Building the Right Marketing Stack

In the last year alone, the number of available marketing technology (i.e., martech) solutions grew 39 percent. Despite industry-wide growth, businesses remain split on how to best manage this dizzying array of options. Should I buy an all in one solution? Or can I customize a stack that fits my company's specific needs?

While this debate will continue, I'm going to share my perspective on what's best from my close to 15 years working with tens of thousands of businesses. While there are many business who benefit from an all-in-one solution, more and more I'm hearing from businesses who either feel trapped in a in a costly, cookie-cutter marketing strategy comprised of the most basic tools available or lost in a complex solution where they only use a fraction of the solution.

As the marketing technology ecosystem continues to diversify (beyond the 39 percent growth in the last year) it's becoming apparent that reliance on a single platform fails to capitalize on the powerful variety of solutions available today, especially as so many solutions integrate to enable effective best-of-breed stacks.

The Benefits of Best-of-Breed Stacks
Unlike all-in-one solutions, best-of-breed martech stacks are cheaper to build in almost all cases for one simple reason: You're not paying for solutions that either aren't a fit or don't meet a current need. Through seamless integrations, marketers can customize their stack to meet their unique needs, controlling data and automation between products in a native way.

Suites Become More Costly Over Time

Cost is the number one perceived deterrent to SMBs embracing marketing automation, and it should go without saying that marketing suites have a steep up-front cost. Even when equipped with an all-in-one solution, businesses will find that they cannot completely leverage the technologies included, or that the all-in-one suite doesn't offer every tool needed.

In the end, because all-in-ones can't scale, medium-to-large companies all end up with some form of a stack. The longer a company waits to switch to a best-of-breed approach, though, the more expensive -- and more difficult -- of a switch it is.

Conversely, best-of-breed stacks can adapt to any budget because businesses have the luxury of choosing which solutions to include. Likewise, these stacks can scale in tandem with changing consumer desires. Perhaps, for example, a new social campaign requires deeper insights than its predecessors. A marketer can choose a solution created by a company specializing in social instead of a tech giant that boasts nine other marketing tools, and weave it into her stack. If it works, she can keep it. If not, she can try out another one.

It's paying only for what you need and want in real time, not a never-ending list of unused amenities.

Suites Offer Limited Integration

With all-in-one suites, platform providers want businesses to use their solutions, not ones offered by others. This makes it difficult and often impossible to integrate with the technologies a marketer is already using, or ones she may come across in the future.

Lack of familiarity and simply not knowing where to start are top reasons why SMBs have yet to pursue marketing automation, and even those already using marketing automation software say complexity of use remains a big challenge. Best-of-breed stacks solve for this complexity by natively linking each solution added - as well as the insights and data it makes available. This means the technologies can share integration, development and execution responsibilities, enhancing each other's capabilities while also streamlining marketers' roles. It also means they can start small and benefit from templates or individual solutions, instead of trying to accomplish all at once.

Adding new technologies should never be complicated, and an over-reliance on cumbersome integrations can undo even the most strategic marketing plan. Before adding a new integration, it's important to ask - does this technology further my martech vision and do most of the heavy lifting for me? These goals are not mutually exclusive within a best-of-breed SaaS environment.

If marketers want a platform that actually meets their unique needs, they must resist the allure of "simplicity" and embrace the highly specialized. The resulting stack that SMB marketers should strive for requires diligence to build. Not only should SMBs embrace best-of-breed, but they should choose solutions that allow the finished product to feel like a native solution.

The good news is that business are already building their own stack -- whether they realize it or not. A new report reveals that seventy-six percent of SMBs regularly use more than one marketing software tool, and a third are using four or more. However, while 65 percent of SMBs say they're mature in their use of these marketing technologies/software, less than half are familiar with the concept of a marketing technology stack.

Stakeholders are recognizing the benefits of best-of-breed stacks and are pushing their operations toward this structure, despite not always having the vocabulary to describe the progress at hand. Fortunately, this move to a best-of-breed stack means small businesses can benefit from the tools they need to succeed.

jasonAbout the Author
Jason VandeBoom is the founder and CEO of ActiveCampaign, a marketing platform that helps you make the most of every touchpoint and continuously improve your customer experience, through the right blend of human interaction and automation. The report mentioned above can be found here.

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