategic with their AI investment for the next 2-3 years?

    There are immediate places where retailers are embracing the advantage of AI: Marketing, Sales and Service are areas where AI-infused predictability advances customer service and trends.  Looking forward, smarter supply chains can be the home where AI and Machine Learning together helps inform operational efficiencies in inventory, distribution, assortment, localization and much more. Smarter systems mitigate risk, make retailers smarter in decision making and have long term impact on key retailer KPIs: Same-store sales, Maintained Gross Margin, Inventory/Turn, Markdowns and much more!  The more retailers learn and apply resources to AI/ML, the better they can reap the rewards of this early stage technology.

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