Marketing automation is kicking into hyperdrive as cloud CRM vendors such as Microsoft, with its Dynamics 365, and Salesforce, with its various clouds, offer their own tools. Also fueling the surge are third-party applications that help enable sales, wrangle social media customer communications, automate advertising, provide customer analytics and tackle a host of other tasks, such as crawling competitor websites and reporting on their content.
These user-friendly, cloud-based marketing tools conduct sophisticated operations whose technology was out of reach, budget-wise, for many businesses just a few years ago.
Yet, the number of choices and configurations available is staggering. On top of the available platforms and apps, add companies like Eloqua, which was acquired by Oracle but still connects to many other platforms, and Marketo, whose tools can enable core CRM platforms from Microsoft, Salesforce and others to hook into even more marketing tech stack options.
All in all, according to Ion Interactive CEO and popular blogger Scott Brinker, more than 5,300 technology choices exist, an increase from about 150 just six years ago. So how does a company narrow the choice of marketing tools to a few -- a single-digit number for some businesses, and up to 40 for larger marketing teams at large organizations?
"It's really overwhelming," said Lori Wizdo, a vice president and senior analyst at Forrester Research. "You can't focus on the neatest new toy. You have to start by going back to basics and saying, 'What is my strategy for engaging with the customers? Through what channels? With what tactics?' And let that drive your decision."
Start with core platform connectivity
Integration is king when it comes to a marketing tech stack. In their recent enterprise service platform Forrester Wave report, analysts Kate Leggett and Ian Jacobs pointed out that the platform running other core business functions may be a starting point for building CRM workflows. For example, if you are a Microsoft shop to begin with, Dynamics can offer very tight integration to other Microsoft business applications. The same goes for SAP shops.
Lori WizdoVP and senior analyst, Forrester Research
"Microsoft [Dynamics 365 for Customer Service] best suits larger enterprises already invested in, and looking to capitalize on, the Microsoft technology stack," Leggett and Jacobs wrote.
Yet, looking at the choices of about 200 apps and connectors available for Microsoft Dynamics feels "sparse," according to the report, which also stated that Salesforce may lead the market in number of customers, but its features are "broad -- but not always deep."
Thankfully, Wizdo said, that's where B2B marketing tools, like those from Marketo and Eloqua, can open doors to connect to third-party tools that might not have direct hooks into a company's core CRM platform.
"A lot of these marketing automation products are SaaS, and are either built to integrate into tools like Marketo or Eloqua or into the CRM system," Wizdo said.
In addition, according to Wizdo, marketing leaders from large companies have reported that out-of-the-box integrations aren't that difficult -- even if their companies have complicated or highly customized marketing tech stacks.
Narrow the field
In a July report, Talkwalker, which offers a social media monitoring tool -- one category out of many in the marketing automation arena -- offered a few tips to help companies focus their martech stack buying decisions.
- The depth of vendor cooperation varies widely. API connections potentially need in-house expertise or can add extra costs. Know what you're getting for support before signing up for a marketing automation tool.
- Set up effective performance measurement on the platform you're using first. That way, when third-party apps or tools are added to the mix, you'll know how much return comes from that investment.
- Get something that is the right size for the business. Small companies can be wowed by the capabilities of enterprise-grade tools, and may get carried away by the growth they could drive. Don't let yourself get tangled up in product descriptions if you don't have the manpower to implement and operate them. Instead, look to cheaper or free tools that can quickly and quietly enable your team to move on.
Chances are, the places where your third-party tools help customer engagement will center on the earliest stages of customer relationships, such as collecting potentially interested leads that haven't yet bloomed into actual sales opportunities at trade expos, Wizdo said. Although a marketing tech stack can serve many other purposes today, that was the classic hole in CRM systems a decade ago that many of these tools attempt to fill.
The hole has only gotten bigger because of the breadth and variety of social media and the other digital channels through which steady communication with top-of-funnel leads can be maintained. As the digital landscape evolves, so too do the tools that help companies hold on to those leads and not let them go to seed. "I call it 'drip marketing on steroids,'" Wizdo said.
Editor's Note: TechTarget offers account-based marketing and project intelligence data and tools services.
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