Marketing now bears responsibility for the entire customer lifecycle — from lead generation to customer advocacy. And as a result, is also responsible for the vast arsenal of tools and associated budget that identifies prospects, nurtures and converts those prospects into customers and ultimately transforms those customers into brand advocates.

As with any investment recommendation, marketing must lay out the business case for its technology investment. Rather than address this piecemeal, an overall strategy presentation that clearly maps tool and technology use to business objectives makes a clear case.

Typically, these objectives bubble up to revenue growth, reducing the cost of customer acquisition, and increasing customer satisfaction and customer lifetime value.

Paint by Numbers

Start by cataloging the tool and technology mix currently in play. Show the business objectives that they serve, the interdependencies between the tools and the results they are achieving. Many call this mapping the Marketing Stack. 

With the existing tools in place, the next step is to identify those areas where new tools are needed. Think of it as creating a “paint by numbers” picture, with the colors yet to be painted in.

Showcase this strategy and direction in your first interaction with your CEO. Offer a clear definition of technology and tool areas to explore, and demonstrate a direct link between tool investment and business outcome.

Think about tool selection in two ways. First you have the large platforms — CRM, marketing automation, email — that are must-haves in the marketing mix. Marketers refer to these as core platforms. These platforms generally require a large financial and resource investment to implement and launch, and are hard to displace once installed. 

Then there are those products that serve very specific functions, but don’t require much upfront investment or effort to test and try. These are referred to as edge products. Acquiring and justifying core and edge tools involves two very different processes.

At the Core

In presenting core platforms for approval make sure to:

  • Clearly define where the platform fits in the overall landscape (fill in that first paint-by-number space)
  • Articulate its business value in terms that are measurable
  • Communicate the implementation plan and the resource implication of implementing and running the platform
  • Identify success metrics — this is a joint effort that should be undertaken with your vendor who has the benefit of looking across all implementations of its products and should be able to guide you to the best benchmarks for your application
  • Validate your recommendation through external references — this can be via peer review or recommendations, analyst and media reviews
  • Engage the relevant functional stakeholders throughout the organization to ensure buy-in and support

That last point is key. 

Marketing is no longer an isolated function with well-defined boundaries. 

Today’s marketing organization partners with every functional department in the corporation to ensure the best customer experience across the entire the customer journey. Marketing must work with different internal partner stakeholders at every stage of the customer journey to ensure the best possible outcome for each program and technology.

Long before marketing recommends new technology for investment approval to the CEO, it must align with the relevant functional stakeholder to ensure that all functional considerations are addressed. For example: IT (increasingly a critical marketing partner) is concerned with customer security and privacy and internally about the human capital required to install and support a new technology. 

As the complexity of the marketing stack increases, IT offers tremendous value in being able to look across the entire stack to identify areas to increase value and efficiency through integration.

On the Edge

Edge products require a different approach. 

In this case, it makes more sense to allocate a pool of funds on a quarterly basis to test and try new products. 

As with core products it’s important to define an acquisition strategy that aligns with business objectives and that key internal stakeholders endorse. Unlike core products, edge products can be tested without a large financial or resource commitment and generally don’t impact other tools in the technology mix. 

The goal with edge products is to test and validate performance assumptions quickly and then add those tools that perform into the mainstream mix and discard those that don’t.

The secret to success in acquiring edge products is to take your tool test program seriously:

  • Don’t jump too quickly into a free trial. Establish your performance hypothesis and test plan before signing up to avoid wasting your time. (I’m guilty of signing up for a ‘Free Trial’ of a product after reading a great article about the solution and then getting too busy to actually spend the time figuring out how to use it. Before I know it and before I’ve had a chance to run a test, the trial period is over)
  • Make sure that any free trial period gives you enough time to prove the value of a new tool and then commit yourself to doing the work to determine whether the product has value in your environment. In my experience, vendors are more than happy to extend a trial period if you can demonstrate why that’s necessary for your business case
  • Don’t discard too early. You know the old adage “if at first you don’t succeed ….” Maybe don’t go so far as to “try, try again,” but do give it at least a second try
  • Frequently, a targeting or campaign adjustment makes all the difference. Make sure that you identify variables that could impact your experience in using a new tool and that you take that into account in your test program

Getting the Markers Correct

For both core and edge platforms, one of the challenges that marketers face is the lack of predictability around technology and tool performance. When presenting assumptions around expected performance the important thing isn't to get the absolute numbers right, but to get the markers correct and communicating honestly about the unknowns. This is definitely not the time for marketing hype.

Important points to communicate to your CEO include:

  • How you will measure the value of this product
  • What indicators of success you will look for
  • How long it will take to achieve indications of success
  • What you don’t know

Finally, reporting back on success metrics is extremely important in building a relationship of trust with your CEO and other internal stakeholders. There's no shame in a marketing product not working if you’ve been transparent about the validation process and haven’t oversold its capabilities. At the end of the day, everyone wants to see the best possible results relative to business objectives and — like all functions — it usually takes a series of iterative steps to arrive at a successful outcome.