a sculpture in the desert, a stack of colorful rocks, "seven magic mountains"
PHOTO: Tim Trad

When MarTech selection time comes around, one question should precede the “which software is best?” question. And that is "where will the data come together?" When you start with that question, the stack structure issue becomes very real. For example, do you choose to go all-in-one or best-of-breed?

You probably already have a sense of which camp you are rooting for. Think about it: are you team all-in-one or team best-of-breed? I have no ambition to change people's minds with this article, especially if your preference comes from your own experience. But if you are a CEO, CMO or anyone looking beyond the horizon of two to three years to future-proof your stack, I do want to bring up some points you might not have considered.

What Are Other Companies Doing?

Walker Sands State of Marketing Technology 2017 (registration required) shows most marketers choose to go with a best-of-breed marketing technology stack, combining technologies from different vendors. Twenty-one percent use an all-in-one marketing suite, meaning they buy their main technology from one vendor.

martech stack type


Big vendors like IBM, Oracle, Adobe, SalesForce offer technology that goes by different names: all-in-one, marketing clouds, marketing hubs, suites, or, dare I say, a Digital Experience Platform? (Maybe just forget that last one.) Each of the vendors have their own merits and flaws and because of their size, they do offer global coverage and service.

What we don't see in the Walker Sands research is single vendor suites receiving a better score in making the most out of technology. The numbers are even a bit worse, but too close to call, compared to integrated best-of-breed architectures.

Related Article: How to Simplify and Increase the Complexity of Your MarTech Stack at the Same Time

Your MarTech Mileage Will Vary

The results are pretty spot on, both all-in-one or integrated systems can work. As with all vendors, your mileage will vary. Some vendors are doing a good job, and have enthusiastic customers who love them. Others, not so much. This also has to do with expectation management — both out of the gate and during the relationship.  

What we do see is that integrated best-of-breed solutions do much better than their fragmented brothers.

It is tempting to think customer profiles will be richer when we integrate and make that the sole reason for integration. That would mean in delivery channels like email marketing software, CRM, marketing automation, social media, ecommerce software we have more, richer data to use. That is true, but not the full story.

If we build up images of customers in separate channels, we risk creating “un-identical twins.” Un-identical twins are where it seems you are talking to different people, but they actually are the same person — because the data is fragmented and not synchronized. As more channels and touchpoints are introduced on a regular basis, your infrastructure needs to be adaptable to change.

Related Article: Making Sense of Your MarTech Stack

MarTech Flexibility, Not According to Darwin

“It is not the strongest that survives, it is the one most adaptable to change.” While often attributed to him, Charles Darwin never said that. It first appeared in a paper from a management studies teacher. Which makes it even more applicable in this instance: In technology we aren’t looking for the best, but the best fit.

Let me give you an example: A mayor ecommerce player I helped in a platform evaluation was experiencing a lot of trouble with their email provider: deliverability issues and slow processing speeds, a lot of personnel changes and new account managers, fixes promised but not delivered. And yet two years earlier they were very happy with that vendor. Things change, it happens. But when these issues came up, they were very happy their MarTech infrastructure allowed them to switch.

Constant change is another reason CEOs should take analyst reports from the Forresters of the world with a big grain of salt. These reports are a snapshot in time, and a year later things will have changed.

Vendors aren't the only ones changing. Companies grow, expand into other countries, change their marketing teams and organizational structure. Their ambitions change as well as hyper-personalization takes the use of customer data from obvious to ingenious. At the same time, customer behavior and channels also are subject to change. This is where the medium is no longer the channel. All it takes is a new smartphone app and a site and the next social channel could be born.

All of this seems pretty comprehensible, right? But now picture the world with new mediums arising: internet of things, virtual reality, and don't forget to add conversational marketing and chatbots in the picture. Still sure your favorite MarTech of today will be fit for tomorrow?

Related Article: Customer Data Platforms Shine Where CRMs Fail

Customer Data Platform-ing the Future?

The Walker Sands research also identified strategy, analytics and training as the keys to make full use of a marketing stack. Integration comes in at sixth place. And while that is understandable, because a clear vision, insights and execution skills are more tangible and what the marketer is confronted with day-to-day, for an organization that aspires to be driven by data, we need to first open the gates to gain access to the data. Bringing together data sources is the equivalent of lowering the drawbridge. 

While not a goal by itself, sustainable data integration is a key piece to future-proofing your MarTech stack.

Luckily, it's becoming easier to integrate. With SaaS solutions, APIs and middleware, there is less need for custom integrations. Where companies before were working to create an in-house marketing database, lately the Customer Data Platform is gaining a lot of attention from enterprises and bigger brands.

3 levels of cdp

Source: Three levels of CDP - CrossEngage

A customer data platform is a new type of MarTech. It's a packaged solution that offers a central hub for all customer data and includes the functionality to normalize and bring together data. Businesses can then use the data to make decisions and then utilize other platforms to handle the delivery. 

Will customer data platforms become the cornerstone of data-driven marketing? The missing piece where we see MarTech flexibility and integration of best-of-breed come together towards a single customer view?

Smelting a golden record and “being customer-centric” are not the same thing. But MarTech should allow us to put the customer at the heart of our marketing. Now let me ask you, does that translate to your MarTech stack?