discussing a problem at a conference with a peer
Choosing software, recruiting questions and more big decisions can be made so much easier by reaching out to your network of peers PHOTO: Robert Levy

Purchasing a new marketing technology platform can be daunting — and is frequently accompanied by a great deal of stress. 

You have to first determine what type of platform you need to address your needs, then create a list of products to assess. With a list in hand you can narrow your options through a feature comparison and roadmap assessment, then align products with your budget and internal skill level, and finally assess whether the platform can easily integrate into your existing infrastructure.   

That’s the easy part. 

When It's Decision Time, Turn to Peers

Many resources are available to support the front end of the acquisition process. An online search and tools like CabinetM can help you find the right product category and build your product list. Technology review sites (G2 Crowd, Trust Radius and GetApp) and reports from category experts and industry analysts (Forrester, Gartner, Sirius Decisions, The Real Story Group) can then help narrow your list. If you have the budget, you can even hire a consultant or one of the advisory firms to assist you in the search and qualification process.

The tough part comes in trying to decide between your three finalists: and the more expensive and complex the platform, the tougher the decision. This decision could conceivably commit you to a vendor and technology strategy for the next three to five years. The marketers I've spoken to in this position have, without fail, all mentioned how reaching out to their peers for input was really beneficial to their decision making process and alleviated the stress around making the final decision.  Even with so much information available online and so many experts to reach out to, there is nothing quite like the honest opinion of a trusted colleague who has walked down the road ahead of you.

Build Your Network of Peers

With marketing technology innovation showing no sign of slowing down and marketing technology stacks becoming ever more complex, it is more important than ever to built a network of peers you can tap for insights and opinions. For a few of us, this happens naturally. But for most of us, a conscious effort is required and that takes a plan and strategy.

First think about who you need in your network.  A good starting point would be:

  • Peers in a similar job function in a similar but not competitive company.
    • Peers with a similar tech stack (e.g. anchor platforms).
    • Peers with a distinctly different tech stack.
  • Peers in a company larger than yours (will be helpful to tap in thinking about a technology roadmap).
  • Peers in a smaller company than yours (often smaller companies can move faster through a procurement process and may be a good source of recommended task-specific products).

Next, start finding those people.  I recommend starting with a local network as it’s generally easier to build relationships when you can meet for coffee or a drink after work. There are many ways to build your network:

  • Start with your existing friends — who are often past co-workers.
  • Attend conferences and challenge yourself to engage during the networking hour (something many of us introverts hate doing). Set yourself a goal of finding at least one person that meets your criteria.
  • Attend local meet-ups. Justin Sharif (Logmein), Sam Melnick (Allocadia) and Erica Seidel (The Connective Good) launched a MarTech in the Hub quarterly meet-up in Boston this past year. They’ve created a great environment for marketing technology professionals (vendor and user) to meet, discuss challenges and connect in a non-sales oriented, collegial environment.  If there isn’t a meet-up in your area, find a couple of peers and consider starting your own.
  • Use LinkedIn to find and engage with people you want in your network. This is not the same as just randomly adding new contacts. This is targeted, proactive outreach with a long-term goal. If someone connects with you, you need a plan to form a real relationship with that person. You can also leverage a host of marketing related groups on LinkedIn to find like-minded individuals and peers.
  • Leverage your favorite recruiter. Chances are the person that introduced you into the company you are working for knows all of your local peers. I would also consider making that recruiter a part of your technology network — having the right skills internally to support the technology you are acquiring is critical and today’s marketing and marketing technology oriented recruiters are well versed in these challenges.
  • Consider joining a formal marketing peer group. My colleague, Lisa Nirell of Energize Growth runs two in-person CMO peer groups, one in Washington D.C. the other in Atlanta, as well as a virtual community for CMOs outside of those areas. I know from my recent conversations with Nirell that much of the discussion at these sessions centers on marketing technology strategy. The CMO Council is the largest peer community for marketing with over 13,500 members worldwide and also a great source of marketing information and insight.

Pay It Forward

With a strategy and plan in place to find and acquire your ideal peer network you are ready to activate that network. It’s not enough to ask someone to “be your friend”  (we aren’t in first grade anymore), you actually have to work to make that happen. That means you have to be proactive in your outreach and then work to build a relationship. The easiest way to do this is to be a friend yourself: offer help and provide advice, proactively send reports or articles that you think may help your connection. Try and meet on a regular basis (two to four times a year is generally a good guideline). Consider getting together with a few people at a time. Bringing people together that don’t already know one another can spark some interesting new relationships.

Finally, always pay it forward. Individuals who suck you dry by asking for help over and over again and then disappear when you need help are persona non grata round these parts.

You’ll find time invested in developing a strong, supportive peer network will deliver rewards in all sorts of unexpected places, but particularly when it comes to making that final technology decision.