How CDP Requirements Have Changed Since 2015
In my time with BlueConic, I’ve completed an eye-crossing number of requests-for-proposal/information to meet the array of customer data needs from marketers across all industries. Early on, most of these RFPs took one of two forms: repurposed from a campaign management or ESP requisition project and ill-fitting for a CDP, or the popular-if-misguided “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” approach, submitting hundreds of questions that spanned every possible data need of the business. (I am very thankful to be out of that phase.)
From the end of 2016 and through most of 2017, there was a notable shift away from RFPs that tried to equate a customer data platform with channel-activation solutions and into formats that were sort of a data warehouse + analytics + reporting + personalization-if-you’ve-got-it = CDP. These RFPs got the job done but still demonstrated the market lacked a clear, shared understanding of what was unique about a CDP solution.
Gartner did everyone a favor by firmly explaining why a CDP is similar to but also fundamentally different from other solutions in the martech stack in “A Marketer’s Guide to What Is — and Isn’t — a Customer Data Platform,” concluding:
Rather than a new technology, CDPs can be understood as a repackaging of features that already exist — but are inconveniently distributed and thus untapped — across various alternatives. What is new and novel is the productization of these features and acknowledgment that marketers are still struggling to get value out of their huge investment in both customer data and technology.
Indeed, 2018 has represented a sea-change in the RFPs marketers are submitting (in addition to a surge in volume). Four themes stand out to me in these documents:
CDP-specificity has arrived.
Not only do these RFPs reflect a sophisticated grasp of CDP capabilities, they reveal how well marketers have recognized a CDP as a solution to pain points they’ve long lived with and perhaps given up on finding a solution for. The vast majority have a version of this two-part question: “How does your solution manage a single view of the customer? Describe what identifiers or attributes we can use to create a single customer view.” This long-awaited aspiration is an explicit ask, with practical considerations. We also see a lot of verbatim repeat questions, indicating marketers are sharing examples, consulting with industry experts, and/or utilizing the resources available from groups like the CDP Institute.
Powerful segmentation is paramount.
Often the longest section of the RFP is about segment building. Inquiries such as, “What is the process for creating a segment? Are there some out-of-the-box segments? Or intuitive tools to accomplish this? How much staff time will need to be dedicated to these efforts?”
Marketers prioritize automation and ease-of-use.
Marketing technology buyers are a realistic bunch and know that the value of technology is only as good as the human user. That’s why we see questions like, “Who are the typical users of your platform (i.e. developers, line of business staff)? How easy is it for non-technical users to use? How do you recommend we staff this initiative for success?” as buyers vet how easily the CDP is for the marketer to use. This relates also to what functionality comes out-of-the-box and to the last theme…
Machine learning and data science differentiate.
Every RFP has at least one question about the CDP’s predictive/AI/machine learning/data science functionality. As you might have guessed from the way I just lumped them together, there isn’t a tremendous amount of precision in the criteria. Examples include, “How does your solution incorporate machine learning?” and “How and to what extent can we integrate [our own] data segmentation and modeling work (external ingestion of data models and out of box capabilities)?” Nonetheless, though the requirements are broad, they are deal-breakers for many buyers who know that even if they aren’t sure exactly what role this will play for their business, it most certainly will be critical at some point in the future.
In keeping up with marketers’ needs, we updated our customer data platform RFP template, adding specific use case examples and doubling the number of sample questions – all directly from RFPs we’ve received (and, full disclosure, not just from those we’ve won).