The customer data platform (CDP) market continues to expand. While CDPs first resonated with large B2C brands such as retailers, the technology is rapidly gaining momentum among B2B organizations too. After all, for those companies, a unified view of their customers and prospects is also critical.
In fact, the CDP Institute reported last year that a greater percentage of B2B organizations are planning CDP deployments over the next 12 months than their B2C counterparts. And in another sign the market is rapidly picking up steam, Forrester issued its first-ever Forrester New WaveTM : B2B Customer Data Platforms report and evaluation last year as well.
Clearly, there’s mounting interest – and a compelling and pervasive need – for the technology among B2B organizations. Is it a good fit for your company? Here is some background on CDPs, common goals and frequent B2B use cases to help you assess the value.
What’s a CDP – and Why Do We Need One?
Companies today have mounds (and mounds and mounds) of customer and prospect data – typically sprawled across many systems and multiple channels, and “owned” by different organizational groups. For B2B companies, this information encompasses multichannel behavioral data, as well as attribute and transactional data from CRM solutions, marketing automation platforms (MAPs), call center solutions, survey and customer experience (CX) systems, and more.
Yet ironically, rather than improve the customer experience, this vast, often-siloed data creates a fragmented view of the customer, and CX suffers. When the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing, customers and prospects have to hunt for what they want (again and again, across channels), fill out the same forms repeatedly and can’t pick up where they left off. For example, when B2B companies can’t recognize and cater to their visitors, they might promote a “free trial” offer to a current user, or promote a video on the homepage that a strategic prospect has already seen. Situations like these are frustrating at best. (And at worst, such disconnects can cause visitors to turn to a competitive solution.)
On the organizational side, without a single, real-time view of each customer and prospect – and their attributes, interests and intent – companies can’t target their customers well, and are limited in their marketing and sales effectiveness.
That’s where CDPs come in – bringing all the messy, disparate customer and prospect data into one place, and making it meaningful and actionable. CDPs collect, store and synthesize first- and third-party data from across systems and channels to create a single, unified view of each customer, prospect and account (often called a unified customer profile) – so companies can better understand and engage their audiences.
Not all CDPs are Created Equal
There are multiple types or levels of CDPs, geared toward various use cases and falling under three principal classifications:
Level 1: A customer data repository. This type of CDP is often used for identity “stitching,” analytics and analyses, rather than action. The main users of this type of CDP are typically business analysts and data scientists.
Level 2: CDPs that can also pass segment-level data to other systems. These platforms put the synthesized information and insights to use, but only at the segment (group) level – so marketing can, for example, message all customers that are likely to churn, deliver an appropriate homepage experience to all first-time visitors, show a relevant LinkedIn ad to existing users of particular product, etc.
Level 3: Systems of record AND systems of action, at the individual level. Encompassing all the functionality of Level 1 and 2 CDPs, Level 3 CDPs can also process and apply data for real-time, 1-to-1 personalization – all from the same system. Level 3 CDPs use machine learning and real-time processing to decide which individuals to engage, with what content, in which channel and when. For example, they could recommend relevant blog articles and eBooks based on an individual’s patterns of engagement and interest, trigger an email to a prospect who just abandoned a webinar sign-up form, or notify a call center agent about a customer who just viewed an article about how to cancel her account, etc.
CDPs have great potential to positively impact CX, as they sit between a company’s data sources and its engagement channels. For many companies, the whole point of collecting customer and prospect data is being able to do something with it – meaning that near-term and/or future goals typically include driving engagement among audience members, at both the segment and individual levels. A CDP that’s only a system of record can’t support this vision.
Do CDPs Goals Differ Among B2B and B2C Companies?
At a high level, the answer is “no.” It makes sense that all companies want a unified view of their customers, and most want the ability to activate their data too. With more well-rounded customer information (and the no-longer-elusive 360-degree view of the customer), you can greatly improve marketing effectiveness, customer service, product development and more – positively impacting the bottom line.
The strategies that CDPs support often vary, though, among B2B and B2C organizations. For example, B2B companies are often highly interested in insights they can glean – and actions they can take – from their prospect data (e.g., triggering a Slack or SMS to sales based on a prospect’s activity, targeting a strategic prospect with a special offer, etc.). While visitor data is still important in the B2C world, we see a greater emphasis there on using CDPs to amass and activate insights related to existing customers.
In addition, as account-based marketing (ABM) plays a greater role in B2B companies’ go-to-market strategies, CDPs help them effectively execute those strategies. CDPs often serve as a central hub for buyer/prospect information and communications – with the ability to target key accounts, understand visitor intent, access and activate unified profiles, orchestrate buyer journeys and – importantly – deliver or trigger personalized experiences (over email, web, etc.) based on a complete, up-to-the-moment understanding of the individual and account.
Questions from B2B CDP Buyers
Companies in the market for a CDP often have (and should have!) lots of questions and requirements. At a fundamental level, they sometimes wonder if a CDP is actually necessary. After all, isn’t the CRM, for instance, designed to be their system of record?
CDPs actually complement and integrate with CRMs – but a CRM can’t fulfill the role of a CDP because CRMs weren’t built to process the volume and complexity of data companies amass today (e.g., complex behavioral data for known and anonymous users, unstructured data, multichannel interaction data, etc.). CRMs also weren’t made to readily handle complex digital analytics data; stitch visitor/customer identity information together; and process, interpret and activate data with real-time, 1-to-1 personalization and messaging.
Once they’ve decided to invest in a CDP, and as they narrow down their choices, B2B companies need to determine their goals for CDP usage, along with the capabilities they’ll need now and in the future. This, of course, varies from company to company – though certain capabilities tend to be uniformly important. In its evaluation last year of B2B CDPs, Forrester found “the ability to provide third-party data for augmentation and enrichment; develop unified profiles at the account, buying center and contact levels; and create dynamic segments that trigger automatic activation were the top three differentiators for solutions in this category.”
It’s useful to have a list of questions – vetted by multiple stakeholders in the organization – to ask prospective vendors. Companies often have questions related to CDP scalability, real-time data capture and activation, latency and the level of CDP (1, 2 or 3) supported. We also often see questions grouped into these buckets:
Data Capture & Integration (e.g., pertaining to data ingestion in real time from offline and online channels, how the platform integrates with third-party systems, out-of-the-box integrations, etc.)
Understanding Customers, Prospects and Accounts (e.g., encompassing processes for identity stitching and resolution; contact and account de-duping; storing/processing attribute, survey and deep behavioral data; applying affinity modeling and predictive scores for a more complete picture of each person, etc.)
Deciding on Actions (e.g., looking at how the CDP decides what to say to whom, and when and where to say it. Questions often span audience analytics, segmentation, AI and machine-learning models applied, etc.)
Engagement (e.g., looking for a business user- and administrator-friendly UI/UX, whether the CDP supports use cases for personalization and journey orchestration, how it executes personalization across channels, suppression capabilities, testing processes, etc.)
Analyzing Results (e.g., questions related to reporting, audience visualization and data modeling)
Supporting ‘Extensibility’ (e.g., whether IT can easily add functions, as extensions to the core system, to support business users and without having to build custom solutions from scratch)
Our partner Publicis Sapient published a comprehensive (90-question) RFP template as a resource for companies evaluating CDP vendors. You can check out a complimentary copy here and adapt questions that make sense for your business.
B2B CDP Use Cases
For B2B companies that have adopted – or plan to adopt – a CDP, we often see them look to support initiatives and achieve goals such as:
Gain a holistic view of customer subscriptions (Who is a trial user? Who is a freemium user? Who is a paid customer?) to better target marketing communications and try to drive upsells.
Trigger messages to their sales team, based on prospect or customer behavior, to improve internal productivity and agility.
Power ABM strategies and initiatives – synthesizing information to target key accounts with customized messaging and offers.
Deliver segment-based and 1-to-1 personalization in real time and across channels to improve conversions and engagement.