Marketing owns the Customer Data! Does it?


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The customer, the elusive entity that every business is about – or at least should be about.

The customer gets targeted, marketed to, sold to, serviced, analysed, shall have a positive customer experience, and sometimes even is made happy.

The ‘customer’ as an entity is owned by the marketing department, err, the service department, oops, sales … or is it IT? After all IT is likely to run the CRM system. If it is not a cloud system, that is.

In reality it is different in every company and probably rightfully so.

On the other hand every department has their own requirements and the ‘owner’ of an entity is likely the one who decides upon the relative priorities of these requirements. And the fulfillment of requirements regularly decides upon the effectiveness and efficiency a business unit can operate with.

Now the marketing department is heavily invested in collecting all data that a customer leaves behind in order to understand behaviours and be able to entice known and unknown customers into buying (in the case of a B2C business) or solidifying the lead to an extent that it can be handed over to the sales department (in case of a B2B business). They are interested in lots of attributes, segmentation, slicing and dicing towards various dimensions. Born were Data Management Platforms, and Customer Data Platforms, and overall a very thriving industry of Marketing Technology.

The sales department now is interested in opportunity management, CPQ (configure, price, quote), relationship with the buyers and their potential influencers, closing the deal as efficiently as possible. Born is a world of sales support software.

The service departments are mainly dealing with customers post sales, or when there are questions/issues coming up in the course of the buying journey, trying to resolve them as efficient as possible. This helped the creation of more classes of enterprise software.

These times it is easy to purchase and deploy them, with the help of the cloud and decentralized budgets.

All these types of software regularly have their own data store and, of course, different data models. And, as they are often implemented locally, they are also not integrated, with all the negative consequences this has.

As the ‘customer’ is one important piece of the enterprise data model an important consequence is that suddenly there is different customer information at different places. There is no single ‘truth’ anymore, not even different views on the same data, just different data with little chance of consolidation that is left.

But, in the context of their own jobs (to be done) the individual departments get closer to their optimal process.

Just that this optimal process is not likely to be close to a global optimum, which would be defined around the customer’s job to be done.

The Solution?

Given all this: Who should own the customer and the customer data? Someone needs to.

I would argue that it should not be a single business unit. They have their local objectives (which are not always directly inferred from global objectives) and tend to prioritise their own goals over other business units’ goals; and they surely do not have the skills necessary for proper data modeling.

I would also argue that it is neither a group. This normally leads to no one feeling accountable and thus will not yield results.

In conclusion this leaves a department that delivers a service to the other business units. As we are talking technology here the logical candidate is IT.

The precondition for this to work is that the CIO sees him-/herself as an enabler to the business, and conversely also is expected to be in this role.

Dilbert and Mordac; source Scott Adams

Dilbert and Mordac; source Scott Adams

A CIO these digital ages needs to be on the forefront of the business transformation that any digital transformation is. And the enterprise data model as part of an enterprise architecture is part of this.

Am I dogmatic about this? No, as long as the enterprise architecture is part of a cross-business strategic unit – and has a cross-business governance body to ensure proper direction.

And it needs to stay nimble. This I am dogmatic about, because, in an adaptation of an SAP slogan: IT and business must run at the speed of the customer.

A tall order.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Thomas Wieberneit

Thomas helps organisations of different industries and sizes to unlock their potential through digital transformation initiatives using a Think Big - Act Small approach. He is a long standing CRM practitioner, covering sales, marketing, service, collaboration, customer engagement and -experience. Coming from the technology side Thomas has the ability to translate business needs into technology solutions that add value. In his successful leadership positions and consulting engagements he has initiated, designed and implemented transformational change and delivered mission critical systems.


  1. As most departments mentioned to use customer data (Marketing, Sales, Customer Service) reside under the Chief Commercial Officer, I would nominate him/her. After all IT couldn’t care less about which data is stored on a customer, as long as the way in which it is done and the way it fits in the enterprise architecture make sense in the overall picture.

  2. The caveat that “The precondition for this to work is that the CIO sees him-/herself as an enabler to the business, and conversely also is expected to be in this role.” is a critical point. If this is not true, the departments attempting to use the customer data will still not have a repository of customer data they can rely on.

    I contend the Chief Customer Officer should be the “owner” of the customer data.

  3. CRMco72, Brenda, thanks for reading my article and your replies. So, let’s spur a discussion.

    @CRM – I am yet to come across a company that has s Chief Commercial Officer (other than the CEO), but you are right that some CIOs – voluntarily by their own choice or involuntarily, because of being pushed into that role by the business org – only care about ‘keeping the lights on’. As IT is one of THE fundamental business enablers today’s CIO’s role has to be far more strategic. A CIO that exhibits the ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude as you described it is the wrong person at the wrong place – and in the wrong time.

    @Brenda – yes, this caveat is important, crucial, even. However, a company that has a CIO who is not an enabler of business … has the wrong CIO, or hasn’t charged him/her with the right job. The Chief Customer Officer has been discussed in the past years, as was the Chief Digital Officer, regularly coming to one of two results: 1) it is a newly created role that needs a new person and organization fulfilling it. 2) The Head of marketing assumes this role. I think that both are wrong, as the first one is a temporary role (like the CDO); the second one I already argued against in the article.

    What it needs is the head of a strategic department that provides service to the whole business, and that has a strategic supervisory board. As nearly everything revolves around data and IT in one form or the other and as I think that the creation of an additional (likely temporary role) has the high risk of creating another silo, I am convinced that the CIO is in the right role and position. After all we do not want to create too much overhead, either.

    Thanks for your thoughts again


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