According to the Martech 2019 report – a collaboration between four organisations in the sector – 96% of marketers believe martech is necessary for achieving future goals and 91% are planning to increase automated customer interactions by using it. Their enthusiasm does not seem to be dimmed by the sometimes substantial challenges organisations face when trying to integrate the technology with existing systems.
The research identified four common challenges: data, competencies, customer ownership and internal barriers.
One of the first issues is getting technology to ‘play nicely’ together. Having settled on the martech solution or solutions that suit, it isn’t simply a question of ‘plug and play’, despite advances in open API development and cloud storage. “The problem with all software is the integration process,” warns Julia Munder, international marketing manager for British leather goods brand Maxwell-Scott.
Munder says that, in theory, most solutions should work – but do they? “If it’s really out-of-the-box then it does work, but just on a basic level. It’s when you add something such as a personalised product or international shipping – anything that takes it away from the standard integration.”
Quite simply, any new piece of martech is being brought into a constantly changing situation. Very few organisations buy in a system and leave it completely as the creator intended it. Over time there will have been adjustments, add-ons, fixes and more. It means bringing yet more new technology on-board is never going to be as simple as either the buyer or the vendor hoped.
“The provider expects [to integrate with a standard] platform but we have personalised things and that is where errors occur,” Munder notes.
This is also where data comes into play. Few organisations, even digitally native ones, have pristine, centralised data that feeds easily into a new martech stack.
If you’re not communicating with each other, this is where errors occur.
Julia Munder, Maxwell-Scott
“You can have the best technology in the world but if it’s not implemented properly, it’s useless. Websites and tools business-side need to be ready. For example, implementing a data management platform (DMP), you need to have a good data layer in place,” warns Alessandra di Lorenzo, CEO of Forward, Lastminute.com’s newly-launched media company. “If you don’t have that, or only a half-assed one, even implementing the best in the world won’t get results.”
While Lastminute does have the advantage of being a technology- and data-literate business, there is a vast range of legacy businesses, small and large, that are having to do a fair amount of reverse-engineering to make the new technology fit.
Aimee Treasure heads up marketing at VHR, a technical recruitment company. It is in the midst of rapid growth – from 60 to 80 employees in total and more than doubling the marketing team. As a result, she has had to implement new martech on top of systems that have grown organically.
“Our challenge was that we had so many different systems and types of data that needed to be adapted and fed in. A lot of our problems stemmed from data entry. Over 14 years of operation, a lot of different people had input into the CRM systems,” she explains.
Treasure admits that some of her systems are beyond redemption when it comes to backwards compatibility. “We have a very old system that doesn’t integrate so we still have to go back and manually record data. We will be looking to change our CRM systems on the second round. Most replacements have an open API which will really help us on integration.”
Bringing the company on board
Hiccups are often part of the integration process: “You can prepare and test but there is still going to be an element of something that you can’t plan for,” Munder advises. However, sometimes software can be a victim of its own sales pitch. Having gone in and lobbied hard for a solution, it can be trying to have to explain away the bumps in the road.
Munder says: “[On the one hand you’re] going to the CEO and saying we need to spend more so they should expect a higher revenue or other KPI. Often during the integration process things don’t work as they should and instead of an increase there is a drop. You have to explain that this could integrate a lot better but there are teething problems.”
Those teething problems aren’t always technical. Change often naturally meets with resistance. Staff have to learn new habits, interact with new interfaces and often, as is the case with martech, understand that the organisation as a whole is going to approach challenges differently. Martech can be a catalyst for breaking down silos between departments and although this is generally accepted as being ‘a good thing’ in an agile business environment, culture change can still be a challenge.
“It’s very difficult to get people on board, to understand and to use it,” Treasure warns. “I’m very lucky because the CEO and COO are very supportive and understand the importance of marketing. We’ve got to communicate with the sales team why the new system is helpful.
“We had bite-sized training to explain why it’s important to work together and what the impact of the system is, and its impact on commission. For example, we promote what is happening in weekly sales meetings.” Lastminute’s di Lorenzo agrees: “There’s a lot of coordination and stakeholder management needed, you need the best support from the business and product team.”
Collaboration across teams
One consequence of martech’s rise has been the need to bring marketing closer to the IT department. Marketers are only just coming to terms with fully understanding digital; it would appear that now they’re expected to be technologists too.
“Traditional teams might not have the in-depth knowledge required. That might have to come from an infrastructure perspective. The best way to make it work is to have marketing technology experts sitting in the tech space. It’s about know-how and that needs to be embedded in the IT department. This becomes a CEO-level decision,” di Lorenzo explains.
“The scariest part of implementation isn’t the cost of technology. Marketing technology has largely become democratised. The cost is the waste of time that can go into managing technology inappropriately and that comes down to skills,” she adds.
It might be a mistake to think the lack of expertise is all on the technology side. It’s critical that while marketers need to take on board at least a rudimentary understanding of what the martech implementation involves, IT specialists need to understand the impact from a marketing perspective too.
You can have the best technology in the world but if it’s not implemented properly, it’s useless.
Alessandra di Lorenzo, Lastminute.com
Companies that have gone through this process have their own cautionary tales. One source relates: “One company brought a new CTO on board to help with the challenges presented by new martech implementations – but the effect was the opposite. They were new to the business and hadn’t taken the time to learn the internal systems or work with existing third-party software.”
The source’s advice is to look first within the business for expertise, even if that person is a marketing manager. Needless to say, the aforementioned CTO’s tenure was brief.
Often, companies are finding themselves working in a blended relationship between marketers, internal IT professionals and third-party vendors or consultants. “We have IT in-house and we have built things such as business reporting tools. But, the next stage it going to depend which systems we go with. I don’t think I can [do integrations] entirely myself but we can try to solve issues internally,” Treasure admits.
For a multi-touch relationship to work smoothly, communication is highlighted as vital. “There are so many pieces of software already there. What I’ve found is that it’s always about communication.” Munder says. “I know our area, our developers know the code and the third party knows their system. If you’re not communicating with each other, this is where errors occur.”
When the anticipation is that buying a piece of martech means that a solution to the company’s problems is nearly here, learning that this is only the start of a much bigger piece of work can seem disheartening. Certainly, for all the discussion of a ‘plug and play’ platform, there appears to be a lot more effort needed around culture, training, management of older systems and so on.
But, as Lastminute’s di Lorenzo suggests, this is the foundation for a much larger and longer technology-driven future. “To partially quote Simon Sinek, this is part of the infinite versus finite game. Technology will always be infinite. In six months there will always be better kit. You can’t just implement and think, that’s it, we’re done now. Companies are more concerned these days with bringing technology in-house and hiring experts so that they can play the infinite game,” she says.
For companies that have been used to being self-contained units, it can be difficult to accept that a relationship-based ecosystem with ongoing interactions between departments, vendors and consultants is the way forward. But ultimately, by adapting to this way of working at the start of the martech journey, it sets companies up to be more adaptable to new trends, technologies and customer needs in the future.
If she had to do it again, what would Maxwell-Scott’s Munder change about her first martech implementation? “I would improve the communications process from the start. Rather than trying to struggle myself, now I would work more efficiently and get developers on board. I’d get all of us in a conversation around what we want to achieve, so the developers could take that to the third party provider. You can’t know everything.”
Nicholas Cumins, general manager, SAP Marketing Cloud
Implementing martech needs a highly collaborative marketing culture. The role of marketing is changing. It is at the centre of the business so conversations need to happen organisation-wide – sales, customer experience, IT. You need a whole business culture that appreciates change, can fulfil its demands and isn’t afraid of it because change is constant. There is no sign that this will slow down.
It shouldn’t be necessary to change the people in a team purely because of technology. The technology should be able to adapt to the environment it is used in. But how you want to run marketing going forward may change the skills a team needs.
You may decide that some of the marketing tasks will now be done by agencies so you don’t need to embed those skills. Alternatively, a company may want to begin drilling down into machine learning and build its own data science team as a result. Martech is the enabler. It’s up to you to form the marketing department to match your needs.
The relationship with the IT department, however, will be more important than anyone could estimate. There has to be a partnership there, right from the start. Conversations have to start from the moment you define the roadmap and continue along every step. Where do we want to be? How are we going to work together and change culture. What is IT’s involvement? This is now all part of the marketing remit.