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How Salesforce helped Encyclopaedia Britannica shift from leather-bound books

Scott Carey | June 24, 2016
How the historic company adapted to the democratisation of information in the internet age

The company famed for its leather-bound print legacy has been shifting to digital for the best part of a decade, but its CRM system was holding it back

Around the time that Encyclopaedia Britannica was shutting down its print production, back in 2012, the company was also looking to make a change that would grab less headlines: Shutting down its home-grown customer relationship management (CRM) system in favour of a cloud-based solution from

"The CRM didn't communicate with my other system," explains Michael Ross, senior vice president of Britannica digital learning for US and EMEA. "The CRM didn't communicate with the order entry system, we couldn't get them to talk to different software and code bases, so we had to manually do things. When someone took an order they would print it out and manually move it over."

Ross decided that he needed a tool that was fit for purpose and started to look into the options in the market instead of trying to fix up the existing system. As he puts it: "You really want a system where you can do orders, emails, content marketing," and trying to build this yourself is like "instead of buying a car, you decide to build a car yourself."

Encyclopaedia in the Wikipedia age

As Encyclopaedia Britannica president Jorge Cauz explained to The Guardian back in 2012, the encyclopaedia was already a diminishing part of the company's overall business when they stopped printing. Cauz told The Guardian: "The company has changed from a reference provider to an instructional solutions provider," with 85 percent of the company's revenues coming through its educational products and services, he said.

In shifting to a digital distribution model Ross and his team needed a modern CRM to try and reach its nice customer base of educational institutions.

"We offer all kinds of products, around a dozen educational products that fit a range of needs, from K-12 [shorthand for primary and secondary education in the USA] to university, all across the curriculum. Salesforce allows us to identify those niches and the people behind those disciples a little better," says Ross.

"So a narrow casting instead of a broadcasting model. Salesforce and the internet allows us to be much more global in our reach now. It allows us to get intimate with our customers and address their specific needs more."

In short: What the company has lost in terms of a captive audience for the print product they have gained in scale as information has been democratised on the internet. Much like quality journalism, Ross hopes that people will be willing to pay for quality, curated content, even if it is less than the $1500 people used to pay for a set of encyclopaedia.


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