How to build an effective customer data platform RFP

Doug Roberge on November 12th 2020

The future of business is increasingly digital and complex. There are more ways than ever for a customer to interact with your brand, and to manage each of these interactions, you need an ever-expanding suite of tools. All of these interactions and tools are flooding businesses with more customer data than ever before. Those that can quickly turn this data into insights and, ultimately, a superior customer experience can create a lasting advantage for themselves in the market.

Customer data platforms (CDPs) are a modern technology that helps businesses collect, standardize, unify, and activate their customer data. CDPs create a more complete understanding of the customer and empower the entire organization to make data-driven decisions about how to improve the customer experience and stay ahead of the competition.

However, selecting the right CDP can be a daunting task. There are many CDPs on the market, and their offerings vary greatly.

We’ve helped thousands of companies through the CDP request for proposal (RFP) process and we’ve condensed what we’ve learned into this guide. We’ll walk you through the frameworks and best practices for identifying your requirements and creating an effective CDP RFP.

We created a CDP RFP template you can access here. Feel free to make a copy of this template, and then follow along as you read through this article.

1. Identify your goals

Your CDP will become foundational for your organization’s data infrastructure. The reliable data made available by a CDP can serve as a building block for current and future technology stacks, as well as your data strategies.

Before writing your RFP, it’s critical to define your company’s goals, your desired outcomes, and the type of CDP your organization needs. This will provide a rough road map for choosing a CDP vendor who can fulfill that foundational role.

Define your company-wide CDP goals

These goals will go on the “Company Overview” tab of the CDP RFP template.

First, clearly define your overall goals for implementing a CDP. These goals are usually inspired by specific pain points that impact business growth. We’ve helped thousands of companies through the CDP evaluation process, and we tend to see three common goals that companies set:

Move and innovate faster with a modern tech stack

A motivating pain point for this goal might be that the suite of tools you rely on to create and measure the customer experience are unreliable and hard to manage at scale.

Empower teams to make better, data-driven decisions

For this goal, your pain point might be that it takes too long for your business teams—marketers, sales, and executives — to get the information they need. These nontechnical employees may have to wait days or weeks for the people with the technical know-how to fulfill a request or gather data.

Personalize customer experiences across every channel

The three main pain points that often motivate this goal tend to be:

  • There is little to no personalization getting done at all.

  • The personalization efforts that do get done don’t work together to create a seamless customer experience.

  • Return on investment is unclear for such a labor - and a cost-intensive initiative.

These goals are broad, but they’re rooted in very real pain points that impact the everyday work of many of your employees. You should aim to create goals that are just as broad yet are inspired by clear problems that need fixing.

Personalization ebook CTA

Define desired business outcomes

These outcomes will go on the “Company Overview” tab of the CDP RFP template, right next to your goals.

For each of the goals you outline, identify specific business outcomes you’d like to see happen once you achieve said goal. Think through the success metrics, efficiencies, and KPIs your CDP should improve. Let’s take the common goals we just outlined and explore common business outcomes for each:

Move and innovate faster with a modern tech stack

Related Business Outcomes:

  • Improve your ROI, and speed up time to value on technology investments.

  • Increase your engineering team’s productivity by eliminating tedious work.

  • Save money by avoiding switching costs and vendor lock-in.

  • Mitigate privacy and security risks.

  • Gain efficiencies by automatically collecting, cleaning, managing, and activating all data and user events from one platform.

Empower teams to make better decisions that are driven by data

Related Business Outcomes:

  • Improve productivity, efficiency, and data-driven decision-making across teams.

  • Increase customer data accessibility across the company.

Personalize customer experiences across every channel

Related Business Outcomes:

  • Improve metrics across your customer journey, including key revenue, customer acquisition, and retention goals.

  • Improve marketing and advertising KPIs, such as customer acquisition costs (CAC), return on ad spend (ROAS), and more.

  • Increase customer engagement metrics, such as lifetime value (LTV), customer satisfaction (CSAT), Net Promoter Score (NPS), and real-time engagement.

Determine the type of CDP that will help you achieve your goals

The next step is to determine what type of CDP will help you achieve your organization’s core goals. Selecting the right type of CDP to evaluate is essential to ensuring that all internal teams have access to the trustworthy data they need to achieve success. There are many different types of Customer Data Platforms available, and they fit within four general categories:

Data-focused CDPs focus on ensuring that every team across your organization (marketing, product, analytics, and more) can rely on customer data to achieve growth goals. They put a heavy emphasis on collecting and governing high-fidelity data from hundreds of sources. With this level of control and data quality, you can activate that data across your organization and throughout all your tools to solve complex challenges, like omnichannel personalization and multitouch attribution.

Campaign-focused CDPs focus on making use of customer data for marketing campaigns only. They’re usually designed exclusively around the needs of marketers, solving narrow marketing use cases. Campaign-focused CDPs do not generally provide infrastructure for collecting and governing data for an entire organization.

Partial CDPs focus on data collection and management for specific use cases. Many analytics suites and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms provide CDP-like capabilities that help companies take better advantage of their platform. But these CRMs and analytics tools tend to be limited in scope and functionality compared with data and campaign-focused CDPs.

Niche CDPs focus on solving for a specific industry or niche use case. Often, a niche CDP will serve the vertical needs of a specific industry or anchor on less common use cases.

2. Define your use cases and technical requirements

CDPs can solve many challenges across many teams. Getting input from each of these teams on how they will use a CDP, along with their technical requirements, is key to successful vendor selection.

Clear articulation of cross-functional use cases and requirements will all but narrow your CDP choices for you. Here’s how to go about defining your key use cases and technical requirements.

Assemble a cross-functional RFP team, and identify the project owner

A CDP is a cross-departmental tool, so selecting a diverse team of key stakeholders will help ensure the long-term success of your CDP implementation. In addition to this team, you also want to identify who the leader and owner of this initiative is (hint: most likely, it is you)!

The best RFP teams always include a clear owner (you) and stakeholders from these departments:

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Digital/customer experience leader

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Data/technical architecture leader

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Technical stakeholder

These stakeholders are critical to identifying a complete set of use cases and technical requirements and essential to a successful implementation. Without their help, you may miss key evaluation criteria, technical considerations, and company use cases.

Based on the prioritized needs this team identifies, you may also want to include feedback from stakeholders from these teams:

  • Product

  • Engineering

  • Analytics

  • Customer success

  • Marketing

  • Security

  • Legal

  • Other customer-facing teams

After you have assembled your RFP team, it’s time to start working together to define your nonnegotiable use cases and technical requirements.

Define use cases

These use cases will go on the “CDP Use Cases” tab of the CDP RFP template.

Have each stakeholder on your RFP list, and prioritize their team’s use cases. To help with this step, we provide a list of common use cases in the CDP RFP template for your team to review and modify. Throughout all of the companies we’ve helped with the RFP process, we’ve identified a number of use cases according to the most common company goals:

Move and innovate faster with a modern tech stack

Sample use cases:

  • Accelerate adoption and ROI of your desired tech stack.

  • Set up your tech stack and new tools automatically.

  • Reduce the workload of integrations, ETLs (extract load transforms), and data prep.

  • Collect, clean, manage, and activate user data from one platform.

  • Power your tech stack with trusted and consistent data.

  • Improve the speed and efficacy toward growth initiatives.

  • Enable more frequent and effective experimentation across teams.

Empower teams to make better decisions that are driven by data

Sample use cases:

  • Automate data collection and standardization.

  • Align teams with a single shared data dictionary.

  • Empower teams with a deep understanding of the end-to-end customer journey.

  • Power advanced analytics and trustworthy reporting.

  • Use improved product analytics and attribution to understand how new and updated features impact customer behavior, conversion, and retention.

  • Analyze and optimize your marketing funnel for conversion.

  • Identify, prioritize, and optimize high-value support tickets.

  • Measure product/market fit.

  • Break down data silos between your sales and customer support teams.

  • Ensure data destinations are respecting end-user privacy rights, standards, and preferences.

  • Automatically detect and classify personal identifiable information (PII) in real time in order to accelerate compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and other regulations.

Personalize customer experiences across every channel

Sample use cases:

  • Create a single view of the customer by unifying customer touchpoints across all platforms, apps, third-party tools, and channels.

  • Identify anonymous and known users.

  • Target the right customer with the right message at the right time.

  • Enrich user profiles.

  • Easily create and activate audiences across tools.

  • Personalize the end-to-end customer experience across all platforms (e.g., mobile and web). This can include use cases such as the following:

    • Personalize marketing messaging.

    • Personalize life-cycle campaigns.

    • Optimize marketing and ad spend.

    • Personalize customer service experiences.

    • Personalize the product experience to drive better user engagement and product cross-sell.

Define technical requirements

These requirements will go on the “Technical Requirements” tab of the CDP RFP template.

Your technical requirements are the features and capabilities you expect your CDP to perform in order to achieve your goals. Define and prioritize these requirements with your RFP team.

Technical requirements usually fit within nine overall categories, which are listed below. Each category contains certain considerations to take into account when evaluating CDP vendors for their technical capabilities.

Data collection refers to the platform’s ability to collect user behavior data across channels, platforms, and third-party tools.

Data collection considerations:

  • Which of your applications, websites, back-end sources, and services (online and offline) will the CDP need to collect data from?

  • How does the CDP prevent data loss?

  • How does the CDP ensure data reliability?

  • What’s the process for collecting data through software development kits (SDKs)?

Data activation is the CDP’s ability to deliver data to all of the tools and systems your teams use.

Data activation considerations:

  • What third-party tool destinations does the CDP support for data output?

  • Which integrations support a bidirectional data flow?

  • Does the CDP have the ability to replay data when activating new tools?

  • How easily will your data warehouse and data lake integrate with the CDP?

  • Is the CDP extendable with add-ons and additional features?

Personalization and identity resolution are the platform’s ability to support and enrich unified user profiles for later use in tailoring communication to each individual customer.

Personalization and identity resolution considerations:

  • How easy is it to create audience segments?

  • Will you have the ability to build and syndicate real-time access to audiences and user profiles via API?

  • Does the CDP allow you to customize identity-management rules?

  • Will you be able to enrich user profiles using data from any data source?

Data management includes aspects like data hygiene, data standardization, and schema enforcement. It’s the platform’s ability to validate, clean, and standardize data.

Data management considerations:

  • Can you build and maintain a data dictionary in the CDP?

  • What options are there for automated enforcement of data standards?

  • Does the CDP have versioning controls?

  • Does the CDP have a tool kit to identify and fix bad data?

  • Will you need to export tracking plans for custom processes or coding tools?

Privacy, security, and compliance is the category that addresses the platform’s ability to centralize regulatory compliance and privacy rules.

Privacy, security, and compliance considerations:

  • Will you need the CDP to automatically detect and classify PII?

  • Will you need the ability to control access to PII for specific tools?

  • Does the CPD respect end-user preferences, regardless of user location?

  • Can you set and control user permissions?

Platform design is the category that includes the platform’s scalability, uptime, ease of use, and other platform-related features

Design considerations:

  • Will you need the ability to configure and manage the CDP via API and command code?

  • Will you need an intuitive interface and easy-to-use tools?

  • Does the CDP have a battle-tested data model?

  • How well can the CDP handle traffic spikes?

  • What is the debugging process like?

Integrations include the prebuilt integrations within the platform, along with tools that enable users to build or customize integrations, like APIs, SDKs, and libraries.

Integration considerations:

  • What available out-of-the-box integrations does the CDP have?

  • Do you need the ability to extend the platform outside of the standard integrations?

  • Will all of your partners integrate easily with the platform?

  • Which tools and internal systems need to connect to your CDP?

Services are the internal or third-party network of professional services available to help customers implement, manage, or use the platform long term.

Services considerations:

  • What are the resources needed to implement the platform?

  • What are the resources needed to manage CDP long term?

  • Are service options available to accelerate time to value and/or platform success?

Innovation is the pace of product releases and thought leadership. This category also includes the CDP vendor’s ability to help you adopt new data strategies and keep up with the pace of change.

Innovation considerations:

  • What is the CDP’s product road map?

  • How does the CDP vendor align with industry trends?

In the CDP RFP template, we divide the requirements into these nine categories. Your categories may be a little different, but no matter which ones you use, your RFP team should include a list of requirements and related questions. The vendor should then go through and provide an answer for each category. This format will help your vendors answer your questions more thoroughly and effectively and help you compare vendor responses.

3. Write your RFP

Our customizable CDP RFP template provides a template for writing your CDP RFP. Here, we’ll briefly go through each tab—its core purpose and its main sections:

Company and project overview

A summary of your company and what you’re looking to achieve with this RFP process. Specifically include details such as:

  • An executive summary for your CDP evaluation project and why it’s important

  • Your goals and the challenges you’re looking for a CDP to solve

  • The business outcomes you’re looking for and the success metrics for evaluating those outcomes

  • Your current data and marketing stack

  • An overview of the RFP project

RFP requirements

Provide a clear, concise list of instructions for completing the RFP, such as:

  • The overall RFP process

  • Key deliverables

  • The proposal format

  • Key contacts

  • How to ask questions

  • Timeline and important dates

Vendor overview

Provide a section for the CDP vendor to include pertinent pieces of information about their company, products, and customers in a standard format. Some sample information you may want to collect could include:

  • A short vendor summary

  • The offices and team

  • Financials, including investments, the balance sheet, and their path to profitability

  • Their product vision

  • An overview of their products and services

  • Customer references and relevant customer stories

  • Industry recognition

  • An introduction to the account team

CDP use cases

List your use cases, and have the vendor respond to each one individually. In particular, focus on the details of how the platform fulfills each use case.

Technical requirements

List all of your technical requirements, and provide the vendor the opportunity to respond to each. This step will ensure that your key purchase criteria are met. We also recommend asking vendors to provide a list of all out-of-the-box integrations, APIs, and SDKs available to ensure access to the tools and integrations you need. You can also ask for your vendors to provide relevant architecture diagrams.

Total cost of ownership

Provide a section for vendors to provide details about the total cost of ownership for their platform. This should include all costs associated with their platform, such as platform license and other pricing mechanics, setup or implementation costs, customization costs, professional services, training costs, account management resources, and ongoing support.

4. Select the right long-term vendor

Once you’ve created your RFP, sent it to various vendors, and received responses, it’s time to evaluate. These final steps are intended to narrow down the final platforms, confirm technical requirements, select the right vendor, and begin your CDP journey.

Answer vendor questions

Your vendors will be spending time and resources putting together thorough responses to your RFP. During that time, they will likely have clarifying questions for you. The easiest way to accommodate their requests is to set up a call with each vendor before the proposals are due.

Review vendor responses and evaluate

Reassemble your RFP team, and set up a time to review RFP responses. Create a scoring process, and assign scores to each vendor’s responses to help your team narrow down the top two or three contenders.

Complete technical validation

Once you have narrowed down your finalists, you should confirm that your technical requirements can be met with their platform. To do this, ask your final vendors for a series of in-depth demos, proof-of-concept testing (POC), or trial with your technical teams and stakeholders.

Review details with your top choice

Before fully committing to one vendor, set up time to review final details, such as:

  • Any outstanding questions

  • Final pricing

  • Implementation and ongoing services

  • Procurement process

Make your selection, and set a plan for measuring success

After narrowing down the top contenders, make your selection, and start preparing cross-functional teams for implementation. While your CDP is being implemented, you should also meet with your account team to set quarterly milestones, ensure that your business goals are met, and set the stage for a successful long-term partnership.

Continued partnership with your CDP vendor

A CDP is not a set-it-and-forget-it tool. Your CDP will be a critical platform in your overall tech stack and have a significant effect on your long-term business growth. Everyone across your organization—from marketers to developers to salespeople—will feel this impact of the CDP on their day-to-day work. Therefore, your relationship with your CDP vendor should be treated as an ongoing strategic business relationship.

Once you’re up and running with your CDP, you should rely on your vendor to help educate you on the evolving market, provide thought leadership, reach critical KPIs, maximize ROI, adopt new use cases and features, and continue evolving your data strategies. A CDP is a big, long-term investment, so make sure the vendor you choose is one you enjoy working with.

Good luck on your CDP journey! If you have any questions, schedule a Segment demo today. We’d be happy to discuss.

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