At the start of almost any client engagement here at New North, there is a conversation around their marketing technology (martech) stack. What systems are currently being used? Are those systems appropriate for what we are looking to accomplish in future campaigns? Are those technologies being fully utilized?
This is an important conversation for several reasons…
1) Marketing strategy can be limited by technical limitations. The best email strategy with deep personalization, complicated branching, and multi-variant testing is useless if you don’t have an email platform that can accomplish that.
2) Software limitations (unfortunately) influence new ideas. While the reality is that strategy can be functionally limited by the martech stack (the previous point), it is also true that the current stack oftentimes influences the very ideas that the team thinks of in the first place. You may not think of A/B testing website content if your current toolset doesn’t have that capability. It is easy to fall into the trap of only thinking within the limitations of your martech stack. Don’t.
3) Software is expensive. Many times, companies are spending money poorly on current solutions. Whether it is technologies with overlapping functionalities or robust tools with only two features being used, there is often a lot of waste. Don’t spend $300 /mo. on a piece of software when there is an alternative that will do what you want for $30 /mo. This is not to say you shouldn’t invest in your stack, simply that you should do so intelligently with the right systems.
The best martech stack will be different for each organization based on their needs, budget, plans for the future, and more. That being said, there is a common process that organizations take to get there. Orienting you to that process is my goal in this article – first to provide you with a framework and approach to martech, then to provide you with practical steps for taking that framework into your organization. This is not a complete technical overview of the different strategies, methodologies, and technologies for a robust martech stack, but simply a starting point.
The Martech Stack Framework
Most “martech stacks” are less like stacks, and more like piles. As new functionalities are needed over the years, new systems are added without much thought into how they fit into the overall framework of the existing stack. In order to effectively build a martech stack, it is important to have an idea of how all the different pieces should fit together.
An easy way to think about this is the hub and spokes model…
The Hub (CRM)
Every martech stack needs to have a core. A system that (ideally) all other systems connect to. Your one source of truth that sits in the middle of the stack.
Oftentimes, this is the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. Tools like HubSpot and Keap are examples of these. An essential feature of this core system needs to be the ability to integrate (the glue we will discuss shortly) with many other systems. HubSpot’s new app marketplace is a great example of this. They recognized that they didn’t want (or need) to do it all, so they shifted their focus from being an all-in-one software to instead serve as a platform that can be interconnected to countless other apps.
Changes like these are the future of software. The magical idea of a single platform doesn’t work. If you have tried one of the platforms out there that claim to be everything (*ahem – ConnectWise), then you know what I am talking about. Applications that do one thing really well are taking over.
The Spokes (appended software)
Whatever application that you choose as the hub, it doesn’t do it all – at least not well. You will want other systems appended to it that specialize in a particular area. Most CRMs, for example, don’t have a website builder included (although, some do). That and many other systems will need to be added in order to build a more robust set of functionalities.
The Glue (Integration/IPaaS)
As previously mentioned, all of these different applications need to be connected to the hub – the one source of truth. Sometimes this can be accomplished through first-party integrations (like an app marketplace) which is ideal as it is already pre-built. An example of this would be HubSpot’s Gmail integration.
Oftentimes, however, these pre-built integrations don’t exist. This is when you want to use an IPaaS (Integration Platform as a Service) solution like Zapier, PieSync, or Martini (for the more technical folks). These platforms connect to hundreds of APIs from your favorite platforms and bring them together through an intuitive drag-and-drop builder.
The Practical Steps
Once you understand the framework, the next step is to put this knowledge into action to get your own marketing stack set up.
What follows is a few simple steps to guide you as you go about doing that.
Step 1: Analyze
We want to avoid just recreating a martech pile as noted before, so the first step is to get a good understanding of what technology you currently have. A great way to go about this is to use this Platform Audit Worksheet. Start filling in the rows with the different technologies you know about. Then send it out to anyone else on your marketing team to add to it. You can even consider talking to your finance team to see if there is a platform that you are paying for that you aren’t even aware of. Sometimes subscriptions are bought and forgotten about when team members move projects, leave the company, or just forget about them completely.
After you have a clear picture of your current marketing stack, take some time to analyze it. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are there any tools you are either underutilizing or not using at all?
- Are you on the right plan for each of them?
- What functionality gaps do you see in your current solutions?
- How well are those systems connected to one another? Do you have a hub?
Step 2: Plan
Now, start sketching out what you want your stack to look like. You will want to consider adding the following types of applications:
- Social Media Publishers
- SEO Tools
- Email Marketing Platforms
- Analytics Solutions
This isn’t a design exercise, so don’t even try to make it pretty at this point. Just take a pen and paper and start drawing out how you want it to look adding in the different applications. You can even use a tool like draw.io to create a simple visual like this:
In the plan, you want to indicate a few things:
- What is the hub around which the other platforms are connected to?
- What are you going to use to connect the different systems? Is there a first-party integration, or do you need an IPaaS?
- A complete list of all the applications you will use
To dig in a bit more into the integrations between the systems, use the “Integration Planning” tab on the Platform Audit Worksheet. Consider taking into account internal systems that you use and how those might integrate. Do you want email notifications when certain things happen? Slack notifications? Should there be any connection between the CRM and proposal software you use?
Planning well now will save you loads of time and effort down the road.
Step 3: Adjust
Now comes the fun part where the rubber hits the road. Downgrade or remove the applications you decided you didn’t need and begin setting up your new platforms starting with the hub and then working through the different spokes integrating it all along the way. This is where things can get a bit technical, but take the required time to learn the different systems, read through the documentation, and make sure that you build a solid foundation upon which you can base your marketing efforts for years to come.
Go forth and conquer
With the above information, you should have the knowledge and practical know-how to begin the process of cleaning up and building your own martech stack.
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