What to Consider When Purchasing Marketing Technology

Jamie Shanks
Jamie Shanks
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Technology evolves so quickly; every year there are new systems and tools to solve problems you didn’t know you had, or problems you’ve had for so long that you assumed you just had to live with them. Or even problems that didn’t used to be yours.

Marketing’s overarching goals – to woo and win customers – haven’t changed. But the ways to find those customers, court them, count them and keep them, have changed, along with the ability to initiate new types of action, track the temperature of engagement, and measure evolving results. These advances are largely due to technology. And according to IDC, hopeful marketers will spend nearly $26 billion a year on such technologies by 2017.

But which technologies will they choose?

Scott Brinker’s infamous Marketing Technology Supergraphic sweeps up practically every marketing tech vendor imaginable, showing 1,876 marketing technology vendors across 43 categories in 2015. Gartner’s October 2014 multichannel heat map for marketers takes a curated approach, reviewing 27 different technology categories in three different areas: campaign analytics, executing campaigns, and channels.

With so many choices and so many highly polished vendors in such a noisy environment, it’s often hard for marketers to know which technologies to consider. Sometimes it’s even hard to frame the question of What, exactly, do we need?

As David Raab points out in his paper When Marketers Buy Technology: Issues, Obstacles, and Solutions, in theory, marketers know their own needs and goals better than anyone else. So they ought to be the most qualified to pick their own technologies.

But there are obstacles, including:

  • Marketers may not be well-versed in technical issues or the language, vernacular, and technical terms that come with this turf (Hadoop vs. SQL?)
  • The IT department that 1) may not grasp the nuances of marketing issues, 2) may prefer to scale already-installed technologies
  • The difficulty of relating business needs to system requirements

And there’s an additional challenge, according to Raab: “Marketing today is changing so rapidly that it’s often not clear to marketers exactly what they want to do with a new system.” Often they rely on technology vendors to paint a picture of what’s possible and the ways it will make their day-to-day life easier or their results more significant, or more measurable. And, he also points out, some types of purchases (e.g., accounting systems) have well-defined capabilities, and their potential value can be assessed in terms of changes in efficiency or actual cost. Not so with marketing systems.

We all agree that buying marketing technology is hard. But you have to do it anyway, so – with another nod to David Raab for these talking points – let’s look at how you can make the best marketing technology choices for your company.

First, understand how not to buy technology:

  • Don’t make cost your #1 concern. If you have to trade key functionality or support for a low price,  it’s no bargain.
  • Don’t automatically buy the system with the most features. “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM,” we used to say. But a longer laundry list does not ensure that a system will have the specific tools that meet your company’s unique needs.
  • Don’t let yourself be dazzled. If you let your vendors demonstrate their system’s flashiest features, rather than the ones you’ll depend on, you could make a choice based on the wrong thing.
  • Don’t use a “me too” strategy. Buying the most popular system, or the one with the best advertising, doesn’t guarantee that you’re getting a system that will meet your specific needs.
  • Don’t buy the first system you see. As you investigate systems, your criteria may shift a bit, becoming more practical, or more sophisticated, or less complicated. Let the process play out to the full extent that you had planned.
  • Don’t ignore your existing environment. You’ve probably got some marketing and/or sales tools already in place that are working just fine, thank you very much. If a new system must play well with these, make sure that it can. Don’t take this for granted.

As a matter of fact, don’t take anything for granted. Don’t assume that because most (insert tech tool category here) have a certain capability, that they all do. Which brings us to:

How to make a good technology decision

1. Define your business goals

The first, most critical consideration is to understand and define your business goals.

Where you can, make them measurable and tie them to revenue. You don’t want a “better” email engine; you want to save 10 hours a week in the labor of creating your weekly campaign. That’s 25% of someone’s salary. Or you want to mail x% more so that (given a steady rate of return) you will realize that much more revenue. Or you want to personalize those campaigns through segmentation and dynamic content, in order to achieve a conversion rate increase of 2%.

2. Specify your system requirements

Now you need to disassemble your business goals into the precise, specific steps you will take to achieve them. To use the campaign personalization goal above, take care that any system you consider can:

  • Let you build and deploy progressive forms
  • Incorporate incoming buyer data from other systems
  • Segment your database easily by multiple factors
  • Incorporate dynamic content into an email message
  • Add new contacts to the correct segments on the fly
  • Use A/B testing to show you which personalization methods will work best
  • Report results from multiple places in your sales funnel so you can follow along as your conversion rates change
  • Communicate with your CRM about the leads that have become sales-ready

Note that some systems are “closed” — they come with a set of capabilities built in, and it’s difficult to integrate additional tools into them. Other systems are open, and designed to accept integrations with additional tools. Given that new marketing tools appear almost monthly, an open system may well make it easier to adopt other new technologies as they appear in the marketplace, or swap one low-performing tool for a more effective one.

If you’re working with an agency, ask which tools they are proficient in. If they’ll be involved in using the technology – and they have to get up to speed on it – you’ll probably have to foot that bill.

3. Select against requirements

You can see that it’s a good idea for you to control the demo a vendor does. Create a scenario that’s typical of your process, and let the vendor demonstrate their system against it so you can see whether their system does indeed meet your requirements.

Create a scoring matrix, and have the selection team agree on what goes into it and how much any given capability or factor (such as support) is worth. This helps team members come to an agreement on what’s most important, and supports a rational decision based on actual needs. Consider requiring that weights total 100 points; this will force trade-offs that reflect relative priorities. Just as with lead scoring, you can include negative scores for missing capabilities, or factors such as cost or complexity. If it’s marketing automation you’re considering, here’s a checklist you can use to get started with creating a scoring matrix.

After the technology acquisition

What happens after you make the decision is almost as critical as the choice itself. Know how any technology will fit into your long-term strategic plan, and have a plan for training and deployment. Understand when and how the vendor will support you. Know how you will measure what the technology delivers against your business objectives.

Remember the old adage, “measure twice, cut once”? When it comes to the technologies that you bet your marketing future on – we suggest you measure thrice.

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