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Unless this is the first marketing technology piece you’ve ever read (Hi, Dad!), you’ve seen article after article on the insanity that is the martech landscape. Even worse — if you’ve walked into a marketing department that’s existed for more than a year, you may feel as though all 7,000 plus products in Scott Brinker's infamous landscape somehow crept onto your budget. And who knows how many of those are vital vs. likely to gather dust in a corner?

As tempting as it may be to roll up your sleeves and start sending “OK, who is using THIS product?” messages in your marketing Slack channel, you’ll be more effective at taming the martech beast if you stop and consider a few things first. By understanding who you are as a company, what you currently have, and what you need, you’ll find it easier to approach and ultimately tame your martech stack.

Understand Who You Are

Without understanding who you are as a company and your appetite for risk or penchant for “shiny object” syndrome, you chance using the wrong rubric to assess what you have — and what you need.

First, consider the personality of your company. Are you innovators who need to have or build the newest, coolest stuff? If you determine that you are, then it’s important to ensure you also have the appetite and ability for rapid change. Otherwise, maybe you’re actually early adopters who love pre-chasm tools that aren’t yet in beta. Perhaps, like many of us, you’re a fast follower company and don’t want to buy a tool until it’s passed the trough of disillusionment in the Gartner Hype Cycle. If you’re in an older organization, more traditional industry, or severely lack budget, you may be a laggard with technology.

The second question to ask yourself is: what’s the CEO’s disposition? Maybe she doesn’t care at all about the tech marketing uses. Or maybe she wants to make sure she keeps up with the cool marketing technology that other CEOs bring up at cocktail parties (assuming CEOs talk about martech at cocktail parties … CMOs certainly do!). Is she case-study driven? Maybe she needs to hear a ton of social proof before thinking a product is worth evaluating. Even if your CEO doesn’t want to spend a penny on marketing, that’s worth confirming before you proceed.

Finally, what is your organization’s — especially your marketing organization’s — appetite for change? You may be in an organization that barely thinks about change, because it’s constant. Or you may be in a company that needs very careful organization and stewardship of process and technology change. Most of us have companies that fall somewhere between those two extremes, and we need to know how nimble our teams are before we plan let alone instigate any degree of martech change.

Whatever your company’s and CEO’s disposition, keep in mind that it’s OK to be there. Even if you’re a martech laggard with a CEO who wants to pretend marketing doesn’t exist, you can still introduce powerful tools with great ROI — you may simply feel a bit less cool at the next CMO networking event. By knowing your company’s and CEO’s tolerance for software bugs and rapid change, you can set a martech plan that won’t conflict with company culture.

Related Article: What Every CMO Needs to Know About the Marketing Technology Stack

Understand What You Have

One of the advantages of going through the previous exercise of assessing your company’s appetite for change and propensity for shiny objects is you now have context to figure out how your martech stack got to where it is right now. That’s not to say you’re never going to unearth some tool and say, “Why in the world did someone buy that?” — but it definitely should help.

If I were to ask you about your martech stack, your first answer would be easy. You’d spout off and list your marketing automation platform, CRM, website platform, data warehouse and/or BI tool, and probably a few more layers, depending on current initiatives and pain points. After thinking for a moment, you’d then come up with some of your peripheral tools and systems. But to figure out what you actually have, use and need will require more structure than that.

You can categorize your martech stack in a number of ways (and the Stackies has a bunch of cool ones), but my favorite has five categories, which fall into four customer lifecycle stages — acquire, nurture, accelerate and grow — plus infrastructure. Categorizing marketing technology this way, according to the buyer journey, helps my team focus on what really matters — serving the customer and generating revenue. Note that some products belong in more than one of these categories, and that’s perfectly fine, because it helps to understand how each tool gets used to generate revenue for the company.

  • Acquire: Anything that helps us acquire accounts and leads. Social media tools, website platform, paid search tools and account identification tools belong here.
  • Nurture: Traditionally, this phase is the marketing funnel, so marketing automation platforms, mid-funnel content platforms and anything that helps me nurture leads to get ready for sales go here.
  • Accelerate: This is actually the sales funnel, but we call it “accelerate” here, because the most valuable role of marketing in the sales process is to help them close their best accounts faster. Field and product marketing tools as well as late-funnel ABM platforms belong in this category.
  • Grow: Customer marketing tools belong here, including advocacy platforms and tools you use to execute upsell/cross-sell, land and expand, or retention efforts.
  • Infrastructure: Internal communication or project management tools like Slack or Trello. This tends to be a bit of a catch-all, but if you need it to do marketing and it doesn’t ever interface with customers, it’s infrastructure. OK, wait — there’s one more...
  • WTF: I know I had said five categories, but if I have no idea why we ever bought it and no one has ever used it, I put it in this bucket. If nothing else, it shows my team exactly what we can cut!

Once you know what you have, figure out what holes exist in your stack and whether they’re simply a wish list or absolute necessities. If you’re like most companies, you’ll have strategically vital holes to fill and a few easy-to-cut WTF products. 

Next, you need to figure out what you have from a budget perspective. Do you have a lean year coming up, or does your company want to invest more money in marketing? Does cutting some of the WTF products help free up some cash? How long are those contracts? Are there any contracts due for some serious renegotiation?

Related Article: Making Sense of Your Martech Stack

Understand What the Company Needs

You know who you are and what you have, and you have one last question to answer: What does your company want? If you’re trying to hit a hockey-stick inflection point in the growth curve, your tech stack investment and plan will look vastly different from that in a year of cost cutting. Essentially, you need to determine how to hit the revenue, growth and profitability goals your company has set for the year.

Now that you know the overarching company strategy, what tech and budget you have, and your company’s appetite for technology and change, you can determine what your company needs from marketing and what that tech stack has to look like. Easy, right?

Well, if you actually did that original cultural assessment from the first section, you’ll know how to make trade-offs to make this work. At this point, it’s a matter of balancing everything according to your company culture and needs and then narrowing down your wish list.

There’s no easy way to tame the martech beast, as much as we might all want to be able to snap our fingers and have everything we need bought and implemented. However, by using this framework of understanding who you are, what you have and what your company needs, you can eventually change the howling beast of martech into a useful set of tools.