Ann Lewnes offered the candid comment during an on stage appearance at last week's Forrester Forum for Marketing Leaders in San Francisco. She had just been asked for the one major piece of advice she'd give the audience.
"The major thing I would advise is that technology is not enough. You can bring in tons of technology, but if you don't take care of the organizational issues and the process issues....?" she mused, letting the question hang unanswered over the crowd.
"Without making the process changes and the people changes ... the technology? I wouldn't waste your money on it."
She isn't alone. Just a week earlier, at Achievers' Aspire conference, several speakers spoke of the importance of having the right people and processes in place when you introduce technology that enhances the customer experience.
Any marketers who can think back to their first exposure to Salesforce, Marketo or other marketing and sales automation tools understands the issue here -- the technology may be wonderful, but it doesn't do anything by itself. It requires training and processes to generate real results.
In the exhibit hall at the Forrester conference, Avi Spivack, director of product marketing for Adroit Digital, spent most of the show under a sign that read "Hooray for Humans" -- the slogan for his company which prides itself on developing technology that ordinary folks can master quickly. Still he called Lewnes comment "a little extreme."
Just Can't Wait
"You absolutely need the right people, both internally and externally -- vendors and partners," he said. "But the ad technology is quite evolved at this point and I don't think most businesses have the luxury of waiting to hire the right people or signing on with the right set of partners before they make all of their tech decisions or investments."
Spivack instead suggested adopting smaller, modular technologies as marketers move gradually toward a long-term goal. "Ultimately, you will likely need a small handful of technology partners, so gaining a diversity of experience is important," he said.
To be sure, Lewnes did encourage the marketers to "start small" and gain experience.
"We started with data analytics and we moved onto target multivariate testing," she said. "We re-platformed our website with a new content management system. We started using a campaign management system. Now we do in-house media optimization and econometric modeling. So I wouldn't say let's do everything simultaneously. I would start and, concentrically, go out."
Two Dollars in 10
How much of its marketing resources should a company spend on technology? "In terms of the actual percentage, I think it depends on the company. Twenty percent of your budget is about right, I would say, to allocate to marketing technology," she said. She then quipped: "And you need to spend it all with us."
"It's funny, you know, most of the companies we initially used, we ended up buying," she said. "So I'm used to paying all those companies. It isn't cheap, but you have to do it."
Lewnes said even she has to justify every expense in marketing to senior management.
"The way I initially started justifying expenses for this technology was going in with my spreadsheet and showing the actual benefit of implementing this kind of technology," she said, recalling how that effort began with econometric modeling about five years before that became common practice at other companies.
Believe in Technology
"We were able to understand, based on years of historical budget data, what the exact amount we should be spending on a particular campaign was in order to attain a certain bookings level, or a certain revenue level. And we could do it within five points of accuracy," she said. "If I can go in and explain that to a very narrow degree, that's obviously going to make my CFO and my CEO believe in the technology."
The next big frontier for many marketers will be merging mobile into their campaigns, and Lewnes had some strong thoughts on that, too.
"I would say on the marketing side, nobody's doing a good job. I haven't seen any brand marketer doing a great job with mobile, ourselves included. I think it's a huge gap," she said. "Both on the client side and the agency side, we definitely have not cracked the code."