When I asked three different MarTech experts to tell me what MarTech is, they each had a slightly different approach to explaining the term.
But no matter where their answers started, they all landed in the same place: MarTech is meant to make marketers more efficient.
Marketers are facing growing responsibilities and challenges, and technology is something that can supercharge their efforts—but only if wielded thoughtfully. Layering technology on top of processes that don’t work, without thinking about key business outcomes or customer needs is an exercise in futility.
We’re going to dive into what marketing leaders need to know about MarTech and how to approach building an intentional tech stack that works for their team. Let’s get started.
“Strictly by definition, MarTech is marketing technology,” David Kreitter, marketing operations practitioner formerly at companies like Broadcom and Workato, told me. And it’s one third of what makes up the software trifecta: People, Process, Technology (PPT).
PPT is a framework that has been leveraged in the software and IT world for decades. To put it simply, people do the work, processes make the work more efficient, and technology is the avenue where the work gets done.
“In the case of marketing technology, the whole job is to figure out how do we optimize the way these three things—people, process, and technology—work together to grow the business and improve return on investment and revenue.”
So MarTech is the technology that helps marketers get their work done in a way that hopefully leads to an increase in ROI. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise.
But why MarTech?
Justin Norris, Director of Marketing Ops at 360Learning, explains the creation of MarTech as something to help marketers have more control over their workflows. Before tools like Marketo or HubSpot became table stakes for marketing teams, marketers were much more reliant on their IT department. “The idea is, we’re going to put these tools into the hands of marketers. Then they can send their own emails, they can write their own workflows. They’re going to be liberated from those very long cycles of relying on IT to do those things,” Norris said.
CDP institute founder David Raab created a timeline to identify when the true start of MarTech began, taking us all the way back to Paleolithic times when the first signs appeared. Aren’t cave paintings, after all, really just nature’s billboard?
While marketing channels and data inputs have technically existed for thousands of years, it wasn’t until the late twentieth century that applications created to manage data and marketing initiatives became a reality. From there, the proliferation of computers is where the biggest shift happened, bringing email, search engines, e-commerce, and more into the fold. We’ve rounded out the MarTech explosion since with the rise of social media as a major marketing channel in the 2010s and are now seeing AI-powered tools race onto the market.
We are currently faced with more MarTech than we could possible ever implement, with Scott Brinker, VP of platform ecosystem at HubSpot, charting 9,932 tools on his most recent exploration of the landscape. Since he began this yearly project in 2011, there has been 6,521% growth in the number of MarTech tools on the market.
No matter how amazing the tool or the process, it doesn’t matter if the people doing the work won’t adopt it. This is just one of the ways that the “people” part of PPT manifests.
“I think employee experience is an interesting example of one of the benefits that technology can provide,” Kreitter said. “People want to work, and they want to enjoy doing their work. If technology can help people adhere to a certain process that really helps drive the business forward, that’s a benefit to be considered.”
Great tools and great processes = great outcomes. But only if everyone is on board.
There are ways to improve tech adoption across your department, and these should be top of mind when you consider bringing new tools onto your team: Teach your employees how to use the software; set actionable, measurable goals around what the tool should result in and make sure everyone knows how they’re contributing to that metric; focus on the problem you are trying to solve and communicate it clearly.
Adoption isn’t the only way that your team should be involved in creating your tech stack. MarTech implementation is also a great opportunity for learning.
When going through the evaluation process for new tools to solve for a marketing issue your team is facing, having relevant stakeholders in the room for conversations with vendors can be a great learning opportunity. Chances are if you’re looking for a technical solution to a problem, you may also be looking for some advice on the problem itself.
“Vendors love, love, love to educate you about how their products fit into an overall marketing stack. If you don’t know about SEO, ask the SEO vendors. You don’t know marketing automation? Ask the marketing automation vendor to explain it to you,” Pam Didner, B2B marketing consultant, podcaster, and author advises.
Apprehension or intimidation are a couple of things that keep marketers from adopting new tools. By viewing the evaluation and implementation process as a chance to upskill and educate your team, you’re making the tech’s value more evident and also removing some of the barriers from the adoption process.
Didner suggests either zooming out or zooming in when you begin creating your tech stack. You can take a “bottom-up” approach by lasering in on one channel you want to build out (i.e. email marketing). Focus on implementing tools that will help you scale in this area. This strategy is a good approach for someone who feels overwhelmed by technology and doesn’t have much implementation support—start small and grow from there.
Alternatively, you can take a “top-down” approach by identifying the objectives you want to achieve then working backwards to figure out the channels and tech that should accompany it. The most important thing if you take this approach is to have a point of view. “This is something I always tell marketers,” said Didner. “You need to educate yourself about technology. A lot of the time people are overwhelmed, and that’s because they don’t know how to think about [technology.] The only way to deal with that is to learn about it and have a point of view.”
Once you’ve figured out your approach, you’ll actually start evaluating solutions for your tech stack. You are likely choosing between a variety of point solutions and larger workflow solutions.
“I broadly group tools into two sorts of categories,” Norris explained. “There’s Ikea tools and Home Depot tools.”
“Ikea tools” are pretty much DIY tools that are what they say they are—they aren’t particularly customizable or configurable but are easy for a business user to set up and get started with. “Home Depot tools,” on the other hand, are more like toolkits: “You’ve got your lumber and you’ve got your screws and nails. And you can build almost anything you want,” according to Norris.
But endless configuration, integration, and setup opportunities probably won’t be as important for a small marketing team as it is for an enterprise.
One of the major things to consider when deciding what kind of tool is best for your team is the resources you have for maintenance, support, and configuration. “There’s a decision to be made around how quickly do we think we are going to grow? How fast do we think we need to scale, and how much of our time and resources can we spend on this?” Those are some of the considerations Norris recommends making.
If you’re rapidly scaling, going too simple with your tech stack might come back to bite you. A hefty CRM migration can take a lot of time money, so choosing a platform you’ll grow out of quickly might not make sense in the long run.
If you’re a small marketing team with limited freelance budget and little technical support in house, though, Ikea tools are probably a good place to start. Like Didner says, “start small,” and watch your channel grow before expanding outside of it.
Norris recommends always starting with the customer: “I think the most important thing is to not let the technology dictate the strategy. It comes back to the principles of good marketing and starting with the customer—understanding their needs, what message is going to resonate with them, how you’re looking to reach them, or what experience you’re looking to create for them. Then look at how do you actually execute on that—it’s at that level of execution that technology can become valuable, whether it’s providing you data that you wouldn’t otherwise have or enabling you to reach people through channels.”
Kreitter encourages you to dig into business KPIs: “Make sure that there's a quantifiable or at least measurable metric that you believe this technology is going to help you with and that way you can tell when the when your renewal is up, like has this improved the situation or not? Is it worth it?”
Not only does this give you a north star when choosing tools—it also gives you a metric to track whether or not the product is living up to your expectations. In addition to using numbers to measure the tangible impact of your marketing stack, Kreitter recommends bringing numbers into the conversation around what and when to automate.
“I constantly think about what are the things that my team is doing every day or week or month that are sort of a rinse and repeat process. Are there things that we're doing on a regular basis that are a little bit repetitive and could potentially be automated? That’s a good indicator that maybe there's a tool out there to help.
But it's all relative. You have to be able to quantify how much time are people really spending on something and how much does that cost the business roughly to figure out how big of a problem it is.”
For Didner, it’s all about building workflows that lead you to the tech you need: “Build workflows. The only way you can start asking questions about your processes is by building workflows around the stuff you’re doing.” Didner calls to mind the example of running a monthly webinar: From promotion to registration setup to analyzing ad and email marketing performance to thanking attendees afterwards or adding them to a drip campaign and tracking their engagement along the journey—there are endless small tasks you need to repeat every month for this event.
She recommends writing every part of this process down and zooming out to evaluate it holistically. Ask yourself how you can optimize it? Where can you do better? How can you become more efficient through technology?