Almost every discussion of technology acquisition states that organizational engagement factors, not technology, are the main drivers of success. But too often, the bulk of the discussion is focused on technical issues of how systems work, what features to look for, and how to test performance. But there’s a good reason for this. Organizational issues are different in each company, while technical issues are pretty similar. When you’re writing an article or preparing a conference presentation, it makes sense to cover the topics that will be relevant to the largest portion of your audience.
But an unfortunate side effect of focusing on technology is a false impression that organizational issues are an afterthought. They are not. Recent Customer Data Platform Institute research found that respondents at consumer businesses with deployed customer data platforms (CDPs) cited organizational problems more often than any other issue, and four times more often than failure of the CDP to perform as promised (46% vs 12%).
These organizational obstacles extend beyond the familiar issue of cooperation between departments. The actual survey question was “Our organization wasn’t prepared to use the CDP due to lack of skills, training, alignment, planning, etc.” While poor cooperation can be an issue, many CDP applications don’t span departmental boundaries. But all of them require users who are trained and skilled to understand what a CDP does and how to take advantage of its capabilities.
Other parts of our research further clarify the issue. Since merely deploying a CDP is not a goal in itself, we asked whether a company’s deployed CDP is providing significant value.
Among the remaining 40%, nearly all plan to extend their deployment to deliver business value in the future. Some of these companies may simply have newer systems than the high value deployments, but it’s also likely that many are taking longer because their project ran into unexpected difficulties.
Not surprisingly, companies with a high-value CDP deployment report many fewer problems than those with a low-value deployment. While organizational issues were the most common for both groups, they were cited by just one third of the high -value CDPs compared with two-thirds of the low-value group.
More significantly, both groups reported problems with input data and underestimated budgets at roughly similar rates, while problems with poor requirements, data design, building a common customer ID, and connecting with activation systems were three to four times more common among the low-value group. These are all problems that stem from not properly understanding CDP requirements in advance. The result in all cases will be delays as the initial implementation is reworked to accommodate actual systems and user needs.
What causes companies to deploy a system without properly understanding requirements? A second survey question about obstacles to customer data success sheds some light. Companies with a high-value CDP are actually more likely than the others to cite problems with budgets, cross-department cooperation, and extracting source data. Since these firms are receiving high-value from their CDPs, we can assume they addressed them successfully.
By contrast, companies not yet earning value from their CDP were much more likely to cite problems with support from senior management, marketing staff, and technology staff. These are the groups whose cooperation is essential to generating value once the CDP is deployed, regardless of whether it is meeting technical specifications. Failure to engage them from the start will yield incorrect requirements before deployment and poor utilization of the CDP after it’s in place.
The data on cross-department cooperation is especially interesting. Problems with cooperation are actually cited more often by companies with a high-value CDP than by companies with delayed value (42% vs 29%). In fact, cooperation is the second-most-common problem for high-value companies and the fifth-highest among the others. This contradicts the common view that poor cross-department cooperation is a primary cause of CDP difficulties. One plausible interpretation of the results is that cross-departmental issues only surface after a company has resolved more fundamental challenges with management, marketing, and IT support. While cross-department cooperation may well be a barrier to taking full advantage of a deployed CDP, there are plenty of valuable use cases that don’t depend on it.
There’s nothing inherently surprising about these results. Previous CDP Institute research has yielded similar insights, for example showing that companies who select martech based on product features are more satisfied with their investments than companies who focus on product costs or aim to avoid training costs by hiring workers who are already familiar with their new system.
Our previous research also finds that high-satisfaction companies are more likely to use formal martech management processes such as long-term plans, technical standards, and value metrics. What’s significant is the exceptions which include agile selection methods and use of external consultants. Both approaches minimize engagement with current company staff and, as a result, probably do more harm than good.
That final point is critical. While conventional wisdom has long stressed the importance of organizational engagement, many CDP projects are run by small teams that seek to move quickly. No matter how diligently these teams seek inputs from the rest of the organization, much of their work is necessarily done in isolation. The team members must then educate the intended users after the CDP is purchased. These users are often less enthusiastic than the team members about the project, and may reveal they have different needs than the team originally understood. The result may be delays as the project is restructured to meet true user needs and as users take time to decide how they will really apply the CDP system. Our survey data fits this scenario exactly.
One maxim should be embraced from this research. It is that organizational engagement is essential for CDP success. Project teams must be sure to engage users and tech staff throughout the CDP acquisition process, even if the project takes longer as a result. The alternative is a deployed CDP that requires time-consuming rework before it can deliver true business value.