Marketing technology (martech) has become an industry with seemingly endless options, often leading brand and agency marketers to a state of analysis paralysis – in other words, spending an exorbitant amount of time reviewing digital marketing tools and platforms, without follow through on implementation and use.
With over a decade of experience analyzing needs and leading discovery through implementation of martech stacks – stacks referring to a collection of compatible tools – I want to share my process for selecting a martech stack that works with you, rather than against you.
After all, the best martech stack you can deploy is the one you, and your team, will actually use.
Why is martech on the mind?
The first question to ask yourself is why the need for a solution is on your mind. Is there a problem you’re actively trying to solve? Are you starting from scratch, overhauling an existing suite of digital marketing tools, or are you looking for incremental improvements to improve team efficiency and performance of your marketing efforts?
There’s no single approach based on the rationales above, but it’s an important piece of information to keep in mind throughout the selection process.
Every marketer’s situation is unique
Whether you’re an agency, a brand, or a brand that works with an agency, every situation and approach to crafting a meaningful martech stack is different.
For internal brand teams, you often need to worry only about the needs and skillset of your organization.
For brand teams that work with an agency (or multiple agencies), an important factor in selection is expertise – what role, if any, are your agency partners going to play in the discovery, evaluation, and execution phases? If they are playing a major role, ensure the agency is considering your needs as a brand rather than solely promoting internally-preferred tools (sometimes with kick-backs). If they are supporting (or not involved), will you need to pay fees to train them on your new tools?
For agencies, it can be a little more complicated. Are you looking for tools to make your marketing team more efficient internally or will their use be exposed (or shared) to your clients? Are the costs of the tools baked into the operation of the agency or are they passed through to clients? Are there any data or compliance considerations to ensure your agency and clients are protected?
For some agencies, technology agnosticism (accepting the martech stack used/preferred by clients) can be a great differentiator, but it often comes at the cost of tactical expertise.
Finally, what is your process for defining needs, evaluating tools, and then executing on the implementation and management of these tools? More on this shortly!
What digital marketing tools do you really need?
This can be a tough question for brands and agencies alike, but it’s important to build a laundry list of needs – potentially scoring them based on if they are absolutely required, or if they are simply nice to have.
Here’s a non-exhaustive checklist of some areas to cover:
- Landing pages
- Ad platforms (search, display, video, social, programmatic, OTT, OOH, traditional, etc.)
- Social platforms
- SEO – on-site, off-site
- Location listings
- Customer relationship management (CRM)
- Audience management
- Data and analytics – baked into all of the above, but also consider:
- Feed management
- Data ownership
- Data privacy
Finding the right digital marketing tools
After establishing your needs, it’s time to start the exciting process of discovery, evaluation and selection, and finally execution. These phases are distinct, each with its own list of considerations.
Discovery. One of the more exciting phases of building a martech stack, here you’ll be scouring the internet and asking colleagues for recommendations of digital marketing tools and platforms. At this stage the focus should be on rapid surface-level reviews of many tools (don’t commit to potentially time-consuming sales calls yet). Consider using a spreadsheet to track the list of tools you’ve explored (including those you have chosen to exclude) and narrow your list accordingly.
Here are a few tricks to help you through the discovery phase:
- Comparison sites (G2, Capterra, etc.) can help jumpstart your list of tools to explore (including alternatives to known tools), as well as provide social validation from users of those platforms.
- Asking peers and colleagues for recommendations can be a great way to add to your list, but make sure that the recommended tools meet your criteria in the next step.
- Explore partner programs of your ‘required’ platforms to find tools that natively integrate. For instance, if Shopify is your ecommerce platform, narrow your discovery to tools and platforms that are either Shopify partners, or integrate with ease.
- Competitor search ads can yield some interesting alternatives worthy of exploration. If you find a platform that is likely to make your short list, search their name and explore some of the other platforms that are bidding on their brand name. It’s not always a 1:1 match, but it can yield some high-quality tools.
Depending on your needs, you may be looking for a single solution that integrates with your current advertising platforms, but more-often-than-not an effective martech stack is built with compatible platforms with each solving a set of your needs. For instance, you may find a solution that combines email marketing, SMS, customer relationship management, and audience management, but it’s unlikely that solution will also be effective at cross-platform reporting and ad creative management.
Evaluation & Selection. You’ve made your short-list, now it’s time to have some of those sometimes-awkward sales calls! Before getting too far into it, it’s best to have a spreadsheet ready to roll, complete with feature coverage and a variety of other items that will factor into your decision, such as:
- Trial/demo period (with your own data or sample data)
- Coverage of your needs (partial, complete)
- Ease of use (for yourself, for other users)
- Pricing (commitments/contracts, discounts, overages, add-ons, renewals)
- Onboarding (process, timelines, cost, requirements, resources, training)
- Support (process, speed, cost, SLA)
- Integrations (with other platforms/tools)
- Data freedom (data ownership, data portability)
- Reviews/references (satisfaction from those with similar needs)
Once you’ve made your way through the platforms, it’s time to present your findings and recommendation to the relevant stakeholders. Depending on the size of the potential investment, I often break this presentation into 3 sections:
- Why we’re here – outline of needs and decision criteria being used
- The alternatives – a couple of slides for each how it lives up to the decision criteria as well as the investment (financial and time-based)
- The recommendation – your informed recommendation and plan to move forward (include approximate timelines)
Execution. Now that decisions have been made and invoices created, it’s time to execute! Every tool and solution will be different, but execution can often broken into three parts:
- Implementation. The onboarding process will differ significantly depending on the tool/platform, ranging from hours to potentially months. Complex digital marketing tools will often have dedicated implementation teams to help guide you through the setup process, while others will have helpful training resources to nurture you through the first few weeks of your experience. Given the time and financial investment so far, it’s important to take implementation seriously as it will help set you and your team up for success.
- Management. Now it’s time to get some value from your investment by improving the efficiency and/or efficacy of your team with your shiny new tool(s)! A successful and meaningful implementation can often make this stage easy, but make sure that you have time set aside to follow-through with routine use and training.
- Maintenance. Often forgotten is ensuring that you’re following through with daily, weekly, and monthly tasks to keep your martech stack running effectively, and also validating that data is flowing between platforms and tools as your needs originally dictated. Often, sales representatives will maintain regular touchpoints to ensure your satisfaction – be honest with them and pose any questions or concerns you may have. Additionally, stay up-to-date on new features, changes, and the upcoming roadmap (if available) to see if there is opportunity for you and your team to expand your usage of an already-implemented tool or platform.
Trust in your process
While regular evaluation of your martech stack is an important piece of ensuring success, it’s also important to trust the process you went through to select the tools you’re using. Marketing technology can change quickly and new platforms are always emerging, but once you have established a meaningful and productive stack of tools, the focus should be on incremental improvement – sometimes by adding new tools, but often by exploring additional features of the tools you already have.