A report released this fall by the Customer Data Platform (CDP) Institute points to an important milestone for marketing technology: The ability to play nicely with others.
In “Customer Data Management: CDP Institute Member Survey 2020” [free, registration required], a majority (52 percent) of respondents now indicate – for the first time in these reports – that their martech stack is integrated with other systems and tools.
The breakdown of the 52 percent: twenty-six percent said many of their customer-facing systems were connected to a marketing automation or CRM platform. Fourteen percent said their systems connected to a unified customer database and a shared orchestration engine, and 12 percent cited only connection to a unified customer database.
Integration with internal systems was the top criteria for 66 percent of leaders.
While 669 respondents to a survey from an organization dedicated to customer data platforms might be expected to have customer-facing systems connected to other systems, that wasn’t the case in the CDP Institute’s other two reports. In 2019, respondents answering affirmatively about integration totaled 42 percent. In 2017, it was 37 percent.
“Readers are cautioned,” the report noted, “that the survey audience are members of the CDP Institute, a group that is not representative of the industry.” Even so, it points out, the trend is clear: “customer data is becoming more unified.”
The report found that integration with external systems was considered the most important criteria when selecting martech for 53 percent of martech leaders. For non-leaders, it was 43 percent.
Integration with internal systems was the top criteria for 66 percent of leaders, and the same percentage for non-leaders. In both cases, integration out-polled breadth or sophistication of features, ease of use, operating costs, or initial cost.
There’s integration and there’s integration.
But the biggest takeaway from this report is not simply that marketers want their tools to talk to each other. It’s the reason why.
The reason these respondents want this is because they want to create actionable and unified customer profiles -- from all corners of their touchpoints, with cleaned and combined data that provides useful intelligence. And, especially for marketers employing “best of breed” individual tools, that requires integration.
One might think that the simplest solution to integrating all capabilities is to use a single large marketing platform that covers most, if not all, of one’s needs. Individual capabilities might not be as powerful or unique as acquiring best-in-class point solutions, but at least a single vendor will make sure that all its platform functions work together.
Additionally, the CDP Institute report points out that large single systems inevitably face major issues in compiling unified customer profiles, including such technical issues as data assembly and use. And there are always the issues of finding and employing the right staff and managing data and features across multiple departments.
In other words, there’s integration and there’s integration.
Similar to the CDP Institute report, a 2018 survey by Ascend2 noted that integration is the “biggest obstacle to success with martech” for 52 percent of marketers.
But, as martech maven Scott Brinker noted in a blog post last year, a good question is why integration is an obstacle at all.
He pointed out that virtually every software-as-a-service platform already has APIs to facilitate integration, many platforms have app marketplaces for choosing apps from certified integrated partners, and there is even a category of products, such as Zapier or Segment, that act as easy-to-use go-betweens for connecting data and functions between software tools.
So, what’s the problem?
The issue, he points out, is that there is a wide range to integration. Brinker defines four levels of integration with SaaS platforms: starting at data, and then moving to workflow, user interface/user experience, and then to governance, such as privacy compliance or onboarding.
And the implementation of each of those four levels of integration can range from rudimentary to sophisticated.
Ultimately, the effective quality of those levels of integrations comes down to two key questions:
Does the marketing stack support the current goal for retention of existing customers?
And has the goal for acquiring new customers – especially those with profiles similar to existing customers – been met?
Because getting all the tools in the world to work together harmoniously doesn’t matter if you can’t keep your customer base and grow a larger one.