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Marketing technology buyers want their martech to integrate and be user-friendly. Not the most shocking revelation, we know. But there are signs of improvement in this arena.

A report this month by the Customer Data Platform Institute revealed the challenge of unifying data from many sources to gain a complete customer view is getting better. More than half (52%) of the survey respondents now report they connect their customer-facing systems to a unified customer database, shared orchestration engine, marketing automation platform or CRM platform. Just 37% gave this answer in 2017, CDP Institute researchers found. 

Respondents said that many systems are connected to:

  • A marketing automation or CRM platform (26%).
  • A unified customer database and shared orchestration engine (14%).
  • A unified customer database (12%).

“At some level, there's nothing terribly surprising here in the sense that for the past three to four years, this has just been a really clear theme,” said Scott Brinker, author of the Chief Marketing Technologist blog, who wrote about the CDP Institute findings Sept. 9.

“I've probably come across a dozen different surveys where (marketers say) if there is one thing they would do if they had a magic wand they would have their best-of-breed tools just work better together. It’s been really helpful for the industry that marketers have just been incredibly consistent with what their expectations are here. And I think what you're seeing now is both on the vendor side, the people creating platforms, the people creating apps, is that integration is a really key part of the roadmaps.”

Integration Even Beats Price

In the CDP Institute report, marketers also reported that integration with external systems (53%) tops things like ease of learning and use (51%), breadth of features (40%), operating costs for fees and staffing (36%) and initial costs of acquisition and deployment (32%) when martech leaders were asked what their company generally considers most important when selecting marketing technology.

And as for integration with internal systems, it wasn’t even close: 66% of leaders cited that as most important, dominating all other answers.

Think about that: integration trumps price, ease of use and features. The industry has come a long way. Brinker himself noted in a 2016 post that finding, learning about and integrating new marketing technologies is a challenge for marketers but trailed behind at least four other challenges. Citing a Wrike survey, Brinker noted how integration was the last challenge cited by marketers:

  • Developing creative, innovative campaigns that stand out in the market (37.2%).
  • Moving fast enough to keep up with market changes and competitors (25.9%).
  • Driving more revenue or sales for the company (24.7%).
  • Doing more with fewer people and smaller budget than needed (24.4%).
  • Finding, learning about, and integrating new marketing technologies (22.4%).

“It's surprising on some level that integration is really important,” Brinker shared. “But when you step back, you’re like, ‘Of course.’ If I can't connect it to the rest of my marketing stack, then who cares how much it costs? Who cares what the feature set is because I'm not able to orchestrate this as part of my overall marketing stack and my overall marketing capabilities.”

Brinker said it’s encouraging that martech integration has taken a 180, calling it a signal of maturity among marketing operations teams and the martech vendors themselves. “Ease of use being the second one (in the CDP report) behind integration is kind of speaking to that same dynamic of saying, ‘Listen, it doesn't matter what it costs, it doesn't matter what the feature set is, if I can’t actually productively take advantage of this in my organization, it doesn't matter,'" said Brinker, who also serves as VP of platform ecosystem at martech vendor HubSpot. "And so it just seems to me that all this is really is a signal of maturity of the marketing ops and the marketing tech profession.”

Related Article: Why Marketers Can't Realize the Full Potential of Their Marketing Stack

No Magic Bullet for Integration

Martech buyers should note there is no integration magic bullet. And it doesn’t mean that CDPs are necessarily the way to go for integrating martech and customer data just because of the findings from the CDP Institute report. Courtney Trudeau, director of technology and martech strategy at performance marketing agency Merkle, which provides martech solutions and services, said a common misconception is that moving to the cloud or investing in a CDP will magically integrate your tech stack.

“While these tools can enable a more integrated stack,” she said, “it’s important to note that out of the box, they will all have a mix of different integrations — native, custom, API driven — and buyers need to be aware of the level of work that will be needed to drive their stack integrations, with particular attention to how their data gets integrated. Successfully integrating disparate technologies into a unified platform will not only enable your marketers but also reach your customers and ultimately drive revenue.”

When engaging with a prospective vendor, ask for in-depth information about the native integrations they support. Trudeau said types of information you will want to know beyond which platforms they integrate with, will include:

  • How to set up the integration (is IT/developers required)?
  • Is the integration real-time or batch?
  • What exactly is enabled by the integration? “This question is actually very important to note,” Trudeau said. “Just because there is an out-of-the-box integration doesn’t necessarily mean the right data is being integrated to serve your use case, so you need to dig deeper.”
  • Do they have an API? What is supported by the API? Is there robust documentation on the APIs and custom work that they support?
  • Do they have any support services to enable integrations that are not out of the box?

Targeted Martech Outcomes

Jon Russo, CMO and founder of B2B Fusion, which enables best practices in systems to support strategy and credible CMO reporting, said marketers need to clearly define with stakeholders what the ultimate business outcome or use case is. Is it a better customer experience? Better reporting? Less heavy lifting on manual tasks? Then figure out an integration strategy.

Be aware, Russo added. “Many vendors will err toward saying they integrate with platforms or defer to saying, 'It is on the roadmap,' because it's an important sales objective to overcome,” Russo said. “There may be different degrees of integration that may or may not meet your use case. Trust but verify. Vendors may err on quickly saying they solve your integration needs to meet your key objection.”

What should you ask your prospective vendor? According to Russo, marketers should review their use case with the vendor to make sure they understand what the marketing team wants to accomplish business wise.

Russo said they should also:

  • Ask to talk with customer references on an identical use case integration.
  • Do a secondary check with vendor neutral consultant agencies that specialize in the areas of integration to triangulate the risks.
  • Check on PII (personal identifiable information) impact/compliance in an integrated scenario. “With GDPR and soon the upcoming California vote on CCPA,” Russo added, “it is prudent to know how your data is being treated in systems, whether in the cloud or storing 'at rest.’”

Related Article: 7 Considerations for Building a Martech Roadmap

Integration Reality Sinks In

Can you convince those who green-light marketing technology purchases that integration is the most important consideration over price? That’s always a “maybe.” But the fact remains: the only way to be competitive and effective with people-based-marketing is by having an integrated, multi-system architecture in place, according to Trudeau.

“As marketing technology continues to become more and more complex and customers expect an integrated experience, platforms that can provide more automated, out-of-the-box integrations, will go a long way to help brands be more effective and efficient,” she said. “A technology can have all the bells and whistles in the world; however, if it does not fundamentally connect to the foundational data, insights or other activation platforms, it is doing its job on an island and ultimately will lead to a fragmented, inconsistent customer experience.”

Integration is rising in importance because in the post-COVID world, B2B marketing leaders are planning for a more integrated digital experience for their prospects/customers, according to Russo. “Greater client satisfaction leads to greater retention rates and right now, retention is very meaningful to business,” he said.

Better Integration Better Reporting

Integration is also important because, Russo added, the single biggest failure of non-integrated systems is reporting. It becomes impossible to report on business impact of marketing and make business decisions when islands of reporting and islands of non-integrated technology exist.

“CMOs lose credibility,” Russo said, “when non-integrated strategies and disparate reporting exist. There is a strong need for an orchestration of platforms to save on people costs rather than having people do the same routine activity. Integration enables automation to scale.”

Marketers Need To Step up Too

This is not all on the martech vendor. The marketer has to demand integration from prospective vendors, Brinker said.

Marketers have witnessed an incredible amount of technology change in their arenas over the past 10 years and deserve a lot of credit for making adjustments, Brinker added. And today, they are starting with some really strong best practices of how they're going to run their marketing operations capabilities. “They’re thinking through the lens of, ‘I need to orchestrate all this stuff and have a common system of records. I need to make sure that pieces are connected, not just from a data perspective, but increasingly also with things like the workflow and triggers across these different systems.’ Marketers have gotten to a place where they know what it takes to run marketing the way they want to, and they need to demand that from any vendors that they're going to purchase from.”