Platform Wars: Episode 3 — The Integrate Perspective

Episode 3_The Integrate Perspective
This is the final of three installments discussing the “Suite vs. Open Platform” debate. The
first post discussed arguments for open platforms versus all-in-one marketing solutions. The second provided arguments for marketing suites. (If you haven’t yet read them, I suggest doing so before diving into this one — much of the content below references these posts). This final installment is meant to provide a customer-centric perspective on adopting a marketing platform.

First, a quick recap of the arguments already reviewed:

Arguments for Open-Platform Arguments for Marketing Suite
Enterprises can’t innovate like start-ups Open-platform approach can’t properly span marketing, sales and customer service
Proliferation will outpace consolidation Marketing suites can innovate and integrate products as well, if not better, than smaller vendors
Integration between platform and 3rd-party vendors will be key Open-platforms suffer from third-party integrations that hinder data transmission and ability to act on analytical insight

It’s easy to begin analyzing the merits of each point made by either side and get lost in debate evaluation (my first draft of this post certainly did). But there’s limited value in that. Here, I’m going to put on my empathy hat and step into the shoes of the marketing customer to really gauge what’s important in the buyer’s decision making process.

Marketers will likely not be basing their decisions on whether they want an open-platform or suite, but rather on individual characteristics and capabilities of each reviewed solution (whether open-platform or marketing suite).

The reality is marketers should base their decisions on three considerations: integration effectiveness, organizational fit, and flexibility with legacy systems (pre-existing tech investments).

Integration Effectiveness

There’s two ways to look at integration effectiveness. Marketers will increasingly require marketing platforms that integrate with both:

1) Marketing experience providers, those that deliver “customer experiences at the point of interaction,” such as video advertising, content marketing, event management, social media, etc. (see Jon Miller’s compelling arguments for relationship between marketing platforms and marketing experiences); and

2) External department functions/systems, such as CRMs (as Raab points out, a true customer engagement platform will span numerous departments, including sales, marketing and customer service).

Whether you’re discussing the open-platform or suite approach, both require substantial integration. Open platforms such as Marketo will obviously have to connect with third-parties to provide their customers with a full set of features, while suites such as Oracle and Salesforce must integrate acquired solutions with their existing technology. Moreover, suites will unlikely be able to keep pace with the proliferation of tech solution through acquisitions, so they’ll still have to integrate with third parties as well.

The trouble here comes with the fact that open platforms will arguably lend themselves to more comprehensive marketing experience integrations, because as third-party solution vendors proliferate quicker than marketing platforms (customer experience platforms), those marketing experience vendors will be more inclined to work with open platforms that don’t offer competing products (see Brinker’s very convincing arguments on how the age of cloud computing effects the growth of tech solutions). On the other hand, marketing suites are arguably better equipped to handle cross departmental unity — most typically already have sales nailed down with solid CRM integrations (see the points made by Raab and Blair Reeves).

It should be noted, Reeves argues that third-party integrations hinder data transmission and use, implying that having as many products/solutions under a single umbrella provider focused on customer data analytics provides the optimal solution: “Ideally, there should be no integration, data feed, export or other intermediate step required – a marketer should move directly from analysis of customer behavior in your analytics tool to marketing action.” I personally don’t think this is axiomatic. Third-party integrations are becoming common practice, and in the experience of my co-workers and me, integrations between disparate marketing tech can work seamlessly and easily.

But as I’ve stated before, big suite acquisitions don’t always translate to cohesion — they still have to integrate the solutions they obtain. Moreover, enterprises are prone to product and operational siloes that can hamstring integration. This, however, does not necessarily mean open platforms integrate more effectively. In fact, open-platforms such as Marketo aren’t currently outpacing their marketing suite competition, even with regard to marketing experience functionality; Marketo is indeed leading the pack, but with Oracle’s marketing cloud right there next to it, according to Forrester. So, that leads us to the next consideration…

Organizational Fit

Blair Reeves of IBM made a comment on my first Platform Wars post that I couldn’t agree with more: each of these platforms, whether a suite or open, has “very distinct portfolios with different capabilities.” In other words, we’re not comparing apples to apples with open or all-inclusive being the sole differentiator. Individual marketing departments may find their two best options comprise one of the big suite vendors and an independent marketing automation platform.

Organization (or marketing department) size, industry focus (e.g., B2B or B2C, finance or retail vertical, etc.), and specific strategic/procedural focuses (e.g., inbound marketing, lead capturing, lead scoring, reporting and marketing analytics, content marketing, lead nurturing, etc.) will all affect decisions because client portfolios and marketer needs differ between organizations. For example, Act-On and Salesfusion lead the SMB market by a wide margin because they provide a simple yet comprehensive set of capabilities at a low entry price. IBM and Silverpop have certain B2C features that surpass the competition. And Oracle (Eloqua) and Marketo top the enterprise group because of function breadth and complexity. In other words, this mix of specific abilities and focuses among both the open-platforms and marketing suites means that while marketing tech proliferation will help drive the importance of integration effectiveness, there’s still many other sets of criteria that should and will determine marketer interest.

A caveat — it must be said that even with organizational fit, integration ease and effectiveness plays a fundamental role. Taking a closer look at the last example, the defining characteristics that put Marketo and Oracle at the top of the enterprise class are the breadth and complexity of their features and functions. Enterprises (at least those with large marketing departments) require a level of sophistication that would only hinder smaller organizations and departments. Surely, such sophistication has much to do with effective integration between internal suite products or with external third-party tech vendors. Organizational fit will increasing become intertwined with integration effectiveness as customer engagement platform requirements grow and solutions proliferate to supply this demand.

Ability to operate with legacy marketing systems

This is probably the most neglected issue regarding the evolution of marketing tech. We’re always discussing what’s next — what tech solution will increase workflow efficiency or improve the customer experience. It’s as if we’re assuming marketing departments have a blank check with which to rebuild their tech stack every year, and the procedural flexibility and cultural discipline to make this continual reinvention of their marketing complex work. This is more than a pipedream — it’s pure fantasy.

Many marketing departments have pre-existing tech investments that they must factor into any proposed solution. This means third-party integrations. I’d have to say that open-platforms are likely more accommodating to this group, simply because there’s less chance of solution overlap, fewer issues with vendor lock-in, and arguably more experience with third-party integration. Obviously, for some marketing departments it may be more cost- and performance-effective to ditch the old system and adopt an entire suite, but if you’ve already invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in a homegrown system, then open platform is probably the way forward.

Whether with a suite or open-platform approach, the requirements to integrate data and systems, align tech with processes and organizational culture, and factor in existing investments are essential to delivering on marketing’s data-driven, accountability mandate.

download business case for closed loop integrations

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