What You Get when You Buy Technology

“Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.”

This phrase is a classic stroke of marketing genius, leveraging anxiety – fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) – to create a powerful emotion in the buyer. As Corporate Visions notes, “In the 1980s, if you had to decide what computer hardware to buy for your company, these words rang through your head. It made your buying decision pretty easy. And, if you were a competitor to IBM, that same sentence made your job nearly impossible.”

As marketers, we’re focused on marketing and selling our products and services. Maybe that’s one reason why it’s hard for us to switch gears and become buyers, especially buyers of technology.

We see a lot of anxiety in the marketplace among the marketers who are considering adding new technology to their marketing stack, and we see a lot of anxiety among marketers who are chafing with tech that makes everyday marketing tasks unnecessarily difficult or complicated.

The first thing that comes to mind is that – despite the fact that the job title ”marketing technologist” is becoming more popular – most of us have come to marketing through some avenue other than technology. We may be highly competent with tech in general, or competent with our own in-place systems, but at the same time we may not have confidence in our ability to spot the best technology for tomorrow’s needs. Or the ability to sort out the most useful of three similar solutions.

The second thing that comes to mind is how very quickly the category of marketing tools is growing. You’ve all seen Scott Brinker’s chart; in March 2016 he counted 3,874 discrete marketing technology solutions – almost twice as many as 2015.

This is a picture of Scott Brinker’s infographic of the martech landscape. It can cause a bit of marketing anxiety to have to choose the right option for your company.To actually see the companies on this slide, visit the Chief Martec website.

The point is, tools and solutions are proliferating at a breakneck pace, and for any problem you’d like to solve there are probably a dozen companies with a dozen different approaches. It’s very time-consuming to try to come to grips with what’s available, and it’s way too easy to get overwhelmed by all the choices you have. Just thinking about this makes me anxious.

Another factor has to do with who makes the buying decision. In DataXu’s July 2016 study,Modernizing The Mix: Transforming Marketing Through Technology And Analytics,” there’s a discussion of who makes the final decision. In the US, 31% of decisions are made by a CMO and 8% by the Chief Marketing Technologist (It’s safe to assume that if a company has a CMT, they are probably making that decision, but it’s currently a rare title). However, 21% of the final decisions are made by the head of IT, CIO or IT director. The rest of the pack is spread thinly across a broad range of titles, from the Chief Digital Officer (6%) and the CTO (3%) to IT, brand, digital, and marketing managers.

If the person making the ultimate buying decision doesn’t carry responsibility for marketing, they may make that decision based on factors that have everything to do with IT (or existing business relationships) and nothing to do with marketing. This can be exacerbated when the vendors bypass you and go straight to your CIO. Part of your anxiety might be the legitimate concern that you won’t get the solution you really need.

In the paper, “When Marketers Buy Technology: Issues, Obstacles, and Solutions,” David Raab gets into some painful specifics:

  • Unfamiliar language and arcane technical issues SaaS vs. on-premise? Hadoop vs. SQL? REST vs. SOAP? The technical terms themselves are unfamiliar, let alone their meanings and the implications of choosing one or the other. The potential for confusion exists on all levels, from choice of operating system to database to network topology to workstation to Web browser.
  • Marketers, like any non-technical buyer, have a natural tendency to focus on the things the system user sees, such as the user interface (UI) and reports. But technical choices determine how hard it is to import or export data, to interact with other systems, to make changes to system functions and data models, to process data in large enough volumes and at adequate speeds, and even to use existing corporate networks, servers, and personal devices. These are issues where help from the corporate IT department is most needed.
  • But the IT group itself may not understand the technical nuances of marketing requirements and may bring its own priorities, such as using systems already in place elsewhere in the organization.

How to take the anxiety out of using marketing technology

This one’s simple: buy the right stuff to begin with.

Choose a vendor who will never let you walk alone, but will be there with training, practical suggestions, and help when you need it. A great vendor should be so in tune with you as a customer, that they act proactively when they see you’re not fully using the capabilities of their product (or even outgrowing their product) versus a vendor that is only reactive when you’re unhappy or have passed the point of no return. You want strength and quality in usability, setup, maintenance, and support. They call it “customer success” for a reason. Choose the company that is invested in your company’s success as you use their technology.

How to buy marketing technology

We’re going to lean on David Raab’s suggestions for this part. (To get the full story, – including the common mistakes to avoid – get the When Marketers Buy Technology white paper.)

1. Understand your business needs and define your business goals.

Look first to the programs that drive revenue, such as advertising or email nurturing campaigns. Make your definitions clear (such as an improved customer database) and make your goals SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound (such as a 10% increase in opportunities in a given quarter).

2. Spell out your existing processes and create a system requirements list.

This will help you understand (and communicate to vendors) what the new system needs to do to make the goals achievable. If you’re buying technology so you can change a process, be as clear as possible about your expectations.

Understanding the process allows you to create system requirements.

Use case: Let’s say you want to move from an email marketing program to a marketing automation system, in order to be able to do a new process: lead nurturing.

Steps in the process might include:

  • List maintenance and management, including segmentation by multiple factors
  • Workflow design, including early exit
  • Email and landing page creation
  • Lead scoring
  • Automated transfer of qualified leads to CRM
  • Reporting capabilities

Define your steps in detail. For example, know precisely which characteristics and fields your lists must be able to accommodate. This lets you specify what the system will need.

3. Consider a wide range of vendors.

Do the research, and build your list. Look for the vendors and systems you can eliminate, based on information on their website and reviews (on G2Crowd and Trust Radius, for example). Read case studies of companies similar to yours. As David Raab notes, the point here is to consider a large number of options and narrow it down quickly. Keep in mind that along with industry leaders, your research may yield a less well-known solution that is actually the best fit for your needs.

Usually, the marketer finds that some features are available in every product, and many systems will be able to meet your basic needs (e.g., email for those looking at marketing automation). But look to your requirements, and see which require capabilities not standard in all systems. If you need something and the system doesn’t have it, it’s the wrong fit.

Be wary of those products that have more than you need, offering ALL the bells and whistles. This might please a purchasing agent who wants to be sure the company is getting everything it might need, but if you are not prepared for the technical challenge of learning and using all those additional features, it might add undue stress and hinder your effective implementation of the tool itself.

Again, David Raab has useful advice: “You may choose to create a formal scoring matrix to compare vendors; this is an excellent tool for building consensus within a team. Just be sure that you set meaningful weights for each factor, so the most important items are weighed the most heavily.

“One effective approach is to require that weights sum to 100%, since this forces trade-offs that reflect relative priorities. Weights can also include negative values for features that will add complexity or otherwise get in the way of using the system. For factors like data volume and response time, you may need to set up a test system of some sort to ensure the system will scale as required.”

4. Select against requirements.

You could present a list of requirements or write a detailed RFP, and the vendors will all respond with written proposals.

That’s not enough. The devil is in the details, and you should require a prospective vendor “show, don’t tell.” Go back to your process, and create a use case or scenario. Have the vendor do a customized demo to show you exactly how their system will handle your data, in your programs, step by step. You want to have them walk through the steps while you watch. Bring your team members who will be using the system day-to-day to watch and ask questions. If the vendor says their system is easy to use, that should be obvious to your stakeholders when you see the demo.

Don’t forget to ask for references. It’s best if they come from organizations that are similar to yours in some way, and who are using the system in the same types of programs that you would.

5. Look beyond features.

Picking the right platform is much more than filling out a checklist of functionalities. Your own business processes, resources, goals, and budget should inform your selection. A few key considerations:

  • Your resources. Some products require a full-time dedicated person to keep the gears turning.
  • Your access to IT. Some platforms require ongoing attention from your IT department.
  • Ease of use. Is the platform genuinely intuitive and easy to use? Will your team members use it willingly or reluctantly?
  • Hidden costs. What will it cost for strategic planning and implementation?
  • Will this system simplify your life or reduce your costs by replacing other tools you already pay for?
  • How difficult will integration be? Is it native or an API? Will it take more than one day?
  • Does the data sync automatically, or must you do it manually?
  • Does the vendor’s onboarding program look sufficient?
  • How much free support will you get, and how long will it last?
  • Does the platform integrate with the program(s) you need it to? How is the integration done?
  • If you need account-based marketing, will the system support it?
  • Does it integrate with your other marketing initiatives, such as social media marketing?
  • Does the database support account profiles that roll up all contact-level engagement data? Will that happen automatically or will you need to do it manually?

6. Plan for deployment.

Here’s an opportunity to reduce anxiety. You’ve defined your processes and programs, so you’ve got a head start in knowing who needs to be involved in deployment, and the resources you’ll need. At this point you’ve also determined how the vendor will support you through deployment, including data transfers, integrating with other systems, and so on.

A smooth start here will reduce friction down the road. Spend the time to get it right.

7. Define a long-range plan.

Marketing programs increasingly depend on connections across channels to deliver optimal, coordinated customer experiences. According to the 2016 DataXu study, the number-one challenge for marketers in the US and globally is making this practice work effectively and efficiently. Plan how your system will help you address this.

According to the 2016 DataXU Study, the number one challenge marketers face is creating an efficient marketing mix across global channels.

8. Consider organizational context.

How does your company experience change? How many departments will be affected by your new marketing technology? This is another opportunity to ease anxiety, with full, open and timely communication – and no surprises. Make sure your finance department knows what the potential financial impact might be, and the effect on ROI. You could discover a strong ally.

A final thought

IBM is still a great company, but in 2016 we’ve got a lot more options, and it’s highly possible that the right technology for you may not be the biggest; the tech landscape isn’t monolithic anymore. And buying technology isn’t really about making a purchase that no one will object to. It’s about how your team’s performance will change as you use this new purchase. Does it make your marketing life better? Is it relatively painless? Or does it create anxiety? You don’t have to settle.

Act-On is best-known for two things: ease of use and killer support. We’d love to show you how we can make your life easier. With less anxiety.