For the past five years, Salesforce and Adobe have regularly topped our list of the most used primary marketing technology platforms in companies. But this year, Microsoft came out of nowhere to take the top place.

In our annual “State of Digital Marketing” survey, we asked companies what their primary digital marketing platform was, giving them a choice between the top players in the space. Most companies rely on a primary digital marketing platform or suite to orchestrate the majority of their digital marketing strategies. These platforms usually have a core application (typically email or web management) with integrated add-ons for managing other channels such as web publishing, advertising and analytics.

In past years, the “big 4” enterprise marketing technology players (Salesforce, Adobe, Oracle, and IBM) have accounted for most of the market share. However, this year, Microsoft shot to the top as the most popular primary martech platform (26%) marginally ahead of Salesforce (25%), the previous year’s leader.

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Admittedly, this came as a bit of a shock. Salesforce, Adobe (and Oracle to a lesser extent) are well known for their best-in-class offerings for digital marketers, with each one claiming to offer more tools and integrations than the other. Microsoft wasn’t even in the picture, unless you count its well-regarded CRM platform Dynamics, a direct competitor to Salesforce’s legacy CRM platform. Microsoft’s marketing automation offering is a direct add-on to its Dynamics CRM, with features for email marketing, customized landing pages, segment analysis and limited multi-channel orchestration. It’s a direct competitor to Adobe’s Campaign and Marketo, Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud and Oracle’s Eloqua.

However, upon closer scrutiny of the responses, these results varied quite a bit by different geographies. In the US, Salesforce was easily number one (39%), followed by Adobe (19%) and Microsoft (15%) which is consistent with what we have been observing in the market.

When you get to Europe (in this case UK, France and Germany), Microsoft was well ahead of everyone else, and even IBM had a stronger showing outside of the US. We believe this is the reason the overall results are skewing towards Microsoft as the overall leader.

This shows that Microsoft’s strategy for its digital marketing solution has really been to compete in markets where Salesforce and Adobe don’t have as much footprint, and their branding around digital marketing innovation is more diluted. Couple that with its sizeable foothold in other business tech (productivity, work suite etc, cloud storage) it makes sense that Microsoft could capture a huge chunk of the market with its sheer scale and strong claims for an integrated suite. Even if the Microsoft marketing automation solution isn’t quite as innovative as Salesforce or Adobe’s, these factors would be enough for it to do some real damage to competitors’ market share.

Download Altimeter’s “2020 State of Digital Marketing” report for even more benchmarks, insights and stats on digital marketing.