Integrating marketing technology has long been a challenge for marketers. They were struggling with it back in 2015, according Scott Brinker's Chief Marketing Technologist Blog. Today, integration remains one of the most important parts of marketing operations and technology, as cited by this week: organizations must evaluate, integrate, operate and maintain MarTech systems at a global level, according to a report by Brinker.

And while vendors, service providers, integrators and even digital agencies play a role in integrating marketing technology, the onus is ultimately on the marketer and brand itself to get the job done. After all, the average enterprise has a MarTech stack consisting of a staggering 91 tools, according to Brinker, which is making integration a reality for all. 

Related Article: Martech Bloat? How Much is Too Much?

Integrations are Big Business

Before we offer some tips, let’s explore the integrator landscape. While your vendor may provide integration services, the reality for many organizations is partnership with an integrator specialist. And buyers are seeking their services. According to Forrester’s “Now Tech: Integration Strategy And Delivery Service Providers, Q1, 2018” report (fee required), integrators like Accenture, Capgemini, Cognizant, Deloitte, IBM, TCS and Wipro have integration services revenue of more than $600 million. And players like HCL, Infosys, LTI, Perficient, PwC, Tech Mahindra and Torry Harris Business Solutions have revenues from integrations in the $70 million to $600 million range. 

These vendors help organizations “craft an integration architecture for digital transformation, establish better structures and processes for integration, and establish agility for business change,” Forrester author Randy Heffner wrote in his report.

Take Features Inventory, Document APIs

One of the first steps when integrating marketing technology is to take inventory of features, according to Ellen Feaheny, CEO of AppFusions. Note APIs on each side of different systems, such as CRMs, SEO reporting (if not native), existing dashboards, blog platforms, other business intelligence, plugin points and support. Define integration use cases and funding of the implementation, as well as ensure that authentication protocol that supports (OAuth2, SAML, etc.) are in place. 

According to Feaheny, organizations should note that software-as-a-Service (SaaS) vs. on-premises integrations are very different development models and that building an integration plugin is different than an integration service, running always. She also shared that they should get staging environments of the tools at play. “Ultimately, the challenge is not about martech,” Feaheny said. “It is about any platform integration. If the vendor does not have an active development relations program, then it’s tricky to get off the ground. Every integration that is deep and worth anything are initially based on either a strong Independent Software Vendor (ISV) program or savvy integrators, or focused and aligned objectives with the vendor. And even with those, they can fail if there is a weakness in any of those, not to mention in the technical requirements,” she said.

Related Article: MarTech Sandwiches: A Tasty Approach to Integration Mapping

Remember Voice of the Customer

While the IT and business teams that are assessing vendors from tech, procurement and cost perspectives, marketers need to ensure that the voice of their target audience segments are heard, according to Robb Hecht, adjunct professor of marketing at Baruch College in New York City. Marketers, he added, need to ensure the company's target audiences are understood by technology and procurement teams early in the buying process. “The audience target behaviors must be mapped to both the technology possibilities, as well as the follow-through marketing messages and engagement programs,” Hecht said. “If these pillars are not brought together, the technology will be useless in meeting the marketer's objectives in building relationships and experiences with customers.” 

Understand the Depth of Necessary Integrations

Marketers need to understand customizations before an integration begins, since customizations may delay the project, according to Jenna Erickson, marketing manager at CodalOnce an integration is complete,” she said, “you don’t want another long to-do list.”  So, when evaluating marketing technologies, take the time to know how custom the integrations will be with each vendor, said Jon Phillips, vice president of product management of Certain. Ask these questions:

  • Does the vendor have native, out-of-the-box integrations with technologies you already use or does each integration require a one-off custom build? 
  • Are there tools the vendor provides that make integration simple and easy to configure? 
  • Does your vendor provide reporting and dashboards that allow you to monitor how data flows into and out of the system? 

“Ask to view any web interfaces to the specific tools the vendor provides to get a better understanding of the reality on the ground,” Phillips said. “You can ultimately save you and your team a lot of headaches and time finding and utilizing technologies that have out-of-the-box native integrations and monitoring solutions.”

Learning Opportunities

Understand Vendor Support Programs

Erickson reminds marketers to look at the vendor’s support team and programs before they integrate a new platform and tool. “Sometimes,” she said, “integrations can be difficult to successfully complete on your own.” So, understanding this can help you avoid any hidden development costs or timing issues.

Related Article: How to Future-Proof Your Martech Stack

Set Timelines and Get the Right People in Place 

People vastly underestimate how long integrations with marketing technology tools can take, according to Whitney Meers, strategist of Concrete Blonde Consulting. A martech vendor Meers recently consulted with promised a company a three-month integration, but the founders of the company struggled to understand why it took so long to implement from both a technical perspective and a tool exploration/use perspective.

Understand you need someone with the bandwidth to be the main point of contact and to develop some level of mastery of the tool during the onboarding process. Allow ample time for testing and realize they will not get the most value out of a tool if they rush the process.

Develop a timeline and appoint a key point person who can dedicate a significant portion of their week to handling the integration (at least eight to 10 hours, Meers recommended). Also, have a developer who has bandwidth to support on this initiative. The key point person should have regular contact with the SaaS provider point of contact, and the development team should understand that this is a high priority. Post-integration, continue to allocate a key point person to design tests and optimize tool use.

Make Data Analysis a Top Priority

KN Kasibhatla, an independent consultant, encouraged marketers to step back and do some analysis before integrating new marketing technology. What is the goal of putting this data together? What are the “use cases” that describe these goals and how to go about them? “For example, if one were to measure the time it takes from Quote to Cash, we need lead data as well as order data, provisioning data and billing data,” Kasibhatla said. “This kind analysis is the first step in integrating systems.” 

Configure your API strategy, the kind of end points and the type of integration. Determine the kind of data and the frequency of data and the strategy to be used in designing the integration. 

Plan out your data discovery for data mapping and data transformation. "This is where the traditional data warehousing strategies come into play,” Kasibhatla said. “The challenge here is what is the ‘truth’? All systems that touch a customer or a prospect think that they ‘own’ the relationship. So how does one discern the truth of the customer interaction? This becomes critical when you are trying to predict whether a customer will churn or a prospect will decline the offer.”