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How to Choose a Customer Data Platform

Jayesh Patil
Data Solutions Architect
Feb 14, 2022

The CDP market is exploding! If you’re looking to evaluate and choose a Customer Data Platform that’s best for your business, it’s great to have a robust evaluation approach or a CDP vendor evaluation expert like Search Discovery to help with your selection. To learn more, read on!

The CDP space is exploding!

It bears repeating from the intro! Brands can choose from hundreds of CDP products, and choosing the best CDP for your company can be confusing. Some CDPs are good at identity stitching with AI. Some make customer journey orchestration easy. Some are very data engineer friendly and easy to customize and build. Many CDPs provide schema-less data ingestion, whereas few CDPs follow a data model approach. How’s a brand to choose?!

Search Discovery’s experience with multiple CDP vendors helps us make the best decisions for our customers, including customers with special privacy and security concerns. While we have several partnerships and implementation experience, we are tool agnostic when it comes to tool assessment. We believe in finding the right tool to do the job that suits your needs. Our evaluation and final suggestions are solely based on our assessment.

This post can help you learn how to choose the best CDP or help you determine if a CDP vendor selection partner is right for you.

What is a CDP?

CDPs give brands a single source of truth about customers to create customer profiles from data coming from various data sources inside and outside the company. A single source of truth is important for one GIANT reason: creating excellent customer experiences.

CDPs help brands create segments that are automated, up-to-date, and thoughtfully designed; they access customer data in real-time or near real-time to support highly relevant and personalized multi-channel journeys for customers, and they improve data management from consent governance to deduplication and avoid violating customer privacy and spam laws.

Why are CDP platforms in high demand right now?

CDPs are in high demand right now because the pandemic has accelerated digital demand, increasing the need for

  1. Excellent customer experiences that are driven by data;
  2. More Martech solutions, which have piled tech stacks high and lead to increasingly disparate data sources, thus the need for consolidation and a single source of truth;
  3. Near real-time, quality data presented in a user-friendly interface that allows decision-makers to act on insights fast; and
  4. Privacy changes—the bulk force of consumer demands for privacy have led to both policy changes and the depreciation of third-party cookies, which limits brands’ abilities to track customers’ browsing behavior, which means the pressure is building for brands and publishers to create first-party relationships with their customers.

Who needs to get a CDP?

Chances are that if you’re in one of the following roles, you’ve been learning a lot about CDPs lately and a CDP may be right for you:

  • Multi-channel marketers with integrated marketing goals (as opposed to siloed marketing channel units pursuing their own channel goals irrespective of customer experience)
  • Large-scale advertisers
  • Marketing executives with automated customer lifecycle marketing initiatives
  • Marketing executives with limited technical resources in their marketing department
  • Marketing executives with challenges accessing and leveraging customer data sources
  • Marketing executives focused on providing personalized experience for customers

Also, your brand has likely been affected by the same market trends mentioned before (digital acceleration, increasingly big and fragmented Martech stack, necessity for quality data activation, and privacy changes). A CDP is a great way to address today’s shifting market needs. Read more about whether a CDP is right for your business in our free guide: Digital Transformation with a CDP.

What are the different components of CDPs?

Different vendors break CDP products up into various parts, but, in general, if you’re thinking about how your CDP will help you understand and act to create excellent customer experiences, typically CDP parts fall under these three categories:

  1. Customer Profiles- ID resolution, single customer profile, and data governance
  2. Customer Intelligence- Creating segments, insights, machine learning (including lookalike modeling)
  3. Customer Activation- Journey orchestration, experimentation, measurement

What are the top CDP platforms?

The best CDP for your business will depend on your business requirements and use cases.

  • The first step in selecting the right CDP is to define your goals and desired business impact.
  • Next, define your use cases and requirements. (We focus a lot more on these steps in our “How to Select a CDP” video. Check it out.)
  • When you’ve done that, prioritize your use cases and requirements
  • Evaluate different platforms across your use cases and requirements.
  • Request demonstrations from the platforms on your shortlist
  • And finally, select a platform.

What do you look for in a CDP platform?

When evaluating a CDP platform, after you’ve defined your business requirements and use cases, consider your people, processes, and technologies. Without this three-pronged approach, even the highest-powered tool won’t be successful. An evaluation partner like Search Discovery can ensure all these resources are aligned and empowered.

Once you’re ready to evaluate a CDP platform, focus within the following categories:

  • Core features- CDPs help brands ingest data (i.e., to gather, standardize, and validate data from online and offline sources), access data (i.e., store data in a centralized location to be used and analyzed ), and unify profiles so that brands can then act on their data. Evaluate how a CDP ingests and manages data from data sources and data destinations
  • Data management- Evaluate the tool’s data processing speed, API support, and data load considerations.
  • Identity management & B2B- Evaluate the CDP’s support for system ID and ability to link profiles using various matching techniques.
  • Operational Enablement- Evaluate how the CDP features match up with your operational enablement needs. Do you need to create customer segments, enable customer journeys, do you need any custom machine learning models, visualization or BI tools, etc.?
  • Mobile and website integration- Evaluate the CDP’s capability to integrate website data and distinguish between anonymous and new users.
  • Analytics- Evaluate end-user segmentation and manual and automated predictive analytics capabilities.
  • Campaigns- Evaluate the CDP’s campaign integration capabilities, including dynamic content generation and multi-channel activation scheduling
  • Data Governance- Evaluate the CDP’s privacy, security, and compliance capabilities.
  • Service- Evaluate the platform’s training and support capabilities.

Who should be involved in the CDP decision-making process?

Most CDPs are bought from a marketing department’s budget, and the marketing department is the end-user of the tool. But marketers probably won’t know whether a CDP’s SDKs or APIs fit with the company’s existing technology stack. That’s the purview of data engineers. Likewise, product managers are the ones who will know whether a CDP will play well with existing downstream tools and the company’s data governance and data pipeline.

Also, Since CDPs manage customer data, it’s usage is valuable across the business for any department that needs visibility in this data. This single source of truth helps keep communication about campaigns transparent and consistent, it saves time because no one has to do manual data pools, and it makes analytics cohesive and more effective.

Here’s who should be included in the CDP decision-making process:

  • Data Engineers- who will need to understand the data management flow
  • Marketers- who will need to understand how to act on the data to provide an excellent customer experience
  • Product Managers- who will need to understand engagement insights, product performance, and how the CDP fits within the tech stack and growth plans

A nonexhaustive list of questions to ask to help guide your CDP selection process

  • What core features am I looking for to meet our business requirements?
  • Does the CDP provide SDKs and APIs that work in our systems?
  • Does the CDP do integrations that move third-party vendor code from the client-side to the server-side?
  • What developer tools or documentation does the CDP provide?
  • How do data management features work to easily get us the data we require?
  • How will the CDP meet my business requirements (and compliance guidelines) for identity management?
  • Will I be using the CDP for B2C, B2B, B2P, or hybrid campaigns?
  • How will the CDP enable operational efficiencies for our brand?
  • Will the CDP serve as an omnichannel manager in the channels we care about most?
  • What analytics functions will help us get the most actionable insights?
  • How does the CDP perform to power successful marketing campaigns?
  • What data governance issues are important and how does the CDP handle these?
  • What is the quality of service like for the platform provider?
  • What are the benefits of hiring a CDP evaluation partner like Search Discovery?

How working with a CDP partner helps you attain marketing ROI on your CDP investment

When Search Discovery helps a client evaluate CDPs, we focus on helping companies remove bias from their decision and get the maximum value from their investment. To do this, we painstakingly assess a client’s business needs and ultimately provide a focused, highly researched and scored evaluation. We also are experts in the CDP marketplace who geek out daily about new products, features, and platforms across providers, so we’re able to make the most qualified recommendations.

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Our process

1. Clarifying and aligning on business requirements is so important for CDP selection, that we take a three-step approach to make sure they’re right. We start with interactive discovery sessions with the client’s cross-functional teams and stakeholders to deep dive into their challenges, goals, use cases, and business requirements. We document and define requirements, use cases, and any features a client might bring forward as being helpful. We review all the brand’s data sources and map requirements into an evaluation framework. We identify business needs that are currently being met and those that are unmet by existing technology.

We also organize use case workshops to identify high-value business goals for CDP implementation. The idea of the workshop is to bring together stakeholders and align on goals and objectives while discovering CDP. We enable teams to think proactively and ask questions to prioritize use cases.

Once requirements are documented and refined, we work with stakeholders to do a thorough requirements review and gather any feedback. We also advise on other requirements that clients should consider like GDP and CCPA compliance and security standards. We provide guidance on how a CDP can help with data governance to protect and honor customer interests.

2. When we’re sure that the business requirements are aligned and the value of achieving them is understood, we can then fast-track our subsequent evaluation recommendations.

3. Next, we prioritize each requirement from nice-to-have to critical. This helps us build a decision-tree evaluation of vendors. Below is an example of how we apply prioritized business requirements to the evaluation of CDP core features.

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4. Search Discovery draws on partnerships and expertise across the CDP space to help focus a client’s evaluation to the top 3-4 vendors that meet the critical business requirements. After finalizing the top 3 CDP vendors, we again do a deep dive discussion with clients. We create a final recommendation deck including roadmap and effort estimates for implementation.

5. We create a vendor scoring guide with client priorities and use cases in mind (see an example below).

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Based on priorities and needs, we help clients compare CDPs using our scoring tools against vendors’ documentation as well as vendor interviews and demonstrations that we coordinate. We help clients with any RFP needs for the vendors.

We do more feedback meetings to dig deeper into scoring and features and help understand what and how the different CDP platforms work. Our evaluation framework helps clients understand the potential and limitations of different CDP products that are available and how well they fit into their ecosystem. We carefully consider the client’s data sources and guide on how each CDP will ingest data, create profiles, segments and enable campaigns.

6. Finally, we provide a recommendation based on the results of our vendor evaluation.

7. Once a client selects a vendor, we provide our implementation expertise to help clients create hyper-personalized customer journeys with dynamic campaigns.

Download our free guide: Digital Transformation with a CDP.


Choosing a CDP from among all the choices can be overwhelming! To select a CDP, you first have to clarify your business requirements and use cases, noting that you can realize the business impact of a CDP in three areas: organizational enablement, customer knowledge, and return on investment. A CDP evaluation partner like Search Discovery can apply your business requirements to create alignment on the value of a CDP across cross-functional teams, conduct unbiased vendor evaluations, and provide unbiased CDP platform recommendations and platform implementations that extend the value of your CDP choice.

Discovery's robust Customer Data Platform approach helps leading brands select and implement the right tool. If end-to-end support is right for you, contact us right away.

Jayesh Patil
Data Solutions Architect

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