6 Keys to Making Smart Marketing Technology Choices

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Six Keys to Making Smart Marketing Technology Choices

Spending on marketing technology continues to rise—driven by changing expectations of the marketing function, the introduction of innovative new tools, and increasing pressure on marketing teams to show quantifiable results.

Recent Gartner research found that CMOs now spend nearly as much on technology as CIOs, as “Marketers are now extraordinarily dependent on technology…Marketing leaders allocate 27 percent of their expense budget to technology, equal to 3.24 percent of overall revenue, compared with CIO technology spend of 3.4 percent of revenue.”

But with the explosion in the number and types of marketing applications available, how can marketing leaders have confidence they are making the right choices? Scott Brinker’s marketing technology landscape includes more than 200 marketing automation systems alone—and those represent just one of nearly 50 different categories of marketing tools.

Approaching marketing technology (martech) purchases using a structured process can help CMOs and their teams make smart, informed choices. Here are six keys to help make wise martech investments.

Start with Strategy

The specific set of tools you need depends on how your marketing operation functions. Just as a cabinet maker and someone who frames homes will have very different tools even though they both assemble things out of wood, so there is no one-set-of-tools-fits-all for marketing teams.

Map out your marketing processes from end to end, then determine where tools can help. It may help to jumpstart your thinking with an existing martech model, such as the website visibility and engagement model or the marketing technology ecosystem model.

Creating your ultimate martech “shopping list” based on strategy helps assure you don’t end up with either gaps (missing functionality) or overlaps (duplicate functionality in two or more tools) in your martech tool set.

Watch the Suites

Some vendors offer all-encompassing suites, at least within a specific martech product category. Others provide point solutions designed to one thing, or perhaps just a few things, very well.

For example, all-in-one SEO software suites from vendors like BrightLocal, Link-Assistant, and Moz offer a broad range of SEO functionality from keyword research and rank tracking to competitive benchmarking and backlink analysis. In contrast, special-purpose SEO tools like Monitor Backlinks and Video SEO for WordPress focus on optimizing a specific task.

Which approach is better? The answer is an unequivocal…it depends. Suites reduce training and application management efforts, while point solutions often provide deeper functionality.

As Brinker told Dom Nicastro in CMSWire, when he “first launched the MarTech Conference in Boston in 2014, the debate was ‘suite versus best-of-breed.’ Marketers still face those choices today. However, many have gone with each approach, using large suites as foundational platforms while plugging in point solutions…’It really seems like it’s suite andbest-of-breed. Maybe the suite or best-of-breed discussion is coming to an end.’”

Do Your Homework

At the risk of suggesting the painfully obvious, once you’ve narrowed your choices for a particular type of a tool to a short list, thoroughly research each alternative online. There is no shortage of information about most options.

Popular applications tend to have dozens if not hundreds of independent reviews written about them. Sources include independent blogs, online publications like PCMag and ZDNet, and dedicated software review sites like Capterra, G2 Crowd, and Software Advice.

Read reviews carefully. Independent bloggers may also be affiliates, and the happiest customers are generally invited to submit reviews to the ratings sites.

Objective reviews should point out product “cons” as well as “pros.” No tool is flawless. Don’t expect to find a tool that’s perfect, but rather one that has shortcomings you can live with.

Check Your Connections

It’s essential your various martech tools work together to prevent duplicate data entry, save time, and provide “one version of the truth.” Issues as small as a slight misspelling of a customer or prospect name (e.g., McDonald vs. MacDonald) can lead to embarrassing and even costly mistakes.

Fortunately, most cloud-based apps can generally be integrated with each other without too much pain. Vendors will often provide integrations to popular CRM and other platforms, and tools like Zapier can help connect apps in other instances.

It’s best to find tools that offer prebuilt or native integration to your in-place systems when possible. But what’s most important is to choose tools that will best meet your needs and have a plan in place for sharing data between apps in real time (i.e., avoiding flat files if you can).

Diversify Your Investments

Like the suite vs. best-of-breed question above, another quandary often faced when selecting martech tools is the choice between “established” vs. “innovative.”

Established tools come from well-known vendors, have a track record in the market, and generally a sizable user base. They are often viewed as a “safe” choice.

Innovative tools lack the pedigree of established products but generally offer other benefits to compensate: simpler/faster implementation, unique features, greater ease of use, better industry-specific functionality, or other advantages.

If your enterprise is already committed to a martech “stack”—really a matrix, read: Marketing Technology isn’t a Stack—It’s a Matrix—from a vendor like Adobe, IBM, Oracle, HubSpot, or Salesforce.com, and that vendor offers a tool in the category you’re evaluating, that’s the place to start.

But if you’re not committed to a stack vendor, or if you’re looking for a tool in a niche or emerging platform, keep your options open. Think of your martech purchases like financial investments: You want a mix of “safe” choices to provide a stable base with emerging alternatives to support growth.

Train for Strength

The best possible collection of tools won’t make your marketing function successful without the right people skills. In some cases (e.g., buying a tool to support an expansion of current activities) you’ll need to hire. But in almost all cases, you’ll need training.

Keep in mind there are two types of training for most tools. The first is functional training (e.g., how do I set up an autoresponder sequence) and the second is strategic (what do I want the autoresponder sequence to accomplish? What assets do I need to do that? How should I handle branching to move prospects through the sales cycle?).

Companies generally account for functional training but often overlook or shortchange strategic skills. But winning in the marketplace is much less a function of knowing what to do (e.g., write an eBook, create a landing page) than in optimizing how it’s done (i.e., creating pop-ups that grab attention without causing annoyance, and optimizing all aspects of landing page design for conversion rate optimization).

Why This All Matters

The right mix of martech tools enables marketing teams to either do things they simply couldn’t (or at least practically couldn’t) do before, or to perform common tasks much more efficiently.

The wrong mix, on the other hand, can lead to problems with “tool proliferation” that actually make marketing teams less effective. According to recent research summarized by The Drum:

“While B2B marketers have more data than ever, they cannot harness it in a way that helps them market more effectively with 85 percent of marketers spending more time than ever managing marketing technology, at the expense of spending time engaging with customers.”

In addition, survey “respondents complained of too many technologies (50 percent) followed by problems integrating the technologies (49 percent).”

Using a process that starts with strategy and includes integration considerations, as outlined above, helps CMOs and their teams assemble a portfolio of marketing tools that simplifies marketing operations and improves performance—rather than creating a time-consuming distraction.

Photo Credit: markethive Flickr via Compfight cc

This article was first published on V3Broadsuite.

Tom Pick is a digital marketing consultant, working with Kinetic Data, a provider of enterprise service request management, workflow automation, and collaboration software. He writes about content and social media marketing topics on the Webbiquity blog.

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