There are over 5,000 marketing technologies outlined in the all too familiar Martech Landscape Supergraphic, and over the past 2 years, I have evaluated more than 100 technologies. Each of these technologies align to one or more categories of business needs, which makes these tech evaluations not only very interesting but also challenging.
Interesting because I can see a technology powering a business and consumer need. With the onset of Predictive Analytics and Machine Learning application in these technologies, you see some really cool things at play. From technologies helping us write better performing marketing subject lines, email and landing page copies, optimizing send times to emoting web language to determine sentiment, triggering signals when someone in the buying group shows intent and much more!
Challenging because there are many similar technology vendors that each confidently say that they can solve all the problems that an organization has. One of the biggest challenges that I’ve faced is related to integrating different technologies. I have repeatedly been excited when a vendor has told me “Oh yes, we can easily integrate with your marketing automation and CRM technologies”, only to be surprised that the “easy integration” involves either a costly, high maintenance custom integration or a very limited native integration that only meets some of our requirements. For example, an awesome integration that works really well but unfortunately converts all your email addresses to UPPERCASE (It’s not fun explaining to your Sales team why all email addresses suddenly look weird)!
Technology Expectations vs. Reality – Understanding the Gap
Evaluating, procuring, implementing and maximizing the value of a marketing technology is a significant investment of resources. It is not a high impulse purchase like a candy or a soda. It becomes very important to understand where a technology fits into your MarTech stack and to clearly identify what business needs it fulfills. The fit and need should drive your evaluation process along with how it’s deployed and used so that it exceeds your expectations (or at least meets it!).
There is often a gap between expectation and reality that arises primarily from how we, as Marketing Technologists and business users, evaluate and select a technology. Often, an evaluation of a potential Martech vendor starts with Business stakeholders sharing a need that can be fulfilled by technology and then sharing their technology preferences, and from there, the procurement process begins. There’s no formal “business needs” documentation, understanding of where the new technology fits into the MarTech stack, no involvement of IT, reporting teams, or in some cases potential users in the initial scoping.
After the decision to purchase is made, these teams are then introduced to the new technology. They naturally binge consume the web content, of the already preferred vendors, to get up to speed quickly. The next phase is more intense and typically involves:
– a brief demo of the key features and capabilities of the tool
– implementation requirements and scoping
– a second in-depth demo for larger, cross functional teams
– negotiation, procurement, and implementation
Having evaluated multiple technologies and talking to other Marketing Technologists, here are some of the common takeaways:
1. Vendor websites will most likely tell you that the solution can do anything and everything under the sun.
2. Most vendor websites don’t include the platform’s core capability in a single sentence or even a paragraph.
3. Very rarely are the quantifiable benefits of the tool outlined in their marketing collateral.
4. Most MarTech vendors use language like “Easy to implement” or “Quick start” or “Easy set up or installation”.
5. Technology vendors regularly boast that they can integrate with most of the core marketing automation or CRM tools.
6. The content is written for the decision maker and not a marketing technologist or a more technical role. There is never enough detail showing their data model, data structure or types, or how the various integrations work.
7. One of the observations here is that after the first demo, very few teams connect to reconcile their notes, internally review what they have seen and evaluate the need for another demo.
Reality sets in during the implementation process and the gaps in the chosen technology start to come to light. At this point, it is too late to go back and re-consider the fit of the technology to the business needs.
The entire technology procurement process described above clearly establishes the need for the organization to do their due diligence sooner in the process and bring more rigor and depth in the overall technology evaluation. Put it simply – Organizations need to adopt a Technology Evaluation Framework.
Here are some key areas where expectation and reality mismatch:
– Integration into the existing tech stack
– Technology supports existing business processes in the organization or does the organization has to create new processes for the technology to work?
– Data Management (data flow, data capture, data accessibility and visibility, data transformation, data security)
– Reporting requirements
– Maintenance and support
– Ease of use for the technology features
– Onboarding and Training
The Solution: 5W1H Framework for MarTech Evaluation
So, the question is “Is there a framework that Organizations should use to assess a technology to minimize this expectation-reality mismatch”?
As a marketer, I swear by the 5 Ws and 1 H framework of Marketing. I have used it in multiple scenarios (understanding a product, creating a launch plan, conducting a market/product fit analysis, creating a channel plan etc) and have found it to be very beneficial. Therefore, my Martech evaluation, decision and implementation framework relies on these 6 tenets:
- What does this technology do for us? What are our business and technical needs? What are the must-haves, good to have and not-so-important criterion?
- What is the key Value Selling Proposition of this tool?
- Of all the available features that the technology propagates, what is it most strong niche?
- What features differentiate it from other vendors?
- What use cases does this technology support the most?
- What use cases are some of the clients (B2B or B2C) leveraging this technology for?
- What business and data processes does this tool support?
- What tools does it integrate with?
- What is the package needed from this technology vendor that will meet your needs? Is it the basic/stripped-down version or the one with all the bells and whistles?
- What is the implementation approach (Phases or Global)?
- Who will use this tool?
- Who from the Organization’s and Vendor’s end will help in the deployment, support and integration of this tool?
- Whom does this technology benefit the most?
- Who should be trained first and who can be trained during the later phases?
- Who will administer, maintain and support this technology?
- When considering the organization’s current and desired state, what is the right time to add this technology in your tech stack? (There may be no point in buying an inside sales automation tool when the organization does not have a CRM deployed. There is no point in deploying a Content Marketing tool when there is no Marketing Automation or even a content strategy or team in place to use it.)
- When is the right time to bring the right teams and people in the evaluation and decision phases?
- When should the platform be made available to all users?
- Where in the overall business model of the organization or in the Core team’s roles and responsibilities will this technology fill a gap or play the most critical role?
- Will it help automate content creation or marketing processes or will it help in unifying data on a customer or will it help in better measurement or attribution of sales and marketing initiatives or will it help in better orchestration? It is very important to identify the core areas that this technology will be the right fit.
These 2 below, in my opinion, are the most important in the overall technology evaluation:
- Why do we need this technology? Will our work stop or decelerate if we don’t have it? This question needs to be answered not just by the Marketing stakeholders but also IT, Reporting, and Data teams. Sometimes, we need a technology because other organizations similar to ours are benefitting from it or because the vendor keeps on reaching out to us explaining why we need this tool.
- Why is this technology the best fit for our needs?
- Sometimes, an existing technology can meet our needs. We do not need an additional one. We do not need a Lead to Account Matching tool when our existing Marketing automation or CRM tools can support this.
- Sometimes, technology is not what we need, it is better processes or strategy, or training or skill sets that require tweaking. We need to remember that Technology is not the answer to everything, it is just an enabler.
- How will this technology enhance our business and data processes?
- How will it compliment or enhance our data model? What are the systems of record? What objects are we going to leverage the most?
- How will this technology integrate with our existing tech stack? What type of integration will it support? How is the data transfer enabled? What is the frequency? How are any technology upgrades managed?
- How will we deploy this tool? What is the deployment strategy?Do we need an implementation vendor? Or will we manage it internally?
- How long will the technology and IT teams need to support this deployment and when can we expect the core business team to run with it independently?
- How is the technology’s roadmap aligned with our organization’s needs?If the organization is moving to an Account Based Sales and Marketing approach but the technology vendor in question will not support this model in the future, then, we should immediately part ways.
- How will we manage any future upgrades/release and handle day-to-day maintenance?
- How does this technology meet our security requirements?
- How will we help the organization adopt this tool?
For some, this might be a long list of questions and evaluation criterion to consider or answer. However, consider this, you are investing a lot of money, time and resources in this effort. Additionally, you are committing to allow for changes and modifications both outside and inside the organization with the addition of a new technology that you will want to live with for the next 4-5 years.
Is it not worth it then to put the same time and consideration in defining the requirements and using a framework to successfully identify the right one for your business?