Have you heard the news? ‘CRM is a thing of the past. CDP is where it’s at these days.’

A CDP, or customer data platform, allows users to integrate data across multiple applications so that engagement details and strategies can be housed in, or at least accessible via, one place.

“Put simply, CDPs collect customer data from multiple channels and match them across those channels. This identifies a customer as the same user whether they’re on your blog, on Twitter or on a landing page. Marketers can then use this customer database to create a single customer view and track the customer journey.” – SelectHub

Now, for those of you who have delved deeply into CRM for the last few decades, I suspect you are responding as I have – “That’s just the promise of CRM!”

Proponents of CDP assert that it differs from CRM in the following ways:

  1. CDP can handle anonymous data by figuring out to whom the data belong.
  2. CDP is ‘simple’ and can be used without IT.
  3. In CDP, data isn’t duplicated into transactions (i.e., unstructured data can remain unified, yet available).

Some have concluded CDP is a subset of CRM, but a faster-to-market, marketing-friendly tool. Some see CDP as an “and” – something missing from CRM. Unless of course you’re using Salesforce. Gardner found in a recent survey about CDP that “half (52%) identify Salesforce Analytics Builder as their customer data platform.” I’m pretty sure Salesforce touts itself as a CRM, right?

While some see real innovation and others see semantics, there are two admirable aspects of the push for CDP warrant attention.

  • First, CDP proponents focus on integration of data across all departments, tools, and processes. The value of this for nonprofits is enormous. If and when our integrated systems can create a complete picture, we can really know better how to engage our constituents. We should all position our work and our systems for more and more integration.
  • Second, CDP proponents claim their application is geared for the end user. In fact, a cursory search of Google states very plainly that CRM is for IT and CDP is for the user (and, namely, the marketer). Which brings us back to that ‘simple’ claim – I’m a little worried what these proponents are leaving out is some serious programming hours and calibration by the very IT professional services firms pitching CDP. After all, if a marketing professional can leave their own IT out of the loop, this doesn’t mean other services won’t be needed – and these will be costly. However, if the end result of considering CDP is better adoption and access by users, that would be a welcomed outcome.

Do you need a CDP? Well, you might already have one. Your CRM could very likely be better integrated, with more constituent data, and be easier for end-users to manage. So, perhaps start there. Once you’ve really optimized and maximized your CRM use, your organization will likely be much more effective at adopting CDP.

What is your organization doing in this regard? Any comments on the best path toward/with CDP? We’d love to learn more about your experiences; and if you’d like some help making sure that you’re getting the most out of your current platform, let us know!

CDP or CRM – our team is here to help.


Chris is President of Strategic Services at Zuri Group. His areas of expertise include fundraising strategy and systems, staff and resource management, database management, business intelligence and data reporting, database conversion projects, gift and data processing, and technology needs.

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