We marketers are fast becoming the largest purchasers of technology in organizations, and we need to be able to evaluate new tools and applications through the eyes of IT professionals.
As the marketing technology space becomes more crowded with multiple vendors offering similar products, we need ways to quickly evaluate vendors and their technology to determine whether the new tool will accelerate marketing results, or whether we'll still be trying to make it work six months from now.
Implementing new marketing technology comes with risks—from low user adoption and conflicts with other departments to data-security concerns and integration with existing systems. How do you ensure your next purchase will be successful? Here are five questions you should ask every vendor during consultations.
1. What does the implementation look like in my environment?
Almost every organization has some level of customization of existing applications that could complicate a seemingly simple installation of new technology. Ensure you have a solid understanding of what customizations have been made, and communicate those to the vendor early in the process.
Speak with your system administrators and IT department to get a clear understanding of what applications will be affected—including tools in use by other functions and departments.
When a vendor says setup is "quick and easy," that rarely applies to any environment other than a generic one. You need to understand the subtleties in your systems and processes that could affect setup and installation of the new technology, making the process go from "quick and easy" to "slow and complicated" (and costly).
Consider everything from customized and mandatory fields that your company uses to manual and automated processes that could be affected by the introduction of new tools.
2. Is this another dashboard I get to log on to and look at every morning?
You should already know how the new technology will integrate with existing tools and applications from a functional perspective, but it's also important to understanding integration from a process perspective.
An integration with Google Analytics is great, but does the application have another interface with different data that requires yet another login?
You want to ensure your data is flowing seamlessly between applications, and you want to avoid inundating your team with multiple usernames and dashboards; they can be a headache to manage, but more significantly they can also create silos of data, preventing your team from gaining a complete and accurate view.
Depending on the team's tolerance level and skill sets, exporting and aggregating results from multiple applications for analysis may or may not be feasible.
3. What services and support are included?
The two biggest items to ask about are training and support.
For some applications with limited usage or functionality, training may be less of a consideration, but support should always be widely available. Understanding what's included in your subscription or fees will ensure a smoother implementation.
For applications with more features and functionality, training becomes increasingly important. Users need to understand not only how to navigate the system for their day-to-day work but also how to use the product more efficiently to get the most out of the tool.
The best training is customized to your own work processes and offers multiple types of training so that users can self-select what works best for them—from self-serve resources, online-tutorials, or remote sessions.
Also worth considering is best-practice-based training for your team. Though users need to know which menu item to select to run a report, or how to set up and send an automated email, there may be other gaps in knowledge that can be improved during the technology implementation: Which types of reports are best suited for specific stakeholders? How could I integrate more social content into this campaign?
Even the best marketers will learn something new during these sessions, and having exciting new tools to work with can accelerate adoption of best-practices.
4. What skills does my team need if it is to use and support this technology?
Every technology needs an internal champion to build awareness of the tool, overcome roadblocks, and drive adoption; but, when all the knowledge and skills are held by one person, you run a substantial risk if that person ever leaves the team or the company.
Your technology vendor can help to some extent by aiding in identifying super users and explaining what skills would be required to use the tool as an expert. For example, is it beneficial to have experience with Google Analytics? Will we need to work with the data in Excel? How much design skill is required?
Marketing technologies often support one area of marketing more than others, but the best tools will build overall expertise in the team and help move everyone forward instead of just one or two people.
5. Can we conduct the implementation in stages?
Most technology vendors provide some form of trial period to give organizations the opportunity to test the application in their own environment, build a business case for the tool, and get users excited about the technology.
That approach is great for when the implementation is simple and there is little integration with existing systems. However, for larger implementations with more requirements, a trial period is rarely enough of a test for ensuring success.
When the application has wide reach throughout the team or it's functionally complex (or both), it's best to explore ways of staggering the implementation instead of implementing the entire range of features all at once. By starting with specific user groups, workflows, or features, not you not only increase your chance of success but also possibly spread out the costs associated with a new tool.
There are other considerations
There are other questions to consider when evaluating a new piece of technology, and the biggest consideration is ultimately what problem the tool will solve for you or which opportunities it will enable.
Technology alone will rarely fix underlying challenges. You need a skill set and process to support any implementation, and you need to have the backing of your IT team and other functions.
Even if your applications are highly marketing-specific, it's unlikely that they won't affect other functions, such as IT, Web, or Sales. It's worth understanding whether you're making their lives easier or harder. So get all of your stakeholders in the room to discuss the implementation and make sure that the vendor knows everyone who's affected and who should be involved in the decision.
Great vendors will be able to support you throughout the entire process and help you navigate the implementation plan and testing.