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Navigating changing customer behavior: an interview with Salesforce CDP Expert Neil Armstrong

december 21, 2022

The world is constantly changing. Whether those changes come in the form of a global pandemic, changing customer behavior and expectations or advancing technology is irrelevant after a while; the change and how to navigate through it is all that matters.


We are at such a transition point right now. Customer behavior has already changed, and now companies are rushing to change in relation to their customers’ new set of needs and expectations. And while there are indeed pieces of technology that can help to better meet the moment, the truth is that without a more fundamental shift in the longstanding mindset of companies and a change to the customer/brand relationship, even the best tools won’t be able to help meet the moment on their own.





Without a fundamental shift in the longstanding mindset of companies and a change to the customer/brand relationship, even the best tools won’t be able to help meet the moment on their own. 

Neil Armstrong
Senior Director of Marketing Cloud and CDP at Valtech


To better address these shifts in customer behavior, the new reality companies find themselves in as a result, and the technology that can help in the moment, we’ve sat down with Valtech’s Senior Director of Marketing Cloud and CDP Neil Armstrong for a quick interview. With over 15 years’ experience as both a customer of Salesforce and a direct Salesforce employee, Neil has extensive experience leading a Salesforce Marketing Cloud Solution Engineering team which focused on emerging technologies, one of which being Salesforces Customer Data Platform (CDP).

Q. What changes have you noticed to customer behavior over time?

N.A: In 2008, I joined a development team designing and building a single customer view. Back then, we were capturing customer data from web forms, competition entries and website sign ups. By creating a common ID using matching rules in SQL, we were able to link the data to transactions. It took tens of thousands of lines of SQL code and the QA process took longer than development. Looking back, it’s almost bizarre to think of this as a leading-edge solution at the time.

Over the following decade, I worked with clients across many industries (Sony, Amer Sports, KLM Airlines, The John Lewis Partnership just to name a few) on their customer data strategy and architecting solutions to meet ever changing business expectations. I’ve seen changes come to the technology surrounding customer data, the legal focus on user privacy, changes in customer buying behavior and even changes in the priorities of companies looking to better capitalize on their first-party data.

In the last few years, I’ve seen several industry changes:
1 One major change is the push away from cookies and unregulated/seamless data capture and towards a world dominated by GDPR and growing privacy concerns among end users. With a cookieless future ahead, the importance of first party data is vital, putting the customer in control and expecting a real ROI on the data they give to a brand.

2 A business’ customer data strategy is now a business-wide initiative rather than just a marketing lead initiative. With an increasing number of Chief Customer Officer roles and companies going more direct to customer, strategy is key.

3 A need for real-time, consistent, autonomous Omnichannel strategy. Customers want to interact with a brand via the method they find convenient at that point in time.

4 A need for business decisions to be made in real-time with trusted Analytics.

5 Consent and Governance taking a critical role in any data strategy, single opt-ins are a thing of the past.

6 Artificial Intelligence giving deeper understanding of data as well as the ability to collect and organize larger amounts of data than ever before, opening the door to new kinds of experiences and interactions.



Q. Some of those changes feel like they stand to fundamentally change the customer/brand relationship. In what ways do you see that change needing to happen?

N.A. : Exactly, customer expectations and perceptions of brands have permanently changed, and that means that companies who continue trying to interact with customers in tried and true ways are now setting themselves up for failure. Where customers once viewed brands more like an acquaintance (someone who might use their name every now and then or offer a friendly “Hello” in passing), now customers expect brands behave more like a best friend. A best friend who expects you to remember their birthday, know they are vegetarian when you’re ordering dinner, or know they only fly premium when booking a trip. A best friend who trusts you enough to give you the kinds of secrets perfectly suited for an embarrassing best man toast at their wedding, but expects you to respect those secrets when they have asked you not to share.

This is an incredible shift in power from the brand to the customer. Given that shift in power, a change in the mindset of brands is needed to put the needs and comfort of the customer ahead of a lot of other, previously more important, concerns. This need to change is one brands are taking seriously and looking to technology to help provide flexible and secure solutions. In the last 12 months, I’ve seen Salesforce CDP evolve to provide this security and flexibility to companies and be the solutions to business-wide accessible, customer-focused data.

Q. What is a Customer Data Platform, and how does it help businesses make changes to meet these new relationships?

N.A: As companies seek technological solutions to help navigate the new realities of customer expectations, they’re learning firsthand that the digital landscape today is vast. The number of solutions available to businesses is difficult to measure. This brings complexity in decision-making and it’s the role of trusted advisors to guide businesses in making the right choices to advance their growth.

Customer Data Platform (CDP) isn’t new terminology; in some form, this has been around for a long time. Even the antiquated solution I mentioned from 2008 was a CDP. Traditional CDPs have been systems of record for a customer, allowing customer data to be processed into a single system. You would then need many ELT processes to manage consent, segmentation and measurement.

This is where Salesforce CDP stands out in the market, bringing together data ingestion, consent, profile unification, segmentation, activation and AI insights in one solution and in real time. Furthermore, having this at the center of the Salesforce 360 with native connectors for other clouds, brings huge efficiency business-wide, allowing brands to be more relevant than ever before.




Salesforce CDP stands out in the market by bringing together data ingestion, consent, profile unification, segmentation, activation and AI insights in one solution and in real time.  

Neil Armstrong
Senior Director of Marketing Cloud and CDP at Valtech

What’s important today is for companies to really look at themselves, their role in their industry, their KPI’s, their customers and bring that together to design a business strategy which identifies the requirements for the right platform to enable them to efficiently service their business and customers.

The right CDP for a business is an enabler, enabling teams across the whole business to access relevant data to ensure consistent engagement and experiences. An enabler to use the information which a customer has trusted you with to treat them like a best friend and feel valued at every brand touch point. Providing the best experience is the best mechanism to create loyalty and brand advocates.

The CDP solutions I’ve worked on over the years which have had the fastest ROI are the ones which start with the end in mind, facilitated workshops focusing on KPI’s, living the brand exercises and business goals which can then be reserve engineered to guide customers through journey mapping based on customer lifecycle stages. This results in a joint roadmap to success and Identifies results-driven project check points and the low hanging fruit with the biggest impact. This approach allows the business to see early results and develops continuous sponsorship as the project rhythm continues.


Q: That sounds good from a business perspective, but I’m wondering about the potential stress for IT teams of implementing a CDP. At the risk of getting into the technical side of things, how is transitioning to a CDP good for IT teams?

N.A. : With businesses having to manage hundreds if not thousands of applications, the consolidation of systems and processes is also a key driver in IT. The overheads on application support and maintenance have been a driver for migration to cloud computing. Cloud-based solutions offer efficiency in uptime, localization of data for multi-region companies and streaming upgrades.

I’ve always found having an IT sponsor to a CDP project important because enterprise architecture practices need to know the full data landscape to develop business capabilities, whether it is app management, financial processes or website maintenance.

When looking at cloud and CDPs, it's important to remember that by switching you’re not losing control or ownership of data or the processes; instead, you’re gaining efficiencies to allow IT to prioritize projects which might have been on the backburner for years and allowing teams to grow expertise in new technologies.


Q. As customers become even more digitally savvy, what changes can brands make now to better meet future changes in customer behavior?

N.A. : It’s never going to be simple, the phrase “Getting your house in order” I think is appropriate when it comes to building towards the future. Using my previous analogy, knowing who your friends are, knowing how to talk to them, how to treat them with respect and provide value, results in advocacy, loyalty and ultimately trust. Getting the data right will allow you to humanize every interaction a customer has with your brand and make the customer feel valued.

As we continue to move forward and customers continue to become more and more digitally savvy, and as they continue being selective about which brands they will and won’t share personal data with, and as we continue to move into an increasingly cookie-less digital future, Trust becomes a more important word than ever before. The most successful companies moving forward will be the ones doing the work to show their customers that they can be trusted.

Salesforce’s CDP allows you to build that data foundation across the whole business by providing an understanding of the customer, allowing business to provide consistent, connected experiences and build Trust. Once the foundations are set, you're ready to grow and push your brand to the future, allowing the right teams the right access to the data to allow them to make the right decisions.

Here at Valtech, we’re helping customers adopt the right data and transition into a customer-centric strategy. As a trusted Salesforce partner, we’ve helped deliver over 800 different projects featuring various aspects of Salesforce’s services. Since they launched Salesforce CDP in May 2021, our team has been working hard to learn all we can about the service and how best to implement it for our clients. Where Salesforce CDP is a fit, I’ll be there to support and guide businesses through the complexity on a path to earning the trust of your customers.


If you’re ready to see if Salesforce CDP is right for your brand, take our Salesforce Assessment today.

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