MarTech East 2019 day 1: Absorbing MarTech, best practices, hiring a MarTech team, and disruption
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(This is our Day 1 coverage of the sessions at the MarTech East 2019 event in Boston. Read on for insights and best practices shared by MarTech experts on technology, strategy, and best practices.)
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Keynote, Day 1
The MarTech East 2019 keynote featured Scott Brinker, creator of the infamous MarTech 5000 supergraphic. As usual, Brinker gave an overview of the MarTech landscape from his perspective, and how changes in the space will affect those who work in it.
For instance, Brinker pointed out that the way marketing operations teams acquire MarTech products is changing from a waterfall-style approach with lengthy approval cycles to more of an Agile-based approach that focuses on rapid experimentation and iteration. While this idea seemed controversial at first, Brinker drew parallels to the way smartphone users happily download dozens of new apps each day.
Specifically, with most smartphone apps being free to download, there’s little up-front risk. However, as Brinker pointed out, 58% of new software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps have a freemium or trial-based business model, arguably offering a comparably low level of risk. Freemium apps’ lower barrier to entry tends to drive higher adoption, with free apps seeing 41% adoption and product-led growth compared to just 14% for apps that don’t offer a free version.
Obviously, an Agile approach doesn’t make sense for every SaaS purchase, and not all SaaS apps can practically be offered as freemium considering that many apps may involve complex integrations that incur security concerns and in-depth implementation. Brinker suggested that a combination of the two approaches might make sense depending on the level of certainty a MarTech team has about its purchase, compared to the amount of cost and risk it might incur.
MarTech East 2019: More than 33% of technical initiatives take more than a year to complete.
Brinker suggested that MarTech implementation at many companies is in one of two stages – “assisted” (used with significant support from external vendors and partners) or “embedded” (used by internal practitioners to a certain extent.) The next stage of MarTech maturity will be “absorbed” – when MarTech becomes so fully implemented within an organization that it is widely adopted, allows for parallel development, diverse and creative ideas for new use cases, and most importantly, encourages self-service usage. Brinker cited a study that suggested that while most technical initiatives take less than a year from the initial request to deployment, some 33% of these take a year or more.
Self-service offers exciting democratization, but potential for repeated work. Which is also not necessarily a negative, as pointed out by Amazon, where the retail giant’s IoT strategy focuses on empowering teams to build to their heart’s content and reap the benefits of duplicate work. “Two is better than zero,” is apparently the team’s slogan – since having two separate implementations can mean twice the learnings and a shorter cycle to find a group consensus.
Brinker then tackled the larger MarTech ecosystem, which is seeing increasing consolidation by publishers looking to build “platform ecosystems,” such as Oracle, Salesforce, and Adobe, who offer marketing platforms, CRMs, and other enterprise tools within their cloud suites. As he’s been saying for some time, revenue operations professionals find themselves no longer needing to stick with the products of a single publisher and instead opting for best-in-breed tools for every use case. To stitch together the disparate apps in their tech stacks, revenue professionals are becoming “citizen developers” who use low-code solutions to solve their challenges.
One such solution Brinker showed onscreen was the Tray Platform, which lets citizen automators orchestrate sophisticated revenue processes after easily integrating different apps in their tech stack. This newfound freedom enables marketing teams to consider an Agile approach to acquiring new software. Should different segments of a marketing team need new solutions from the thousands of MarTech apps out there, they may as well go out there and get them, testing and iterating quickly to find the best fit.
MarTech East 2019: Scott Brinker presents Tray.io's General Automation Platform at the MarTech East keynote.
Brinker then ceded the stage to product management author Matt LeMay to discuss “Agile for marketing,” a phrase that has become a popular, but nebulous, buzzword. While Agile means different things to different audiences, LeMay asserted that Agile goes beyond regular standup meetings and discrete finish dates for IT projects. Instead, Agile is intended to solve for the team dynamic of “unreasonable assertion of power over each other due to silos.” Instead of being focused on software or frameworks, LeMay asserted that Agile “is about people – a movement to bring everybody together around continuous delivery of customer value.” In an Agile framework, every decision starts with asking whether a team is doing something valuable for customers.
LeMay explained that bringing marketing into an Agile framework is extraordinarily difficult, and that “business as usual” is a powerful, inertial force that is difficult to resist. Resistance to Agile comes from the common tendency of individuals to prioritize work they can complete most easily within the comfort of our own silo – it’s easier to make a PowerPoint deck than it is to make something that works for customers. Cross-functional work is valuable, but teams can’t capture its full value if they don’t give up the benefits of working in silos. LeMay explained that marketing teams must make three important sacrifices to move to Agile:
- Give up the quest for personal advancement through functional empire building
- Give up the idea that only marketers truly understand the voice of the customer
- Give up their best excuses
By focusing on experimentation and “showing their work,” marketers can drive greater collaboration with Agile by focusing less on building out pretty presentations and more on sharing early prototypes and iterating with others.
Session 2: Enabling Agility and Efficiency Through Marketing Data Re-Architecture
Featuring Jonathan Roman of @ancestry
This session featured Ancestry.com’s Global Lead of Marketing Data and Technology Jonathan Roman, who presented a case study of his company’s tech stack evolution. Roman suggests that his team’s data strategy consists of four primary components:
- Data – from CRM, call centers, 1st party, and other sources
- Activation – including content management systems (CMS), digital asset management (DAM) platforms, advertising, and others
- Engagement – including a variety of marketing campaigns across multiple digital channels
- Insights – including analytics, attribution, and NPS surveys
Roman confided that one of the biggest initial gaps in his tech stack was the ability to facilitate cyclical data collection and data flow. Without the ability to bring data back into cycle to inform the customer journey, Ancestry.com had to rely on lookalike models or periodic surveys from current subscribers. Roman broke down this gap into three primary challenges:
- Data collection – Including challenges with inconsistent collection, a lack of standards and governance, siloed storage, and incomplete details
- Data activation – Including missing integrations and a lack of actionability on collected data
- Marketing enablement – including a lack of visibility into customer information and an overall lack of education and enablement around exactly which data was available
When faced with challenges like these, marketers tend to feel impatient. In order to drive speed, they may wish to consider pursuing these four strategies:
- People and process – Enabling teams to work efficiently with proper education and training
- Standards and governance – Documenting standard practices, taxonomies, and processes
- Integrated AdTech and MarTech – Integrating advertising and marketing apps directly into a tech stack
- Overall Agile-like marketing
MarTech East 2019: Strategies to pursue to speed up implementation.
To get the most value from their MarTech solutions, operation professionals can also consider these tactics:
- Re-evaluate your tech stack regularly – Keep track of upcoming renewal dates and ensure only the best possible solutions are in place
- Assess tech stack synergy/compatibility – The best vendors tend to be transparent about their product and roadmap updates
- Assess impact of industry changes and regulation – Changes in regulation such as GDPR and HIPAA might affect your business, as might industry changes such as major web browser functionality updates
- Learn the platforms – Spending time within new solutions is crucial to ascertain whether these apps will be a good fit for your organization in practice
- Demand more from vendors and partners – The best vendors will proactively engage buyers post-sale to alert them of potential industry and regulation changes that may affect them
Roman closed out his presentation with a list of recommended tactics for working with teams, as well as for governance. For people and processes, Roman suggested:
- Avoiding working in silos
- Standardizing request processes across teams
- Taking time to understand request processes and sprint cycles of technical teams
- Celebrating successes and saying Thank You to all stakeholders
- Focusing on the micro and not the macro during implementation
- Offering regular, open education to other teams
- Project management for implementation and usage
To establish governance best practices for a digital MarTech stack, Roman recommended:
- Establishing standardized account structure, tagging architecture, and taxonomy
- Creating governing councils to oversee important projects
- Setting up automated QA where possible
- Inviting legal and data privacy teams into every major project
- Understanding which data vendors collect and why
Session 3: Building a MarTech and Operations Team that Soars
This session featured SAP Concur’s Global VP of Marketing Data and Technology Dave Hsu and veteran recruiter Erica Seidel. The presenters discussed the challenges inherent in building a marketing operations staff for a rapidly-growing enterprise team with the heart of a startup – namely, the employee expense solution Concur, which was recently acquired by well-known enterprise SaaS firm SAP.
Seidel began the discussion with her search for Concur’s global VP to head up marketing data and technology. Typical MarTech hires “tend to be MarTech 101 candidates,” as many companies are looking to kickstart their tech stacks and need a caretaker for a handful of applications. However, some opportunities as so-called “unicorn hires” that require many different facets, such as being versed in MarTech, being technical, and being an excellent communicator.
MarTech East 2019: How to hire for unicorn MarTech execs.
In those cases, teams should be prepared to share as much intel as possible with recruiters, even an overabundance of details on their tech stack, current operations, and future goals, to best inform the process. Teams should also have a sense of where “on the scale” their dream hire resides – is their next marketing leader an extroverted evangelist, or an introverted, behind-the-scenes coordinator? Specialist or generalist?
Realistically, such on-demand hires won’t stay around forever, either. Seidel suggested a more-practical approach to sourcing executive-level hires with rare skillsets is to set expectations for a tour of duty – not an endless tenure. Seidel concluded that her search ended with Hsu, who began his tenure at the company last year.
Hsu explained that while he was hired to drive significant growth, the company was highly distributed worldwide and its marketing team relied heavily on “analysts” who performed most of the heavy lifting on marketing projects. In practice, this meant that request tickets piled up in analysts’ queues. Hsu set about building out a MarTech team, which included project management, MarTech enablement, regional execution, data strategy, and analytics to fill in the specific gaps he saw.
Hsu offered the following suggestions on what to look for in marketing operations hires:
- Purpose – Most importantly, good marketing ops hires are passionate about some aspect of what they do
- Communication – Good ops professionals have storytelling skills and can explain complex concepts in a way that anyone can understand
- Proficiency – Last and least, technical proficiency is important, but pales in comparison to passion and communication
In addition, Hsu asserted that the best operations professionals understand their work is yeoman’s work. Operations professionals rarely get positive recognition (but occasionally get negative attention when something breaks). Most other team members won’t see the little wins or the disasters that were prevented early. The best operations professionals understand and accept these terms.
Hsu closed the session by offering a few final insights:
- In MarTech, the work never ends – Implementation is just the beginning
- Project management is essential for operations
- MarTech professionals would do well to learn Agile practices from IT
- Operational excellence isn’t celebrated often, so leaders need to elevate top performers
- MarTech skills will be table stakes for the future
Session 4: From the Wild West to Business Best: Tales of a New MarTech Team
Featuring @davehsu and Emily Cnossen
This session featured SAP Concur’s Global VP of Marketing Data and Technology Dave Hsu and MarTech analyst Emily Cnossen. The presenters took a deeper dive into the building of the SAP Concur MarTech team.
According to the presenters, SAP Concur’s marketing team had ten or so separate business units, each with separate business budgets, goals, and tools. The fragmented landscape led to a kind of “lawlessness” as teams freely purchased disparate tools so long as they had the budget for it.
MarTech East 2019: A recommended series of steps for MarTech procurement.
The presenters explained that, with the support of marketing leadership, they created a “MarTech charter” that tied future MarTech purchases to business goals to support the company’s overall goals of growth, efficiency, and better user experience. In practice, this meant that MarTech stacks at SAP Concur needed to be scalable, optimized, and driven by data. Their initial tactics included:
- Conducting a company-wide MarTech audit – To discover the sum total of all solutions being used, then score them along a quadrant that mapped high adoption against high value. Solutions that were seeing both high adoption and high value were prioritized for support and expansion; solutions that saw neither adoption nor value were put into consideration for re-evaluation.
- Building a quarterly MarTech implementation roadmap – By building an internal roadmap shared with all internal teams, SAP Concur’s MarTech team clearly communicated which projects it was focusing on currently as a priority, and when future products were forecasted for completion.
- Established a MarTech council – Drafting stakeholders from multiple teams, the MarTech group created an internal council to review MarTech solutions, effectiveness, and productivity, while giving cross-functional groups both decision-making authority as well as some “skin in the game.”
The MarTech team eventually concocted a multi-step process for approving new MarTech purchases, including:
- Formal requests – Involving an initial review by both the MarTech team and council
- Evaluation – Involving a detailed requirements list, a top vendor list, and RFPs
- MarTech council review – Involving ranked scorecards and presentations to the council
- Additional review – Involving technical integration assessments
- Final stages – Involving a final statement of work (SOW) from the business champion
- Enablement – Involving enablement and training materials as needed – enablement being a key part of adoption, often involving a “starter pack” that included, at minimum, instructions on how to access a tool, a tip sheet, a list of frequently asked questions (FAQ), and a few in-depth tip sheets for common use cases
Day 1 Evening Keynote: The Disruption Mindset: Why Some Organizations Transform While Others Fail
The final session of Day 1, a keynote from former analyst and bestselling author Charlene Li, covered the essence of disruption in business. Li began her session by suggesting that traditional consideration of disruption is backwards. Rather than thinking in terms of trying to build disruptive technology to pave the way for growth, businesses should realized that growth itself is a powerful disruptor. The pace of change in business is accelerating. Even the most successful businesses in the world, which appear in the blue-chip S&P 500 list, will have an average tenure of only 12 years within the stock index before being phased out – far shorter than ever.
MarTech East 2019: Successful companies remain in the S&P 500 for shorter periods of time.
Li asserted that the three keys to disruption are strategy, leadership, and culture. According to the author, the key element of strategy for the most successful businesses is focusing on future customers – the as-yet unknown, unseen customers that might not exist today. Disruptive companies spend more than half their time looking years into the future for these future customers.
The author cited the example of Adobe, which, in 2010, realized it would need to move away from its packaged Creative Suite products to a monthly recurring revenue (MRR) SaaS model. However, the company’s leadership realized this change would resonate throughout its business and lead to decreased revenue for at least two years.
Nevertheless, Adobe’s leadership began its migration, and the painful process of reporting lower income quarter after quarter – while also seeing its stock price increase during the same period. Li attributed this success to the company presenting a united front to Wall Street with revised, but clear expectations, which it continued to meet every quarter.
To focus on the future customer, Li recommended five tactics:
- Placing customers in your dashboards – Carefully monitoring user behavior, particularly for emerging trends
- Sparking curiosity about customers with ‘empathy maps’ – Tracking what customers are saying, doing and feeling
- Creating a customer advisory board (CAB) – To include not simply the biggest and happiest customers, but also the most demanding and unhappy, whose edge cases and complaints may reveal important future insights
- Define future customer with research, not hearsay – Focus on data, not executive opinions
- Connect your customer-obsessed people – Collect feedback from the people in your organization who are naturally inclined to focus on customers
To disrupt leadership, Li suggested that transformational leadership means “creating a movement” – something that will continue even without you. To disrupt leadership, Li recommended three tactics:
- Keep relationships at the center of the movement
- Sustain consistent leadership presence
- Create a manifesto that inspires action
For all three tactics, Li cited the example of T-Mobile CEO John Legere, who transformed his company from America’s fourth-place mobile phone carrier to “the un-carrier.” Legere has created close relationships with customers and shown consistent presence by obsessively interacting with T-Mobile customers on social media, and transformed the way store associates interact with customers. To gauge the disruptiveness of leadership, Li suggested a “disruption quotient” – an abstract 1-10 scale on which a 1 represents complete aversion to change, and a 10 indicates total embrace of change. The author suggested four leadership archetypes: the “steadfast manager,” the “realist optimist,” the “worried skeptic,” and the “agent provocateur,” which lie on corners of a quadrant that plots genuinely inspiring leadership against openness to change.
Finally, Li turned to the often nebulous concept of culture. Disruptive companies adopt a “flux culture,” that prioritizes solutions, sharing information, is highly skeptical of existing methods, and tests to find deficiencies, while conservative companies adopt a “stuck culture” that adheres to “the way we’ve always done it,” hoards information, blindly trusts that today’s methods will remain relevant, and primarily runs tests to prove that it was right all along. The author explained three specific beliefs that are common in disruptive cultures:
- Openness – A culture of openness is built on trust without need to question the motivations of others, and enables speed
- Agency – A culture of agency is about accountability and ownership – in contrast to a customer of empowerment, which requires one part to enable others
- Bias for action – A bias for action drives teams to take action as soon as they know the right direction, but requires that they never stand still
To re-invent a company’s culture, Li posited a new model of a ‘culture operating system’ governed by three factors:
- Organization – Rethinking organizational structure as a hybrid model that emphasizes operational relationships rather than top-down hierarchy
- Process – Isolating low-value tasks while clarifying the value of important tasks for stakeholders
- Lore – Building out a company’s internal story with rituals that reinforce a company’s culture
The author closed her presentation by asserting that disruption only happens when teams move out of their comfort zone.
(That’s a wrap for Day 1 of our MarTech East 2019 coverage. Read more coverage from the event below.)