Editor’s note: This is the second post in a two-part series about how CMOs, VPs of Marketing, and other marketing leaders can spend their budgets smarter. To read the first post from Shawn Fergus, click here.
In an age where marketing is increasingly driven by technology, most CMOs know that one of their most important responsibilities has little to do with marketing. Instead, it’s all about procurement — specifically, the process of assessing and buying the right marketing technology to support their business.
I get it, too. After all, choosing the right technologies is mission-critical. Get it right, and you’ll ensure your marketing budget delivers maximum ROI and drives optimal business outcomes. Get it wrong, and you might be out of a job.
The problem, of course, is that finding the “right” solution is easier said than done.
With literally thousands of marketing technology vendors to choose from, it’s a difficult and time-consuming process. And, if you’re not careful, you can waste weeks evaluating vendors who may not be able to meet your needs. Worse yet, you might find yourself stuck in a contract with one of them, depleting precious resources without actually adding any value to your marketing strategy.
The Right Choice Isn’t Always the Easy Choice
What makes things so challenging is that even when you get to the category level and narrow your choices down to just a handful of competing vendors, they’re often indistinguishable. They may all sound alike and make similar promises. As a result, even though you think you’re buying a Maserati, what you actually wind up with is a rundown 1995 Honda Civic.
Further complicating things is the fact that marketers often let price dictate their decisions.
While cost certainly matters and it’s an important consideration, the more important factor is ROI. Just consider this scenario: If you were given the choice between a $20,000 solution that delivers an ROI of 1x or a $40,000 solution that delivers an ROI of 10x, which would you choose?
6 Tips to Make Smarter Technology Investments
To help make the vendor selection process easier for you, I’ve compiled a short list of best practices that I’ve learned throughout my career. If you follow the six tips below, I’m confident it will help you avoid any surprises and ensure you buy the best product to meet your needs.
1. Establish your goals. Before you can choose a vendor, you need to have a very clear picture of what you’re trying to achieve. Researching a product and/or category is a part of the puzzle. But another piece is learning from the vendor what’s realistic to expect from their offering. This one-two punch of research and advice from a consultative sales person is invaluable when determining your goals. Whatever the case, be sure to have a precise idea of what your goals are and how you expect this new technology to contribute to meeting them.
2. Demand proof. Ask to see case studies from companies similar to yours that have accomplished what you aspire to do by using the platform or solution. You’ll want to find out about things like:
- The ROI they’ve achieved using the platform
- Their satisfaction with the level of support they’re receiving
- Whether the product has evolved over time to better meet their needs
- If the vendor is responsive to questions and effective at troubleshooting issues
- Whether they’d recommend the vendor to others without hesitation
3. Ask a lot of questions. The more you learn up front (and I can’t stress enough the importance of a helpful, consultative salesperson), the easier it will be to make an informed decision. So when you’re evaluating a potential vendor, come prepared with a detailed list of questions. Some of the things you should ask include:
- What extra work, if any, will be required to get the technology up and running so that it will do what you need?
- Does using the technology require any special skill sets (like coding) that you don't have on your team?
- Are any third-party integrations required to get all of the functionality you’re after?
- Can the product easily be customized? If so, will that cost extra?
4. Ask about future product developments. Doing so is worthwhile because it ensures your use case will be supported as the company grows, while also giving you insight into what’s on the horizon that might be of interest to you. This is especially important if you’re buying a product for a specific feature (or the promise of one that's coming). If a vendor can't answer this question, it could indicate that they don't have a clear vision for how they'll improve the product and the value you extract from it.
5. Find out what the product’s average downtime was over the past year. Having worked in the data center industry, I know that every business runs into trouble from time to time. What I ultimately want to learn is how the company handled the situation. Taking a cue from point three, ask a lot of questions. Segue from uptime percentage to learning how upfront and proactive the company is in communicating with customers when issues do occur.
6. Understand what types of support and service are available. Before you make a decision, make sure you understand the difference between customer success (more proactive expert coaching) and customer support (more reactive troubleshooting), and where your vendor falls on that service spectrum. Just as importantly, you’ll want to find out if experts are available to help you to achieve your goals. It’s critical as these experts (sometimes referred to as success coaches) are well-versed in best practices and capable of helping you be much more successful than you could possibly be without them.
The Challenge CMOs Face with the Growth of MarTech
As the MarTech category expands and more and more companies come online with new offerings, choosing the right vendors is only going to get harder.
Since the time you have for selecting technology is limited, adopting a strategic approach to the process is key. In my view, that means developing a consistent, thorough, and repeatable framework based on the points above so that you’re not constantly reinventing the wheel. This will save you time, money, and frustration and ensure that you wind up with a product that delivers the ROI you expected and not a bunch of surprises you didn’t.