A customer data platform is a great tool. But if you’re not careful with implementation, it can be a disaster.
A customer data platform (CDP) can be a great tool — but if you’re not careful, it can be a disaster.
Whether you’re just starting or still contemplating a relationship with a CDP provider, you’ll regret it if you don’t take some common implementation issues into account.
Read through these common mistakes carefully, and have an honest — and skeptical — conversation about each one. (And be sure to share this document with your data team.)
Mistake 1: Rushing it
It’s good business to get early wins and show a quick return on investment, but a NASA engineer I grew up with used to say, “We’re in a great big hurry, so go slow, take your time, and do it right the first time.”
Undoing a catastrophe costs a lot more than taking your time to get your use cases in order, documenting assumptions, testing hypotheses and thinking things through.
Mistake 2: Having no concept of identity
The basic function of a CDP is to create the mythical “golden record” for each of your customers. In order to do that, you need a way to merge records from different sources. On what basis will you merge those records?
Each person has several email addresses (which change over time) and uses several devices (which are sometimes shared, and also change over time). What ties those data points together in a way that points to a single person?
Or at least nothing perfectly. Get comfortable with that reality, or you’ll drive yourself crazy.
Consequently, it’s a mistake to build your strategy around identity. You’ll never have one record for one person, but for many use cases, it simply doesn’t matter that you don’t. Develop your use cases and build your concept of identity around what’s necessary to drive the use case — not the reverse.
In some cases, the user’s email address will be the best choice. Other options include a unique third-party ID, your own unique ID, or even a postal address.
Whatever you use, it needs to fit in with a long-term customer strategy you can track over the customer’s entire lifecycle. But it won’t be perfect no matter what you do.
Mistake 3: Not taking into account other ‘sources of truth’
CDPs sell themselves as the single source of truth for your customer data. That doesn’t mean you have to use them that way. It’s possible that you’ll have different sources of truth for different use cases.
- Your ESP might be the source of truth for e-newsletter sign-ups and opt-outs, even though you also have that information in your CDP.
- Your fulfillment system might remain the source of truth for subscription information even though you import it all into your CDP.
Along those lines, it’s a good idea to tag or label information so you know where it came from.
Mistake 4: Overlooking analytics
People say “what gets measured gets done,” so it’s important to measure and report on the things that drive your business. We’re inclined to think that measurement should be simple when we’re dealing with data and computers, but nothing could be further from the truth. Just look at the mess in online advertising.
When dealing with a CDP, there’s a lot of data exchange back and forth between different systems. But you don’t always get a 1:1 connection. So even though you’re importing all your customer data from your disparate systems into a CDP, you need to ask which measurement of that data is the most relevant to your business. It might not always be the CDP.
Mistake 5: Organizational silos and lack of internal buy-in
A CDP often falls under the purview of the marketing department, even though it requires heavy IT involvement.
Stop and ask yourself how well your marketing department gets along with your IT department. Is that going to be a problem? (Answer: probably.)
Don’t forget that your own organizational silos might become your biggest barrier to success.
When you run into a glitch, you don’t want all your directors defending their own vendor relationships and pointing fingers at everyone else. You need to create an environment where all the affected parties have a stake in the success of the CDP, so they keep one another informed.
This is particularly important with your development and operational people. Make sure they’re okay:
- With the technology.
- How it will affect page speed.
- How it will integrate with existing systems.
- Whether it will impact latency.
- How your web page loads.
If you don’t involve IT up front, blame yourself if they become blockers later.
Mistake 6: Having nobody in charge
A CDP will affect several departments in your organization, and while they all have to buy in and cooperate, you still need a single project manager.
“Shared responsibility” can’t mean “nobody is in charge.”
Mistake 7: Forgetting time-based data capabilities
Some CDPs give a “right-now,” snapshot view of your customer information, which is good for many use cases, but a big problem for others.
If you run a subscription site, you want to track and report on a customer’s status over time.
If that’s important to you, make sure your CDP can manage that, and make sure to incorporate that into your data structure.
Mistake 8: Not looking into capacity issues
If you have 25 brands, and they all feed into one email service provider on an as-needed basis, you might hit a hiccup from time to time while doing an update.
But if you consolidate those 25 brands into one customer database, which sends the complete file every day, you might run into capacity problems you didn’t expect.
The point of a CDP is to provide a central place for your customer data. You should ensure that the CDP can handle all those connections coming in.
At the same time, you also have to be aware of the big connection going back out – from the CDP to all those other services. Can they handle the volume?
Mistake 9: Believing the CDP’s claims that they can ‘integrate with everybody’
There are so many vendors doing so many things, it’s unreasonable to expect your CDP to have an existing relationship with every vendor you use. But it’s dangerous to assume they’ll play well together.
If your prospective CDP does not already have experience with one of your vendors, be very cautious. Integration teams and universal APIs are no substitute for diligent testing. Make sure your CDP can work with all your vendors.
Mistake 10: Not confirming how you will be charged
Billing problems probably won’t surface during implementation, when you’re on your honeymoon with the CDP, but think carefully about how they intend to bill you.
Make sure you’re being billed for things that are driving your business and contributing to success — not just for “total rows of data,” or something you don’t actually care about.
Along those same lines, make sure there’s a way to purge old data that isn’t relevant anymore.