This blog covers written notes to accompany Episode 2 of the Tech Marketer Podcast. I’m splitting episode notes from the podcast post as these otherwise end up cluttering iTunes too! Let me know if this works for you, or if you prefer as one post.
A marketing technology stack is a grouping of tools that help marketers do their job. It’s just a fancy way to say the technology you use. Most tools fit into these broad categories:
- Advertising & Promotion
- Content & Experience
- Social & Relationships
- Commerce & Sales
When it works well, your stack makes difficult processes easier and helps you improve your activities, driving better ROI by collecting data and feedback. However, when it doesn’t work well, your tools can become frustrating, time-sucks.
With thousands of choices it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But don’t let new shiny toys distract you from fundamentals. Before you rush into comparing apples and pears, and listening to product pitches, think about these things:
Step 1: Customer flow
The focus of any marketing strategy, including designing your marketing tech stack should be the customer.
I’m sure you’re familiar with classic marketing/sales funnels where you plot out customer journey from awareness through to retention. I also like the Pirate Metrics (AARRR) used by many start-ups. Whatever you use, my tip is to go low-fi first. Grab some post-it notes and a white board and visualise your customer journey.
Think about how a person moves through each stage. What messages do we send them? How do we send these? What information do we collect? And where does this live?
This process will help clarify the next step…
Step 2: Identifying the Challenges
Designing your marketing tech stack, or improving any part of it, is time consuming. There’s the time spent researching, implementing, training and testing. It’s not something you want to be doing all the time, and when you bring on a new tool you want it to be the right choice.
You probably have a gut feel already but clarifying the current challenges is important. When you have a clear visual picture of the customer journey, you will start to see where things are breaking down.
With so many choices, Google is a hard place to start your search, you’ll get overwhelmed with choice and bombarded by sales pitches and features. Trust me, even visiting a marketing automation brand’s site is likely to get you a fair amount of sales attention! So take a step back and start with what’s broken now? What things do you wish you could do, but can’t?
This process will help you figure out your criteria list, and most importantly do you need to add another tool or consolidate two tools into one better one?
It’s valuable to also talk to other teams that help move customers along their journey. It’s likely that there’s a point where you hand off responsibility to other teams.
Step 3: Collaboration
The marketing technology stack doesn’t live in isolation. It’s likely it’s closely coupled to other teams like product development, customer success and of course sales. Some tools, like Intercom, can be used by all these teams.
Think about how you share information and collaborate with other teams.
My experience is sales teams want to spend their time selling, so make it as easy as possible for them to do this, while still providing marketing with the information you need. Be realistic, not optimistic, about how much time those in other teams will spend updating systems. Make the process effortless for salespeople. Or else you’ll be constantly pushing things uphill.
Tools with good integrations will help this. For example, rather than reminding your sales team to talk to customers about every e-newsletter sent, consider integrating Mailchimp with your CRM so they can see what their customer’s read when they go to call them. Help show how this helps them sell more effectively, and you have a chance of success!
I know that the marketing automation tool Pardot is favoured by some marketers because they already use Salesforce CRM. Pardot is made by Salesforce so they obviously work well together. It’s more likely you’ll be fitting together a multitude of tools from different companies. Keeping data synced between these systems can be tricky.
Step 4: One database to rule them all
Is there one single source of truth where all data in your organisation can be checked against? It’s an important question to answer, and to get agreement on where it lives.
Recently, I had the pleasure of hearing Jolene Makisi, Xero’s Marketing Operations and Automation Director speak about their journey in adopting Marketo (her slides can be found on the Wellington Marketing Meetup Slideshare).
Jolene spoke about the importance of getting your data in shape. At Xero they have a central product database that acts as a source of truth for every team. Each team will have tools that pull from this and add back, but having one master database is a big part of ensuring every tool and team are linked together.
A single source of truth means you’re not sending a current customer a message asking them if they want a trial when they’ve been using it for months.
Work with your CTO to ensure your data is well architected. Your database is one of your company’s biggest assets. So make sure it’s treated with reverence and well-maintained by marketing and other teams.
If collaborating with other teams may seem like a fairytale, then you’ll want to think clearly about how to implement a technology stack that works within your existing culture.
Step 5: Work with your existing culture
There’s one thing you need to realise; it really doesn’t matter what you tool you choose. What matters is who is using it.
It’s obvious but often overlooked. So far I haven’t had a product demo where a salesperson has asked me “What’s the culture of your company? Do people have time to learn new tools or will this be meet with resistance”. This amazes me because I feel culture is critical to the success of any new tool. For example, if the CIO and CMO don’t get along, the CIO might jettison a new system, purely because it wasn’t their idea. Sounds crazy? It happens!
So what’s the culture you’re working in? Will people enthusiastically get on board with new tools? Or will a pilot programme with a few motivated individuals be a better approach?
How do people upskill? Should you send some reading materials around or have an interactive lunch session?
And finally, why should they care enough to stop doing what they see as the most important things and learn this new system? How will they be more successful or efficient afterwards? Shockingly – you will often need to market your own technology choices internally. But hey, that’s our jobs right?
Step 6: Growing your stack with you
Most companies want to be selling more in the future, not many aim to stay the same. So think about the next few years, in tech it’s hard to predict too far out.
Just think high level about your company goals. Are you planning for international expansion? Ok how does this tool work with co-located teams?
Are you planning to double your user base? That’s great, but beware of hidden costs especially for tools that charge per user
Here’s the reality, unless you choose something massively overscoped now, you’ll likely outgrow it someday. I’d lean towards picking the best tool for now and the foreseeable future, rather than getting something too complex because it will fit you in 3-5 years. Keep it as simple as possible. For example, if you’re a new start-up with 2-3 people working with you, then a Google Docs spreadsheet is a perfectly acceptable first CRM. Don’t waste precious time you could be talking to customers and finding product-market fit, setting up Salesforce. Plus you’ll be paying hugely for a tool you can’t fully use yet.
Keep it simple, It’s a good motto even when you’re choosing between thousands of marketing technology brands.
Step 7: What’s the “right” tool
There’s no such thing as the right tool! But there will be a best fit for your company.
My advice is talk to your peers, especially marketers in similar size organisations. Find out what they use and their experiences. You’ll learn a lot more this way than by listening to sales pitches! I often catch up with marketers I know from meetups or similar groups when I’m evaluating tools. This helps me overcome “choice paralysis” and short list some tools recommended to me by people I respect. Trust me, it’s an easier approach that simply googling “marketing automation”.
When we started investing more time and resources into content marketing for lead generation at SilverStripe, we identified we need a better way of tracking leads, qualifying them and then passing from marketing to sales. What we needed was a marketing automation platform, but these are costly both in terms of software fees and also time to set up.
We were already using Intercom for our product support, so instead of adding a new tool, we extended our use of Intercom. This meant we could focus most of our time on proving the value of content marketing, and not setting up new tools. But Intercom isn’t a marketing automation platform so it wasn’t going to do everything we needed out of the box. I picked the brains of other marketers I know were using Intercom. They were further along the process and moving towards more sophisticated automation tools. But this was great for me, I got to hear what was good and bad about making Intercom fit into this use case. And I went into it knowing that we’d likely outgrow the tool quickly. I limited the time we invested into integrating it with other system. Honestly, there’s a lot of duct tape holding it together, but it worked. And it worked well enough to prove three things:
- Content marketing generated valuable leads for us
- Marketing could pre-qualify leads prior to handing to sales for better efficiency
- Investing in a full marketing automation tool would be worthwhile
We treated Intercom as a proof of concept. We spent the majority of our time testing content and customer journeys.
And we found parts of Intercom that worked really well, that we’d keep, live their live chat. We also identified the things that would be non-negotiable in our next tool, like holistic user profiles and integration with our CRM.
If we’d leapt straight into Pardot or Marketo, I suspect we’d still be figuring out how to use it now!
Realise that no tool is perfect. The most important factor is the people using it. But if you’ve got a clearly defined customer flow, you understand the current issues, you’re working with the current culture and other tools then you have a much higher chance of designing a marketing technology stack that works well for your team and your goals.
Stay tuned to the Tech Markter Podcast and this blog for more tips on marketing technology. Let me know if there’s topics you’d covered in the comments!