Navigating Martech Amid the Land of Shiny Solutions

The marketing technology landscape has seen explosive growth the last couple of decades, but even when the field was a bit smaller, it was a challenge for marketers to clearly understand what all the solutions did.

The martech landscape has seen explosive growth the last couple of decades, but even when the field was a bit smaller, it was a challenge for marketers to clearly understand what all the solutions did.

Firms like CabinetM and others, as well as Scott Brinker’s Chief Marketing Technologist Blog, have tracked the growth of marketing technology solutions, with CabinetM cataloging more than 8,000 products across over 300 categories. And the growth doesn’t show signs of slowing or stopping.

This proposes a major problem, as marketers must decide where to expend their limited time and energy. Even after categorizing martech solutions by function, the job can feel impossible — because there are several hundred solutions per category.

The pressure to keep up with competitors and fear of missing out are strong impediments to developing a successful martech strategy. But rest assured, there is a method to getting through the madness. Let’s first review two steps any marketer needs to take when considering their marketing technology needs, and then dive into some key categories that marketers should be considering first when it comes to martech investments.

Step 1: Square Away Customer Strategy

The first step is to develop a technology-agnostic, but technology-aware customer strategy.

Knowing what technology to invest in really begins by thinking about what your customer strategy is and what it aspires to be. With thousands of solutions in the market, martech is the land of shiny objects. There are really cool innovations, such as augmented reality, geo beacons, IOT, AI, etc.

It’s natural to be attracted to these innovative solutions. However, investing in solutions based primarily on their cool factor generally results in a confusing customer strategy and poor ROI.

The world of retailer apps is a good example: There are countless innovative and helpful branded mobile apps available for download. According to Statista, however, only a handful of apps are used with any real frequency, and most are deleted within 30 days. This is not to say that brands can’t have success with apps. However, solutions also need to be compelling and well-thought-out components of a larger winning customer strategy.

Target’s app, for example, helps drive a better physical in-store experience by helping you find what you need and informing you of relevant sales. Target could have added VR games or other gimmicks, but it chose to stay focused on improving the shopping experience.

By thinking about the brand, customer strategy, and customer pain points first, the martech universe becomes significantly easier to navigate.

Step 2: Decide on Investment vs. Outsource

The next step is to decide what tech solutions you want to invest in and which ones you will outsource. There are three questions to ask:

  • Is the solution essential to my customer strategy? In other words, would your brand be fundamentally
    impacted by the solution? Customer experience solutions would be prime examples, because customer experience has a straight-line relationship to how your brand is perceived today.
  • Does the solution require intense domain expertise? Some capabilities are constantly in flux. SEO, for example, is always a moving target. Staying ahead of search engine algorithms and how digital assistants — such as Alexa and Google Assistant — find information for their users takes some focused dedication.
  • Do I have or can I hire the appropriate talent? This can sometimes be the ultimate arbiter when deciding to invest time and energy on a solution. For example, while analytics and measurement solutions would qualify as essential to customer strategy, the ability to hire, retain, and manage an analytics capability can be very difficult. As a result, brands frequently outsource at least some of their analytical solutions.

Martech Categories Marketers Must Consider

While working through those steps can help to guide martech investments, there are four (plus one) solution categories that merit near-universal attention from marketers.

These solutions not only dominate tech-driven marketing, but also are constantly integrating more specialized solutions under their umbrella to provide end-to-end capabilities. (That said, even these dominant categories do not play in distinct sandboxes, and often overlap.)

Investing time and energy on these larger solutions is a great way to begin forming the foundation of a good marketing technology stack.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
This should be the central repository of important customer information and behavioral data. Most CRM
solutions also integrate modules that help make customer decisions based on the data. Some CRM solutions, such as Salesforce, have so many modules that it’s nearly impossible for one person to understand the full ecosystem. Nevertheless, understanding how to manage and utilize CRM systems will continue to be the foundation of managing brands well.

Customer Experience (CX)
These solutions help connect, measure, and improve the customer journey. Today, most brands are defined by their customer experience and less by what they advertise. Most CX solutions enable highly personalized interactions with customers and increase loyalty, making CX tech a critical investment for marketers. What’s more, each interaction increases knowledge of customer preferences and behaviors to be applied in future experiences.

Sales Automation
These solutions are focused on helping marketers complete time-consuming and repetitive tasks, such as sending communications or selecting the next offer based on customer behavior. Today, sales automation solutions make intelligent decisions on millions of marketing interactions at the individual customer level. This is also the technology segment most likely to make certain marketing jobs obsolete. For marketers worried about job security, developing skills in managing and executing automation software will be valuable insurance.

Analytics and Reporting
Data-driven marketing decisions are now the norm, along with measurement and ROI. Most martech solutions have a strong data foundation and generate appropriate reports automatically. That said, there is still a need to understand the larger analytical story and solutions, such as web and social analytics, data visualization, and BI tools, provide a critical view into marketing success. All marketers do not need a degree in data science. However, all marketers should understand the role of analytical solutions in driving marketing decisions from content to budget allocations.

Adtech (the Plus-One)
This category is purposefully separated from the other four. It contains ad buying solutions for programmatic display, search, social, mobile, and digital video advertising. Some large internal marketing departments may choose to invest in building this capability and there are real cost benefits involved. However, the digital ad industry is complex, in constant flux and highly algorithmic. While in-house marketers should be familiar with adtech trends, they should consider adtech investments carefully. In many cases, adtech is probably best left to digital ad agencies.

Navigating the Martech Landscape

By focusing on the dominant martech categories, there are many valuable solutions left on the table: such as content and asset management, SEO, geo and proximity-based marketing, social management, and chatbots. They all have an important role to play but are more likely to be integrated into larger solutions, over time. Unless these solutions are mission-critical to your customer strategy, it is better to outsource solution expertise.

Billions of venture capital dollars have been invested in martech this decade, and most industry insiders agree that there are too many solutions. The expectation is that the landscape will eventually shrink as winners separate from losers, but there is no sign of this happening soon.

Nevertheless, the overwhelming landscape can’t be a deterrent to jumping in and getting comfortable with marketing technology. It is being used by most marketers today and will only grow in influence.
What is important is to keep focused and not let the land of shiny objects distract you from executing your customer strategy.

Sales and Marketing Automation: Explaining the Difference

Is the difference between sales and marketing automation confusing you? There’s a reason why. Sales teams are being pushed to hit prospecting “activities” numbers — to the exclusion of making those activities count.

Is the difference between sales and marketing automation confusing you? There’s a reason why. Sales teams are being pushed to hit prospecting “activities” numbers — to the exclusion of making those activities count.

As one of my students selling enterprise software put it, “I’m glad to send out X number of emails per week and leave Y number of voicemails … so long as most of those touches bring me closer to a meeting. I’m not willing to hit my numbers for the sake of hitting my numbers — and that’s what management is demanding.”

Here’s the rub. “Mass marketing” mentality is creeping into most sales departments — especially SDRs and BDRs (sales and business development reps).

The result is a blurring between sales and marketing, broadly. But also a blurring between sales and marketing automation tools and how they’re being applied. Inside sales teams are behaving like mass marketing agents. Worse, field reps selling into enterprise accounts are being forced to pump out templated emails to C-suite and officer level prospects.

And it ain’t workin’.

Is Sales a Numbers Game?

Remember the old adage, “Sales is a numbers game?” Given LinkedIn, social media, email, postal mail, cold calling, etc., we need a new name; a more scientific name. They call it “Activity Based Selling.”

Followers of Activity Based Selling (ABS) believe, “sales is a numbers game — won primarily by those who knock on more doors.”

But here’s where it gets ugly. Sales is (and always will be) a numbers game. Is business growth purely quantitative? Certainly not. But proponents of ABS are excluding quality of conversation from sellers’ strategies. Many organizations are over-focusing on reps hitting activity quotas — neglecting the qualitative communication skills needed to approach C-level decision-makers.

In theory ABS makes good sense. In practice it turns out to be spammy, dangerous and ineffective.

Marketing Automation Isn’t Sales Automation

It may sound stupid to say marketing automation isn’t sales automation. Truth is, you may agree in theory: Marketing is distinct from sales. But in practice are your sellers behaving like mass marketers when using email, voicemail and social?

This is where things get cloudy.

According to sales automation software provider Outreach.io, marketing automation is not a substitute for a sales engagement platform. Well, duh. But interestingly, this software vendor prefers the word “engagement” over “automation,” with good reason. Folks in charge of purchasing these tools often don’t see the difference — based on how they intend to use marketing and sales automation tools.

When you intend on using both to send “campaigns,” look out!

Both sales and marketing automation tools have the capability to send en mass. I’m convinced this is because sales automation companies would go broke otherwise.

Everyone demands sellers to send mass emailed campaigns. Big mistake.

Outreach.io rightly advises marketing automation:

  • is ideal for generating leads, but not working them;
  • is too technical and feature-heavy to onboard new reps quickly;
  • lacks flexibility needed for personal conversations;
  • doesn’t enable reps to make calls and interact on social media;
  • send emails via third party servers, not a rep’s inbox, which increases chances of getting caught in spam filters

So What’s the Difference?

The difference is simple in theory and what should be practiced: One-to-many (marketing) message management and one-to-one (sales) message management. It’s the difference between trying to earn whitepaper downloads and webinar registrants, and earning the right to converse with a client and qualify their need.

Marketing automation should be generating leads via mass marketing. Sales engagement (automation) tools should be helping sellers to do what they do best — help those leads qualify or dis-qualify themselves as customers.

Can you do this using cut-and-paste templates you found on Google?

Heck no.

Today’s most effective sales reps — on inside or in field — use qualitative, one-on-one conversations. Email plays a vital role in starting and moving conversations toward closure. Problem is, many who invest in sales automation software use it to push static, impersonal templates that scream, “delete me!” to prospects.

Prospecting templates don’t work.

The Problem With Activity Based Selling

Proponents of ABS tend to believe “If we focus on what sellers can control (activities) … and not the outcome we desire (customers buying) … sellers will perform better.” Thus, management focus sellers on “activities” that encourage a conversation via:

  • reach
  • persistence
  • education

Trouble is, those ideas easily morph into pushing information at prospects (low skill). Instead, C-level buyers demand sellers find ways to earn discussions by attracting (pulling) them into a qualitative, early-need-stage dialogue.

Worse, demand generation and sales enablement teams supporting reps instruct them to not focus on the sale. While pushing for the sale is not appropriate, telling a sales rep “don’t focus on selling” forces reps to ask, “what should I do then?”

Too often the answer is found in marketing-speak. Reps resort to pushing email messages at clients about features, benefits, solutions and webinars. Instead, effective reps provoke replies using non-marketing-speak messages based on problem-solving and other sensitive issues they’ve managed to research.

Thus, ABS demands reps to perform many touches (activities). The nature of what ends up being pushed out is purely quantitative marketing noise aimed at educating clients who have not yet asked to be educated!

Stop Sending Templates

At best, even when sellers are not pushing out education-oriented mass messages, they are sending out drivel like this…

Hi Sam,
I wanted to reach out because my company [insert vendor name] helps organizations like [target company name] [top 10 list of pain/value propositions every vendor claims — e.g., increase productivity, reduce sales cycle time, boost engagement, manage leads etc.]

Our solutions have helped customers like [list of generic famous companies designed to impress reader] see an improvement of [insert ROI stat].

Do you have 15 minutes to speak this week? Looking forward to hearing from you!

Templates don’t work nor do premature meeting requests. Effective sellers use templates to customize messages faster, not send faster. They use sales automation and engagement tools to start and qualify one-to-one conversations using qualitative (yes, time consuming) tactics designed to earn them.

Research is a key element of effective cold email messages — proving you’ve done homework on prospects multiplies response rates.

Add in a Qualitative Element

Provoking conversations with C-level executives is possible. It isn’t “cut-and-paste-easy.” Nor is pushing educational or value-added messages at them (before they’ve requested it) going to work. What does work is relatively simple: It mostly involves trimming back all messages to two to four sentences. Literally.

The other key element is sparking curiosity in cold messages.

True: It’s best to focus on what you can control (activities) … and not the outcome you desire (customers buying). But the answer is not a purely quantitative strategy—especially when calling into the C-suite.

Standardized templates do not work. They feel too “mass mailed.” Easy to spot, instant delete.

But a mental-triggers-based approach to message design—that can be very repeatable — does.

Customization is key. Psychology is front-and-center to triggering response.

What is your experience lately?