Be a sheep dog to avoid falling into the marketing technology trap

Be a sheep dog to avoid falling into the marketing technology trap 780 441 nMerge

Before I begin addressing the marketing technology trap, let me admit something. I love technology, I love creativity, marketing and sales and I also love asking questions and solving problems. This is probably why my career has been diverse, including being a designer/developer, marketer, IT business development manager and consultant with a dash of the entrepreneurial. I love to learn and challenge current paradigms as well as myself (don’t worry I am my harshest critic!)

Let me also establish something else. I believe if you work in marketing, digital, or creative disciplines right now you have a massive opportunity. I believe, in the not to distant future you will become critical to a businesses strategic success. No longer the department that suffers the ‘chop’ in downturns because you are seen as a cost center. You will be one that is seen as profit generating, strategic and critical to the ever-evolving customer relationship and fragmenting engagement landscape. Although to do this we need to be the sheep dog and step out of the herd.

Do you want to be a marketing technology sheep or a sheep dog?

So let’s start with sheep. Right now we are going through a structural shift that is challenging traditionally held beliefs in how a business configures itself to deliver value to its customers. You know what I am taking about. ‘Digital transformation’ is occurring all around us with varying degrees of success. Some would call this product of disruption or at the very least the fear of it. I would add that it is partially due to the democratization of innovation through access to low cost technology that challenges the centralisation of information and power. In general we gravitate to stories of success based on something that has been done before or perceptions of what may (or may not) be real that can provide us prestige. But what about a world where uncertainty and change is the new norm? What I believe this has given rise to, is the magpie or shiny toy syndrome because we live in a world of hype, promise and potential where the old rules are being challenged, requiring a rethink on how we move forward. Out with the old and in with the new hey? If only it were that simple!

What’s happening right now?

So let’s have a look at some areas companies are investing in as of 2015 onwards. According to econsultancy, companies in Australia in 2015 appear to be prioritising the acquisition of content management systems (CMS) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

Australian marketing technology investments 2015

This may be true, however from our experience marketing automation is on the rise in 2016. CMS and CRM was so last year… or so! Though what we are finding is a little frustrating. Take for example an enterprise in the FS&I sector that use a fantastically capable ‘marketing cloud’ as an email platform for just outbound communications. Or an enterprise servicing the consumer & B2B markets who has a ‘Rolls Royce’ integrated Marketing Automation and a CRM platform but complains about lack of customer understanding and engagement for it’s B2B sales people and the diminishing returns of various digital tactics. Or another enterprise in Melbourne who is looking to outsource their whole marketing and customer engagement capability… lock stock and barrel. Don’t get me started on that one! Finally a number of other SME companies that are approaching the acquisition of marketing technology without any plan on why they need it, what they hope to achieve or how they intend to use it. They just think they need a marketing automation platform because that’s what they are being told. So in trot Marketo, Salesforce Marketing Cloud / Pardot, Hubspot, Eloqua, or Act|On etc. and the problem is solved. Beautiful… but hang on what was the problem? There is a little more to consider than another cloud vendor coming in and selling a platform and a contract… Don’t get me wrong I really like the value propositions and possibilities of these platforms but based on the above examples something isn’t right?

So it seems companies are buying tools to do the same thing they use to do with the ‘old’ technology, skills and capability? Their mental model of addressing uncertainty and change is to not adapt and possibly illustrates an immunity to change? Alternatively they believe the hype, thinking they have secured a platform that will solve all their problems. Let me reassure you that is never the case. ‘Green button’ systems do not exist, particularly when humans are involved! Finally, if it gets too hard they may opt to outsource the lot. That to me is handing the strategic keys and opportunity for a digitally enabled customer driven relationship away. This leads me to question the approach and ask whether these companies are falling into the marketing technology trap?

Be a marketing technology sheep dog to challenge and lead the herd

Referring to my analogy of sheep and sheep dog. What does a sheep dog do? You may think that it just herds the sheep, but it also guards them, keeping them safe from danger, it’s a hard worker, it’s cunning, smart and intelligent and always alert and it seeks outside help when needed. It has been said, “a good dog is worth two workmen.” So we need to become sheep dogs to realise the opportunity!

Rather than jumping to technology first, how might we approach this at a high level and then drill down into the detail to ensure we have covered as many bases as possible? When I approach situations like this I like to think visually, so I use frameworks like the following diagrams to get me thinking more holistically. Get me away from a computer or desk and in front of a whiteboard, creative space and group of people to work with and hold on!

Strategy, Structure, Process, People and Technology

Source: Johnson, Scholes & Whittington 2008

Mckinsey 7 S Framework

Source: McKinsey

Using these frameworks I brainstorm questions that need to be addressed noting the interrelatedness of each axis. This can be difficult but worthwhile. I know it’s easy to get caught up in the technology however we need to step back and ask ourselves some basic strategic questions. There is a lot of data and hype around various marketing technology at the moment but remember the important principle of data analysis, it’s the decision that is important, not the data. To get to a decision you need to answer a considered question. This and Einstein’s quote, “if I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions” indicates that time would be well spent formulating your approach before taking the leap. Here is a little further guidance that might help.

Using the frameworks above and trying to be considerate of outside in approaches, I might focus on developing some very simple questions including:

Question Consideration
Why do we exist? Relates to your why and vision, mission, values and your principles on what you should and should not do etc.
Who do we serve? Relates to your customer, their pain points and your knowledge of their needs.
What are they interested in? Relates to your customer, their beliefs, values, interests and your empathy for them.
How should they be served? Relates to the content they may be interested in and how they may go about accessing it. Also relates to a journey evaluating how they interact with the various touch points and the value they may receive.
Where should they be served? Relates to the context of their interactions. Also relates to their journey and their preferred methods of interaction.
What do we need to do about it? Relates to an evaluation of structure, process, people and technology requirements to address your customer’s needs.
What should we not do? Relates back to your principles, common sense and placing you back in the customers shoes to understand getting 3 million emails a week from your brand might be in your interest but not theirs
What do we currently have? Relates to your current people, skills, technology, processes and structures already in place.
What do we need? Relates to your proposed future people, skills, technology, processes and structures you need in place.
When should we do it? Relates to a project approach.
Who should be involved? Relates to internal and external stakeholders.

This is not exhaustive but you get the picture. These seem like really basic questions, right? Of course they are. Although ask yourself, how often do you or your team reflect on simple questions like these? Exploring the answers to these questions as a group allows you to reach a common understanding on how you might proceed. Once you have some broad-brush strokes now get into a little more detail and explore a few more layers. Some of these might include:

Topic Consideration
Customer Building on your first answers, which is your ideal buyer profile and what is/are the persona(s) to centre all discussions on the value and benefit they will receive. What are their pain points? How might this initiative help them in identifying and addressing their needs? Visualise this so everyone is on the same page. Surround yourself with customer artefacts, quotes and feedback. Don’t start with what benefit your company will receive, this is synonymous with statements like, “we will have more knowledge of our customer,” “we will have a single view of the customer, ” “we will be able to communicate more effectively with our customers.” Of course internal benefits need to be analysed but don’t start here.
Strategy Building on your first answers, ask what do you represent that is valuable to your customer? What are your critical resources and capabilities? What themes, epics and stories will you be addressing and do they relate back to and add value to your customer and strategy.
Use cases These can be drawn out as customer and/or user epics and then iteratively broken down to customer and user stories. They can be prioritised using Fibonacci, MoSCoW or weighting techniques.
Change management People do not like change. If they are being moved from one technology and process (or multiple) to a new way of doing things then change management needs to be considered? Who is the sponsor and who might become vocal advocates? How can you generate some short-term wins to build momentum? Can you build a phased approach to implementation to ensure technology; processes, structure and learning can be bedded in? What is your communications and feedback strategy?
Roadmaps What does your roadmap to develop and manage your marketing technology stack look like? What are the requirements? What are the dependencies? What is the timeframe? Relate it back to your change management thinking.
Architecture Map out the architecture of the current state and future state. Map out the process flows, value chains and the customer journeys. Include all stakeholders in this practice. Include customers where available. Visualise everything.
Operations  What is the right operating structure to manage the new technology, data and the customer conversations? How do we become more responsive? How will the new processes impact our workload? Do we need to evaluate our culture and the way things are done around here? A common misconception is the word automation. Automation doesn’t necessarily mean the workload changes but the nature of work does. Remember humans will be involved and new skills will need to be developed.
Resourcing Do we have the skills available internally? Do we have to go to market? Do these skills exist in the current marketplace? Do we have to factor in skills development for the initiative?
Skills development How do we ensure our employees are equipped with skills to help? How do we ensure the employees are empowered to work in a way that allows them to make decisions quickly, decisively and proactively?
Business case What does your alignment map look like? Does it add value to your customer? What are the benefits and to whom? What are the disbenefits (there will be some)? What are the costs and risks? Start with order of magnitude, and then move to budgeted. What is the present value or return on investment of the initiative? What are your metrics and definition of success? So forth and so on.

Parting thoughts on the marketing technology trap

None of this work is difficult and can be started on the back of a napkin or a whiteboard and then iteratively developed down into detail. Also note that we haven’t discussed technology or delved into detailed requirements. I have discussed this as customer or user epics and stories. So yes, I am implying an agile approach to this activity. To me this makes sense. SaaS vendors have interesting ways of pricing, modularising and describing their platform and approach. Some have frameworks and methodologies that help explain their technology and its application. This makes it challenging to compare and contrast. One of the issues in the IT domain has been aligning IT to strategy. Now that the technology baton is passing to marketers who are supposed to have intimate knowledge of the customer you have a great responsibility. You need cherry pick the best aspects of modern IT and software development thinking. However the trap is if you start with technology you may end up being herded by wolves in sheep’s clothing.


Richard Sharp is Managing Director of nMerge Pty Ltd providing consulting, systems and services to Australian companies as well as partnering with marketing and sales technology vendors and thought leaders in Europe and Silicon Valley, USA. His obsession is helping companies solve problems at the intersection of the customer centric application of technology, marketing and sales programs.

Richard holds an MBA, Master of Information Systems Management, Diploma of Applied Arts (Graphic Design) and certifications in PRINCE2, and Agile DSDM.

Richard can be contacted on:
M: 0415 112 846


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