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7 tips for improving marketing technology stacks

Being deliberate about integrating a new tool into marketing technology stacks will help ensure they produce ROI and makes processes more efficient.

Martech vendors often make promises about the perfect marketing that can result from using their software, and it's easy for marketers and organization leaders to buy into this message. But marketing technology stacks are often messy and complicated, and if you want to get the greatest efficiency out of your tools, you need to take a calculated approach to selecting new technology.

"When we spend all this money on fancy tools that we don't really know how to use, we end up using the same manual processes that we used before we bought the fancy tool," said Michelle Voorhies, former senior director of marketing capabilities at Ashley Furniture HomeStore, in a session at the MarTech Conference in Boston in October 2018. "If your tool is sitting on the shelf, you are not getting any return on investment."

To avoid marketing technology stacks that are underutilized or don't meet the organization's needs, here are seven tips from Voorhies for how to go about selecting and implementing marketing technology so that it provides maximum value.

Take a step back

The conversation needs to start with the problem the marketing team is trying solve, rather than a specific technology, vendor's pitch or compelling capability.

"Spend some time upfront on that problem statement and aligning the organization on the problem statement," said Voorhies, now corporate vice president of digital strategy at New York Life Insurance Company.  "There is nothing worse than sitting in a room with ten of your peers and your bosses when you are all trying to solve a different problem."

Know the environment

Another thing to consider before diving into a big martech stack project or reorganization project is the environment.

Be sure to answer some of these questions:

  • What is your organization's ability to scale?
  • What tools do you already have in place?
  • How long can your organization wait for an ROI?
  • How supportive is the leadership?
  • Does your organization like to buy or build new technology?

"Really think about the environment that is around you as you start planning your marketing technology strategy," Voorhies said. "Understanding the environment can help you can make a solid case for what you are trying to do."

Proof of concept

Michelle VoorhiesMichelle Voorhies

Once you have identified a problem you are trying to solve, the next step is to do a proof of concept (POC), a small project done to validate a technology that will determine if the new tool or process will solve the original problem before you invest in any new tools for marketing technology stacks.

Voorhies and her team at Ashley Furniture, an international furniture store chain, did this by performing the process manually, creating a campaign journey and putting it out into the market to show that the capability that a new piece of technology would provide was needed and would work. Or the vendor may also be willing do a POC for you.

"It is amazing how many vendors are willing to do a proof of concept with you and often in a free environment to earn your business," Voorhies said.

However, she warned not to underestimate the amount of work that is required from internal teams for vendors to do a quality POC. What is more, she said to make sure that you will be ready to make a decision about whether to move forward with the specific marketing technology by the end of the POC phase.

Prove value

When we spend all this money on fancy tools that we don't really know how to use, we end up using the same manual processes that we used before we bought the fancy tool. If your tool is sitting on the shelf, you are not getting any return on investment.
Michelle VoorhiesAshley Furniture

A product does not need to be fully implemented in order to start proving its value or using it.

Throughout the process of implementing new software, if you are able to plug data into a tool and use it to run campaigns, you can show that it was a good investment. If you're able to make money during this stage, that is a great way to build the case for your internal team and for the software.

"Take a phased approach, and try to prove value along the way so you can show a leadership team that you were able to make some money before you ask them to spend money," Voorhies said.

Define a team

In successfully putting a new technology into service, you should invest in the people that are going to solve the problem. It's also good to have a team in place so that end users are also defining the requirements for how the tool works and fits in with existing marketing technology stacks.

"A problem that I have seen over and over again is that we are willing to buy some software to solve the problem, yet we are not willing to form a team around the solution of that problem," Voorhies said. "We are not willing to hire people to use that software. We are not willing to hire people who are going to build a process around the problem."

After the team has been assembled, it needs to get tactical and granular about exactly what the organization is trying to do with the software, how that is going to fit into existing processes and tools, how success will be measured and what outcomes are expected.

Technical implementation and change management

To technically implement a new tool often takes longer than expected, particularly when the software has to plug into other software programs, such as CRM platforms, content management systems, conversion tools, automation software and web analytics, that run in coordination with each other within marketing technology stacks. Despite how difficult this process can be, it is important to also look at the bigger picture of this new tool within the context of the organization.

"Spend some time thinking about how the technical implementation overlaps with the process definition and change management," Voorhies said. "When you put a tool in place, you need to also put a process in place for how you are going to use it. You need to communicate to your organization what is changing and what they need to be doing."

Without this communication, the tool could sit unused, and the organization will likely return to the processes it used before this lengthy process of problem definition, team selection, POC, vendor selection and implementation. Then, you may never realize an ROI.

On the other hand, if the new process does not work, a good marketing team will be able to admit that and go back to the previous one. "Implementing marketing technology isn't a project that ends at a certain time. You have to be willing to make that commitment as an organization," Voorhies said.

MarTech is one of two annual conferences hosted by Scott Brinker, martech software vendor HubSpot's vice president of platform ecosystem and editor of the Chief Marketing Technologist blog. The most recent event was held Oct. 2 to 3.

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