The Role of CDPs in B2B Marketing

The Role of CDPs in B2B Marketing

There are many ways for B2B marketers to build a single customer view. Customer Data Platforms have clear advantages but also have their limitations.

Creating a comprehensive view of all customer data is hard. It's a challenge that marketers have struggled with for years, even as data volumes have exploded. At the same time, there has been a substantial increase in the number of applications containing small pieces of customer data. Many solutions have been proposed to bring all that information together into a single customer view. None have ever managed to achieve it, but several new technologies intend to make data integration easier for B2B marketing teams of all sizes.

For B2C marketers, there is a clear path to building a single customer view. Customer Data Platforms (CDP) are designed to be the master record of every contact, every purchase and every marketing activity data for the entire customer base. In practice, the complexities of data architecture and system integration mean that the reality doesn't quite meet the vision. However, CDPs are used in B2C to orchestrate complex omni-channel campaigns using buyer insights obtained from multiple sources.

There have been efforts to adapt the CDP model for B2B, but these been held back by some fundamental differences between the types of data needed for B2B and B2C marketing. These have required a reassessment of where CDPs fit in the tech stack and their overall purpose in a B2B marketing organisation.

CRM First

At the heart of any B2B enterprise is the CRM system. CRM systems do have a role in some B2C sales processes, but in general they're much less important due to shorter sales cycles and the transactional nature of most consumer purchases. They're not the core sales platform for businesses that primarily sell through e-commerce or retail.

By contrast, the CRM system is where B2B organisations manage the sales pipeline, and where they record the human relationships that drive so much corporate spending. No CDP will ever displace that. Instead, any new technology needs to optimise the kinds of information available in the CRM system so that it contains more of the customer activity that interests sales and less of the activity that doesn't.

Sales simply don't want to know about the low value web and email activity that goes into nurturing prospects until they're ready to buy. On the flip side, there's the regular meetings and offline activity that goes into the typical enterprise sales effort, none of which holds any value for marketing segmentation or targeting. Marketing needs to know that there is sales activity in a particular lead or account, as well as the funnel stage of the deal, but not the details of the conversation.

Account First

Then there is the biggest difference between B2B and B2C: the account itself. Data platforms designed for B2B organisations need to be account-centric. It is not enough to bolt on an account layer to a fundamentally contact-centric database. Anyone who has tried to run ABM out of the leading marketing automation platforms can testify to that.

Sales have always been structured around the account rather than the contact, and increasingly marketing is too. This means putting the account hierarchy at the heart of the marketing database. Contacts and leads should hang off this hierarchy, with their activity being summarised and aggregated by account. Customer profiles start at the account level, with different account segments then being sub-divided into contact audiences based on information such as job title, interest or engagement.

Master Data Management

Traditional data platforms have rarely been able to achieve this multi-level view of the buyer. Many enterprises have invested in Master Data Management (MDM) platforms to ensure there is a unified view of account data in their organisation. That's a necessary first step in combining the disparate sales, marketing, operations and finance systems that each hold a small piece of the customer profile. In smaller organisations, it's much easier to push all that data into the CRM system and just use Salesforce, HubSpot or Dynamics as the single customer view. However, this view rarely extends to include marketing engagement, just account and contact profiles.

Where MDM and CRM fall down is in their view of unknown web visitors. Building profiles of anonymous cookie pools and then combining that with customer profile data is a core feature of CDPs derived from their roots in B2C marketing. In doing so, they allow cross-channel marketing campaigns to be orchestrated across both known and unknown visitor channels. That's not a use case that interests anyone outside of marketing. Even in B2B marketing there are fundamental limitations in this approach that need to be understood in order to prove the undoubted value of CDPs to B2B marketers.

Sales, operations and finance all need to know who the customer is before engaging with them. Too many interactions happen in person, even in the era of digital selling. These touchpoints need to be mapped into the customer journey. They also need to be mapped to accounts, and into the account hierarchy and account segments that are already defined in CRM. That account structure is shared between sales and marketing, as is the contact profile. As such, it does not make sense to manage contact or account data in a CDP system that is mostly intended for marketing use only. Particularly given that Sales probably own the account record to being with.

Digital First

CDPs still have a role in building digital engagement, especially during the early phases of the buyer journey, where the prospect is still just an anonymous web visitor. However, their role is subordinate to that of the CRM system. They ingest account and contact profiles managed elsewhere, then combine it with activity history and visitor profiles to build a unified view of every prospect from a marketing perspective. This allows them to create digital audiences for use across the tech stack. Some of these audiences may even be synced into the CRM system for telemarketing or sales follow-up.

However, other types of audiences will need input from sales. This is particularly true for ABM campaigns, where target account lists still tend to be manually selected based on an agreement between sales and marketing. These audiences may be pushed into the CDP or into marketing automation but are ultimately managed from the CRM system. As such, there can be no single place to build marketing segmentation.

Nor can there be a single place where all data is managed except in the very smallest of businesses. Accounts, contacts and activity should all be managed separately in systems that best fit that specific data type and then combined into a single place for review and analysis. CDPs can be the solution to that problem, but so far they've not managed to achieve a user friendly customer view for a general marketing audience. Instead, they're more intended to be a data management platform for developers or data analysts.

It's important, therefore, to be clear about the specific role of CDPs, MDM and CRM in your organisation's tech stack. Ensure every tool has a clear purpose and that there is a system of record for every data point. Then make sure those data points are made available in every platform that needs that data. This is the first step to cutting through the complexity of big data and harnessing it into an engine that can be used to grow your business. Wherever it happens, data management is always an ongoing process.

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.