For marketers, technology stack complexity grows daily. We’ve reached Rush drum-set status. Three years ago, most marketing teams could count their tech solutions on a hand or two. Now, most marketers are dealing with more tools than a Cowboys Stadium security guard.
Yet inefficiencies remain. And new solutions continually crop up to meet the demands of marketers striving to enhance their productivity and bolster their company’s bottom line. Navigating a sea of 1000+ MarTech solutions and finding the right marketing tech provider for you, however, isn’t easy. It helps to have a map…or at least rough sketch of landmarks to guide the way.
Understanding what your organization needs before you assess trending industry tools and specific vendor capabilities is critical. I won’t belabor this point, as we’ve thoroughly tackled this idea in previous posts:
- 2015 Planning & Marketing Budget Prep: Start Now, Win Big
- Creating a Marketing Tech Blueprint to Drive Performance
- MarTech Success: Creating A MarTech Blueprint
- How to Select the Best Marketing Ops Tools for Your Business
The idea, however, is that you should understand your company’s objectives, adjacent departmental needs, your current tech stack and its inadequacies, as well as budget parameters before researching specific vendors.
Now on to vendor research. How do you do this?
In my experience, jumping right into product demos is often a bad idea. Instead, I find it’s very helpful to first get a high-level view of the landscape before diving headlong into individual solutions.
The following is a loose process you can use to guide your own buyer’s journey, but it’s by no means a hard-set industry best practice. You’ll want to combine various information sources in a way that provides you with a well-rounded view to make educated decisions and leads to profitable tech investments. That journey will vary between organizations and individuals. Each of the following information sources provides unique benefits:
1. Research firm reports
Forrester Waves and Gartner Magic Quadrants (IDC has very useful reports as well, but typically isn’t quite as focused on MarTech). These reports obviously aren’t free, but very useful if you have access. Each firm provides objective perspectives on competing players in a given technology space. Over recent years (in my opinion), Forrester has placed a bit more emphasis on marketing tech research than Gartner or IDC, but the Magic Quadrants are certainly very beneficial for several MarTech categories. These reports often get very specific regarding strengths and weaknesses and which types of orgs (e.g., enterprise or SMB) will benefit most from a given solution, but there’s no way to fully grasp how each reviewed solution will work for your org, and thus you should carry on to additional sources.
2. Industry Influencers
Regularly reading the blogs of various marketing influencers (and even reaching out to them personally) is an irreplaceable step. While their findings likely won’t be as comprehensive as a research report, such influencers often provide very useful, objective perspectives (with some subjective color) on various MarTech solutions — and they’re free. The influencer blog that stands out the most as in this capacity would be David Raab’s Customer Experience Matrix blog.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to reach out to influencers with questions either; I recently received a wealth of information from Matt Heinz of Heinz Marketing after emailing him about a specific social marketing tool. His insights and tips for implementation went well beyond what I would obtain from a research firm report or the particular vendor.
3. Your current partners
Your current tech vendors likely have their own opinions about complementary solution providers. These will be very biased, as they’re the result of both first- and second-hand experiences with regard to tech support, integration abilities, breadth of tools, etc. But such subjectivity is a good thing in this case; these two vendors (and their technologies) will have to work in alignment, integrate with one another, and possibly even evolve together — so if your current partner has strong reasons for suggesting against a specific provider, you’ll want to take it seriously. Of course, it’s wise to be aware of whether your current partner is soliciting you for a competing solution, in which case their opinion should carry slightly less weight.
4. Vendor websites, blogs, whitepapers, ebooks, etc.
Now that you’ve heard the biased opinions of third parties, you can focus on the biased opinions of the subject at hand. Most orgs treat their content differently. Some use blogs as purely thought leadership, while others use it as thinly veiled sales collateral. Same with white papers and ebooks. But these differences don’t matter as much as the nuggets of info you pull from the content as a whole.
Here are just a few of the questions you can use to assess vendors against one another while perusing their content:
- Does the vendor understand the space?
- Is its solution(s) clearly defined, and does it meet your needs (at first glance)?
- Are there any clear shortcomings that will affect your intended use?
- Does it have a credible customer list?
5. Product demos
In additional to the intrinsic benefit of having tech providers show me their product in action, I like to use demos to answer any remaining questions I have after previous research, which most often end up relating to organizational fit. And this is a big one. For example, a certain marketing automation platform may get the highest marks by a research firm in the SMB category, but that doesn’t mean it has the specific set of tools that will best enhance your team’s marketing operations.
Every organization is different — different people, processes, customer needs, size, marketing strategies, etc, — and the return on tech investment will therefore be different for each org as well. As mentioned earlier, fit with current technologies (both third-party and in-house solutions) is crucial.
- Will the solution you’re assessing be able to integrate well with the internal campaign management system you developed eight years ago?
- How will the new lead gen tool deliver data to your marketing automation account?
- How much of your company’s IT time must you invest?
- What kind of tech support will be available?
These are often unexpected questions, but you can learn a lot from unscripted responses — so I encourage you to have such interrogation tactics ready to go.
A good follow-up to any question about the ease of connecting systems/data is: “Okay, could you please walk me through the integration setup process right now?” If they can’t do it, it’s probably not as easy as they claim; if they can, well then you may just have found a huge differentiator.
Your particular research journey toward your next MarTech investment will and should be customized to your specific needs. Ideally, you’ll want start with objective third-party sources before heading into more subjective opinions. Most important, however, is that you consult enough sources, asking the right questions, to fully understand not only the capabilities of each solution you’re reviewing, but also how each solution will complement your current operations and address your unique challenges and opportunities.