An Essential Guide to Building Out Your Marketing Tech Stack

Mike Ward by

When Scott Brinker started compiling his Marketing Technology Landscape graphic in 2011, it featured a modest collection of approximately 120 brands. Fast forward to this year’s graphic, which Brinker unveiled at the MarTech conference in San Francisco, and you’ll find a massively expanded graphic that includes 5,381 different solutions. That’s a lot of options. For companies trying to build the perfect marketing tech stack, it can be overwhelming.

Part of what’s driving this phenomenal growth (there are 39% more solutions on the graphic since last year) is a trend toward companies tackling specific problems rather than trying to be the next Salesforce or Marketo. Brinker’s list is full of point solutions that are focused on solving very specific problems such as finding a better way to analyze data, providing a tool to apply a particular kind of predictive model, or helping to aggregate content in a user-friendly way.

Today, when you’re building out your marketing tech stack, you’re not just dealing with the big suites. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, after you’ve chosen and implemented your core MarTech software, you have a massive array of these point solutions to consider. The trick is knowing which ones are right for your business, figuring out how all the different solutions integrate with your bigger stack, and making sure the entire stack is actually helping you run your business more efficiently so you can focus on your customers.

Avoiding Shiny-object Syndrome: Is a New Product the Best Solution?

You don’t want to be impulsive about adding a new piece to your MarTech stack, so one of the very first questions you need to ask yourself any time you’re considering a new tool is whether or not the product you’re thinking about implementing is actually the best possible solution for your particular challenge.

To clarify, this question isn’t about comparing the feature sets of competing products. It’s about taking a step back and assessing whether there’s a way to solve your problem that doesn’t involve a new product. The last thing you want is to buy a tool and realize later you don’t have the time to make the most of it or that you have an existing tool that already meets your needs. When going through this exercise, you may come up with a variety of potential solutions that are uniquely suited to your situation; but – to give you a sense of the kinds of alternate options I’m talking about – here are four common choices that often prove viable:

1. Find a Solution within Your Core MarTech Platform

Often, your problem can be solved using software you already have. Comprehensive MarTech platforms like Salesforce and Marketo have features and functionality that are so deep and broad, it’s not surprising that people overlook some of their bells and whistles. Before looking to the greener grass on the other side of the fence, take a moment to fully explore any solutions that you could implement using tools you already own and are using. You never know what you might be able to create by turning on some new features or customizing some workflows.

2. Build the Solution Yourself

If your team has the skills and the time, sometimes developing a custom solution is more efficient than implementing a third-party product. The benefit of this approach is that you get to define the specs and configure everything so it meets your exact needs. You don’t have to deal with the sometimes arduous (and other times completely impossible) task of retrofitting an existing product. You also don’t need to invest time overcoming the learning curve associated with a new software or deal with team resistance to a new way of doing things.

Of course, you need to carefully weigh the effort against the value. It won’t help your cause if you divert all your resources to create a new piece of your MarTech stack and fall behind on your core product’s development deadlines. But, when the balance is right, building a solution in-house can be a great way to get exactly what you want.

3. Go Analog

Sometimes, the best solution is an old-school one. This is especially true when the problem you’re trying to solve doesn’t have the scale to justify a full-blown software implementation. As an example, say you have an intermittent need to send gifts to new clients or partners. There are dozens of point solutions that integrate with Marketo or Salesforce to automate the fulfillment process, but is that really what you need? Would it actually be more efficient to just have an intern procure and ship the necessary gifts, or maybe you could bring in a contract worker once a month.

4. Wait

And finally, at times the best approach to an overwhelming desire to add to your marketing stack is to withstand the urge. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. There are times when you are better off optimizing the tools or processes you currently have without adding one more technology to the mix. Ask yourself if the incremental benefits of adding something really outweigh the costs of the tool itself, as well as the necessary team bandwidth to get the most out of it. If the answer is no, wait and spend the money and time on improving an existing channel or process.

As a side note, if you come out of this assessment and the best answer to your problem is still adding a new product to your stack, make sure to do your due diligence on the health and sustainability of your chosen solution. With a playing field of more than 5,000 products, it’s inevitable that some companies won’t make it, and others will be consolidated. In either case, you run the risk of implementing a product that no longer exists and/or is not well supported. If you’re going to go to the trouble of getting your team up and running on another product, it’s wise to do everything you can to ensure that the product will be around for the long haul.

Playing Well with Others: Will the New Product Integrate with Your Existing Stack?

Once you’ve decided that a new product is the right answer and you’ve chosen a particular solution, the next big question to ask is how the new product will integrate with your existing MarTech stack, particularly with your core MarTech platform.

The importance of integration cannot be overstated. The successful MarTech stack is, after all, a group of tools that work well together so that you can build seamless and cohesive behind-the-scenes workflows and front-facing customer experiences. If a product you’re considering can’t communicate effectively with other elements of your stack, that’s a deal breaker.

It’s helpful to have a checklist that includes the software you already own as well as any major pieces of software you’re planning to implement in the future. Make reviewing that list in detail a non-negotiable part of any new product assessment, and you’ll never find yourself wondering what to do with a new product that doesn’t integrate with your existing stack.

Controlling the Buying Process: Is Everyone on the Same Page?

On a related note, at an operational level it can be very beneficial to take a hard look at who is buying technology for your company and what the process is for those purchases.

As your company grows, more people may play a role in building out your MarTech stack. Some of them will be really plugged in to what the marketing team needs, others may be one or two steps removed and not have as clear a sense of what will work and what won’t. I’ve seen a number of instances where decentralized software buying led to some less-than-ideal situations. In one case, a rogue player within the marketing team purchased a tool that didn’t end up integrating with a core platform, Salesforce, in this case. That left multiple teams trying to figure out what to do with that newly purchased product that didn’t work with the rest of the stack. In another case, one team hired a third-party to handle the development and launch of a portal to support some new channel initiatives only to break the existing lead process three times, each instance bringing the system crashing down for two to eight hours at a time.

The solution to these kinds of situations varies by company, but it boils down to putting some governance in place about how a company makes decisions about its MarTech stack. In a best-case scenario, you pull together a cross-functional team that includes partners, sales operations, marketing operations, and customer success operations so that you can get a full picture of how any change will affect the stack (and keep people from inadvertently breaking things).

It makes a lot of sense, in a world where there are so many different point solutions and so many points of integration to consider, to at least think about moving toward a model in which there’s one organization within the company whose role is to fulfill technology needs across all functional areas in a holistic and coordinated way.

VP Demand Generation, Marketing