Over the past 15 years of working in the technology industry, I've been involved with many technology and platform investment decisions—both on the buyer and vendor sides. I’ve watched these choices become increasingly business-critical for organizations over time, with the wrong platform decision capable of negatively impacting ROI for the company in addition to unleashing major headaches for IT and marketing teams. Today, there are more channels than ever, introducing new business challenges that can be solved with new technology innovations. For martech platforms in particular, the options have also become broader and more technical, adding an extra layer of complexity to an already difficult decision for stakeholders selecting solutions that will be used for the next four-six years—and up to 10 years for something like a commerce solution.
There are many examples of marketing challenges addressed with technology, and some technical innovation even led to marketing trends and buzzwords. For me, the most obvious example is 'Big Data.' In the martech space working on digital experience and commerce solutions, Big Data emerged from the need to know and store as much as you can about your visitors, which led to the next trend for utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) to make better sense of massive amounts of data more easily and quickly. With new, more complex solutions built around these technologies, making them work for a business and assessing whether they’re worthwhile comes down to comparing value vs. cost since the total cost of ownership (TCO) for handling the complexity, maintenance and technical debt with new platforms can turn out to be a burden rather than a value generator for an organization. For the CMO, the priority is often to adopt the latest innovations as soon as possible to stay ahead of the competition, but this need has to fit the CIO’s focus on TCO for the long-term.
Being aware of technical debt
The weight of these options often drives a wedge between the CIO and CMO deciding martech investments, creating a need to find common ground sooner. By being aligned, they can choose the right options that will allow marketing to execute on strategy and hit company targets while meeting operational requirements for maintenance, governance and risk avoidance, which are top of mind for the CIO. Recent Gartner research on the B2B buyer’s journey found that more than three-quarters of organizations found the purchasing process complex or difficult, which is no real surprise. The process creates a need to bridge the CMO’s and CIO’s priorities to reduce this friction and ensure the best options are selected for the business.
The CMO needs to be aware of technical debt, integration points and architectures, while the CIO should be mindful of the business value and the need for fast time-to-market for implementations. However, this means they must have a better technical understanding of areas outside the scope of their work. So how do these executives find confluence across their potentially opposing goals and perspectives and pick the right software in the ever-changing landscape where new technologies and innovations rise every day? The answer is to work with a trusted technical advisor.
These experts serve as a mediator to align the CMO and CIO in making the best overall decisions for their business. They tend to have prior technical industry experience and understand the full scope of factors at play to help businesses choose technology that is the right fit for their specific needs. I’ve seen technical advisors from all kinds of backgrounds such as solutions architects, engineers, lead developers, and marketing technologists—basically anyone with a business technical profile that grasps both the technical and business needs of organizations. Companies I’ve worked with often source these advisors from third-party organizations like analyst groups they already work with and trust.
A trusted advisor will help by:
- Validating requirements: Works closely with the CMO and CIO to identify what the essential requirements are and validate that the platform or technology can support these.
- Validating operational efficiency: Will ensure that a selected solution will provide the company the capability to deliver high-quality experiences for customers cost-effectively today and in the future.
- Ensuring ease of implementation: Will verify development requirements, considering factors such as the technology stack, whether the architecture is extensible and capable of integrations, if documentation and training is available, and whether there is a developer community for resources and support as well as reliable, quality vendor support.
- Ensuring ease of use for end-users: Will assess whether a platform is easy and intuitive to use for end-users, considering factors such as whether an employee can do their job in one interface or will need to juggle multiple logins across multiple interfaces.
The technical advisor works closely across multiple client teams—including developers and marketing practitioners—in addition to the CIO and CMO, to make sure the options are aligned with their needs for capabilities and ease of use. Today, organizations that have already taken on the latest digital transformations for their marketing are adjusting more easily to impact from the pandemic, shifting to digital channels as retail has slowed or shut down for them completely. At the same time, businesses that haven’t are rushing to find a quick solution for immediate implementation. While this may be the right move to survive the current crisis, these organizations will inevitably have to re-budget, rebuild and further fund ongoing investments in addition to dealing with headaches from having chosen less-than-ideally integrated solutions as a bandage for the meantime.
For those that do have the capability to take on a long-term, comprehensive approach where consolidation of technologies with more robust solutions may be a better fit today, moving forward with a technical advisor will be key to getting there faster, and with the best options in place. Having an expert who can speak the language of both IT and marketing will ensure that the right technology is selected to drive business success for years to come.
Pieter Brinkman, Senior Director of Technical Marketing, Sitecore