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A Framework for Building a Marketing Technology Stack for Scalable Growth

As a marketing manager, it’s your responsibility not just to choose the right tools to obtain your company’s goals, but to empower your marketing team to perform at their best. Within your team is a variety of different roles, and each of those roles needs certain tools to function.

All those tools need to work together. They also need to fit with your requirements, your selling model, and your future strategy for growing your marketing. This system of tools is called your marketing technology stack; the foundation on which your marketing efforts are built.

In this article, we will talk about a framework for choosing the right tools for your marketing technology stack, and how to make sure your team is working as efficiently as possible.

What is a Marketing Technology Stack?

The range of software and technology choices out there is overwhelming. In the 2015 Marketing Technology Landscape, Scott Binker lists more than 1800 vendors across 43 different categories. How on earth do you choose the right ones?

The “technology stack” is the layers of different tools you use in order to make marketing happen. You “stack” these tools on top of or next to each other, ensuring that they are able to talk to the others in the stack and that your team can easily move between the layers to find what they need.

If you’re building a technology stack for a new team, or you are completely revamping your current stack, how do you choose the right tools?

Understand Your Company’s Business Model

Do you run a tech company with a software as a service (SaaS) business model? Or a professional service business like a marketing agency, or an architect, or an engineer where you sell your time? Or an eCommerce store? Or a retail clothing store or a funky coffee chain? Or a construction firm?

Different business types run on different models, and your business model will be one of the key factors impacting the design of your marketing technology stack. Before you start choosing software and get stuck with something you don’t need, start by sitting down with your team and digging deep into the business. You need to have complete clarity on exactly what you’re selling, how to sell it, and what tools and technology you need to scale it. Discuss and answer these core questions:

  • Is your business a service or product business?
  • Is it B2B or B2C?
  • Is your target market consumers, small to medium-sized businesses or enterprise firms?
  • How long is the sales cycle?
  • Do you have a high touch, sales-heavy model?
  • What about a relationship-level (i.e. low touch), digital inbound customer acquisition model?
  • Where do you get most of your new customers from now?
  • How do you plan to scale that channel?
  • What are your buyer personas? (Learn more about understanding buyer personas here.)

Scope Your Current & Future Needs

Take stock of what you currently use, what is and isn’t working about those products, and create a wish list of what you want your new technology stack to accomplish. Talking to all staff members in your sales, marketing, finance and account management teams will enable you to identify opportunities to improve. Asking the following questions will be a good start:

  • What are the top three challenges you face in achieving your goals?
  • What are some unmet needs you have?
  • What tasks take up the most time during your day?
  • What could be done to improve your current workflow and make it more efficient?
  • What does a typical day look like for you?

The goal here is to understand how cross-functional teams collaborate with each other and what the workflow looks like as a new lead becomes an opportunity and finally a customer. Where are the inefficiencies in the process? Why is there double entry of data in different systems? Why are we using multiple systems to achieve the same objective in different teams?

When doing this scoping, you need to think very carefully about not just what you need now, but how you foresee the marketing team scaling in the future. It’s all very well cobbling together several different open source free tools as they work now, but if you’re not thinking about the future, your marketing team is quickly going to be bogged down with inefficiency.

Think Holistically & Look to the Future

Your technology stack needs to encompass the needs of all the different parts of your marketing machine. These could be:

  • content marketing
  • content promotion
  • demand & lead generation
  • social media
  • pay per click
  • PR and influencer outreach
  • customer marketing
  • web Analytics
  • conversion rate optimization
  • closed loop marketing with sales
  • online surveys
  • email marketing and lead nurturing
  • marketing automation

That said, you’ll probably struggle to find an off-the-shelf technology stack that will cater to everything included in the list above. Your best bet would be to implement a core system that caters to a majority of those functions—ideally through all stages of the customer lifecycle journey—while having an open, well-documented API allowing you to customize and extend the platform’s capabilities.

On the Optimizely blog, you can learn how VPs from 99designs, Demandbase, and Hipmunk structure their marketing technology stacks.

Talk With Other Teams, Especially Sales

The primary role of any marketing team is to support sales. You exist to bring more sales qualified leads into the funnel so that sales can then turn those leads into customers.

Because of this, any technology stack you consider for marketing needs to work with the wider app ecosystem of sales, customer support and education. No decision about technology should be made in isolation. You’ll need to bring in other managers and department heads to help you choose a solution that’s going to seamlessly move data throughout different systems.

Don’t be scared. Putting user experience and business goals at the center of the conversation makes it easy to influence other teams. It’s likely that you’ll be solving a number of problems for other teams if the tech stack is implemented correctly.

Build an Intelligent Foundation That Can Scale

Begin with a solid foundation of a core platform. There are several different marketing automation platforms available on the market, including Marketo, HubSpot, Pardot, ActOn, InfusionSoft, and many more. Any of these would be a good place to start your research.

Here at WorkflowMax, we started with HubSpot as our marketing machine, and we’ve built out our entire marketing and sales funnel around it. Now, we use Wistia for hosting all our videos, SurveyMonkey for surveys, Salesforce as CRM, Gotowebinar for webinar & online meetings, Snapengage for live chat, Zendesk for customer support, Zapier for building an internal integration to complete the closed loop marketing with sales, Skilljar for online training/education, and Google Drive for storing documents. Phew!

All these feed intelligent insights and data back into HubSpot that power our marketing automation and push people down the funnel based on how they are (or not) engaging with our content.

When building the foundation of your marketing technology stack, you want to be careful about the budget. You can easily overspend on several different tools when many technology systems will do more than one thing just fine. Don’t waste money piecemealing highly specialized tools when it’s possible to save a fortune with a simple, all-in-one solution. Align spending with the strategy and goals for the marketing team moving forward.


Stop. Take a deep breath. You can do this.

Building a marketing technology stack is not a quick or easy process. Before kicking off research, make sure you’re crystal clear on your business model—what you are selling and how you plan to grow. Scope your company’s current and future technology needs before making any decisions. Think holistically as a business and collaborate with other teams to understand their needs and challenges. Then conduct thorough research to make a choice on the primary marketing platform vendor you will build your marketing tech stack foundations on.

 

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Chirag Ahuja

Chirag Ahuja is the Head of Marketing (WorkflowMax) at Xero. Unlike your average marketer, Chirag is a tech driven, modern and scientific marketing leader. He has achieved stupendous success in driving scalable, profitable growth by building high performing digital marketing teams from the ground up.
A commercial biotechnology scientist in a past life, Ahuja formulated skin-whitening creams for Asian women. Before joining Xero, he co-founded TranscribeMe – a fast-growing, angel-funded tech startup converting voice to text using crowdsourcing in 2011. When he’s not geeking out on marketing metrics, he plays cricket, squash, badminton, tennis, swims and plays any other sport to avoid going to the gym. He loves listening to techno music, reading vedic scriptures, leading teams, building relationships and discussing the big questions in life.

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