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How to Choose the Right Customer Data Platform: 20 Data Analysts & Marketers Reveal the Most Important Features to Look for in a CDP

Today’s enterprises gather a larger volume of data about their customers and prospects than ever before. To fully leverage that data, companies look to customer data platforms (CDPs) capable of aggregating data from the multitude of channels and touchpoints throughout the customer journey and provide actionable insights that can inform the complex, multi-channel journeys that today’s buyers travel on the path to purchase.

But what should marketers and decision makers be looking for in a customer data platform? Is it important for a solution to gather and analyze data across channels? Should a customer data platform have the ability to segment prospects and customers based on buyer personas, or do the best solutions create an atomic-level view of the individual consumer?

To get some answers to these pressing questions and help you make an informed decision when you’re considering customer data platforms, we reached out to a panel of data analysts and marketing pros and asked them to weigh in on this question:

“What’s the single most important feature to look for when buying a customer data platform?”

Meet Our Panel of Data Analysts and Marketing Pros:

Find out what our pros had to say about the features you should be looking for when buying a customer data platform by reading their responses below.

Suneet BhattSuneet Bhatt

@a_suneet

Suneet Bhatt is the Chief Growth Officer at Help Scout, a customer service software that powers over 7,000 companies across the globe.

“Customer data platforms are designed to serve as the single source of truth…”

You can’t have a CDP without having all the things required to pull customer data together into a single profile (data capture and collection, first-party data management, cross-device stitching, integrations to assist with the enhancement, analysis and application of all that data). You can’t be a CDP without those things. So what will differentiate? A system with the most progressive, authentic, transparent, and thoughtful approach to data governance and the other CDP … Customer Data Privacy.


Kerri ByronKerri Byron

@Cortera

Kerri Byron is a Marketing Manager for Cortera.

“When buying a customer data platform, it’s important to make sure that…”

The information is relative to your industry and more specifically, your business. For example, Cortera tracks transactions between businesses. Okay, that’s great. But what makes it really useful is that the data is pooled into industries and categorized by transaction size, business size, etc. You have to look for relevant, not just aggregate information. How a particular shipper pays the electricity company is not as important to a freight company as how that same company is paying its freight bills. Information is only valuable when it is relevant to your industry and business, so you have to make sure that the customers within a customer data platform actually resemble your ideal customers.


Sheila LindnerSheila Lindner

@octacom

Sheila Lindner is the President of Octacom.

“One of the most important features to look for when buying a customer data platform is…”

Customization and configurability. You want your new CDP to be able to fit seamlessly into your workflows and have the ability to be scaled and adapted as your company grows and your marketing and customer engagement strategies evolve. Each organization is going to use their customer data differently, so it is necessary for your CDP to be flexible and customizable to these diverse needs.


Chris ByrneChris Byrne

@chris_byrne

Chris Byrne is the Co-Founder of Sensorpro.

“When considering a customer data platform…”

I would consider integration with other business tools to be important.

It’s hard to pick one thing of course – we see increased interest in security and encryption in recent tenders or RFPs.

For example, there is concern regarding the country or state the data is hosted in, GDPR considerations, and whether or not the platform has data-at-rest encryption capability.


Lindsey HavensLindsey Havens

@PhishLabs

Lindsey Havens is the Senior Marketing Manager for PhishLabs with over 10 years of experience in Marketing, Communications, Public Relations, Lead Nurturing/Generation, and Analytics. With a unique blend of marketing and communications experience coupled with a background in behavioral and situational analysis, she bring metrics-driven results and the ability to focus sales and marketing efforts in a direction that offers the highest potential for long-term, sustainable growth.

“The right CDP should give you the ability to collect and save all digital and non-digital customer activity…”

It’s also important to make sure a first-party data intelligence is driving the CDP, so that you retain the ability to link customer interactions across devices, such as phones and various platforms including desktop and mobile. To have a successful system, your data needs to be your own, not rented, in order to drive your business.


Chris CarterChris Carter

@mkesportsgeek

Chris Carter is the CEO of Approyo.

“You want to look for an all-inclusive solution…”

Meaning one that provides you the ability to send data to people and companies. You also want to make sure that you are tracking and tracing with analytics.


Jay LabelleJay Labelle

@Jay_Labelle

Jay Labelle is the Owner of The Cover Guy.

“You need to make sure your customer data platform works for the needs of your business and workflow…”

Make sure the platform you choose is built for your style and scale of business and has the opportunity for customization to meet your needs. It is also helpful to make sure the platform offers dedicated customer support, as this can save you a lot of time in the long run trying to troubleshoot problems in-house.


Rob MeadRob Mead

@RWAM19

Rob is the Head of Marketing for Gnatta, a market leading customer technology platform. He has extensive experience in marketing, with a focus on digital, and has run the marketing teams at multiple SMEs as well as spending time in Westminster with the Liberal Democrats. Rob is a regular public speaker and has spoken across numerous capital cities on customer service and the importance of a cutting-edge digital customer.

“The most important thing when purchasing a customer data system is simple…”

Security. With increasing ransom attacks seen recently (including the global attack on June 27th), it’s imperative that any new system you onboard is as secure as possible and you are confident any links between your existing systems and your new platform are safe. Breaches of customer data can be catastrophic for your brand reputation and easily outweigh the gains in insight and personalization that a customer data system can provide.


Mikko JarvaMikko Jarva

@ComptelCorp

Mikko Jarva, CTO of Intelligent Data business unit at Comptel, has over 15 years of experience with telecommunications and IT.

“The most important feature in a customer data platform is…”

Actionability. No matter how much data is gathered or how smart the AI / analytics are, if there is no action recommended and executed on in the end, it doesn’t matter how much data has been collected or how well it has been analyzed. In other words, the customer data platform should actively seek to perfect the various moments in customer journey.


Hyun LeeHyun Lee

@HyunLee

Hyun Lee is the Growth Manager at Qminder. Hyun loves helping businesses grow through online presence and has a track record of scaling small businesses to 7+ figures. In recent years, he’s head-deep in customer service and experience to grow retail businesses.

“I would say businesses should look for…”

Ease of use. This covers:

  1. Implementing ways to get the data. Do you need complicated hardware? Crazy setup in the software side?
  2. Retrieving and understanding the data. How hard is it for you to gather x metrics? Is it down 5 menu items deep, or can you quickly access it under a dashboard somewhere?

Big data has a lot going on, but when it comes down to it, the data is useless unless people can interpret and use it.

So for instance, all of the biggest ride-sharing companies use Qminder to onboard drivers.

They get the data behind all the service, including visitor wait times. Even these companies valued at billions love the fact that the data is easily accessible and easy to interpret. Whether it’s for local managers, regional managers, or corporate, it’s easy for everyone.


Cori Pearce

@WealthEngine

Cori Pearce is the Director of Marketing Execution at WealthEngine, a provider of predictive marketing analytics, audience development, and wealth intelligence solutions for nonprofits, financial services, and luxury brands.

“Choosing the right consumer data partner can…”

Make your marketing messages resonate with your unique audiences and allow you access to the best prospective customers for your business. While incorporating consumer data in your marketing can be fairly simple, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that makes selecting the right partner to help you execute data driven marketing campaigns essential. When you’re shopping for a data partner, consider the following questions:

  • Does this partner have experience curating data? For all of us who have tried to merge two spreadsheets of different sizes, or import data into an existing structured CRM, we can begin to grasp the many challenges of working with big data. A partner who routinely works with data sets of all types and sizes is a best bet.
  • Is the potential partner willing to work with you to select the data you need to append and to customize a data solution for your needs? Too much data can be as bad as not enough data. Make sure you get the right fit by selecting a partner who can assist by understanding your needs and providing a customized solution.
  • Does the partner add value? Data is the foundation for knowledge and insight, but you need a partner with a robust analytics understanding who can add value to your data with ratings and scores, predictive modeling, cluster analysis, and other techniques. Analysis is where the true value of data is derived.
  • Does the partner have all the data you need? Shopping piecemeal for data is time-consuming and difficult. Finding one partner who has all the information you need will save you hours – no, weeks or months – of aggravation!


Alex LesserAlex Lesser

@PSSCLabs

Alex Lesser is Vice President of PSSC Labs, a developer of custom HPC and Big Data computing solutions. PSSC labs delivers customized turn-key solutions that offer lower power consumption, higher performance, and faster time of production. All products are designed and built in the USA at the company’s headquarters in Lake Forest, California.

“So much thought and consideration is put into the software (or Software as a Service) that end users often consider the…”

Hardware, or more broadly the underlying infrastructure, an afterthought. As unsexy as hardware is these days, many enterprise projects are unsuccessful because the underlying infrastructure does not provide adequate performance, flexibility, and reliability. Many companies try to circumvent the whole hardware conversation by using public cloud resources (such as AWS, Azure, or Google), but the same problem exists: the hardware is just not right for the specific application needs. Plus, the cost of public clouds become very prohibitive as data sets scale. Enterprises should consider the underlying infrastructure as the engine that can drive application success.


Ed LateefEd Lateef

@elateef1

Ed Lateef is an Entrepreneur, Innovator, and Builder of Teams and Companies.

“Data quality is one of the most important features to look for in a customer data platform…”

While choosing a CDP marketers should insist on the highest standards of data quality. The customer data platform you choose should have features like data cleansing, standardizing, and de-duping, and should also offer enhancement of customer data profiles. It should ensure that the profiles are updated continuously and can be accessed for any marketing campaign or customer engagement.


Mark KarschMark Karsch

@cloudsuppliers

Mark Karsch is an IT entrepreneur in the hosting and data center industry. He helps companies improve their sales and marketing efforts by getting down and dirty and producing actual sales together with them.

“When I started to realize that I needed a smarter data platform to manage my customer data…”

I started with writing down the technical, commercial, and financial requirements. Whereas most IT companies tend to focus on the first two, for me the third one really came into play. Since I was in a startup phase every penny counted. After trying some of the standard packages that were provided by my hosting company (Sugar CRM, and the rest I don’t even recall) I ended up building my customer data sheets with the help of Only Office. It helped me to take control of my order delivery and management process, and after some practice I also managed to get the databases under control. These play very well with the Mailchimp accounts.


Karrie SullivanKarrie Sullivan

@ProviderPlanKar

Karrie Sullivan is a 25+ year customer data, systems, and growth expert who lives in Chicagoland and has clients all over the world. Her focus is on helping mid-market companies through digital transformation and its impact on the whole organization. “It’s not as simple as just slapping an eCommerce page onto a company’s website.”

“The single most important factor in choosing a Customer Data Platform is…”

Data-flow. A database is only as good as the data in it, so CDP systems need to make data quality as easy as possible for marketing and data science users. Data-flow refers to the ability of the system to consume, transform, and standardize the data from multiple sources BUT ALSO create a record of those changes and make it easy for users to understand how the data was changed/data integrity. The problem with most systems is that we lose the ability to track/document what happened to the data, and as soon as the database manager leaves – that knowledge leaves too. Unfortunately there aren’t enough data scientists to go around, so this game of musical chairs won’t stop any time soon. As it stands – marketers and data science professionals spend too much time trying to figure out what happened instead of focusing on what’s going to happen and capitalizing on it.


Walt BaylissWalt Bayliss

@waltbayliss

Walter (Walt) Bayliss is an online entrepreneur, a professional software developer, and an internet marketer. He is lucky enough to earn a full-time income from the internet after learning and adapting different methods and techniques.

“The most important feature when buying a CDP would be…”

It must be LASER-TARGETED to your market with no tedious research. It will then have the capability to know so much about your customers, such as where they hang out online, sites they visit, and how to best reach them.


Luke FreilerLuke Freiler

@Centercode

Luke Freiler is the CEO of Centercode.

“The single most important feature for a customer data platform is…” 

That it provides actionable feedback. The worst mistake you can make is to do nothing with your feedback before launching a product.

Many data platforms can quickly and easily overwhelm the user with information. This isn’t a helpful or effective strategy – what’s needed is a process that takes into account your priorities and innate aspects of the customer feedback or data to determine which pieces of feedback you should focus on first. Some people consider this step to be a luxury. However, in reality, it’s not.

While you can’t tackle every piece of feedback, without a system for understanding the relative importance of different pieces of issues, you won’t know where to focus your limited time and effort. As a result, you’ll waste valuable time trying to decide what to take action on, which could result in you taking no action at all or taking action on the wrong things, decreasing the ROI of your test.


Tyler RiddellTyler Riddell

@tgr360

Tyler Riddell is the Vice President of Marketing for eSUB Construction Software with over 15 years of experience in Marketing, Product Management, Advertising, and Public Relations.

“When choosing the right Customer Data Platform, it’s important to…”

Find out how it will integrate into your marketing initiatives and what essential functionalities the CDP covers. A customer data platform needs to:

  • Unify data
  • Provide insight for marketers
  • Track prospective customer base
  • Connect with external systems
  • Segment customers into various groups


Rachel HonowayRachel Honoway

@rachelhonoway

Rachel is an experienced executive specializing in Internet Startups and Growth Mode Companies. Her career has been spent working hands-on with entrepreneurs to build and grow SaaS products and related services.

“The single most important thing to look for when buying a customer data platform is…”

Workflow compatibility. Don’t get starstruck by fancy functions or a feature list that’s a mile long. Just because a platform can hold a million points of customer data, supports 100 API integrations, and offers localization for 5 regions doesn’t mean it’s the best solution for you. If you’re only storing 50 data points, integrating with 10 APIs that aren’t on their list, and doing business in one region alone, those features don’t matter. You need features that are compatible with your workflow.

So, start by mapping that workflow, or the improved workflow you anticipate with your new platform. What data are you storing, where is the data coming from, why is the data pulled out of the system, who pulls it, what are they using it for…?

Shop based on your need. Be aware of sales speak and your own susceptibility to the, “but wait, there’s more…!” pitches that sidetrack you into purchase decisions based on the number of features per dollar instead of focusing on fulfilling your specific needs.


Kyle WhiteKyle White

@veryconnect

Kyle White is the CEO & Co-Founder of VeryConnect – Membership Management Software.

“The most important feature to consider in a customer data platform is…”

The ability to freely and easily export all of your data at any time.

This is extremely important for when the time comes that you need to move on to a different provider. With the ability to export your data, you can break ties with the current supplier and retain all of your invaluable, cleaned, and organized information.