Last week I spent time with a newly hired marketing technology team inside an established B2C brand with $2 billion in annual revenues.
The two marketing technologists who comprise the new team are both highly credentialed, and have been tasked with identifying and evaluating all the technology that is currently in use or being evaluated; putting processes in place to support the acquisition of new technology with themselves as the gatekeepers; and creating a forward-looking technology strategy for the marketing and sales organizations.
Help! I Need Somebody
As we talked about how to get started navigating this minefield, they asked me if I could recommend some great martech consultancies. But as soon as they asked the question, they quickly backtracked and asked: “Does it look bad that we’ve just been hired and we are already talking about needing additional help?” My answer was a resounding "No!"
Anyone who wonders why I responded that way should consider: 1. the scope of the job assignment for two people (see paragraph above), 2. the likelihood that they’ll have to start by rationalizing more than 100 pieces of discrete technology which is probably a conservative estimate of what is currently in place, 3. the complexity of the tools they’ll be evaluating and the fact that they’ll need to consider how the various tools are integrated and how data moves from one to another, 4. the sheer scope of the martech landscape, which by our count has crested 10,000 products, and 5. the pace of evolution in the marketing technology industry.
Regardless of the depth of expertise, it is impossible for one or two people to be experts across the full landscape of technology and vertical skills required to support the definition, execution and management of a marketing technology strategy.
This isn't the first team I’ve had this conversation with, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. If you are in this position and facing budget deadlines, now’s the time to determine what additional resources and expertise you'll need and how to acquire them.
My recommendation is to segment your needs into three categories: Technology Implementation and Use; Technology Innovation; and Strategy and Planning. Define your requirements in each category and then evaluate your resource options to determine where best to allocate funding. For each set of requirements, you may be able to acquire resources and expertise internally or at no cost.
Related Article: The Marketing Technologist: A Superhero and Agent of Change
Finding Help With: Technology Implementation and Use
One of the most effective means of scaling technology expertise is to engage your technology operator stakeholders. These are the people within your organization who use a specific category of technology and generally have a lot to say about product performance, implementation and direction. Tap them as satellite experts and accept (and even celebrate) that they will likely know more than you about specific products and categories. Track who knows what in your organization.
For some technology areas, the IT department may be of tremendous help, particularly when you need to make sense of the data flow and product integrations.
For those core platforms in your marketing technology stack (e.g., marketing automation, CRM, analytics, data management), you should have some level of expertise within your organization, which may justify hiring additional team members.
Looking externally, there are now many specialized marketing technology consultancies with core competencies in very specific marketing technology categories. Most will give you the option of working with them on a project basis or an ongoing basis under a retainer. The best companies have a staff of former operators who have had hands-on experience deploying and implementing technology. When assessing these consultancies it’s essential to understand the range of skills they have and the technologies they support. Just like you, they can’t possibly have expertise in every category of product.
Finally, I’ve written before about developing a broad peer network that you can call on at a moment’s notice. Whatever else you do, invest the time to develop your network. If a technical emergency arises and you can’t reach the vendor support team, you’ll appreciate having the ability to reach out to your network for help. You can build your network for yourself or work to create it within the construct of a birds-of-a-feather community.
Last week I met several members of the Masters of MarTech group in Minneapolis, who are working to create a local network through a LinkedIn community and local meetups. We have a group in Boston, Marketing Technology in the Hub, which meets quarterly and provides a way to meet fellow marketing technologists. Conferences are also an excellent way to build your network, but you have to commit to networking activities. A few of us have started something we call Sassy Sisters to bring together women attending Marketing Technology conferences through informal evening drinks. Sometimes it’s a small group, other times it’s as many as 50. The idea is to build connections in a no-pressure environment and encourage women to carry on to dinner with a small cluster of peers (rather than going back to their hotel rooms and ordering room service).
There’s no right or wrong way to create a peer network or networks — you just have to commit to doing it.
Related Article: A Networking Strategy to Grow Your Peer Base
Finding Support With: Martech Innovation
Newsletters, blogs, conferences, podcasts — all of these can help you keep abreast of technology innovation. But even with the best of efforts, the sheer breadth of the technology landscape makes it impossible for one or two people to track everything that is happening. I’ve met so many marketing leaders who have told me they hate being in meetings where someone asks, “what do you think of xyz technology?” and they have no idea what the person is talking about. Take a step back. Don’t beat yourself up — it’s crazy to think you can track everything. Like everything else, you need a rational process for managing discovery and innovation.
- First, identify the areas that are critical for you to track, such as core platform technology, and then put a plan in place to do that.
- Second, engage your operator stakeholders and ask them to be internal experts for their area of expertise and keep up on innovations. Most of these folks will be thrilled to be asked. They hate nothing more than a non-expert telling them what they should be using or doing. Establish a plan for a monthly or quarterly briefing process where everyone can meet to learn from one another.
If you need additional external resources, consider the following:
- Leverage relationships your marketing department may have with any of the research firms such as Gartner, Sirius Decisions, Forrester or The Real Story Group. These groups have analysts whose job it is to track innovation in key categories.
- Establish your personal advisory board. You don’t need to be a start-up or a C-Suite executive to create your own advisory board. Find category experts and technology influencers and ask if they would like to join an advisory board. You should be able to do this without compensation as long as you let them identify themselves as members of your advisory board on their LinkedIn profile and personal websites. To do this successfully, you should set expectations around time commitment, which could be a brief phone call once a month and/or a quarterly or semi-annual group meeting. If you do elect to bring your board in house for a meeting once or twice a year, cover all expenses, particularly if your board is otherwise non-compensated.
- Tap your peer network (did I mention how important it is to develop one?) and ask what interests them, what innovations they find exciting, and where they are focusing their discovery efforts.
Related Article: How to Categorize the Web CMS Marketplace
Finding Support With: Strategy and Planning
If you are a marketing technologist with a technology implementation background, defining a technology strategy that is aligned with business objectives may be a new challenge. For many companies, technology purchases have historically been a tactical response to “we need to do x” requirements. It’s only in the last few years as marketing technology has had a more direct impact on revenue growth and customer lifetime value, that companies have started to step back and think about connecting technology strategy to business objectives. If you are new to this, there are many resources you can tap for assistance.
Start by finding an internal mentor. Though there may not be someone who has done precisely what you have been tasked to do, someone within the organization will be skilled at creating strategies to support business objectives. I recommend reaching out to your CFO or your COO as a starting point. If they don’t have the time to advise you, they’ll be able to point you towards someone who does.
Externally there are Marketing Technology Consulting firms that specialize in this work. They come in, assess where you are and then help you define a technology plan against the backdrop of business objectives.
Once again, your advisors and peer network can assist you here as well. As you build your advisory board and peer network, make a point of identifying individuals with experience developing strategic plans.
As an individual or small team trying to do something that may never have been done before in your company, it can be a daunting challenge to address the breadth of the to-do list specified in your job description. Don’t try to go it alone — you will ultimately be judged on impact, not whether you can do it all yourself. Invest in creating a network of resources that can complement and amplify the work you are doing.