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Salesforce pulls plug on Connections conference

January 20, 2017

Connections, the popular digital marketing conference that ExactTarget launched in 2007, is dissolving.

Salesforce, which acquired ExactTarget in 2013, said in a blog post last week that it was merging the paid, multi-day conference with its flagship San Francisco conference—Dreamforce—and its traveling Salesforce World Tour events.

The decision prompted criticism from Connections fans across social media, and lament from a few local marketing leaders.

"Connections was unique, and it grew quickly because it was all about educating the marketer, empowering the marketer and celebrating the marketer," said Susan Marshall, CEO of the local digital marketing software company Torchlite.

"Attendees were willing to fly to Indianapolis, Indiana, from New York, San Francisco and all over just because there really wasn't anything like it."

Connections spent its first eight years in Indianapolis before Salesforce moved it to New York in 2015 and Atlanta in 2016. It drew nearly 10,000 people its last year in Indianapolis, local tourism officials said.

Connections 2017 was scheduled to take place in Chicago on June 13-15, but now there only will be a free Salesforce World Tour event there on June 15.

With Connections going away, Salesforce said the "marketing footprint" at Dreamforce and Salesforce World Tour events will expand dramatically with more keynotes, breakout sessions and training.

Salesforce declined phone interview requests, but its blog post suggested the move stemmed from the changing nature of marketers. It cited Forrester data that said two-thirds of chief marketing officers now have responsibility for the entire customer experience—including sales, service and marketing—and it wanted to "give marketers the opportunity to build tighter connections with our entire global community."

But Connections fans didn't seem assuaged. Eliot Harper, chief innovation officer at Australia-based Digital Logic, expressed his displeasure on LinkedIn by writing an open letter to Julie Liegl, senior vice president of Salesforce strategic events.

"There are other annual events for Salesforce users, including Destination Success for training and certification, TrailheaDX for developers, and Higher Ed Summit for higher education customers," he wrote. "These special interest events are independent of Dreamforce because they need to be. And so does Connections."

Scott McCorkle was CEO of Salesforce Marketing Cloud from the summer of 2014 to the summer of 2016, and, as such, was involved in coordinating Connections. In a recent interview, he said the company's decision wasn't made when he was still there, but it was always open for discussion.

"Nothing was ever just assumed that it would keep happening because it always happened," he said.

In another part of the conversation, McCorkle said: "As products become more integrated, customers want to see everything together across the entire Salesforce platform. I think it's just part of how things change and evolve."

Doug Karr, founder of the MarTech Blog, said he was disappointed to see Connections leave after 2014, and he unsuccessfully attempted to get city leaders on board with devising another Indianapolis-based digital marketing conference.

He said he's still interested in putting his resources behind an event, which makes sense given the fact that global companies like Salesforce, Oracle, and Emarsys and emerging marketing software outfits like SmarterHQ and Sigtr all have operations here.

"How can you promote yourself as a MarTech city without a MarTech event???" he said in an email.

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