Welcome to the new age of marketing tech—the era of distributed platforms, microservices, and modularization.

The number of available solutions has grown rapidly over the past several years, and marketing channels have been multiplying faster than marketers can keep up. Last year alone, the number of marketing-tech offerings—everything from all-in-one solutions to individual best-of-breed platforms—increased 40%.

The number of products on the market indicates that most of them aren't suites incorporating multiple solutions but, rather, point solutions designed to fill individual needs.

As companies grow and evolve, their needs also evolve. As a result, marketers are now relying less on bundled enterprise suites and more on homegrown stacks composed of best-of-breed solutions.

But it's not always clear what's to be done. Marketers need a way to weave all of their solutions together and make the most of their tools without a ton of work on the back end. And it's no surprise that best-of-breed solutions are superior only when they can work in lockstep as if they were an all-in-one solution.

That brings us to one of marketers' biggest challenges: choosing the right solutions.

For marketers faced with the daunting prospect of building out their own flexible marketing stack, there are steps they can take to make the process much less of a headache.

When choosing solutions, don't overlook integrations

When you're shopping for new solutions, integrations should be top of mind. They are key to building out your marketing stack: They can make or break implementation.

Regardless of your company's size, cumbersome or poorly executed integrations can do more harm than good. Clunky third-party integrations can hobble otherwise powerful marketing solutions and make it difficult to maintain a smoothly operating stack and to iterate when needed.

The bottom line: the more work required on the back end, the less nimble and scalable your stack becomes.

With that in mind, look for tools with built-in integrations or, at the very least, use third parties with connector technologies and applications that can group together tools and data in a way that can provide actionable insights. And, if you're a small or midsize business (SMB), you'll need a partner who can both deliver a smooth integration and carry out some of the work for you.

Native integrations are a game-changer because they offload the burden of pairing together otherwise incompatible solutions. In the end, if the task of integration becomes too great, it will negate the ROI on a new solution.

Choose a solution that does the heavy lifting for you

The point of marketing automation is to free up your human capital (your people) to focus on higher-level strategy. But it can backfire—especially if you're not using the full extent of your solutions or if your tech team is spending too much of its time troubleshooting.

The point of automation is to free up your team's time while providing tangible insights and results.

Marketers should look for solutions with predictive modeling and prescriptive analytics capabilities. That means solutions that go beyond "if this, then that" logic—combining data-based triggers, actions, and logic to create automated workflows.

An intelligent solution can jump between workflows and anticipate customer actions and intent, therefore not saving time but also boosting conversions.

Don't bite off more than you can chew

Your marketing stack should grow with you. Most companies start out with an ambitious idea of what they want to accomplish, which is why they're often drawn to the broad capabilities of all-in-one solutions. But less is often more.

The great thing about a best-of-breed stack is that it allows you to go to market quickly and then build onto it later, so there's no need to adopt solutions that you can't or won't use. It's better to start with the basics and then scale as your company's individual needs and goals evolve.

For example, an SMB might not need to integrate its marketing solution with an enterprise resource planning (ERP), accounting, or e-commerce system at first. Instead, it will probably be more focused on the core of its marketing goals, such as customer outreach and lead generation—so it really needs only marketing automation and a CRM. But as the company grows and its needs become more complex, it will want to bring all of the above systems into the fold to deliver more personalized customer experiences.

* * *

Whether you're considering moving from an all-in-one approach to a best-of-breed one or just getting your feet wet with marketing solutions, the key is to be thoughtful in your approach. There are a lot of options, which can make the process feel overwhelming. But it doesn't need to be scary.

The proliferation of marketing solutions and the rise of best-of-breed stacks is a response to marketers' changing needs in an increasingly decentralized digital world. And that means there's an opportunity to curate a marketing stack that gives you exactly what you want.

With a bit of forethought, a solid understanding of your goals, and knowledge of what to look for, you can choose solutions that work seamlessly together to deliver on your marketing goals.

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Marketing Technology: Navigating the Shift From All-in-One to Best-of-Breed Solutions

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image of Jason VandeBoom

Jason VandeBoom is the founder and CEO of ActiveCampaign, an integrated marketing automation platform that helps growing businesses find the perfect blend of automation and human touch.

LinkedIn: Jason VandeBoom

Twitter: @jvandeboom