With nearly 2,000 options to choose from, marketing technology is an increasingly complex purchase. After selecting the type of marketing tech they need, marketers must not only ensure that the product they opt for is right for them, but also that they can get the most from it. Asking the right questions is integral to achieving these ends. Often, however, marketers miss essential questions during the discovery and implementation processes.
Marketing-tech vendors—who spend their time talking to prospects and customers about their tools, and who often use their own technology—know what prospects and customers should be asking, but don’t.
We’ve invited vendors that represent a selection of tech tools to provide us with the most-often overlooked questions that marketers should be asking—and why they should ask those questions—to 1) select the right marketing tech vendors and 2) get the most from the tech tools they’ve invested in. Here, their recommendations, listed by technology type.
B2B MARKETING TECH
Tom Belle, CEO and President, Gage
Is your solution a point solution or a platform suite? Point solutions are meant to stand alone, often don’t integrate with other functionality, and require the marketer to be the “general contractor”; whereas a platform suite leverages multiple layers of functionality and is typically designed with robust API capabilities.
Does your staff understand marketing? Most B2B marketing tech vendors focus on getting the technology right, but for the marketer the key is having a marketing partner with strong tech chops who can understand and share the marketer’s vision and deliver the appropriate technology to achieve it.
How long have you been providing this solution and for whom? It’s relatively easy to build a great looking technical solution, but the real proof of a vendor’s capability is evidenced in the client portfolio they’ve serviced over a significant period of time.
Do I have the right functionality? It’s easy to under-buy functionality and save money, or over-buy and waste money. It’s important to understand current requirements and the functionality needed to address those, as well as to handicap what will be required tomorrow.
Can my team fully utilize the power of the technology or should I access outside support? Marketers tend to avoid post-purchase support funding, but an inexperienced internal team can leave a valuable technical tool underutilized.
How can we further leverage this technology? Marketers can turn applications like learning management systems into channel portals, content management systems into marketing-on-demand platforms, and simple sweepstakes into long-term incentive programs with relatively minor additional effort.
RETAIL MARKETING TECH
Ross Kramer, Cofounder and CEO, Listrak
What’s the integration level required? Too many tech vendors disguise this, and implementations fail when it’s not asked.
Who’s responsible for customer success? It’s easy to buy software, but difficult to implement, train on, and operationalize inside your company to achieve your goals.
Are our mutual long-term goals in alignment? Often a tech vendor’s goal is to be sold, and when it is, so goes the account management, engineers, etc. that you were depending on to help move your company forward.
Is 24-hour support available? It’s a 24/7, global business world. Will someone be there to answer the phone if something goes bump in the night?
What are your training options? They should include in-person and recorded, as well as platform certifications.
Who will be our account manager? Account management is generally the X factor to customer success. Meet your account manager before signing; know whether she’s in your time zone and her level of expertise.
Justin Foster, Cofounder and VP of Market Development, Liveclicker
What are the top 3 significant advantages you offer versus competitors? Vendors should be able to explain why they’re different/better in a concise and accurate way. If they can’t, you should pass.
How will you help our business meet its objectives? A real partner will work with you to ensure that you look good in front of your boss and help you move the needle in the areas that matter.
If I were to randomly call three of your clients, what would I expect to hear? Screenshot the client logo slide of your prospective vendor, pick the three companies you feel would be the most relevant, and reach out to the likely decision-maker via LinkedIn. You might be shocked by what you hear when you take reference-checking into your own hands.
What should I be using that I’m not? Ninety-nine percent of clients only use a fraction of a tool’s capabilities. The vendor has the perspective of working with hundreds—perhaps thousands—of clients. Its vantage point can be your competitive advantage.
Who is my primary support contact? Centralize knowledge of your account with your partner to ensure faster and more accurate response.
When is your next webinar? Webinars are free to attend, can be attended while multi-tasking, and usually will present at least one good idea you can execute on in the short- to mid-term.
Tony D’Anna, CEO, PostUP
Who is will my contact be? Don’t settle for phone queues or knowledge bases; the correct answer is someone’s name.
How will you help me grow my business? If they don’t care about your bottom line, why should you care about theirs?
Are you willing to change for me? A good relationship with your email service provider (ESP) involves ongoing evolution on both sides. Make sure your requests are heard.
Can I get more training? A quick training session once a quarter will help email marketers ensure they’re taking advantage of all the new features their ESP is releasing.
Is there anything I should be doing? Your ESP should regularly advise you to ensure that your email program’s progress is on track.
What’s the best feature that nobody uses? There may be a cool feature hidden a couple of layers deep. Make sure lack of knowledge isn’t the reason you’re not using it.
Tim Ohnmacht, President, Marketing Solutions, Quad/Graphics
Can you help me translate my data into customized and actionable content? More and more marketers are shifting to data-driven marketing to influence consumer connections, shorten sales cycles, and maximize their return on marketing spend. Your vendor should be able to help you use data insights to build an integrated marketing strategy that goes beyond basic segmentation into a strategic application of analytics that predicts behavior and leverages deep insights to encourage transaction.
How vast is your platform and are you nimble? Digital print vendors with the ability to adjust to changing demands, support a variety of run sizes, and execute multiple layers of variable print complexity on a wider range of image areas offer greater advantages of scale than those with limited equipment and capabilities.
Do you support omnichannel campaign management and execution? Engaging consumers through communications designed and tailored for a new era in consumer marketing allows you to evolve broad markets into prospects, prospects into customers, and customers into long-term relationships. Using arresting creative through varied media gives your audience an immersive brand experience that drives engagement, momentum, and transaction.
What’s your ability to provide cost, operational, and campaign efficiencies? Analyzing current project workflow and tailoring optimal solutions reduces the amount of schedule time and streamlines processes to provide a more automated way of print ordering, proofing, and campaign execution. Given that postal-related costs make up a significant percentage of every direct marketer’s campaign budget, obtaining the most advantageous sortation scheme is vital, and digital print service providers that can also offer best-in-class delivery solutions maximize those costs savings.
How comprehensive is your campaign reporting, measurement, and attribution solutions? Measurement and results reporting allow marketers to fine-tune marketing efforts and extend their brand in new directions. Getting the metrics you need should be a priority to increase market penetration, as well as tailor and evolve campaigns with precise relevance.
Are you keeping pace with updates to digital print technologies and data-driven marketing? Combining intuitive persona analysis with foremost digital print technologies creates an ideal setting to develop game-changing data-driving decisions. The application of these decisions allows marketers to launch campaigns that drive more consumers to purchase.
Brandon Hartness, Evangelist, Adobe Marketing Cloud
What are our core marketing objectives and KPIs? Don’t jump straight into what you’d like to do with a new marketing cloud; make sure the capabilities you’re acquiring map back to business objectives and strategy.
Will your marketing cloud give us a clear view of our customer? As marketing is central to identifying visitors, the technology should enable a single view of a consumer across most, if not all, interactions, and then enable you to take action on that data.
How flexible and agile is the marketing cloud? This is a long-term investment and a partnership, and digital marketing is rapidly changing. Make sure the marketing cloud you choose can grow with your company and keep pace with the industry.
Are we measuring success across the entire consumer journey, both online and offline? Digital is now an important part of any marketing campaign, and while physical campaigns don’t always bridge to digital, it should be treated as an extension of existing marketing activities.
Is our marketing department accepting of a data-driven culture? A key advantage of today’s marketing technology is the ability to drive data-driven decision-making. But it takes organizational buy-in to put those insights into action.
Are we archiving test results and extending insights to other teams? The future of marketing is about bringing more customer intelligence to the entire organization. Extending those insights to other processes and teams will greatly improve the overall customer experience.
Laurie Hood, Vice President, Product Marketing, Silverpop, an IBM Company
Do you provide a scalable, flexible marketing database that my team can control? It’s important that this database can collect data from a variety of sources and create a single customer identity that can be leveraged across channels.
Do you provide an automation or orchestration engine to drive behavior-based individual interactions? Marketers must be able to use behavioral and demographic information to deliver personalized multichannel campaigns based on their marketing and business rules.
How strong are your multichannel marketing capabilities? Marketers today should be able to deliver a personalized experience across virtually any channel through a single, unified platform and deliver highly personalized experiences in channels where each customer prefers to interact.
What are you going to do to ensure that I’m successful with your platform? Be sure there’s a path to smoothly transition to new technologies without an interruption in programs and, more important, without a degradation of results.
What programs do you have to get me started? Marketers need to be prepared to migrate to a new technology and maximize usage of product features and capabilities.
What ongoing programs do you have to keep me current on new product capabilities and industry trends? It is important to understand products updates, how to best use new features and capabilities, and how to use the products to support evolving marketing efforts.
Eric Stahl, SVP of Product Marketing, Salesforce Marketing Cloud
Does this technology help me achieve a comprehensive view of my customer beyond digital marketing? We live in the era of the connected customer. The physical and digital worlds have converged, and marketers need to be able to serve customers at every step of their journey.
Is the technology scalable? Marketers should be investing in technology that’s right for their business today, and will also be able to support it through every stage of its growth—or, they’ll need to replace it down the line.
What is the track record for innovation? Consumer tastes and expectations of brands change rapidly, and marketing technology must mature accordingly. Without innovation, the technology will likely become obsolete—making the time and resource investment of adopting it fruitless.
Am I putting the customer at the center of everything I do? Too often marketers focus on technology, when putting the customer first is what matters. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and think about the optimal experience.
How can I integrate data-informed actions and decisions into every step of the marketing process? Marketers today have unprecedented access to data about their customers’ tastes and preferences—but they’re often still at a loss when it comes to putting that data into action to improve the customer journey.
How can I work to ensure that agile marketing practices are part of my company’s DNA? Marketing today requires a different cadence than it did in the past, and marketers need to be able to make data-informed decisions a part of their day-to-day processes.
Justin Bougher, VP of Product, SiteSpect
Can I test site functionality like new releases and search algorithms? Testing new releases and how a site actually works [such as checkout flow or search] often delivers the greatest impact on conversion.
Do you provide strategic advice for optimizing our digital business? A vendor should be a strategic partner, not just a slice of your technology stack.
How much of my testing program can I automate? Ultimately, if you want to test the most changes to your customer experience, you’ll need to automate aspects of test creation, management, and analysis.
How many metrics am I keeping track of per test? Often, the knowledge to be discovered from a test is in the side effects of a change. Keeping track of more metrics in every test allows you to know all the effects of a change on the customer experience.
How much site latency is my test adding to the customer experience? If your test is adding a lot of latency, slowing down your site, it can dramatically skew the results. Avoid making the wrong decisions due to the effect of a slow-loading test.
What parts of the customer experience am I not testing? Why? Many times your next big win will come from areas that you have not tested. Don’t let a testing platform prevent you from seeing large conversion improvements.
Pam McAtee, Senior Vice President, Digital Solutions, Epsilon
What percentage of clients uses your technology or services for more than two channels? Because many omnichannel vendors have roots in a single channel, the majority of customers may still only use them for one channel. It’s important to understand the breakdown of what clients are using them for.
Can you help me augment my data to create a deeper customer profile? Providers play an important role in bringing together data elements—e.g., email address, online cookies, IP address, phone numbers. Data must come together for brands to gain one view of the customer and achieve omnichannel success.
How can your offering take what we’re doing today to the next level? A vendor’s answer to this question will help demonstrate a) how well they understand your business and vertical, and b) how innovative they are in their approach.
Can I store data from multiple channels in a single source? Since many omnichannel platforms are built from integrating multiple technologies over time, the result is often disparate data. Data stored separately restricts the ability to have one view of the customer and execute omnichannel campaigns.
How does your technology integrate with other tools that inform omnichannel strategies? Many omnichannel tools integrate seamlessly with their own tool set, but not so well with other third-party tools. It’s critical that these tools can work together comprehensively to not only execute, but also inform the omnichannel approach.
Do you offer strategic consulting, support, and services to help make the most out of my investment in your technology? Finding a vendor that will ensure success after the technology purchase is critical to avoid struggling with integration.
Ashely Johnson, SVP of Global Marketing, Experian Marketing Services
Do they understand my business? The best providers are strategic business partners that understand your unique business challenges and have a proven track record of supporting clients with varying needs.
Can I rely on this vendor for data expertise? Data and privacy expertise will play a more important role in the vendor-client relationship as marketers need technology to help them scale their first-party data asset for the future.
Is the vendor’s system flexible? Look for a partner that can address your current needs but is flexible enough to evolve with your customer and the needs of your business.
Are we putting the customer first? Identify the areas where your technology encourages and inhibits your ability to be customer-first.
Are we able to deliver relevance at the right time? Increase your ability to easily query, synthesize, and extract the most purposeful data where and when it matters most.
Are we failing enough? Use technology to test and fail fast to quickly learn from those failures and inform positive action.
Jerry Jao, CEO, Retention Science
Can you scale and adapt to my business needs? Marketers need a vendor that can help now and when their business has grown and evolved.
Are your services answering the right questions and solving the right problems? Make sure the analytics the vendor provides relate directly to improving your business.
What are the actual outputs from the analytics, and are they clearly actionable? Analytics are always better to have, but results don’t come from insights alone. Vendors should demonstrate how their predictive tech will make their clients’ marketing smarter.
How do you continually improve analytics results? The ideal tech partner should keep iterating on both input and output to make sure their clients get the best, most accurate results.
Are we prioritizing data-driven insights when executing marketing campaigns? The best analytics only matter if marketers use them. Do a pulse check to make sure your campaigns actually use the insights you get.
Are we using the analytics in every way we can? Too many companies still focus on acquisition only; not only can predictive analytics help improve retention strategies, they’re usually cheaper to execute.
Josh Reynolds, Head of Marketing, Quantifind
How clearly does your solution correlate to revenue or other KPI? Buzz, sentiment, and other metrics aren’t inherently connected to actual movements in revenue or other meaningful business KPIs. Make sure that the analytics correlate directly to movements in KPIs that matter.
Are your analytics predictive, prescriptive, or explanatory? Predictive analytics tell you what’s likely to happen if nothing changes. Prescriptive analytics tell you what to do without providing context. Explanatory analytics include elements of predictive and prescriptive but help you understand why things are happening and how to change outcomes.
Where does your methodology tap into human curiosity and intuition? How well does the vendor enable human exploration of data? Where in the methodology do human curiosity and intuition play a role? And how do you avoid the disintermediation of human wisdom?
Where are my blind spots, and how does data illuminate them? Perhaps you have social listening in place, but it’s not tied to revenue. Or perhaps you have predictive analytics, but need help digging into causes. Where are your unknown unknowns, and how will you explore them?
How will I make sure I’m focused on the right questions? The only thing worse than the wrong answer is the right answer to the wrong question. What’s your process for letting data whisper to you and suggest smarter questions to explore?
What barriers to action do I face internally? If data leads you to a game-changing finding, how much resistance will you face to act on it? What kind of culture, politics, and resource constraints are you facing? And what kind of evidence will you need to overcome them?
Matt Riley, CEO, Swiftype
How much control will I have over changing search results? There are many instances when a marketer will want to override or customize a specific result for a specific campaign (e.g., moving a product to the top of a high-trafficked search query).
What kinds of analytics and actionable insights does your site search platform deliver? Data that comes from the search box shows customer intent, so it’s important for marketers to see which searches they can optimize for conversions to drive the most revenue out of their search box.
What types of content can I include in a search experience? Not only is it important to make sure that video, PDFs, and blog posts are included with products in search results, but it’s also beneficial to have a search box that can pull in content from a company’s other websites, including its customer support site.
How much revenue am I getting out of my search box? For marketers, search boxes are on your website to drive engagement, conversions, and revenue. Knowing what these metrics are and building goals around these numbers are important to getting the most out of a search box.
What are my colleagues’ best practices? Taking advice from marketers who have more experience optimizing their site search experience is an easy way to add quick wins to your own approach.
Is my algorithm effective? If the answer is no, fine tune the relevance model so the content being curated in search results delivers what the user is looking for.
Matt Langie, CMO, Curalate
What should a marketer consider in a visual commerce platform? The way marketers manage and measure the value of visual content is fundamentally different than the way they approach text. A visual commerce platform should aggregate, identify, productize, and distribute visual content to effectively connect it to commerce.
How will your platform help me prove ROI? As marketers are pressured to demonstrate business results, it’ll become increasingly important to invest in technology that measures how both brand-owned and user-generated content improves digital engagement, drives traffic, and generates revenue.
What’s your product roadmap? Find a partner that understands the needs of digital marketers and who innovates and implements ahead of the needs of marketers.
What do my customers care about? Most brands don’t have great insight into their organic engagement. A visual commerce platform should enable marketers to analyze and gain insights on organic trends, which can influence ad buys, merchandizing decisions, and branded content.
Do we offer easy distribution points to non-social channels? On social, engagement with even the best images diminishes within 24 hours. Ask how your team can share images across every digital consumer touchpoint to reach consumers more often and in more places.
How can we pull in all of the images that depict our products, as opposed to just consumer images? UGC is an important source of creative, but it’s just a piece of the pie. Ask yourself how you can leverage the entire breadth of images shared about your brand’s products—not just from consumers, but also from influencers, employees, partners, and vendors.
Steve Griffiths, SVP Marketing, Strategy & Analytics, DialogTech
Do you offer solutions that provide full call attribution, as well as ways to proactively convert callers into revenue? Marketers need end-to-end call attribution to fully understand how different channels perform, and the real-time conversion technology to turn callers into customers.
Do you integrate with other marketing and sales tools? Nobody wants data in a silo; make sure the vendor can share data with your other important tools to give you the full attribution picture.
Do you offer a full platform to control all aspects of the call? What happens during the call is as important as tracking it, so make sure your vendor provides contextual call routing and a robust IVR. Additionally, spam calls can be an issue by delivering unwanted calls, so choose a vendor who can block these calls before they reach you.
Are we tracking call extensions? In today’s mobile world, tracking calls made directly from Google Search ads at the keyword level is essential to full call attribution.
Are we optimizing multi-location technology? If you list multiple business locations and phone numbers on your site, make sure you dynamically track calls to all of them, as well as get keyword and session-level data.
The cascade of new marketing tech solutions promises to slow in the near future, according to Kathleen Schaub, VP of the CMO Advisory Service at International Data Corp. Her group forecasts that 20% of large enterprises will consolidate their marketing infrastructures by 2017 and that a third of top marketers will outsource digital marketing duties via marketing as a service by 2020. In a conversation with Direct Marketing News, Schaub discusses the impact that the changing martech landscape will have on marketers.
IDC recently announced the onset of the digital transformation—or DX—economy. What will its arrival do to marketing departments?
For the past few decades businesses have been concentrating on creating efficiencies to increase bottom-line profitability. The most efficient way to do that is to create silos. Within marketing, every time a new channel is added, a mini-silo is added. DX rips the roof off the house and, instead of having these differentiated silos, companies will have to realign and reintegrate pieces of the business.
And that’s where marketing tech comes in?
Yes. The connective tissue takes the form of technology. Tech not only improves the quality of workflow, but also provides a way to manage the complexity of connecting things.
Are any companies making headway with internal integration?
We work with mostly technology companies that tend to be early adopters and, yes, some of them are moving from pilot programs and projects to some stage of maturity where they’ve gone out and developed their own marketing technology. Some of the companies we work with may have 50-plus systems, so this is the way we think the process is going.
How will this affect the CMO’s role?
There’s clearly a new role for a marketing technologist who has one foot in marketing and one foot in IT. The world overall is facing the crisis of not having enough people who understand math. Many career marketers have let whatever they learned in school go stale or hated math to begin with. But what we’re seeing is that [the majority of] marketing jobs will require some degree of quantitative ability, even if you’re high up in the management ranks. I recently sat in on a management meeting where predictive analytics was discussed as a way to develop new customer targets. One executive piped up and asked, “What am I going to do with this information?” He was met with blank stares.
Will there be more reliance on cloud-based marketing stacks?
I think the relationship between platforms and innovative point solutions is going to shift over time. Marketing isn’t like finance, which is just more of the same at different companies. Marketing can be a strong differentiator for companies, so they’re not going to want plain vanilla systems. Companies will establish central operations platforms and consistent data links and innovate at the margins.
One of your predictions is about blowing up the funnel. Why?
One of the dirty little secrets of the [marketing] business is that the funnel never really worked. Sales managers like it because they have to forecast. Salespeople never liked it. But as we move to a customer-centric model, it’s like taking a very messy, complex thing and forcing it into a structured format.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Read the full cover story ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
2016 will be a seminal year for marketers who are adjusting everything from budgets and processes to staffing and strategy as they aim to exploit technology
Part 1 > The Marketer and Her Sous Chef: Cuisinart’s director of marketing communications may drive strategy, but it’s her collaboration with the CIO that allows the brand to cook up true innovation.
Part 2 > What the Dickens to Do About Marketing Tech: It’s the best of times and the worst of times for marketers with unlimited possibilities and limited resources.
Part 3 > Technology-Driven, Must-Have Marketing Skills: The proliferation of marketing technology is changing how marketers work and the skills they need to succeed.
Part 4 > Buyer Beware: Marketers may not be asking the right questions to select the optimal marketing technology and then maximize it.