Does your MarTech stack look like your kitchen drawer? If so, think about what that means for your data as a B2B marketer.
I recently realized how many gadgets are in my kitchen drawers and cabinets, particularly the ones sitting in the cabinet informally designated as the “kitchen graveyard.” It includes a few popcorn makers, juicers, and all kinds of widgets for chopping, slicing, dicing, squeezing, and other tasks that I can’t even recall. Being a big fan of Alton Brown of the Food Network, I have a whole bunch of what Alton likes to rail about: the “unitasker”—a device with only one function.
So what’s this got to do with marketing? My realization reminded me of recent conversations with many of our customers whose marketing technology (MarTech) stack is starting to look like my kitchen drawer—full of unitaskers, acquired through a variety of circumstances, without any real thought about how they fit into a well-functioning kitchen. These customers lacked a technology roadmap and hadn’t fully anticipated how these systems would integrate across their MarTech stack.
The Explosion of Unitaskers
With the explosion in MarTech solutions over the last five years, the number of unitasker solutions available is overwhelming. To get a picture of this trend, take a look at Scott Brinker’s Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphics, which shows a crowded market with 1,876 vendors in 43 categories.
At the recent SiriusDecisions Technology Exchange Conference, one of the major themes from the analyst presentations highlighted the need for marketing to beware of the temptations of “shiny new objects,” and the majority of these shiny objects are unitaskers that fill missing functions in the core MarTech stack. Some of the hottest unitasker categories are:
- Predictive lead sourcing
- Predictive lead scoring
- Data enrichment
It’s clear that solution vendors are pioneering wonderful technologies and solving real-world problems for marketers. However, without a technology roadmap and careful consideration into how the different solutions and their data integrate into the core MarTech stack and with each other, marketers can easily end up with a system integration and data unification problem: the classic trap of the solution to one problem creating another problem. While these problems are not new to IT professionals, they maybe unfamiliar to marketers. Below, I will discuss some of the common problems of a poorly integrated MarTech stack and how to avoid them:
1. Data and Process Integration + Integrity
While most unitasker solutions provide seamless integration with CRM and marketing automation systems, each still introduces a new set of data unique to the solution. This data often can’t be leveraged by the core platform and by the other unitaskers in the stack. And as a result, the number of custom data fields in the CRM and marketing automation system can become unmanageable, sometimes even exceeding a thousand. The database can get cluttered with duplicate data fields, and it becomes almost impossible to remember what the data is, where it came from, or how to leverage it. Additionally, because unitaskers leverage different integration technologies, such as form plug-ins, web hooks, and platform native integrations, haphazard adoption can also introduce unintended interference and risk process integrity.
Without a carefully thought-through data unification strategy and technology adoption roadmap, data quality can deteriorate rapidly, resulting in difficult data integration and transformation, and making it challenging to de-duplicate and standardize data from the different sources.
2. Measuring and Attributing Return-On-Investment (ROI)
Every solution promises a significant return on investment (ROI), with increased and higher quality leads or faster lead flow. What we hear from our customers is while they can see anecdotal evidence these solutions are working, it’s usually difficult to measure and track their impact and ROI. For example, what portion of funnel improvement and closed deals can you confidently attribute to each new solution? If multiple solutions are involved, what portion of development and ROI should be credited to each solution? And how much of the return is due to improvements in people and process vs. the technology?
3. The Unknown of the Black Box
Many of these solutions advertise a proprietary algorithm or predictive engine that makes predictions and prescriptions based on your private and public data. While there’s much excitement about the new capabilities unleashed by these artificial intelligence solutions, there’s also fear of the unknown surrounding these “black box” solutions. At the end of the day, there is no magic dust. Any algorithm or engine is a set of programming code based on a model, and every model is based on a set of theories and assumptions. With this in mind, marketers should consider if the assumptions and theories associated with the “black box” model are consistent with their business plans both now and in the future. Other questions to consider when adopting “black box” solutions include: how do you know if the assumptions are sufficient? How do you know when the assumptions are no longer good enough? Do you know whether you’re getting positive results or false-positives, and why?
So how can a marketer make informed decisions in this fast changing technology landscape? Here are three recommendations for evaluating your MarTech stack:
1. Address the Root Causes Before Taking on New Technologies
During the SiriusDecisions Technology Exchange conference, one of the key takeaways for marketing was to focus on people, process, and technology—in that order. I would suggest adding data into this framework, so focus on people, process, data, and then technology. Problems with people and process are real, as are issues with data and technology, so don’t rush into new technology adoption when your problem could be more fundamental. In fact, adding new technology without addressing the root causes in people, process, and data can mask or even further exacerbate the problem.
2. Develop a Technology Roadmap and Integration Strategy
Before rushing to buy the next new shiny object, have a plan first. Develop a technology roadmap that specifies what core components you need in your MarTech stack. Once the core stack components are identified, then identify what gaps you still have and plug each with the right unitasker. Along with the roadmap, have an integration strategy that addresses how data and process will flow through the stack.
While every company’s needs are different, in my opinion, here are the five essential components every B2B marketer should consider in their MarTech core stack:
- Marketing automation
- Data management and integration
- Data visualization and reporting
- Content management and personalization
3. Determine How You Will Measure Before You Buy
Before you commit to a new MarTech solution, ask yourself: How will you measure and keep track of the performance and return on investment of the new solution? It’s important not only to demonstrate to your marketing and sales leadership that the new solution is effective and works as advertised, but also to ensure it’s producing the correct results without unintended side effects.
While there’s an abundance of great solutions out there, it’s important not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Understand the root cause of your problems and whether a new solution will really address them, have a technology roadmap in place to understand where your strengths and gaps are, and understand how you’ll measure success before you commit to purchasing.