A practical guide to building a marketing technology stack
Whether you're starting from scratch or expanding your stack, this guide can help you simplify the martech selection process.
Building a marketing technology stack can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. In this article, I will simplify the process and give you a practical approach to building a custom stack for your organization. The method also works when you want to expand your existing capabilities, allowing you to see holes in your current configuration.
What is a martech stack?
A marketing technology (or martech) stack is the collection of technology and software tools a company uses to manage and execute its marketing activities. Here’s a list of typical components.
- Email service provider (ESP)
- Customer relations management (CRM)
- Marketing automation
- Tools for A/B testing
- Content management system (CMS)
- Social media tools
- Adtech tools
- Customer data platform (CDP)
- Customer experience tools
- Data visualization tools
But I’m not starting from scratch
You probably already have some of these technologies unless you’re a start-up. But whether you’re starting from scratch or building on an existing system, components of your stack are likely to have overlapping functionality. An ESP might have marketing automation components or social media tools, and a CDP might have built-in analytics and its own ESP.
So even if you did start from scratch, you’d still run into the problem of duplicative functionality. After all, nobody mandates the capabilities any marketing software provides. Just because a vendor calls their technology a customer data platform doesn’t mean it has the functions you want or expect in a CDP.
Creating your map
One way to navigate this confusion is to map what you need and what various services provide. Here’s a very simple example.
|Technology A||Technology B||Technology C||Technology D||Technology E|
|Get subject line ideas||Yes||Yes|
|Manage incoming emails||Yes||Yes|
The objective is to create a comprehensive map showing your capabilities and those you want. To create the map you’ll need for your own custom martech stack, start by making a list of all the stack components you think you might need. Use the list I provided above as a starting point.
In each of the rows, list the functions you need. In the columns, list marketing tech applications. This sounds difficult, but you can get a head start using MarTechBot. For example, you can ask MarTechBot to list the top 10 functions and capabilities of an ESP. Here’s the list MarTechBot came up with:
1. Email creation and design: ESPs offer a variety of templates and tools to create visually appealing and engaging emails.
2. List management: ESPs allow you to manage your email list, segment it based on various criteria and maintain its hygiene.
3. Email automation: ESPs offer automation features that allow you to send triggered emails based on subscriber behavior, such as welcome emails, abandoned cart emails and more.
4. Reporting and analytics: ESPs provide detailed reports and analytics on email performance, including open rates, click-through rates and conversion rates.
5. Integration with other marketing tools: ESPs integrate with other marketing tools, such as CRM systems, social media platforms and landing page builders, to provide a seamless marketing experience.
6. A/B testing: ESPs allow you to test different versions of your emails to see which one performs better.
7. Personalization: ESPs offer personalization features that allow you to tailor your emails to individual subscribers based on their preferences and behavior.
8. Deliverability: ESPs have tools and features to ensure that your emails are delivered to your subscribers’ inboxes and not marked as spam.
9. Mobile optimization: ESPs offer mobile-responsive email templates and tools to ensure that your emails look great on mobile devices.
10. API access: ESPs provide API access to allow you to integrate your email marketing with other systems and applications.https://martech.org/martechbot/
The list won’t be perfect. For example, I don’t see “send my email campaigns” on this list. But it will provide a good starting place.
Review and optimize
As you go through the AI-created list, do two things.
- Highlight the functions you require (don’t delete the others).
- Add your own requirements to the list.
There are a couple of reasons not to delete the functions you don’t need. First, they’ll keep coming up anyway, so you might as well have a place for them. Second, just because you don’t need or want them now doesn’t mean you might not in the future. Creating a comprehensive document will help you in the long run.
Follow this same procedure for each of the technologies on your list. You’ll quickly notice lots of overlap between these lists. ESPs, CRMs and CDPs might all have marketing automation capabilities. You’ll also notice that some of the technologies you use will have functions that don’t fit in their category. For example, your ESP might be able to make limited content recommendations or have SMS capabilities.
That’s fine. Just decide where you want each function to live according to your understanding of how that technology should work. Again, there’s no official list of what each technology is supposed to do.
You can readily imagine that this burgeoning technology map is going to become a big spreadsheet.
Once you have all the capabilities in rows, list the technologies you use at the top of each column and fill in the intersecting boxes. You could use a checkmark to indicate that the technology has that capability and use cell colors to indicate things like:
- This is what we use and we like it.
- This is what we use and we don’t like it.
- This technology can do this, but it doesn’t meet our needs.
- We should move this function here.
You’ll devise plenty of ways to characterize each of these entries.
Getting all the details about how a particular technology provides a given capability in a single spreadsheet cell will be hard. Using colors as a guide will help, but you’ll need additional notes and explanations. You could put the additional information in a comment field, or you could provide it in a second document, with a reference to the appropriate spreadsheet cell.
Now you have a chart that visually overviews your current tech stack. From this chart, you can see a few things:
- Capabilities that need to be upgraded.
- Technologies with more capabilities than you need or use (possibly because they’re already done by something else). This might indicate an opportunity to find a cheaper option that only does what you need or to negotiate a cheaper rate for that technology.
- Desired capabilities that don’t currently have a home. This indicates where you need to start looking for new services.
- Capabilities you have from an incumbent technology but aren’t using. These might represent simple opportunities to improve how you run your business.
- Capabilities you haven’t considered.
This document you eventually build will become a useful tool for internal use and reference (especially when there’s staff turnover!), but it also helps you to evaluate prospective technologies. What gaps do you need to fill? What services can fill those gaps?
By the way, MarTechBot can help with that as well. Ask something like, “What services can help me track user engagement on my website?”
As long as you don’t include proprietary information in this map or any accompanying documents, it can be a useful addendum to an RFP. When prospective vendors see what you’re currently doing, they can make more intelligent recommendations about how their services can fit in.
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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.
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