Should Customer Data Platforms Be “Marketer-Controlled”?


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Thomas Wieberneit argues in a thoughtful blog post that companies need one platform for consolidated customer data, but that Customer Data Platform isn’t it because the CDP is “marketer-controlled” by definition, and thus doesn’t support other departments.

This hits a nerve. Many of the CDP vendors have told me their systems are used outside of marketing. Just last week, RedPoint unveiled a “Customer Engagement Hub”* that it defines as extending beyond marketing to all customer touchpoints. When I was recently writing a paper for B2B CDP CaliberMind, they listed sales and customer success teams along with marketing as likely buyers of their product.

As these examples suggest, CDP technology can support all customer-facing departments. It’s true that different departmental applications will probably need the CDP data to be presented slightly differently. But applications within marketing also need different formats, and it’s already standard for CDPs to reformat their data for access by external systems. So there’s no technical reason to limit CDPs to marketing.

Indeed, as I argued in my last blog post, the era of isolated marketing technology systems may be coming to an end as companies return to centralized systems to ensure a seamlessly integrated customer experience. In this world, the CDP is a shared enterprise asset, and, as such, clearly not something that marketers build and control for themselves.

So what’s holding me back from changing the definition? Three things:

  • History. The fact is that CDPs evolved from systems that were built specifically for marketing. This matters because it means marketing needs drove their design. CDPs built to support sales or customer success teams would probably look a bit different, even if they used the same underlying technology. To give a concrete example, systems built for customer success don’t need to advanced identity resolution because almost all the data they care about arrives with a customer ID attached. I know that history by itself isn’t a good reason to retain the marketer-centric definition of CDP since CDPs have outgrown their origins. But it doesn’t hurt to have something remind users outside of marketing that they should look closely at whether any particular CDP can fully support their needs.

  • User control. The primary reason the CDP definition includes “marketer-controlled” is to distinguish CDPs from enterprise data warehouse (or data lake) projects run by corporate IT. That matters because such projects were historically multi-year undertakings that often failed altogether or required so many compromises among enterprise stakeholders that they didn’t meet all of marketing’s particular needs. Moreover, once built, such systems were slow and costly to update, so they didn’t adapt quickly to marketers’ fast-changing environment. This responsiveness is really the biggest change that CDPs introduced into the world of customer data management. As I noted earlier, department-controlled systems may soon be lost in a new round of centralization.  In theory, these new central systems will be vastly more responsive to user needs than the old central systems. But if I were a marketer, I’d be reluctant to give up my own systems until the new ones had proven their agility in practice.

  • Departmental buyers. Whatever the long-term future of centralization, CDPs today are almost always bought by departments.  Even when corporate IT groups are managing the process, they are generally reacting to requests from departmental users rather than executing an enterprise master plan of their own. And when you start looking at which departments are making these purchases, marketing is by far the leader.  It’s true that other departments often find uses for a CDP once it’s deployed. Whether marketers really share control of their CDPs when this happens or simply treat other users as guests, I can’t say. From a seller’s standpoint, I can certainly see companies offering their technology in packages aimed at enterprise buyers, which is exactly what RedPoint just did. But abandoning the large marketing-department segment for the nascent enterprise-buyer segment doesn’t sound like a good idea.

So it seems I’ve backed myself into a corner. CDP technologies work at the enterprise level and, logically, CDPs should be enterprise assets. But the main buyers of CDPs are marketing departments and the CDPs’ main attraction is departmental control.  So redefining the CDP as an enterprise system would probably reduce its appeal even though it was technically accurate. Replacing “marketer-controlled” with “user-controlled” or “department-controlled” would broaden the scope but still doesn’t describe an enterprise-wide role. We could drop “control” from the definition and get to the heart of the matter, which is responsiveness – so instead of “marketer-controlled” we could have something like “agile” or, more concretely, “easily changed”. But those seem too vague to be useful.

I’m tempted to offer something truly lame, like “Enterprise CDP” as an alternative to plain or Departmental CDP.  It might come to that, or I might ultimately just drop “marketer-controlled” without replacing it. After all, if enterprise systems really do become flexible enough to meet departmental needs in a way that past enterprise data warehouse projects did not, then the distinction will no longer matter.

Bottom line: I’ll leave “marketer-controlled” in place for now but suspect its days are numbered.


*CEH is a Gartner term, which they define as “an architectural framework that ties multiple systems together to optimally engage the customer. A CEH allows personalized, contextual customer engagement, whether through a human, artificial agent, or sensors, across all interaction channels. It reaches and connects all departments, allowing, for example, the synchronization of marketing, sales and customer service processes. As the term “hub” implies, this definition doesn’t specify creation of a persistent database, something I believe is required to build an effective customer profile. Come to think of it, I’m not sure that “architectural framework” is a system at all. 


  1. It’s true that customer data platforms, like CRM systems, are used by numerous other departments besides marketing. However, when you consider that customer-related data is derived from Enterprise Resource Planning, Supply Chain Management, Customer Service and other transactional business systems not to mention external sources, as well), the challenge of managing that data really becomes more of an enterprise- (versus marketing-controlled) endeavor. As a matter of fact, we’re seeing more CFOs get involved in the creation and execution of cross-enterprise, team-based strategies surrounding customer data platforms and customer data management.


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