Salesforce’s CDP: Just Another Brick in the Wall

Last week Salesforce announced enhancements to its customer data platform, offering deeper integration with its own e-Commerce cloud. Salesforce claims that its CDP provides a single source of truth for businesses, pulling together data across the many clouds the software provider offers.

At Simon, we’ve long seen the struggle marketers face with customer data: they’re both drowning in data and thirsting for the right data. Often the data they have is messy, or incomplete, or in the wrong format, or it was modeled in the wrong way. Marketers find themselves choosing between bad data or sitting on their hands, waiting in a ticket queue while the launch date clicks closer. While the situation is frustrating, more importantly, it’s a drag on revenue growth. By making better data available to marketers of all skill levels in every tool they use, businesses can more rapidly develop innovative customer experiences that boost performance.

While we agree with Salesforce that companies need a single source of truth, we disagree with Salesforce about what makes a great CDP. Yes, a CDP should act as a  single source of truth for marketers. Important too that a CDP not lock marketers into a single ecosystem. Still marketers need more than table stakes data ingestion. To transform data into marketing results, a CDP also needs to integrate broadly, to make data usable, and to make intelligent decisions when things break.

Single Source of Truth…or Single Provider of Truth?

Salesforce’s new CDP extends the company’s dominant hand from software to data: a power play for the center of every brand’s data operations. Companies that rely exclusively on Salesforce’s enterprise apps may benefit, but for any digitally native or high growth brand, Salesforce’s CDP is a bad bargain: trading ease of procurement for agility and innovation, two qualities that we fundamentally believe unlock growth and competitive advantage.

We see why the bargain is a bad deal in Salesforce’s announcement at Connections: a big focus on deeper integration with Salesforce’s own clouds, not with others’. The purpose of Salesforce’s CDP aligns with its broader marketing cloud strategy: to reinforce its position as a single provider of a closed ecosystem. Like any CDP, it will ingest and route data to marketing end points. Unlike other CDPs, Salesforce’s has a strong incentive to route data to other Salesforce products. Still running Unica? Too bad. Like Oracle’s ESP? Tough. Their strategy necessarily constrains their CDP, and thus limits marketing’s ability to innovate.

If you want to be agile and innovative, you need a CDP that natively integrates with the world outside of Salesforce as well. If you want to grow sustainable competitive advantages, you need a CDP that’s open to data sources, marketing tools, and messaging channels, no matter who makes what. Growth-oriented companies need an independent CDP that fits today’s customer data architecture and the future’s.

Data Lock-In: Is It Really that Bad?

Take a high-growth company like Vivino: their eye-popping $1 billion valuation comes from the company’s ability to develop a brilliant digital experience atop a real-time marketplace. Yet, what could be more personal and human than wine recommendations? Vivino’s soaring valuation proves that customer-centric, cross- channel experiences can rival traditional retail experiences.

The arrival of cloud data platforms in the early 2010’s enabled digitally native brands like Vivino to build novel customer experiences and thus, highly valuable businesses. If you don’t follow the data management market, you may not know that a new technology ecosystem has flourished in the last decade. Cloud data platforms enable businesses to build next generation data architectures, which in turn support enterprise operations, in-house data science and analytics, and a multitude of downstream functions, like marketing. Two representatives of these data platforms, Snowflake & Databricks, alone have a market cap larger than Salesforce & Adobe’s entire marketing cloud business units.

The future of customer innovation lies in a brand’s ability to embed these platforms within the workflows of every business function. The potential of data to drive business outcomes is vast, but not if customer data is trapped within a silo. The real value of data is unlocked when it can be used freely anywhere, whether that’s in or out of marketing. With Simon, marketers and in-house data teams can collaborate efficiently to orchestrate and personalize experiences, no matter what technologies they use. Better data, better outcomes, no walls.

A Great CDP Transforms Data into Outcomes

Finally, beyond being a source of truth for marketers, is what Salesforce offering enough? In our view, no, Salesforce has yet to provide table stakes data management capabilities of a CDP. The more you know the details, the more problematic Salesforce’s CDP becomes. CDP must provide marketers the ability to:

  • Broadly integrate every data source and marketing tool. Yes, Salesforce manages a lot of customer and campaign data, but so much more lies outside of their ecosystem (especially data that can be used to better understand the customer). CDPs must have flexible data ingestion from any source, including data warehouses, SaaS applications, marketing channels, and also ad-hoc sources like CSV uploads or flat-files.
  • Transform raw data into usable data, no matter the marketer’s skills. We’ve all experienced the challenge of munging data inside a spreadsheet that came from different sources in different formats. The pain only magnifies 10,000-fold at the enterprise scale, and it’s the reason data-intensive businesses employ large data engineering teams. But marketers aren’t engineers, so to make robust data capabilities available to marketers, a CDP must offer no-code and low-code interfaces, enabling both simple and advanced data manipulations. Providing better data to all marketers — of every skill level — increases both performance and productivity of every marketing program and message.
  • Safeguard customer experiences with data quality intelligence. Data is always messy and never fully clean. The “source of truth” needs to be in a place where tooling and process oversight exist to fully monitor when things break or don’t look quite right. CDPs, then, must be the last stop to check data before it’s used to deliver customer experiences. CDPs should automate data usage analysis and be able to take action, such as preventing accidental message triggers. CDPs should also provide simple workflows to track data issues back to their source, so that the problem is corrected in the right place.

Salesforce is using “source of truth” as marketing speak. While a CDP plays a critical role in assembling and storing data, it actually serves a broader purpose in enabling marketers to create innovative customer experiences from data, delivering strategic outcomes and results for their businesses.

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