Salesforce announced it is making progress toward releasing a Customer Data Platform (CDP) this week at Salesforce Connections in Chicago. While the company is talking in greater detail about the platform, they are calling Customer 360, it won’t be available for pilot customers until this Fall.
The idea behind the CDP isn’t all that different from good old-fashioned CRM, but instead of using a single source of data in a single database, Salesforce’s bread-and-butter product, it draws upon a variety of sources. Martin Kihn, SVP for product strategy at Salesforce Marketing Cloud says that the company found that the average customer uses 15 significant sources of data to build a much more comprehensive picture of the customer.
In the 1990s, tracking customer data in a CRM was a fairly straightforward process. You had basic information like company name, address, phone number, main contacts and perhaps a listing of what each customer purchased, but as it has become increasingly crucial to gather enough data to fully understand the customer, it takes a richer set of data.
This whole area of creating a central database like a CDP is something that Salesforce, Adobe and others have begun to discuss in the last year. When you’re dealing with multiple sources of data, it becomes much more than a customer tracking problem. It becomes a serious data integration issue as the data is coming from a variety of disparate sources.
Kihn says it comes down to pulling three main areas together. The first is identity management, in the sense that you have to be able to stitch together who this person is as he or she moves across the different data sources. It’s crucial to understand that this is the same individual in each channel and interaction, regardless of the system where the interaction occurs, and even if the customer started out without identifying themselves.
Once you have that identity foundation, which is the key to all of this, you can begin to build that 360 degree picture in the CDP, and with that, you can engage with the customer across multiple channels in a more intelligent way, based on actual detailed data about the person.
If the idea is to provide increasingly customized interactions, it requires as much data as you can gather to offer customized messages across each medium. The danger here is that you’re building a complete picture of each consumer in a central database, which in itself becomes a central point of failure. If a hacker were to breach that database, the prize would be a huge treasure trove of personal customer information.
Kihn says Salesforce recognizes this of course, and cites Chairman Marc Benioff’s trust mantra. If that happened, it would be a huge breach of customer trust (and of their customers) and while it’s impossible to full protect any database, Salesforce considers security a huge priority.
The other issue is privacy around this information, especially in light of GDPR customer privacy rules in Europe, and other privacy initiatives coming down the pike in other countries. Kihn says Salesforce customers have permission toggles they can turn on or off, depending on the region they are in.
For now, the Salesforce CDP is taking another step towards becoming an actual product. On the plus side, it could mean more meaningful, highly targeted marketing, but on the negative side, it’s a lot of personal information sitting in one place, and that’s something that every vendor building a CDP needs to take into consideration.