“We have customers that have 400 different types of tools in what they consider their marketing technology stack,” Anita Brearton, founder and CEO of martech management company CabinetM, shared with an auditorium full of marketers at the MarTech Conference in Boston last week.

Some businesses have made technology acquisition oversight a priority. Yet in many companies, individual departments are buying their own technologies without regard to what other teams may already be using. How can enterprises ensure that their technology budgets are being well spent and managed companywide?

Brearton led a panel discussion with marketers from different industries with different stacks, who all developed martech acquisition processes for their companies.

Picking the right platforms, getting the most out of them

Martech stacks evolve as new capabilities and needs arise, which can create a neverending cycle of product evaluation, implementation and retirement. If left unchecked, that cycle can result in wasted budget, disinterested stakeholders and falling short of your goals. Teams can address this potential pitfall by framing their decisions with the most important use cases in mind and establishing an internal champion for each product.

“We really only looked at four or five real big key use cases . . . So, we kept a pretty tight roadmap and we knew that these were the use cases that we wanted to evaluate and buy for,” explained panelist John Jagelsky, senior manager of marketing operations for QuickBase.

internal owner of every tool. I think it’s really important that you have that person who is responsible for the KPIs and the success of that tool and driving that accountability. That’s definitely a peril where I’ve fallen down in the past, where we got the team all amped up and excited about a new tool coming into the stack, but that no one really owns the ongoing enablement and optimization of it — it just falls down and we lose ROI pretty quickly.”

There are circumstances, however, in which an emphasis on a limited number of use cases or assigning accountability for each platform may lean out your stack to the point of hindering your team’s efficiency.

“I don’t think there’s necessarily a right answer to how many you off-load or on-load per year,” said panelist Stacy Falkman, formerly of Paychex and now senior customer success manager for 6Sense, conveying a common sense approach, “because we’re going to try this [vendor] and if we’re paying them money to drive value and drive top-of-line funnel fill, we’re going to offload them if they’re not going to work out.”

Getting demos, asking around and trying before you buy

“We would always push, regardless of the size of the vendor, for some type of free trial or promotional period to really kick the tires and see how it’s working,” Falkmain said, “but, the larger the investment that you’re making, sometimes you have to also invest the time to ensure that you’re giving the platform the time it needs to be successful in your organization. And, if you restrict yourself to a short window of time, then you’re just setting yourself up for failure.”

In situations where a free trial isn’t offered, as may be the case with more expensive platforms, Falkman advised that marketers push vendors to build relevant demos that represent what your organization is trying to accomplish to precisely illustrate how the technology is going to work for your company.

“There’s actually something we’re working on right now where we want to add some functionality, and another department in our university uses a product that meets most of our needs,” panelist Steve Petersen, marketing technology manager for Western Governors University said. “We don’t know if that’s going to be long-term, but if we can piggyback off of them, we can do a proof-of-concept phase very cheaply, and then ask, ‘Is this worth an investment? Do we stick with this one vendor or do we invest a lot more in something that’s closer to what we need?’”

and quirks and should be a component of your evaluation process. Sites like G2 and CabinetM provide insights from users and side-by-side comparisons of vendor offerings.

“Ask the vendor for people that are in your industry, that are doing the same things as you, not someone who’s completely in another space,” Jagelsky advised in situations where the vendor wants to connect you with an existing customer for a testimonial.

Involve other internal groups early

A new product may be chosen by, and primarily benefit, one department of your company, but getting the purchase processed may involve your financial or accounting department. And with GDPR, CCPA and other privacy-focused regulations now part of the equation, your legal and information security teams may also need to be involved.

“In enterprises, it’s always tough,” Falkman prefaced, emphasizing respect for other departments involved in the process, “I think it’s just making friends with [members of other teams] . . . They have a job, and they’re doing their job for a reason, because they’re looking out for the best interest of the company as well.”