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Customer data platform tools top priority list for big vendors

CDPs, which unify marketing, sales and customer service data in real time, became a huge priority for Salesforce, Microsoft, SAP, Adobe and Oracle in 2019. Read about what's next for 2020.

Adobe, Microsoft and Oracle released their own customer data platforms in 2019 to compete with roughly 20 CDP vendors that had been serving their users for several years. Salesforce and SAP plan to follow with their own CDPs in 2020.

Those large customer experience (CX) platforms face challenges in the marketplace. Customer data platforms, which unify data across marketing automation, customer service, sales and e-commerce applications, solve a problem the big vendors created: A lack of data flow between CX applications, according to David Raab, founder of the CDP Institute.

"Nothing else has solved it; nothing comes close to solving it," Raab said.

That data is siloed, typically, because the vendors built their CX technologies via acquisition and continue to have difficulty integrating the marketing, sales and service clouds comprising their platforms. But users demand it, as they see value in real-time access to customer data from all channels at once. They want machine learning and analytics running with those systems, pulling data from across the platform in order to create one-to-one customer offers, in real time, to drive sales and marketing campaigns.

Tech buyers must choose big vs. small CDPs

The question is, as many B2B companies are just starting to digitally transform their commerce, will they purchase new tools from the big vendors like Oracle and Microsoft, or go with more established and technically advanced CDPs from the smaller companies, such as Lytics, Lotame, Arm Treasure Data and RedPoint Global?

"Buyers are within their rights to be skeptical [of the big-box vendors]," said Gartner analyst Benjamin Bloom. "That vendor who might not have delivered the thing that you were looking for -- or [caused] unintended challenges or consequences -- now they are exactly the ones who are telling you how to clean up the mess [with their new CDP]."

Smaller CDP vendors tend to be nimble and more responsive to customer needs for features and integrations with analytics tools and outside applications, Bloom said. He sees them keeping their users for some time to come, as the larger platform vendors play catch-up, which Raab agrees with.

Graphic showing value of customer data platform technologies
Customer data platforms unify data from applications tracking customer web behavior, sales, e-commerce and other sources to create personalized marketing profiles and drive revenue.

Yet another option has become available for technology buyers tasked with building customer experiences: the digital experience platform. These typically arise from cloud content management vendors that are moving into customer experience. Acquia acquired CDP vendor AgilOne earlier this month to assemble a marketing automation and e-commerce platform with more sophisticated web content management than all the large CX platform vendors, with the exception of Adobe.

One of Acquia's main competitors that also offers a CDP, Episerver, is moving more deeply into digital experience. It expanded its B2B e-commerce offering by acquiring InSite Software this month, and hired former SAP CX platform lead Alex Atzberger as CEO to oversee its digital experience technologies.

So many companies are building B2B e-commerce operations from scratch, said Gartner analyst Jason Daigler, that it doesn't surprise him to see content management vendors challenge companies like Oracle and SAP for customers. He sees the appeal of combining strong content management with e-commerce.

Having the right data in the right time is really important to delivering a good customer experience. Does that require a single database? I don't think it does, but it does require good understanding of data, where it is, and how to put it together.
Nicole FranceAnalyst, Constellation Research

"Most commerce platforms were not built with the best content management systems out there; they're not known for their digital experience capabilities," Daigler said.

Salesforce takes a different approach

Other experts wonder whether or not CDPs are the answer to collecting real-time data from disparate sources such as social media, sales and marketing channels. Because this data is always imperfect and the customer golden record is a mythical concept, said self-described CDP skeptic Constellation Research analyst Nicole France, the CDP may be a "fool's errand."

Salesforce is coming out with "a CDP that's not a CDP," as the company described it in analyst previews, France said. Salesforce may be solving problems that require customer data platforms to fix with upcoming features in Those could amount to integrations and APIs connecting data and unifying customer profiles with Mulesoft tools, instead of a whole new database itself.

"I do think that having the right data in the right time is really important to delivering a good customer experience. Does that require a single database? I don't think it does, but it does require good understanding of data, where it is, and how to put it together."

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