How to get started building and optimizing your marketing technology stack

by Andy Ramirez

[Editor’s note: Even in the best of times, marketers face many challenges: shrinking resources, having to constantly prove campaign and content ROI, and the need to remain resilient and adaptable. Marketing technology is one area of opportunity for marketers to remain relevant and competitive, especially during uncertainty. In this article, our Senior Director of Digital Strategy Andy Ramirez shares his expertise to help marketers get going with their martech stack or optimize what’s already in place.]

Marketing technology has exploded, and is now a critical element for successful marketing teams. According to Gartner’s 2019 Marketing Organization Survey, 26% of marketing budgets are dedicated to martech, yet nearly a quarter of respondents feel that marketing technology strategy, adoption, and use is “one of their top three weaknesses in their company’s ability to drive customer acquisition or loyalty.”

Getting martech right is an ongoing challenge that can make or break the success of marketing organizations. And there’s little margin for error during the economic instability many businesses face today, as budgets are increasingly tight.

At its core, the martech stack comprises the tools and technology used to execute and measure your marketing, though it tends to center around digital marketing. The most important piece of marketing technology are the foundational tools — a subset which supports all of your strategies and tactics. These comprise the immutable core of your stack. These are the tools that serve to measure, report, host your website and landing pages, and more. Then you have the point solutions such as chat interfaces and bots, targeting solutions, and optimization tools which solve specific problems.

Each company’s martech stack will vary based on its goals and where it is in the maturity stage as an organization. But foundationally, the stack will likely include the following components:

  • A customer database and CRM
  • Content and targeting (e.g. messaging, marketing automation, website/CMS, personalization tools, etc.)
  • An advertising platform (e.g. Google Ads) or data management platform

Odds are you already have a martech stack in place—every company that does marketing has a martech stack—so the work you need to do to get it right is, in most cases, more about strategy, implementation, and optimization than it is about sourcing and acquiring solutions.

As you get started building out your martech stack, or if you’re looking for ways to optimize what you already have in place, here’s how to get going:

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes

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What does your customer (or prospect) experience when they interact with your brand? If you can’t answer that question, figuring that out is priority number one.

“A powerful martech stack improves an individual’s experience throughout the customer lifecycle while maximizing the business return on marketing investments.”

It’s imperative that you ensure you’re clear on how your marketing and user flows tie together. This exercise will help you understand where you are meeting customer expectations and where you may be missing the mark. Many times, there are ways to ensure you are aligning the experience to your customers’ needs even in the least obvious areas of the customer journey. Take the time to map your data, integrations, user experiences—lay it out (maybe literally, if you’re a visual person) and understand it deeply.

The reason for doing this is to educate yourself on the capabilities you have today. Do you have experts—either internally or externally via an agency or other partner—on the tools you’re using? Leverage them to maximize each one of your tools to get the most out of them. Even if you only have two or three basic tools, you’ll do better as a business if you focus on optimizing them.

So often, I see opportunities left on the table because marketers have purchased a technology but aren’t set up for success when it comes to fully leveraging them. This is why so many tools have ecosystems of expert partners and managed services to support them; they are complex, and just “getting” it is simply not enough.

A simple, yet often overlooked example is Google Analytics. This tool is so complex that there are certification programs in how to use it. Most companies look only at the basic metrics, ignoring advanced functionality that can help you understand where your user flows are broken, what percentage of your pages are being consumed, what is and isn't being clicked on, what countries and times are most important to you, and much, much more. Even having worked in the martech space for years, I still rely on experts.

Once you understand your existing tools and the user experience, you can begin to identify the gaps in your approach. In this stage, remember to focus on answering this one question: How can you better serve your customers in a way that you’re not doing today?

Avoid adopting individual tools

An array of construction tools including a screwdriver, hammer, and wrenches

I see this so often, where marketers see someone else using a tool or they get a demo of a tool they fall in love with, but it doesn’t actually help them solve an existing problem. That’s the wrong approach, because it causes you to either force-fit a tool when you don’t need it, or to make up a problem just to say you solved it.

“It is much more important to solve problems than it is to find problems to solve with solutions you like.”

This is where I see a lot of companies struggle when putting together their martech stack. They fall victim to individual tools and don’t optimize the tools they have to get the most out of them. In fact, I often meet marketers who, through no fault of their own, have multiple tools that do the same thing. I'm willing to bet almost every martech stack out there has some duplication of capabilities, but limiting or avoiding this completely can be a budget-saver for many reasons.

Most of the marketing solutions have connection points and integrations with each other, but those details may not be clear and could require some research. I often see tools operating in silos: Each tool doing its own thing with its own data. But these tools can be so much more powerful for marketers and sales when data, audiences, actions, and more are synchronized and you can leverage them to take action that drives results for the business.

For example, what you do in search engine marketing (SEM) should have alignment with marketing automation. You want to ensure you’re handing off contacts at the right point in their journey; otherwise, you risk creating friction and these disconnects turn off customers and push them away from your brand.

This goes back to the earlier point: you must understand what you’re purchasing, know how to optimize it, and ensure you know how it works in addition to simply what it does. Think about your martech stack’s suite of solutions as an orchestra. A single instrument being out of step might not ruin the music, but as you increase the gaps, the disconnects, the missed beats, the worse the music gets.

Establish and understand your goals, then optimize (and measure)

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Before adopting any new technology, you must first understand your goals. Remember that each company is different, and a cookie-cutter approach should be avoided. What worked for you in your last company may not work for you now.

“If you roll out your marketing stack without understanding what you’re trying to solve, you did it wrong.”

Identify your goals and the appropriate timeframes you plan to accomplish them within, then quantify that success. You’ll also need to understand how you plan to measure your success — whether that’s qualitative (for example, in the form of customer interviews) or quantitative.

Examples of these goals could look like the following:

  • Goal 1: Increase enterprise revenue for users in major metropolitan areas with a propensity for gaming by 12% by the end of the third quarter
  • Goal 2: Over the next year, increase customer adoption of a support website by 15%, leading to a 5% increase in 12-month retention
  • Goal 3: Improve customer satisfaction by 20% over the next two quarters

Once you understand what you’re trying to achieve, then move forward to identify and implement the technology you need to support your business. From there, you can optimize the technology to ensure you’re getting the most out of it — and solving problems along the way.

Know that there’s a difference between purchasing a solution and implementing it well

An orange-hued frame of a house appears on an orange-colored background

Each company’s approach for how to retain, engage, and acquire customers will differ. Just because you purchase a solution that’s touted as the reason other companies have solved a specific problem doesn’t mean it will do the same for you. And it certainly won’t do it right out of the box.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to martech.” 

You need to understand how the technology works—to be sure it will actually work for you and your unique use case—and how to implement it well.

To do that, you’ll have to engage your stakeholders to secure buy-in for the technology you want to add to your stack, and ideally you’ll also ensure that you’re maximizing your existing tools before adding complexity with new tools.

As an example, imagine two companies which have purchased a machine learning-based technology. This technology helps marketers identify user behavior on a website, then creates a score to measure who is most likely to become an enterprise lead for the sales team.

In Company A, the technology is implemented and the scores are available in the CRM without fail. However, nobody has guided the sales team on how these scores work. No one educated them on how the scores improve over time as the sales team validates the scores by updating the status (e.g. identifying a lead as low quality, moving it to the opportunity stage, etc.). After a few bad leads, word gets out that the scores are worthless so sales stops using the technology.

In Company B, however, efforts are made to carefully educate the sales team. The marketers show the sales team projections of improvement, and guides them to regularly evaluate realistic results against their outsized expectations. A few bad leads are appropriately marked, thus improving the system. After six months, the sales team moves 80% of leads into the opportunity stage because they trust the system, creating more wins and spending less time on customers who aren't yet ready to purchase.

When you’re buying new technology, it’s one thing to simply purchase it and roll it out. It’s another thing entirely to implement it well. And sometimes, it’s possible to solve a problem with a solution you already have—hence why it’s so important to understand the technology you choose to adopt.

Dynamic work calls for a fast and flexible approach

One of the most important considerations is building your martech stack to be dynamic and flexible—meaning it doesn’t require a lot of manual effort to make changes. Many companies have operated just fine by executing manually, but when they need to adapt quickly and manage dynamic work, they’re hampered. And the current economic climate illustrated that risk.

Marketers must always be one step ahead of news, trends, and crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic began, it was imperative to reevaluate marketing campaigns, advertising, and creative for tone and messaging. The most agile companies quickly pivoted their marketing, and have been able to strengthen loyalty with customers.

For those that didn’t—whether because they didn’t think about it or because their marketing technology didn’t allow for fast adjustment of their campaigns—they may have negatively impacted their business for years to come. One example of this inability to adapt was a financial firm reaching out to urge consumers to invest in the stock market as it was dropping daily.

Companies that are unable to quickly and easily adapt to changing conditions risk damaging their reputation with consumers, which is incredibly risky in an economic climate where every dollar counts. And when every dollar counts, making technology decisions based on your return on investment will be even more important than when business is booming.

If you focus on what will drive value for your business—that is, figure out the tools and aspects of your martech stack that will generate or support revenue—you’ll be in the best position to succeed. Especially during times of uncertainty, like right now during the COVID-19 pandemic, remaining laser-focused on the business and financial impacts of your technology is key.

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