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Inside Ted Cruz's presidential campaign management software strategy

Sen. Ted Cruz didn't clinch the Republican nomination, but not for lack of technology. Campaign management software on Salesforce tracked donations, volunteers and voters.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz finished second in the Republican primary for president earlier this year, giving Donald Trump...

a run for his money. Behind all of the handshaking, selfies and town hall visits for Cruz's campaign was a sophisticated CRM system designed for political campaigns.  

Campaign management software has become a critical tool in politics, as the work behind the scenes is just as important as the politicians' ability to interact with voters and the media.

In the roughly 14 months from when Cruz announced his candidacy for president in March 2015 to when he withdrew in May 2016, the campaign managed more than $92 million in donations from more than 500,000 donors who contributed more than 1.5 million times. The campaign management software, built by CFB Strategies, also tracked more than 300,000 volunteers, stored more than 21 million records and over one million emails.

"With [CFB Strategies], one of the biggest assets is it's tailored to what you want to do with the data and you can create reports within Salesforce," said Dana Parish, a Texas-based political finance consultant, who has worked on several Texas political campaigns, including Cruz's Republican Primary run.

The campaign management software market is growing, with companies such as Polis, Trail Blazer Campaign Services Inc. and NationBuilder all trying to make managing the many data points of a campaign easier.

"Most campaigns are learning that they need a system to manage everything all in one place," said Trace Anderson, co-founder and president at CFB Strategies, which builds campaign-specific CRMs off of Salesforce.com's platform.

As technology changes and people realize the value it can add to their campaign, whether that's targeting voters or raising money or tracking volunteers or capturing grassroots, CRM software is becoming essential.
Trace Andersonco-founder and president, CFB Strategies

Founded in 2008, New York-based CFB Strategies has worked the gamut of political campaigns, ranging from city council races to presidential races, and every step in between. The company began with its own database and software, but in 2010 realized that to scale properly and keep up with new technologies, it needed to partner with another cloud-based system, choosing the industry giant, Salesforce. Using the Salesforce platform, CFB Strategies built a Campaign Cloud to help organize the information necessary for a campaign.

"It allowed us to take our campaign knowledge and specific objects we built and build it on top of [Salesforce's] platform," Anderson said.

The company also created a specific tool for crowd funding, with a "CruzCrowd" page that allowed donors to earn Revolutionary War-themed badges depending on benchmarks donors could hit. For example, a donor would receive a "Boston Tea Party" badge after their "militia" or group of donors that joined their page reached $50 in donations.

'Our biggest competitor is Excel'

While some similarities exist between running a successful campaign and running a successful company, some key components could be lost in translation, Anderson said.

"Campaigns use different lingo and accomplish different objectives than in a traditional corporate setting," he said. "The biggest problem I've found is the people who work on the Salesforce side and those in the campaign world speak entirely different languages. We've taken those objects that already exist in the Salesforce database and translated them and customized them for campaigns. A lot of the time that's just renaming things and restructuring how they should flow."

Prior to implementing campaign management software in 2012, Anderson said the Cruz campaign operated primarily on Excel spreadsheets.

"We like to joke that our biggest competitor is Excel, and believe it or not there are a lot of campaigns that still operate that way," Anderson said. "There will be 30 different spreadsheets that track voters and donations and volunteers. It was a very old-school approach to do things. As a general rule, I've found that the political world is about seven years behind the business world when adopting technology."

CFB Strategies has to scale for the amount of data points that come in on a presidential race compared to a contested council seat, but besides that, the foundation of the campaign management software remained the same.

Salesforce allows CFB to customize its campaign management system and add data storage as needed.

Managing the Cruz campaign data

One of the difficulties with managing all the data points on a campaign like Ted Cruz's is the similarities between them, such as common voter names or addresses, Parish said.

"Finding a person through several different ways is really helpful when looking for specific data," Parish said, adding that while on the campaign, Salesforce was open on her devices the entire time, acting as a smart address book to target specific donors across the country. "We used it a lot with quarterly reports, showing maps where we were raising money [and] who the top fundraisers were."

Having joined Cruz's team in 2012, CFB Strategies' software was in place when Cruz made his presidential candidacy announcement in 2015. CFB Strategies moved the system away from spreadsheets and disjointed, disconnected data points and toward integrated volunteer, donor and voter databases.

"For the presidential race specifically, we were tasked with building out their fundraising infrastructure and grassroots infrastructure for their campaign," Anderson said. "So well ahead of time we had to think about all the different channels of fundraising and the different channels of grassroots solicitation. There are a lot of different technology vendors doing different things on the campaign and that data had to all come somewhere and reside. We had to design and create a system where that data would flow to."

CFB Strategies doesn't implement its campaign management software and expect everything to go swimmingly. Rather, there is a learning curve, especially for larger campaigns, so consulting is necessary.

"There's usually a big translation problem for a lot of clients," Anderson said. "They need to learn how to use it properly."

And while Cruz didn't receive the Republican nomination, it wasn't for a lack of technology.

"You're starting to see the industry grow, with companies like NationBuilder and others," Anderson said. "As technology changes and people realize the value it can add to their campaign, whether that's targeting voters or raising money or tracking volunteers or capturing grassroots, CRM software is becoming essential."

CFB Strategies Campaign Cloud costs $199 per organization per month, the same price as another campaign management tool, NationBuilder.

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As with much else in business and life, no matter how good your tech may be, or how thorough your research, or how deep your database, you still can't succeed if your ideas fall short. All his software seems to have kept Cruz going in the face of unprecedented derision but ultimately it was his ideas that brought him to a standstill. The lesson in all that? Step out of your echo chamber long enough to assure your product is worthy of the market. Then start your pitch.
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