What’s Missing from Salesforce Customer Data Platform?


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After Salesforce denounced the need and longevity of the customer data platform , they’re announcing one of their own. The claim is that there is a need for “Enterprise-grade CDP” – one platform to rule them all. By defining their vision, Salesforce does in many ways help clarify where CDPs fit in the tech stack, and how they could be used to ultimately create compelling customer experiences for consumers. Customer Data Platforms may be the technology category with the most variance across vendors, with one product looking a lot like BI, one like marketing automation, and the next bordering on master data management (MDM). So I welcome any large cloud provider like Oracle CX Unity or Salesforce raising awareness of the category and guiding the market toward a standard definition.

However, Salesforce’s vision statement also adds to the confusion. I see several gaps, or details that were left out or intentionally overlooked, that will mislead the market toward the CDP that Salesforce wants you to see.

Definition of “Enterprise-Grade” Customer Data Platform

Salesforce claims to “deliver the first real enterprise-grade CDP.” But what makes a platform enterprise-grade? It is scalability, flexibility, and trust.

First, scalability is critical to a customer data platform. Customer data growth is exponential across volume, variety, velocity, and veracity. The platform must be able to handle massive loads of customer data at once and respond as the data changes. Data storage, matching and validation pipelines, and APIs all must be built for scale. Imagine the data from several enterprise CRMs, marketing automation platforms, dozens of third-party data providers, and data lakes all synced and managed by a single platform. That’s enterprise scale.  

Second is an open platform that’s flexible to the customization large enterprises require — purpose-built interfaces, APIs with broad endpoints and detailed documentation, and transparent processes. While the use cases can be generalized to terms like ‘data management’ and ’segmentation,’ each enterprise is a snowflake with unique needs.  

Lastly is trust built from a focus on security, privacy, and responsibility. Enterprises across every industry often claim they are becoming technology and data companies. Customer data has become their most precious asset. Platforms must have security and privacy as a pillar to both their technology and ethos to work with enterprises. They also must showcase the values enterprises so desperately as trying to encompass. Is positive impact part of the pitch? Are you using data for good versus evil? How are you giving back?

No knock on Salesforce here. They’re gods of the enterprise cloud. They have enterprise solutions and have mastered selling them. I look forward to seeing if their CDP lives up to the criteria of enterprise-grade.

Where’s the “Data Platform”?

Breaking down a Customer Data Platform into its various parts and where it sits across your technology suite is a worthy exercise. Salesforce lists “Insights Platform” and “Engagement Platform” as the two things marketers want. They understate the foundation to both insight and engagement – and that’s data.

CMO, CIO, and CDOs first phase is operational efficiency. How can we clean up and unify the data we have, augment it with critical data we don’t have, and then use our mastered data to improve our decisions as an organization? These actions can be very tactical, like enriching CRM data, or very strategic, like migrating from on-premise data lakes to cloud data management. Next is differentiating with rich customer experience. How do we use the master customer data to create faster, more personalized, delightful experiences for our customers?

Building platforms on top of a shaky foundation put big promises for customer experience at risk. End-to-end Customer Data Platforms must fully commit to their role in data transformation.

Revenue Operations Inefficiency

Let’s piggyback on the importance of enterprise-grade characteristics and “data platform” specific capabilities. CDPs that address fundamental data accuracy and unification open up a smattering of other use cases under the umbrella we call Revenue Ops. Data is essential to the revenue-focused responsibilities of operations experts who:

  • Formulate go-to-market strategies
  • Optimize sales and marketing processes
  • Implement technologies and manage their workflows
  • Deliver data across organizations and systems

A sales ops team with a CDP that offers a robust data management toolset can do better routing, territory planning, forecasting, and strategic planning. Data teams can use CDPs to find data redundancies across internal and external sources that lead to significant cost savings. Strategic groups concerned with data portability can use the open, scalable data infrastructure of a CDP to break down enterprise-wide silos for a broad set of needs. We see customers using CDPs to migrate from one system to another (CRM to CRM), manage M&A go-to-market integration (i.e., customer overlap, joint-market planning, system consolidation), and even analyze shared opportunities with partners.

Is Salesforce definition of a CDP too narrow? They could make the argument that all these technical solutions are in pursuit of better customer experience. We believe the applications and gains for revenue ops are so significant that they deserve their own call out.

Nothing B2B CDP Specific

As usual, solutions built for B2B are always an afterthought. While some technologies can serve both those targeting consumers and businesses, Customer Data Platforms do not translate well. An email to a consumer is not all that different than an email to a business buyer. A consumer website visitor who converts in a shopping cart is tracked similarly to a business buyer that converts on a demo request landing page. Both B2C and B2B CDPS are in pursuit of a single view of the customer, but the tech required to handle the complexity a B2B data is wildly different.

Data architecture in B2B is built to ingest, match, resolve, and manage a variety of data types: business records, hierarchies, buying centers and locations, contacts, departments, intent data, behavioral data, and countless others. To create a high-performing platform tuned to business data requires years of dedicated work from expert data scientists and engineers. Moreover, unlike their empty-box B2C counterparts, B2B CDPs often come with external data accessible within the platforms. This data is used for enrichment, total address market analysis, segmentation, audience activation, and prospecting lists.  

Experts in CDPs generally agree that B2C CDPs are weaker on:

  • Third-party data on-boarding
  • Proprietary prospect data sourcing
  • Data stewardship (hygiene, enrichment)
  • Rich top-down profiles of business and contacts

Salesforce’s vision for their CDP isn’t wrong. However, it lacks detail and does not encapsulate the broad applications and technologies that have become known as Customer Data Platforms.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

John Hurley
Modern marketing leader defining a new category of enterprise technology. Startup mentor, former founder, and life-long marketer. Joined Radius founding team 6+ years ago.


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