5W – Customer Data Platform (CDP)

Thank you for reading! Please see “Why 5W?”  for context, methodology and disclaimers.

Technology Overview

Customer Data Platforms are recent aggregation / expansion capabilities realized through the integration of customer interaction support software, enabling a company to compile a 360-degree view of customers and prospects. Armed with this information, Marketing and Sales can make relevant and personal connections to prospects to increase conversion rates.

Companies will recognize the usual suspects of potential component systems that can contribute to a CDP effort:

  • Social Media Engagements
  • Marketing Automation Platform (MAP)
  • E-Commerce Systems
  • Enterprise Resource Planning Systems (ERP)
  • Customer Relationship Management Systems (CRM)
  • Customer Support Systems
  • Customer Experience Management (CXM)
  • Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)
  • Order Management Systems (OMS)
  • Fulfillment Management Systems (FMS)

CDPs provide a configurable means to connect, aggregate and combine data across disparate systems guided by business-facing definitions from Sales and Marketing. Once deployed, a CDP should require minimal IT intervention, provided the CDP enables business users the capability to combine and view real-time data to test and confirm hypotheses on their own.

Note that CDP integrates with on- and off-premises systems and cloud providers. CDP is an emerging technology use case and will require education and nurture efforts to engage end customers.

Business Benefits

Companies store customer data and interactions in an ever-growing variety of disparate systems, most of which are marginally, or not connected to each other at all.

As an example, Marketing and Sales recognize the value of having the latest customer transactions, preferences and communications data available to them, along with current inventory levels, order and delivery statuses, account balances, credit status and so on. While these data can be combined through manual system search and interaction, a manual effort is time-consuming and represents risks, not only security (through multiple system exposure to out-of-department audiences) but contextual data inaccuracies (relating the wrong data to transactional events, ensuring the data is up to date, and so on). CDP helps to manage this by making connections through configuration .. not coding, automating data retrieval, assembly and presentation of the most current data to the business user.

Determining which data to combine requires visibility into the business processes and customer / prospect interaction goals of the target audiences .. the people who can benefit the most from aggregated business data. Note that all companies have these interaction goals, but they may not necessarily be stated, reviewed, aligned or published. Further, helping non-technical audiences understand the business benefits of CDP in their environment will require education, mostly through use-case based engagements, where offering sellers present use cases demonstrating how a CDP can enable business benefits in their environment.

In short, a CDP combines these data, enabling thousands of business of use cases to improve customer service, accelerate conversions, document performance and more. Some examples are presented in Use Cases, below.

CDP Capabilities

To play in the CDP space, a vendor offering must:

  • Provide configurable connectivity to organizational systems, whether cloud, on-premises, database, LOB, etc.
  • Collect and transform data from connected systems, storing as necessary (not all systems will allow real-time access, nor may it meet necessary performance requirements to do so).
  • Create / Associate Data Consumer identifiers across these systems to surface customers in context.
  • Define:
    • Consumer profiles and groups, assigning appropriate permissions and workflows.
    • Internal audiences, role-based access control and the depth of data to view when published.
  • Segment Consumers into meaningful ‘buckets’ for workflow activities and content distribution.
  • Provide the capability to switch on / off connections across systems as business needs / opportunities emerge .. without IT assistance.
  • Manage and expand Consumer / Audience profile over time to improve views and visualizations.
  • Ensure connection and end-to-end security / privacy / auditing of acquired / stored data.
  • Publish Customer and Audience Data across tools for consumption by appropriate audiences within an organization.

Through these capabilities, a single source of truth will emerge, along with enabling a 360-degree view of a specific customer or group. This increases confidence within the consuming audiences and empowers them to make better, data-driven decisions when working with customers.

Some examples are presented below.

Use Cases

While each company will have specific use cases to fulfill, many aspects will fall into semi-standardized buckets. The real impact of CDP is in connecting across systems, enabling out-of-application audience users to see data from other systems in a controlled and secure manner.

Some samples to get creative juices flowing .. the sub-bullets in the first example are the discrete steps and systems with which a user would engage manually to create the outcome:

  • Customer Support – Customer Complaint: Address a product complaint and create a CRM Task, assigning to a Customer Service Agent for resolution. The source of the complaint could be a call, a tweet, an email, an online form, etc. The CDP can perform the following discrete steps:
  • Look up the customer ID in the customer database (note this could be in the Customer Support CRM or in a separate Customer CRM). This may require the Twitter handle, email address or customer name to identify the customer.
  • Retrieve the customer invoices from the Invoicing System using the Customer ID.
  • Identify the proper invoice based on the product in question.
  • Confirm the product was ordered in the Order Management System (OMS).
  • Confirm the product was shipped in the Fulfillment Management System (FMS).
  • Identify if the product is still under warranty and can be replaced.
  • If the product can be replaced, check the Warehouse Management System (WMS) to see if the item is in stock and can be shipped.
  • Create a task containing the data above in the Customer Support CRM and assign to a Customer Support agent.

Executing these steps enables a Customer Support agent to reach out to the with a specific resolution to the customer issue, the ability to address the issue directly and provide a solution in the first contact with the customer. This level of personalized interaction ensures customer satisfaction.

A CDP provides connectivity and automation, designed and configured by a business analyst (not IT) for each of these tasks. This enables customer- and agent-friendly resolutions to customer support issues. Further, the data collected across all these systems provides massive Business Intelligence opportunities for an organization.

The remainder of these use cases are referenced right-to-left, without the intermediate steps. A CDP offering should be sold by presenting use cases that resonate with a target customer, likely leading to a Discovery Call.

  • Marketing – Improve Marketing Orchestration: Capture feedback in real-time across all channels (MAP, Sales, E-Commerce) by collecting data aligning to MAP outreach to determine marketing effectiveness.
  • Marketing – Improve Marketing Communications: Capture real-time feedback from marketing campaigns as potential customers are engaging with marketing content. Marketing can gauge which messages are more effective.
  • Marketing – Perform / Streamline A/B Tests: Drive marketing moments / capture the results of product enhancements in real time by initiating multiple (two or more) actions simultaneously, capturing the results and feedback in real time to determine which combination of messaging and the channel is more effective.
  • IT Governance – Improve Customer Data Quality: One source of truth .. the process of connecting and correlating disparate data systems enables CDOs with a solid foundation of tracking internal audiences with access, and controlling the data these audiences can see.
  • Operations – Improve the Customer Journey: Integrate with CXM and MarTech systems to isolate and clarify how a customer got into the stages .. how quickly and how effectively .. all the way through conversion and fulfillment.
  • Sales – Current state of the Customer: Present an all-up customer view for a seller on their way into a customer meeting. Captures content across systems: confirming the latest orders have been shipped, invoices have been paid, customer support issues have been resolved, etc., all prior for the seller arriving in a face-to-face meeting with the customer.

To assemble the data In all of these (and other) use cases, internal systems must be accessed by out-of-audience entities, which, if performed manually is time-consuming, creates security risks and could be filled with outdated / erroneous data. A CDP standardizes these interactions and provides a unified view, by audience for these data.

Hidden Gem: Besides enabling Operational and Business Intelligence opportunities, a robust CDP implementation creates a framework for Data Governance use cases.

CDP Providers

A great many companies claim CDP capabilities (CDP Vendor Segment cites ~80), but most are add-ons to their existing LOB systems and not ‘pure’ CDP plays. These include the bulk of the larger ERP companies, as well as more than a few Integrated Platform as a Service (iPaaS) / Hybrid Integration Provider (HIP) vendors.

Companies making a CDP claim run the gamut of functionality from configurable connectivity, accessing in-flow data streams, reporting and / or creating persistent, referenceable repositories to ensure interactivity and access to aggregated data. A partial list follows, where only ‘pure’ CDP plays are included:

ActionIQ“An Enterprise-Grade Solution With the Agility of a Startup”. Integrates with MAP and Analytics tools.
BlueVennPresents as a unified customer data management, compliance and customer journey orchestration platform, including analytics and machine learning to drive personalized engagements.
ExponeaAcquired by Bloomreach. Cites “Sell To Customers, Not Sessions”, which references session-based engagements with E-Commerce sites. Solid E-Commerce retail focus with integrated MAP capabilities and a number of MAP- and data-centric integrations. Offers an Exponea Overview video (three-minutes).
LyticsFocuses on using CDP to personalize experiences for every step in the Customer Journey. Includes several customer-centric us cases, including acquisition, engagement, upsell, win-back and renewal. Integrations for the retail, CRM and MAP spaces. Looks more like enlightened MAP.
MaropostExtends MAP with CDP to amplify email marketing and E-Commerce personalization capabilities. Looks more like enlightened E-Commerce
mParticleFocuses on CXM and improving the Customer Journey. Rich integration framework and SDK to support beyond MAP and CRM. Offers a 60-day services engagement to get started and a Gated Demo.
SegmentClaims specialization in several verticals and platforms (Retail, Mobile, B2B, Marketplace and Media). Largely DIY. Offers a no-cost Developer tier.
TealiumTealium manages connections, standardizations, transformation, integrations and activation (delivery to devices). Claims 1,300 client- and service-side integrations offered in the Tealium Integrations Marketplace.

Frequent updates to this section as new vendors emerge.

ED: As Article Publish dates are frozen in time, it is quite possible reviewed vendors and their capabilities may have advanced beyond those presented herein. Please accept my apologies for my shortcomings. A note to vendors (old, evolved and new): please reach out with current offering capabilities and I will update the list.

CDP Audiences

A few enlightened prospects will recognize CDP by name, slightly fewer will recognize it by the integration opportunity CDP provides. As per, the majority will need to be engaged through education, tailored to their role in an organization and the benefits of exploring CDP for business benefit.

Most customers will not recognize an immediate need for a CDP, likely citing their CRM or Customer Support Systems present these data. To a point, they’re accurate. These systems provide the present customer / prospect state to the primary audience of the system .. but not to the secondary audiences who could benefit the most from knowing all the data about their customer.

CDP connects a wide variety of business platforms creating virtually infinite use cases, so discovery is an important part of an engagement. A seller can approach prospective CDP client by describing the value of CDP integration to create Business Intelligence Use Cases, enabling a seller to map a story to prospect systems do demonstrate business value, including:

  • Value of configurable system integration and the virtuous cycle enabled thusly.
  • Data Governance (hidden gem .. solves two business challenges with one implementation) benefits, where CDP exposes access and management control opportunities across systems.
  • Dashboards and Beyond, delivering relevant, interactive and secure information to the proper people at all levels in an organization.
  • Agility and Flexibility, enabling Citizen Analysts / Marketers to review data that is most relevant to them.
  • Speed to Business Value: data-driven business benefits can be realized with the first connections between systems.

Important note: CDP is not ‘rip and replace’ .. CDP integrates with incumbent systems, databases and file-based repositories.

CDP is not a technical sale .. it is creative and educational, relying on sellers identifying, researching and offering use cases that align to prospect roles within the target organization.

As the CDP space is early stage at the time of this writing, opportunities within are mostly greenfield .. but will require discovery, education and nurture to make an effective case to decision makers in a target organization. CDP prospects will already be combining some of these data, albeit manually. It is important to demonstrate the value to the specific audience in time savings and improving the quality of data presented to users.

Note there will be a fair bit to unpack as customer environments will contain incumbent systems, most of which store customer data. On this, please recognize that access to any systems containing customer data must be managed appropriately, as GDPR and CCPA constraints may be in play. A seller must inventory the present state to realize the scope of the existing environment, recognizing incumbent systems and integration opportunities therein .. all while pointing out how CDP will manage any potential privacy breaches.

 A company should consider a CDP for:

  • Consolidating / presenting an all-up view of a customer in a single place, securely, and to relevant audiences.
  • Capturing a more granular understanding of customers.
  • Consolidating / switching analytics or marketing systems / vendors.
  • Personalizing customer experiences.
  • Unifying messaging across all channels.

A seller needs the ability to recognize, expand and document end-customer use cases / need states that enable them to secure a solid prospect.

Primary CDP audiences include:

  • Marketing
  • Product Owners
  • Customer Support Organizations
  • Sales (capturing an all-up customer view)
  • Analytics

Expect these audiences to expand through digital-driven CDP engagements, which will surface hand-raisers and other interested entities within end-customer organizations.

Primary Targets for CDP implementations are not necessarily aligned to specific industries. Targets include companies who:

  • Have connections between ‘some’ systems across ‘some’ non-primary audiences. This will manifest itself with companies that have connected MAP and CRM systems to power active outreach. Note that Sales and Support are left out, presenting the opportunity for us to advance use cases when other systems can be connected. Treat this as gap analysis, where other systems can be brought in to improve customer context and relevance.
  • Can recognize the business value to be gained by connecting disparate systems. This is use-case specific, and should be workshopped with prospects to demonstrate value.
  • Are expanding from tribally-supported Sales / Marketing use case feedback loops to their audiences, but don’t expose content to audiences beyond the bits a data consumer already ‘knows’ about their customer base. It’s important to advance the concept of exposing these data to identify gaps in the customer knowledge base.
  • Seek to formalize an approach to exposing end-customer data across multiple, incumbent systems, mapped to specific internal audiences. This represents a longer sales cycle, but enables a seller to demonstrate expertise in the space.

Again, CDP is in the educational phase. CDP is a combination of existing systems and use cases .. many of which companies may be doing manually on their own. CDP provides the connectivity, automation, data aggregation and presentation layer to get the right data to the right audiences at the right time.


CDP provides an interesting and accessible means to integrate across multiple systems, securely exposing integrated data within a single interface through low-code and configuration, versus code, multiple logins and reporting capabilities requiring manual manipulating to gain business value.

About Michael Coates
I am a pragmatic evangelist. The products, services and solutions I write about fulfill real-world expectations and use cases. I stay up-to-date on real products I use and review, and share my thoughts here. I apply the same lens when designing an architecture, product or when writing papers. I am always looking for ways that technology can create or enhance a business opportunity .. not just technology for technology's sake. My CV says: Seasoned technology executive, leveraging years of experience with enterprise and integration architectural patterns, executed with healthy doses of business acumen and pragmatism. That's me. My web site says: Technology innovations provide a myriad of opportunities for businesses. That said, having the "latest and greatest" for its own sake isn't always a recipe for success. Business successes gained through exploiting innovation relies on analysis of how the new features will enhance your business followed by effective implementation. Goals vary far and wide: streamlining operations, improving customer experience, extending brand, and many more. In all cases, you must identify and collect the metrics you can apply to measure your success. Analysis must be holistic and balanced: business and operational needs must be considered when capitalizing on a new technology asset or opportunity.

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