Update progress on a high resolution LCD screen. - Transformation vs modernization concept
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Consumer preferences seem to be changing at the speed of light. For companies looking to keep up, deciding where to invest funds to meet these changes is a critical decision. In many cases, companies choose to invest in updating their digital technology stack, more specifically, the areas that focus on marketing technology as part of a digital transformation.  

According to Forrester, upgrades to technology doesn’t always have to mean digital transformation. Approximately 90% of companies are simply modernizing their current business operations rather than transforming them. Digital transformation can be a long process, but modernization doesn’t have to be and can be a great starting point for adapting to changing consumer preferences. 

We’ve spoken to the experts to learn more about the signs that indicate when a martech stack needs to be modernized instead of requiring a complete transformation. 

Signals That an Upgrade Is Needed

The goal of marketing is to create value for the customers and drive engagement. According to Rich Green, CTO at SugarCRM, MarTech software finds itself at a tipping point. “Today, most businesses have a fragmented, dated and extremely narrow view of their customers, which affects the quality of the customer experience they can deliver and also costs them time and money,” said Green. 

By paying attention to digital systems, companies can find a way to bridge the gap between customers and marketing. “Digital modernization or transformation can both help companies achieve a high fidelity view of the customer that is all about replacing that fragmented, customer picture with a sharply focused understanding of both their customers and business that is rich in both breadth and depth,” he added. 

Given the tipping point that we find ourselves at, many companies are wondering if they should be looking to upgrade their technology to prevent falling behind competitors. Garin Hobbs, Director of Deal Strategy at Iterable, a growth marketing company, says that “for marketers, you know your tech stack needs an upgrade when your campaigns are not achieving what you intended for them to achieve. This likely happens when customers fail to perceive value from your brand and/or communications. The key to maintaining value is relevance, and the key to relevance is truly knowing your customer and their motivations.” 

Green adds that there are other noticeable indicators, such as how well teams can access relevant data to drive fast-acting campaigns. “More subtle indicators that your customer-facing systems are out of date fall along what I call the ‘no-touch’ test. Does customer data automatically flow into your CRM, or does it rely on manual entry from sales reps? Can your marketing team build dynamic, responsive engagement flows in minutes, or does it take weeks?” said Green. 

Related Article: Digital Transformation, Round Two: Time to Get On Board

Transformation or Modernization?

There are definite benefits to upgrading the martech stack. But how much of an upgrade do you need to make? Samantha Anderson, co-founder and President of Origin 63, a B2B sales and marketing technology solution provider and HubSpot Platinum Agency Partner says it depends on your goals. “Not every business needs to reimagine their entire operations from the ground up completely. When your organizational structure and processes work, but you need to improve efficiency and tool adoption, opt for modernization instead,” said Anderson. 

In some cases, however, the answer isn’t always so cut and dry, but the differences are vast. “The decision between “digital modernization” and “digital transformation” is not as binary as it may seem. Conceptually, “digital modernization” is akin to upgrading a few rooms or appliances in a house, focusing on small upgrades like installing a Farmhouse Kitchen Sink and Solar Panels. Digital transformation is more like tearing your whole house down and rebuilding it from scratch into a replica of Tony Stark’s mansion,” Hobbs remarked. 

Where To Start the Modernization Process

Many companies don’t have the time or resources to conduct a full digital transformation process and should probably opt for modernization instead. The digitization process is well underway, but it’s sometimes better to make minor changes slowly and gradually work your way up. 

Anderson suggests that companies do an audit of their tech stack to determine where the gaps are. "Are there disparate tools causing challenges with usage or measurement? What are some processes that are taking longer than they should (especially administrative tasks)? From there you can map some requirements that will lead you towards selecting the right tools to demo for your organization,” she said. 

According to Hobbs, you will need to ask some questions which are most relevant to your business. Everything should point back to the customer. “To baseline, there are a few great questions to ask your business at the start, which are all customer-first: What type of relationship do we currently have with our customers? What type of relationship do we want to have with our customers?” said Hobbs. 

“Once you’ve answered these questions, you can advance by level-setting against others in your industry. How are your competitors reaching customers? Do some recon! With this information, you can meet as a business and agree internally on a direction and speed for digital advancement,” he added.