Where To Start With CDP? Begin With The End In Mind

“All things are created twice. There’s a mental creation and a physical creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint. Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each project with a clear vision of your desired destination, and then make it happen.”

–         Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

As Covey recommended, beginning with the end in mind is a terrific habit. He first gave this advice in 1989, but it still applies today.

What’s your organization’s vision for one-to-one customer engagement?

Is it an integrated, omnichannel experience, where each engagement informs the next? Where online and offline work together?

This kind of unified, personalized approach produces happier customers and better business results. Yet many companies struggle to engage this way. The primary hurdle is data silo’s. Data is the connective tissue but each customer touchpoint produces data in different formats. This makes it difficult to integrate, which prohibits many firms from engaging their customers on a one-to-one basis across channels.

Harnessing your organization’s data is a big deal. Leading companies do this very well. Yet in an omnichannel world many companies still struggle with data silos. What do the best organizations do better than their competitors?

  1. They integrate cross-channel data sources for a single customer view
  2. They analyze the consolidated data to better understand what their customers want and need
  3. They use this data to engage each customer in an optimal way, based on their real-time needs

Doing this is hard, but there is technology that enables companies to do this. It’s called a Customer Data Platform (CDP). A CDP is a marketer-managed system that creates a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems. This new type of marketing technology does many things, but two things that you should be aware of (1) it enables organizations to bust data silo’s and integrate customer data and (2) it enables organizations to personalize customer journeys (not just touchpoints).

I partner with organizations to help them use CDP’s and other marketing technologies to understand their customers better and to engage on a one-to-one basis. In my experience working with a variety of firms I’ve recognized the importance of starting by developing a clear vision.

With a vision of where you want to go, you are able to develop specific use cases. The best time to do this is before you select a CDP vendor. Bringing use cases to a vendor review will help the tech firms understand your needs and scope a better engagement. It’s not uncommon for companies to implement a CDP based on a narrow use-case and later on seek to use the platform to address additional opportunities – this can require additional time and costs.

As Covey would have predicted – the teams that develop a clear blueprint for their end-to-end customers journeys achieve better outcomes than those teams that dive in and invest in technologies without a clear vision of a desired outcome.


This answer will vary depending on your business, but generally I recommend developing a shared vision that includes input from key functions. Get their input early and after you develop a draft of your consolidated vision, circle back for feedback. Look for suggestions and ultimately buy-in across the team.

Three areas that that organizations should consider: (1) Optimal Customer Journey (2) High Priority Cross Channel Initiatives and (3) Operating Model. Let’s review each:

Optimal Customer Journey: A majority of firms are organized by different functions or departments that focus on specific touchpoints such as a website, or a media campaign or a contact center. If these touchpoints are isolated it’s time to think about end-to-end journeys – which across all channels. Review the journey in two ways – Current State & Future State:

Current State: What should we change now?

  • What are your customer’s journeys today? How do they differ by segment?
  • How does your customer engagement differ from competitors and disruptors?

Future State: What are likely changes that we should prepare for?

  • Given emerging technology, trends and regulations how do you envision that customer engagement will likely look five years from now? What data will that require?
  • What level of automation and personalization will be right for your business?

Even if your not 100% positive about future journeys, thinking about likely scenarios will help inform your plans for data integration.

A customer data platform can enable you to integrate data along the journey and use machine learning to synchronize personalized engagement. Meaning that each touchpoint shares data with all other touchpoints and they each engage with the customer accordingly. Develop specific use cases based the types of journeys that you want to optimize. It could be your customers buying process, your customer service process, etc.

Don’t forget to consider privacy issues. Clearly communicate to customers the data that you collect, how you protecting it and how it enables you to deliver a better experience. Take into account all regulations including GDPR.

Prioritized Cross-Channel Initiatives:  A CDP not only integrates data to deliver a more meaningful customer experience but it can be used in other areas as well. When developing your blueprint think expansively about the kind of information that can help your organization make better decisions. Be mindful that asking people what data they want doesn’t usually yield the best results. Have a session where you dissect your biggest opportunities and challenges and brainstorm about how different data combinations and activation strategies can help your teams make better decisions.

Another thing to think about up front is reporting and data visualization. Review how customer data is used across the organization and look for potential improvements with a 360° perspective. Often times consolidated data will uncover important signals that were previously missed. Set-up alerts to highlight opportunities for your team to take action or automate appropriate actions. The more that you take into account up front, the stronger ROI will be on your data and technology investments.

Operating Model: As with many other initiatives, when you are deploying a CDP it is important to align strategy, people, process and technology. If your different functional teams don’t have aligned goals and procedures it will compromise your ability to engage your customers on a one-to-one basis.

Consider if you adopt a customer data platform what new roles will you need? What training will be required? What should you outsource? How will you foster effective collaboration? What are the right goals to give your team? Ideally your vision takes these questions into account.

Another element to consider in your operating model is clarifying how your different marketing technologies (such as CDP, DMP and CRM) will be used both independently and together. This is an area where there is often a lot of confusion.

It’s common for organizations to spend significant time on vendor selection but not enough on developing use cases and thinking about the operating model. Take this to heart: You can select the best CDP platform in the world that aligns with your needs, but without the right expertise and processes you will likely be unsuccessful.

Ensure that your team is onboard: When you’re communicating your vision internally, put yourself in your team’s shoes. They will likely be viewing your plans through two lenses (1) Is this the right direction for the organization? (We naturally want our company to be successful) (2) What’s in it for me? In a world of increasing automation, employees may be suspicious. If their role will be changing, let them know and highlight the benefits they can expect – such as developing new skills, etc.

If you’re just getting started, your operating plan should probably take a crawl, walk, run approach. Do small tests to start, evaluate the results and scale as appropriate.


A clear and shared vision has many benefits including:

1.      You’ll make better decisions & achieve a better outcome

A clear vision will clarify whether you need a customer data platform or not. It will help you select the vendor that best meets your needs AND contribute to a better implementation.

2.      You’ll have greater buy-in and your team will execute more effectively

Transforming to a one-to-one customer engagement model requires new processes and collaboration across functions. The more that your team visualizes and embraces the vision the better your implementation will be.

Conversely, if they feel that they are simply implementing another piece of technology without an understanding of how it fits into the bigger picture – it will show.

Lastly, companies that achieve the best results refine employee goals and incentive plans to align with new strategies.

3.      You’ll get valuable feedback

When your team is unclear about where you’re going they have nothing to comment on. When they clearly understand the CDP’s capabilities and the organization’s desired outcomes they will identify opportunities (and remove hurdles) within their function to make the initiative better.


So why do some companies have limited vision in this area? Below are common reasons and thoughts on how to overcome them.

Knowledge Gap

Marketing technology is evolving quickly and it’s tough keeping up with the latest innovations. It doesn’t help when organizations are approached by many vendors that claim to do similar things. If you need help understanding your options, consider engaging with a vendor-neutral consultant.

Limited Time & Conflicting Priorities

It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day operations and the pursuit of near-term goals. This can short-change our long-term objectives.

If you want to ensure that your team doesn’t take their eye off of their short-term objectives you can bring in specialist partners to help you develop the right plan and free up your team’s bandwidth so that you’re both winning today and setting yourself up for success tomorrow.

Underestimating the Importance of Shared Vision in Cross-Functional Initiatives

Organizations implement marketing technologies all the time without developing a formal vision. You may be thinking what makes this different?

Here’s why: If an email team is bringing in a new email platform, they pretty much know what to do and can implement it themselves. But this kind of cross-channel platform is a different animal. Ensure that your entire team understands what is expected from them and what they can expect from other functions (who they may never have worked with before).


Make sure that your plan is pragmatic. Marketers have told me stories where consulting firms developed binders full of detailed plans that looked good in theory but just weren’t feasible. Lack of vision is a problem, but so is rolling out a plan that is too complex or unrealistic.

If your organization already has a customer data platform but never developed a detailed vision. It’s not too late. Take the time to review your progress and assess how can you improve one-to-one customer engagement and identify how your CDP can inform and activate solutions in other areas.

I’ll wrap this up with another habit from Covey. He recommended that we “Put First Things First.” So, make your customer’s experience a priority, envision the best way that you can engage them and then align your strategies, people, processes and technology. Good luck making it happen.