Industry experts weigh up Salesforce CDP impact

Salesforce’s launch of a CDP is in response to a continually evolving customer, its AVP of data and audiences tells CMO

Salesforce’s launch of a customer data platform (CDP) shows the vendor playing catch up while also delivering a targeted response to the evolving customer engagement approach, industry pundits claim.

Salesforce officially debuted its CDP offer at its Connections event in Chicago in June as a way to enable companies to unify customer data, manage identity and consent, segment and activate audiences, and optimise. The platform is being integrated with the vendor’s Customer 360’s artificial intelligence (AI)-powered insights.

Speaking to CMO following its launch, Salesforce AVP of data and audiences, Jo Gaines, said the platform is a response to a continually evolving customer. The vendor is claiming Customer 360 will go beyond traditional CDP capabilities and extend the power of CRM with consumer-scale data management and activation. 

Gaines, who was managing director of data management platform vendor, Krux, when it was acquired by Salesforce, said the CDP approach is based on evolving customer need. 

“Back in the DMP early days, it was very much about helping customers to manage frequency, see where their money was being spent, what audiences were looking at campaigns. Now, this evolution is requiring access to all the data on a customer in the one place,” she said.  

“It’s not about creating something you have to buy, it’s about connecting up everything you’ve got, and stitching it together. Here’s an easy way to use an identity layer that works across all of it.”

It’s also a move that comes after rival martech enterprise stack vendors, including Adobe and Oracle, commitments to the CDP approach, albeit with different approaches and structures.

“As we know, there are a lot of different ways to communicate with customers, but brands want a view of all of these communications to see what’s most relevant,” Gaines continued. “Analytics is of course part of it, as is a DMP, ad studio, and so on, but using an identity layer brings it all together.

“As the industry evolves, we’ve evolved. We’ve always been good at building based on customer needs. Now, we can use identity right through every aspect, in a safe and private way.”

Founder of Raab & Associates and the CDP Institute, and the man credited with coming up with the CDP category definition itself, David Raab, said Salesforce previously argued you only needed a shared identifier across all source systems to pull together customer profiles on the fly. The fresh CDP announcement shows a commitment to a “proper CDP”, he said.

Read more: The lowdown on customer data platforms

“Separate, persistent profiles are essential for use cases that require looking at customer data over time, such as pulling together AI training sets, running complex segmentations on customer history, tracing identity over time, and watching for trends,” Raab explained.  “Source systems often don’t keep data for as long as you’d like and don’t make what they do keep easily accessible.  Even if source systems did have the data, it would require an impractical amount of real-time processing to assemble, reformat and analyse it.”  

According to Raab, persistence is one of the five true CDP requirements. Others include the ability to ingest data from all sources, retaining all detail, building unified profiles, and sharing the data with any other system. 

On the question of whether Salesforce’ approach will give other CDP providers a run for their money, Raab suggested this was playing catch-up both to holistic martech stack providers, and best-of-breed specialists.

“All serious CDPs long ago adopted persistent profiles, because it’s quite impossible to support core CDP use cases without them. Adobe originally took the on-the-fly approach but switched gears in March 2018 when it announced the Experience Platform,” Raab continued.

“So Salesforce is definitely playing catch-up. In terms of actual availability, Experience Platform was released in March 2019 while CX Unity [from Oracle, announced last October] is still in beta. Salesforce plans to start piloting the advanced form of Customer 360 this US fall, so it remains behind the other marketing clouds. 

“Of course, it is far, far behind the specialist CDP vendors, who have had their products in market for years.  It will be a long time before Salesforce matches the maturity of those systems, even if it does deliver basic CDP functionality.”

What will help is Salesforce is its acquisition of Dataroma last year, which came with persistent CDP capability, Raab said. 

“I understand the Datorama team is heavily involved in Customer 360, so this should give Salesforce a shorter development path than its competitors,” he added.

CEO of Tealium, an early pioneer of the CDP in 2013, Jeff Lunsford, reiterated the vendor’s position as an independent layer within the martech stack.

“As specialised enterprise software propagates throughout the enterprise, companies are also using an increasing number of software applications. Even companies that select an all-in-one suite for customer experience or marketing purposes will typically have 10 more or more very critical systems outside that suite that they want to share data with,” he commented.

“This challenge leads to the logical evolution of a vendor-agnostic, neutral data layer within the enterprise, which sits underneath and orchestrates data flows between various suites and solutions. The neutral data layer helps enterprises overcome classic data silo issues and allows data to flow freely across the organisation.”

CMO of sales enablement platform Showpad, Theresa O’Neil, saw tech giants’ moves to launch CDPs demonstrating the focus B2B companies are placing on creating streamlined, omni-channel customer experiences.

“Once the sales team gets involved, it’s essentially a black box, with zero awareness of who the customer is and a lack of insight into previous interactions with content and other sales materials,” she argued. “With disjointed information, salespeople can’t demonstrate unique business value, which thereby prevents them from hitting quota. And without bottom of the funnel data and analytics, marketing can’t optimise content to support the sales team.

“We need the same data analysis we have at the top of the funnel extended through the bottom of the funnel too. We’re seeing more enterprise players invest in customer data management capabilities for risk of losing their customers with a disjointed omni-channel experience.

“Having prospect data aggregated and centralised from the first interaction will help salespeople and marketers provide an exceptional experience for the customer and at the end of the day, boost revenue.”  

AI’s impact

Meanwhile, the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) is only exacerbating the desire to better harness customer data for improved engagement. Gaines told CMO consumers demand a seamless experience and more brands are using AI to facilitate this via increased personalisation and better use of data. 

“Thirty-five per cent of Adidas sales are based on AI intelligence now, so the applications of AI across lots of different businesses are almost unlimited and brands are taking advantage,” she said.

“Look at McDonalds: It’s gone from being a bricks-and-mortar restaurant, to now offering different experiences, and is using data in a considered way to communicate highly personalised offers, which are not invasive but helpful.”

The key here is to not be creepy, but relevant. “The last best experience is the next experience consumers expect, and as we know the service offered is just as important as the product,” Gaines said.

For those still struggling to make a start in the world of data and personalisation, Gaines advised starting with small gains first, to prove value. 

“We talk about the volume of big data but can’t get good data on small subsets without the big data to begin with, so we need the technology to understand this data,” she said. “But most companies need to be able to show ROI early, so they need to choose a use case they can deliver against. Some things are big transformation projects that are going to take years. So, how can you look for an efficiency story, or a suppression case, to demonstrate value?

“Take what you know about a customer, and if they have an outstanding service ticket, don’t serve them up something, as they are not in the room to buy - that's a suppression case.”  

Another low-hanging fruit is abandoned cart data. “Little wins like that can prove ROI for a bigger investment,” Gaines said. “Often, you have to get board sign off and approval, so with small win you have ROI you can show them. 

“Customers expect everything we interact with to be just as good as the last brand - the bar changes every single time we interact. Plus, with so many disruptors entering that market, if you are not using technology to get ahead, you are going to struggle.”

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