Martech makers have peddled an impression that marketers can target just the people who are most likely to buy, right at the very moment when they are in buying mode Buffik / Pixabay

Wouldn’t it be amazing if every customer behaviour could be neatly converted into a metric and tracked, if each website click led directly to a purchase, if data painted a straightforward and compelling story?

Sadly that’s not the case, but you wouldn’t know it from the promises made by the growing number of marketing technology – aka martech – companies which have exploded onto the landscape in recent years.

Gartner famously predicted back in 2012 that, by 2017, CMOs would spend more on IT than CIOs, as marketing became increasingly more technology-reliant.

Martech accounted for an average of 26.6 per cent of companies’ total marketing budget in 2021, according to Gartner’s Annual CMO Spend Survey, which is more than paid media (25.1 per cent), labour (25 per cent) and agencies or services (23 per cent).

Fundamentally, these companies have productised the practice of marketing in order to sell software. How? By creating the illusion that everything can be measured, that targeting can be near-perfect and that success is a simple 1-2-3 process.

They tend to largely focus on short-term metrics, which often have very little to do with long-term business growth. Just because you can measure something, it doesn’t mean it’s important. Clicks, for example, have no correlation to revenue.

Martech makers have peddled an impression that marketers can target just the people who are most likely to buy, right at the very moment when they are in buying mode. They make it appear that you can ultra-personalise your approach – and do it at scale – so they are more likely to convert leads into sales.

But that’s utter rubbish.

Most of this premise is based upon a false presumption about data: that it is accurate and tells you what you think it does. But in fact most marketing databases are terrible – riddled with errors and out of date.

Programmatic adtech tends to place ads on cheap sites to be viewed by bots and scammers. The analytics show things like impressions, but crucially can’t track these back to anyone who might spend money with the business.

But the numbers look good, and management are always eager to see numbers. So marketers keep feeding the machine.

The truth is that most B2B marketers only need a limited number of martech apps: CRM (integrated with sales), analytics (Google is fine), a CMS to run their sites (WordPress is good) and some form of marketing automation (Marketo, Pardot, HubSpot etc). The rest is garnish.

More importantly, they need a clear picture of real-world buyers (not made-up personas). They need a strategy for how to link the commercial needs of the business to the capabilities marketing excels at. And they need to be able to clearly demonstrate value to customers in a distinctive, memorable way.

Thankfully, it does seem as though the sand is beginning to shift. There is a growing realisation among more savvy B2B marketers that it isn’t always the best idea to take marketing advice from companies with agendas that are more about selling software than delivering results. Especially when so many of those companies are propped up with VC money and show no sign of making a profit any time soon.

And with the Gartner survey showing marketing budgets have taken a sharp fall this year, from 11 per cent of a company’s revenue in 2020 to just 6.4 per in 2021 – the lowest in the survey’s history – marketers will be thinking even more carefully about which products they choose to add to their arsenal.