partial view of a carnival ride with swings
PHOTO: Scott Webb

One of the advantages of sitting on top of the marketing technology world is being able to see tool adoption trends and the evolution of marketing technology stacks. 

Companies trying to rationalize the many shiny things (aka marketing tech) they’ve bought over the last five years are focused on data: acquiring data, appending and managing data, and developing a data architecture that ensures their data flows from system to system to make it possible to achieve their marketing performance objectives. Trend-wise I am seeing a lot of companies investing in Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) or equivalent. I’m also seeing a great deal of effort around optimizing the underlying data architecture of the marketing technology stack to make sure data is getting to the right places so it can be leveraged in campaigns to acquire, engage and retain customers.

And then we get to the abyss that is data collection. Companies are enhancing their first-party data with firmographic (company size, type, ownership etc.) and psychographic (customer values, interests, social status etc.) data, striving to obtain the most complete picture of each customer in the hopes that some magic (aka Machine Learning/AI) sorts it all out and produces customer micro-segments to target with predictable outcomes. 

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What You Really Need to Know About Your Customers

With the amount of data now readily accessible on each company and individual, combined with advancements in AI technology, I do believe we’ll be able to do an increasingly better job over time with targeting and engaging prospects. But we're currently ingesting a vast amount of data without always considering its current value in understanding our customer and their experience with our company. I worry we aren’t prioritizing obtaining and synthesizing data that can make a difference in customer acquisition and experience. 

We often talk in the jargon of striving for a 360 degree of the customer without stepping back and defining the core components of that view. Instead, we approach data collection from a perspective of the more data, the better.

Case in point: I continue to be amazed at the number of marketing technology vendors that cannot tell me what the typical marketing technology stack environment looks like in their prospective customer environments, both the type of products and the vendors that provide them. They can show me an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) that tells me about their customer Bob, who is in his mid-30s, loves outdoor sports, works for a company with revenues in excess of $100 million and has two pets — but says nothing about the technologies that will sit alongside its product in the stack.  

Having an ideal prospect stack should be an essential piece of the ICP and should be a data priority for every marketing technology vendor. Defining the ideal environment for a product makes it easy to prioritize vendor integration efforts and to walk away from environments that are unsuitable for your product. It will also surface vendors that have potential to be excellent partners.

When it comes to a specific prospect, understanding their particular stack environment becomes critical to revenue success and customer experience. Committing to an installation where data integration is essential without knowing what those requirements are leads to additional professional services and engineering hours, which impact profitability. In addition, this has the potential to create a negative customer experience if implementation issues arise or the implementation drags on. It is also important to know if there's an existing product in the stack with the ability to deliver the same functionality as the one being sold in order to assess the risk of being discarded down the road when stack consolidation invariably happens, or budgets are reduced. Remember, marketers are notorious for only using a small percentage of product capabilities and may only become aware they already have the necessary functionality when faced with a mandate to rationalize. 

Related Article: 'Good Enough' Data Will Never Be Good Enough

Focus on the Data Needed to Deliver Exceptional Customer Experiences

So, technology vendors, forget the “two dogs and outdoor sports” data for now and focus on acquiring the relevant data you need to acquire new customers and deliver an exceptional customer experience — and then figure out how to source that. And while I’m on this topic, marketing folks, please share your stack with your prospective vendors, keeping it confidential isn’t going to help you in the end. Disclosing a list of all the platforms in your stack and their function to a vendor is only going to help.

The day may come when we can confidently predict that a 30-year-old male who is an avid skier and has two dogs is a perfect target for a new CRM system and that a 29-year-old female marathon runner with a dog and a cat is more likely to buy a Marketing Automation platform, but we’re not there yet.

For now, focus on prioritizing and acquiring the data that provides a meaningful view of your customer and their experience, and that can be leveraged to define high-value customer segments — and forget about the rest.  Maybe you don’t get to 360 degrees (whatever that means), perhaps 270 is enough.

Just some thoughts from Anita, an older female start-up executive, with five kids who has outlived two dogs, 20 gerbils, many fish, and a ridiculous number of frogs. I wonder if there is an ICP somewhere that describes me?