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When it Comes to Martech, Do You Swing Right, Left or Are You a Centrist?

7 minute read
Anita Brearton avatar
The best of breed vs. single vendor vs. platform ecosystem debate is unproductive — a hybrid approach works best.

There’s a political storm brewing, and things just got a whole lot more complicated. No, I’m not talking about US or UK politics, I’m talking about technology purchasing strategy. 

I’ve written before about the absurd ideological arguments between purchasing best-of-breed versus a single vendor solution, but now there’s a third party in the mix — platform ecosystems. I wish it were as simple as picking one approach, but it’s not, and I continue to be amazed when colleagues tell me about the ideological wars underway in their organizations as different groups fight for one approach over the other. The right path is a combination of all three.

Step 1: Single Vendor Solution

Having a single vendor strategy is a good starting place. One of your anchor platforms (a CRM or marketing automation platform) likely comes from a vendor that is working towards being able to offer a full suite of marketing technology products. Adobe and Salesforce have made the most progress in this area. These vendors are expanding their product portfolios through development and acquisition. The benefit of working with a single vendor is simpler vendor management and better-negotiating power as the number of that vendor’s products in your stack increases. These vendors also promote ease of integration and implementation as a benefit of a single vendor solution. This is not always straightforward, as many of the products in these portfolios have been added through acquisition, which provides no guarantee that they will easily integrate with one another.

The way to approach a single vendor goal is to select one or more of your anchor platform vendors and then choose additional products from its catalog that make sense from a feature, performance, price and integration perspective.

The reality is your primary vendor will not offer every product you need. Remember the martech landscape is now north of 7,000 products, but some vendors do have large catalogs of exceptional products, and it makes sense from a business perspective to leverage those where you can to give yourself the best possible negotiating power.  

One final note about a single vendor strategy: if one company could provide you with all your marketing technology, would you purchase everything from a single vendor? I wouldn’t. Marketing technology has become a critical component in delivering the optimal customer experience, revenue generation, cost of customer acquisition and customer lifetime value. Given its strategic importance, I wouldn’t want to be dependent on a single vendor, and I certainly wouldn’t sacrifice quality and performance just for logo consistency.

single vendor solution

Related Article: 3 Questions to Answer Before Embarking on a Martech Stack Revamp

Step 2: Platform Ecosystems

Once you’ve acquired all the products that make sense from your primary vendor, the next step is to look at its vendor ecosystems. These are the products that are likely to be used in concert with those from your primary vendors. My friend, Scott Brinker, VP of Platform at HubSpot, is a big proponent of leveraging these ecosystems and HubSpot has a large one. HubSpot, Marketo, Salesforce and others have all developed partner programs as a way of helping customers make the right choices for environments where integration is essential. The value of tapping a partner ecosystem is that partner products have been vetted and qualified by the primary vendor as being able to integrate with that vendor’s products easily — or so they say.

partner ecosystem

When a vendor does it right, it makes life much easier for the technology purchaser. You can see HubSpot’s criteria for partnership in its HubSpot Connect program below. Some vendors, however, have approached this as a marketing exercise and allow any company to join their partner ecosystems regardless of whether they integrate or not. This is an attempt to promote themselves as a single point for all your marketing technology needs — in this case, it’s all about them and not about you.

connect partner

When considering products in a partner ecosystem, first make sure the ecosystem is really an ecosystem and not just a poster with a lot of vendor logos. Second, focus on the products that provide the integrated functionality you need. Finally, make sure those products meet your functional and performance requirements. Sometimes you have to trade off ease of integration for better features.

Related Article: Best of Breed vs. Suite? Digital Disruption Is Forcing Change

Learning Opportunities

Final Step: Best of Breed

At the end of the day, it would be ideal to have every product in our stacks be best of breed, but that’s not always practical or financially feasible. The way to approach best of breed is to:

  1. Focus on your anchor platforms first, those that form the core of your stack. This is the place you want to find best of breed for your environment.
  2. As you look for products that need to integrate with your anchor platform, first look at what else your anchor vendor offers and then the products available in their partner ecosystem. As you narrow your list, you will have to consider whether there are feature trade-offs you’ll have to make to guarantee ease of integration and whether those trade-offs are worth it.
  3. For products that are not integrated into others in the stack, look first to see if one of your existing vendors has a product that meets your needs or search for an independent vendor. 

best of breed
A best of breed choice is straightforward for anchor platforms, and for other mission-critical platforms that may or may not integrate with other products in the stack. It is not always the case for products in your stack. For those products that are not mission-critical and where there are cost and complexity trade-offs between products, it may make sense to avoid the best of breed product and settle for a more cost-effective, simpler to install and operate one, that provides most of the functionality you need.

As I was wrapping up this article, I mentioned what I was writing about to a colleague of mine, Zack Alves, director Marketing Technology and Operations for Poly. He reminded me you also have to take into account the maturity of your internal team in thinking about product purchases. I asked him how he thinks about purchasing technology and he said: “Before any MarTech purchase, I recommend creating a prioritized list of must-have and nice-to-have features. It may also help to assess the maturity of the people, processes and data that would power the solution. Through these simple exercises, you can identify martech that is best-fit for your needs and avoid wasting budget on features that won’t move the needle — or can’t be leveraged due to your current maturity stage.”

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

There Is a Fourth Choice

There is a fourth approach to technology acquisition — developing technology internally instead of purchasing it. It’s not unusual for companies to have as much internally developed technology as acquired technology. Reasons for developing internally include: a cost advantage, a desire to use a specific type of technology for strategic differentiation, lack of available off-the-shelf functionality, or scale. In some companies this fourth choice may actually be the first choice, with marketing operations teams tasked with completing a build or buy analysis prior to embarking on the purchasing of technology.

Don't Get Fenced Into One Approach

hybrid approach

There is no need for an ideological war related to technology purchasing philosophy. At the end of the day, the vendors are who benefit the most by getting you to believe you have to select just one approach. The reality is you are likely going to use a combination of all three or even four. Just document your process and philosophy and let peace reign!

About the author

Anita Brearton

Anita Brearton is Founder/CEO and Co-CMO of CabinetM, a marketing technology discovery and management platform that helps marketing teams manage the technology they have, and find the technology they need. Anita is a long time tech start-up marketer and has had the great fortune of driving marketing programs through the early stages of a startup all the way to IPO and acquisition.