Have you noticed a digital transformation happening all around? You see it every day: on your cell phone, the displays and functions of your car, on your TV and in the smart bulb you put in a light fixture. Digital advances are popping into most other things, too. Have you implemented – or even thought about – improving digital marketing sophistication for your business?
No matter where you think you lie within digital sophistication, now is a good time to assess where you stand with current technology to identify areas where you are ahead of the curve – as well as where you’re behind it. That leads to one big question:
What’s your technology stack?
This refers to the suite of programs, software and/or tools used to build and run the infrastructure of your company’s everyday functions as well as the deployment of your products and services.
Parts of your “stack” include: office software, billing, accounting, email, inventory, shipping/receiving, time keeping, project management, operational software, and HR/benefits portals. There are more options to add to this list – some are marketing technology stack-specific. These may be unique to your business or industry.
Other possibilities could be tasks or roles that you choose to digitize by adding new software or tools, which moves your own digital transformation forward.
It’s a good time to open up to change – and likely a technology upgrade here and there.
Technology implementation: Where do you begin?
If you were to put technology into place at home, you’d likely pick a starting point that was somewhat discreet. Maybe a few lightbulbs can be programmed to turn on when you arrive home from work. Many people begin with a smart thermostat to create zones and schedules. This allows them to utilize household utilities efficiently, potentially saving money in the process.
How do you begin implementing or evolving technology in your business? For many small- and medium-sized companies, the investment required to adopt a digital strategy across the entire organization may be prohibitive in cost, risk and manpower. Interestingly, a marketing technology stack might be the easiest place to start for a number of reasons:
- The technology offerings are abundant and there are options for many different processes and tactical implementations.
- The price point is minimal as it relates to a percentage of the entire technology stack across the organization.
- While not ideal, marketing technology (martech) can stand on its own – in a silo, if you will. While it becomes even more effective when connected to other internal systems, it doesn’t have to connect to the ERP or POS or even the CRM to provide value. (Caveat: Unless you’re an e-commerce company.)
- Martech provides a near-instant way to bring visibility into return on investment, as opposed to larger, cross-organizational systems.
- When they’re implemented correctly, martech systems provide performance data that empowers a business to make more strategic business decisions.
Technology and your business: A love/hate relationship
Bringing technology into your personal life is one thing, but introducing a digital transformation strategy including new tech into your business is an entirely different ball of wax. Personal technology can fail or falter and you can recover – most of the time, anyway.
However, business technology has a lot more riding on it. A blip in the system results in losing important data if you haven’t backed up everything properly. Furthermore, faulty implementation within your systems creates any number of data gaps – or worse.
This possibility terrifies some business owners to the point of paralysis. They want to implement new technology but are uncomfortable with the perceived risk or the unknowns involved. Often, the business owner or manager lacks first-hand experience with the technology; they likely don’t know how to enable it, operate it or manage it.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The thing about digital evolution for a lot of organizations is that it counters the “We’ve always done it that way” mantra. It involves technology that those in the C-suite may not be comfortable with or knowledgeable about.
This creates a control issue, because once the new technology is implemented, the business owner may not be in total control of every process anymore. They have to rely on someone else to keep critical systems functioning. Many times, that control is difficult for a business owner or founder to give up. They’ve nurtured and grown this business since inception. In the early days, they probably wore most hats. It’s like sending a child off to school for the first time. Now you have to count on someone else not to mess up.
Like sending your kids to school, though, there comes a time where making that leap is the right thing to do: it leads to the path towards growth.
Plus, one day you may find that the absence of new technology is more of a burden than the current systems or procedures. Then, it’s time to make the leap regardless of senior management’s (or anyone’s) comfort level with the new technology. When it works and everyone knows what they are doing, technology can streamline processes and facilitate efficient production in every department.
Moral of the story: business owners need to get comfortable with not knowing every single moving part of the business if they want to scale. Growth and evolution begin when you trust people in your organization to be responsible for certain tasks or roles. This leaves you room to focus on the big picture and discover new ways to make your business succeed. Hiring good staff, or external partners that you trust, enables you to execute your vision.
Technology spending considerations
According to a study by Spiceworks, 80% of all companies expect marketing budgets to grow or remain steady, with 45% of small businesses expecting an increase as technology shifts toward digital. Account-based marketing (ABM) leads in new budget spending.
Your growth rate is an important aspect to consider when looking at digital marketing budgeting in 2021 and beyond. Companies that expand further into current or into new markets likely need more people space, and most importantly, tech solutions, to support that growth.
More than half of companies surveyed plan to spend more on marketing technology this year, with other growth spends earmarked for influencer marketing and purchase-intent targeting. Content and digital marketing go hand in hand, so it’s no surprise that creative partners make up 30% of planned spends, with ad/digital partners accounting for 27%.
While digital expenditures seem like they’ll continue to grow for the time being, there are other areas where you can consider trimming budgets to free up money for what matters. Look at cutting trade shows, swag and community giving as options.
Beyond your marketing campaign: Business technology
Technology streamlines processes from production to sales. However, digitizing or modernizing business systems is a pretty big deal that some business owners balk at. It may be too disruptive, risky or expensive to dive all in at once – and that’s OK.
Many people think of business technology as the business systems that underpin the entire organization, like ERP or operational systems. That is why they are overwhelmed at the thought of implementing new ones. There is so much connected to those systems, and so much depends on them working smoothly, that the risk of disruption is high. In fact, the whole endeavor is high risk, causing many tech-leery business owners to shy away from it.
That’s what makes the marketing department a good place to get your feet wet. What you learn by implementing smaller software solutions can be applied to the larger systems. Plus, you’ll go into the implementation of something like an ERP with a little more confidence as well.
Worth the investment? The bottom line of business tech
Marketing technology makes up more than a third of the average company’s marketing budget, according to a report by global research and advisory firm Gartner. In fact, MarTech spending has surpassed advertising spending for some businesses as organizations realize the value of the investment.
Front office to back office operations can be digitized. Depending on your selection criteria and which solutions you implement, they may also be integrated. All of the elements required to bring your tech onboard – training, implementation, maintaining and addressing problems – can be overwhelming. Plus, there’s the expense of switching from paid-for systems to updated technology, which can be a hefty investment.
Weigh that cost against the potential result. The right technology stack can transform your business, increasing production and efficiency. The key is to take it one step at a time. Build the tech as you are able.
Expanding your business tech
Introducing new or updated technology into your business is not as cumbersome as you may be thinking. Keep your business model, objectives and goals in mind and take it step by step:
- Assess what the technology needs to accomplish.
- Compare available options with your business requirements.
- Perform a trial of at least one system to ensure it does what is promised.
- Make a choice and implement the program.
- Implement training for those in your company that will use it regularly (and a backup person if possible).
- Let the tech do its job.
- Implement a data collection and analysis cycle. Figure out what you want to measure and what decisions you’ll make based on those measurements.
- Build in junctions for assessment and ask questions like: How are we doing with it? How far along are we? Are we ready to implement more functionality? Are we ready to connect it to other systems?
Keys to developing your marketing technology stack
The tools in a marketing technology stack will vary from one business to another. However, there are some things to keep in mind as you develop yours:
- Make sure each tool within your stack fulfills a certain purpose. Each task should have a specific role to play in the organization. That can be defined in either a tactical manner or as it relates to business goals.
- Create a stack that either does or has the potential to provide benefits across a number of categories.
- Inventory your organizational needs and goals so that you can identify features of your tech stack that line up with them.
- If you are uncomfortable with technology, start small and ease into it. Slowly build on your stack or operate it within a departmental silo until you are ready to integrate it into other processes.
- Educate yourself and your staff in using the technology.
- Designate at least one person on your staff to immerse themselves in the technology you choose so that they can attain expert status and provide strong support. This will help with training, troubleshooting and addressing most challenges or issues that arise.
You can no longer afford to bury your head in the sand when it comes to the digital transformation if you want to remain viable in your industry. Don’t despair; there’s help out there.
External partners are a great solution to assessing your needs, helping you implement them, training your team and setting you up for success. Savoir Faire helps our clients identify where their technology stacks are today and where they need to be tomorrow.