Marketing technology: 4 ways to sort through the fray and find the right vendor for you

cutting-edgeOne of the most exciting and challenging aspects of marketing is the variety of activities that falls within its umbrella. Marketing holds something for everyone, whether it be digital tactics, data analytics, SEO, strategic planning, brand management, PR, or any other number of sub-specialties. Marketing executives are responsible for a broad range of activities within the marketing mix, sometimes an entire program.

To support a marketer’s many tactics, there is an ever-evolving array of technologies and solutions for virtually any need. According to Scott Brinker, author of the Chief Marketing Technologist blog, the number of marketing tech vendors has doubled in the last year, and now includes 1,876 vendors across 43 categories.

The thought of trying to understand all of the vendors within even one of these categories, to the extent of being able to make a purchasing decision, is a daunting one. Few of us have the luxury of extra time in our professional lives. Even if one did have the time to spend investigating each response to an RFP, the landscape would likely have changed by the time you’d reached a conclusion and selected a solution.

So what are the best ways for a marketer to get their tech needs met in a time- and cost-effective manner? Here are four critical things to keep in mind when choosing a new technology vendor:

  1. First, clean house: Before bringing on a new service provider, you should first clarify exactly which process(es) you want the technology to affect. Then, straighten out those activity hubs if necessary to ensure that the service provider is able to improve them. Technology cannot overcome poor process, so be sure to ‘clean house’ before hiring a new firm. Without first defining the scope of the project, you are dooming it to failure.
  2. Visualize the resulting case study: As marketers, we must often begin with the end in mind. When choosing a technology solution, try to imagine the specific outputs you are looking to gain from it, and perhaps even go so far as to write the headline in your mind that those insights could inform. By having a clear vision of your desired deliverables, you will better set up your new vendor for successfully meeting your technology needs.
  3. Benchmark against (and integrate with) current tools: In any marketing mix, elements should be strategically harmonized and technology solutions are no exception. When considering a new vendor, assess your current service providers and imagine how the new member of your vendor lineup might interact with them. Are they philosophically similar? Would their interfaces work symbiotically, or would the efforts of one detract from another? While fresh ideas and innovative approaches are important, all vendors should be working toward helping you achieve aligned objectives, not creating dissonance within your marketing programs.
  4. Insist upon great customer service: A vendor’s customer service is one of the most important factors that could make or break their track record with your firm. Don’t underestimate the importance of great service and attention to detail from either your account contact or a separate dedicated support department. A vendor should be responsive and ready to go the extra mile to make you happy and make you look good. This might involve anticipating needs or proving they can work well with peripheral members of your internal team and other vendors. A good vendor never acts within a silo.

In a new report, “Predictions 2016: B2B Marketing’s New Mission,” Laura Ramos, VP-principal analyst, b-to-b marketing at Forrester Research, notes that “CMOs are going to start being less experimental and more intentional. Instead of trying six things to see how they work, now they will need to get it down to one or two.” With this prediction in mind, it might be surprising that last year marketing budgets rose an average of 10 percent. The conclusion marketers should draw from these trends is that we will need to justify these additional funds by approaching our marketing programs with more intention and less waste. While this will require more thinking and planning upfront and throughout, it will ultimately result in more useful results and actionable outcomes.