Agility for the Skeptical Marketer

The martech industry has, unsurprisingly, a pretty good marketing pitch. To appeal to an organizationally-minded CMO, vendors creates a vision of the marketing stack as a plug-and-play set of apps that snap together and clarity emerges from chaos. In this fantasy, machines unlock data that had been sitting under our noses all this time. We no longer run campaigns, instead, we build experiences that lead users on a magical journey towards conversion.

But in reality, building a martech stack can be expensive, time-consuming, and fragile. The more variables that are added, the harder measurement becomes, and more resources are needed to keep it running. Sunk costs are hard to dismiss with contractual lock-in. You live with the tools you decided on last year, because you have to get work done today.


Because these technologies are new and evolving, here are some lessons learned from engineers who experienced a similar revolution. In DevOps, easy access to processing power, external services, and code libraries has emerged over the last few decades revolutionizing how applications are built. But this required adaptation and process development.

Similarly, in marketing, there are ways to bring real agility to technology adoption which mirror how monolithic architectural thinking has moved to leaner, distributed models.

  1. Before Anything, Do Discovery. Intense discovery. Ask for case studies. Find references, outside of the vendor-vetted ones. Network. Ask stupid questions. Move outside your bubble and talk to people in different industries. Look for both success stories and find the horror stories, as well. Trust but verify. Most importantly, define the results you hope to achieve by the end of an effective discovery phase and tie them to key results or KPIs.
  2. Own the Time to Value. Let the vendor’s Sales and Customer Success Teams know that you plan to be an engaged customer and you expect the same. Share your KPIs and build the expectation that both internal and external team members must participate in reaching them. Everyone should know what success criteria that will result in any specific tool’s renewal.
  3. End of Life is a Way of Life. Convey pragmatism and set an expectation that tools get turned off when they don’t work. You also build a culture and framework that allows for testing and informed decision making. When tools that seem a better fit emerge, you spend the time to analyze the possible switching benefits.
  4. Think small and cheap. So you need website personalization? Well, that’s easy! Implement a DXP, hire some data scientists, and take a few months of classes to train. Then, you are ready to test some theories! With marketing tools in general, look for the functionality you want and find a way to test it. In this example, before spending half your annual budget, validate and familiarize on a small scale. Here, open source is your friend. Start with a campaign using WordPress or Drupal’s multiple options for personalization. Familiarize yourself with the tech, and validate your objectives and time invested against real results.

There is no “done” with technology, it’s always an evolution. As tools evolve and change over time, marketers can’t adopt and try everything, but they can reduce the barriers to testing, and make better decisions as a result. The key to success as a user of these tools is to have an agile framework for choosing, integrating, and maximizing the value of each link in the chain.