In Finland, there is a saying that roughly translates to “a dear child has many names” – and by taking this, Salesforce’s flagship product must be a very “dear child”. Salesforce has gone through several iterations with naming its CDP product: Customer 360 Audiences → Salesforce CDP → Marketing Cloud CDP → Customer Data Platform → Salesforce Data Cloud.
While all this renaming may sound silly, I think it illustrates the difficulty of defining and positioning the platform. But it’s no wonder that many current and potential Data Cloud (formerly Customer Data Platform) customers are wondering how they could use the platform. In this article, I’ll cover why you should invest in Data Cloud and what skills you need to unlock its benefits.
The Big Shift
Why do you need Salesforce Data Cloud (formerly Customer Data Platform)? To answer this question, we need to first look at the big picture.
Over the last 10 years, the customer data landscape has shifted from ‘the wild west’ to a tightly regulated and restricted playing field. It used to be that companies could quite freely collect and combine data and share that with third parties, namely online advertisers. You’d have social media platforms’ and search engines’ tracking pixels on your website feeding the platforms with live customer data to fuel retargeting campaigns.
Retargeting used to be a key top-funnel marketing activity. Since that is no longer an option – because third-party cookies are being depreciated – we have to find a better solution. And, you might have guessed it, that solution is Data Cloud.
In the current landscape, companies need to collect, combine, and manage their customer data by themselves, instead of relying on third parties to do that for them. However, doing this in real time and at scale requires some serious muscle.
Data Cloud (formerly Customer Data Platform) solves this by leveraging a flexible data model with massive processing power to combine data from many different sources into single, unified customer profiles. With unified profiles, it’s much easier to offer personalized interactions for your customers.
- Your Guide to Customer Data Platforms (and Salesforce CDP)
- What is Salesforce CDP? Salesforce Genie vs. Marketing Cloud Customer Data Platform
- A CDP Is a Powerful Tool — Here’s How To Make It Work for You
The Essential Skills
As with all technology, it’s not about the tool but knowing how to use it – this is where most companies fall short when implementing a CDP. If you do your due diligence regarding competency mapping, implementation will be easy.
Whether you recruit an expert or hire a consultant, you need to know what to ask for first. Based on my prior experience of CDP implementations, these are the domains of expertise that you must secure if you want to ensure a successful implementation of Salesforce Data Cloud.
While day-to-day usage of Data Cloud is mostly declarative (i.e. no-code), you’ll need a skilled back-end developer during implementation and when updating events and data coming into Data Cloud. The following are key skills that any developer working with Data Cloud should have:
- Website and mobile app event tracking
- API integrations and SDKs
- Salesforce connectors
- Knowledge of JSON data structure
Data Management Skills
Data is in the name of the platform, so it must be important. Each organisation has its own data model and architecture, so Data Cloud needs someone to configure the platform accordingly.
Data management is demanding in that updates to one area (e.g. data stream, data model or data relationships) tend to have ripple effects across the system. It takes up roughly two thirds of the work involved in implementing Data Cloud, so these skills are very important:
- Data architecture
- Data modelling
- Identity reconciliation
- Duplicate management
- Consent management
- Customer segment building
- Marketing Cloud contact/subscriber management
Business Analyst Skills
Implementing Data Cloud is as much a business transformation initiative as a technical one. You need people in your team who are good at identifying and solving business challenges, otherwise you risk ending up with an expensive, siloed system that nobody really understands.
Business analysts have recently become a Salesforce household name alongside admins and developers, and the skills associated with them are very important for Data Cloud implementations:
- Team steering
- Business process mapping
- Customer journey mapping
- Requirement eliciting
- Communicating platform value to stakeholders
- User story building
The Dream Team
Salesforce Data Cloud, or any CDP for that matter, is not a plug-and-play solution. You cannot simply hire a consultancy to install the platform and let it work its magic in the background.
Data Cloud needs a team of skilled professionals to operate it. You can, of course, outsource the team partly or entirely to a partner, and that is totally fine. Just keep in mind that it requires continuous upkeep.
Without further ado, here’s my ‘dream team’ for setting up and developing Salesforce Data Cloud…
The product owner is responsible for the platform, including its current capabilities and the development roadmap. They translate end-customer and business requirements into new features and updates to the existing data model. They keep a mindful eye on the budget, ensure that timetables are met, and respond to any blockers that impact platform development.
Customer Data Specialist
This person knows the organisation’s data inside out. They can understand the data capabilities and limitations, and identify potential risks. The data specialist has prior experience in data management, i.e. running ETL processes and managing segments either declaratively or via SQL. They should also understand the data architecture in play, knowing the organisation’s data hierarchy and data relationships.
Marketing has been the primary driver behind CDPs in general. The reason being that marketing is a heavy consumer of customer data. The marketing specialist knows where and how segments will be used. They work alongside the customer data specialist to identify and build segments with Data Cloud and activate them to other platforms, including Marketing Cloud and mobile apps. There is some overlap between these two roles, which is a good thing from a risk management perspective.
Back-end developers are experts in building bridges between various systems. Data Cloud always requires some development work, since the data has to be brought into the platform via APIs if ready-made connectors aren’t available. This is always the case with website events, for example, the data about form submissions, product views, and shopping cart activity. The back-end developer works with the customer data specialist to ensure the data coming into Data Cloud is accurate, complete and compatible with the data model.
As mentioned, Data Cloud is not a one-off exercise but a continuous process that requires time, money, and effort. An executive sponsor communicates back and forth with the team and upper management to secure these resources. They relay the needs and worries of the management to the core team. They also keep the management informed of progress that the team has made.
It can be difficult to understand why you may need Salesforce Data Cloud (formerly Customer Data Platform) and what skills you need to unlock this tool. The platform can be difficult to define and position, but hopefully by preparing the right team you will be able to reap the benefits for your marketing efforts.