The Secret Cost of a Bad Martech Purchase Decision

Digital, Technology

Technology lit up

Call it marketing technology, digital transformation, or any number of other buzzwords, but there is a shared outcome desired by most organizations today: the leveling up of business technology to take advantage of customer data to increase revenue through marketing and sales.

Simple enough question—how do we increase revenue through marketing technology? The paths are myriad, from greater efficiency through automating marketing activities to higher conversions driven by insights from analysis of your best customers. But there’s a cost—especially if we make the wrong marketing technology purchase decision.

What do you really need?

You’re no stranger to marketing technology. Whether you’re a savvy marketing or sales leader leading key business decisions, or a hungry producer out there getting results, if you’re on top of your game you’re familiar with Scott Brinker’s Marketing Technology Landscape graphic on

Now, with over 8,000+ options—and always expanding—there is definitely a marketing technology platform that does whatever you need, be it social listening, marketing automation, data analytics and reporting, or ad conversion optimization. However, one key mistake I see marketing leaders make time and time again is identifying what they really need.

This all starts with goals. It’s tempting to dive in headfirst and get the most badass of marketing tools out there, one (or more) that does a little bit of everything. Platform solutions consultants will help you see the value in everything the tool can do! But I ask again—what do you really need?

If you’re looking for a great CRM, you’ve got options, including the household names like Salesforce, HubSpot, and Membrain, and dozens of other choices. Many of these platforms also come with, or pair very nicely with, automation tools, reporting, content creation, social management and more. There are additional considerations whether you’re doing B2B marketing or focusing more on consumers, and whether you sell via contract, e-commerce, or other means.

Tying your goals to marketing technology

Before you invest in a new marketing platform, ask yourself: how does this help us meet our goals? If you are looking to dramatically increase the effectiveness of your sales team, there are definitely platforms that can and will help you. But you need to be honest about what your team and your organization are ready for.

Look at your business goals for the year. List them out, and ask your key decision-makers to list out what types of software would be helpful in achieving these goals. Ask them to also include a rating of the difficulty of implementation, including adopting and training a new software, new processes for its use, and updating outcomes that you might not foresee just yet.

Make the investment you’re ready for

You wouldn’t give the keys to a brand new Ferrari to a 15-year-old with a learner’s permit. This also doesn’t mean that that same 15-year-old can’t grow up to drive a fast sports car, or maybe even buy one of his or her own. The driver can dream of a glorious future, while the guardian is wise and helps the driver learn on something less dangerous and more practical.

Likewise, there’s no need to invest in the Rolls-Royce of technology platforms if your team isn’t mature enough, dedicated enough, or available enough to use it properly. With the rate of ad tech acquisitions, ever-growing plug-ins and integrations in platform marketplaces, and more, it’s easy to upsize your platforms too quickly.

Some leaders will argue that you should buy into platforms that you can grow into, that making a bigger investment now will spur on the organization to adopt technology and improved practices more quickly. In my experience, this couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s more than a software cost involved with implementing new technologies.

Understand the costs associated with the wrong move

I know from personal experience the danger of making the wrong purchasing decision. I can remember myself and a colleague vetting out marketing reporting platforms. We very quickly found ourselves in a world that also supported business intelligence, predictive analytics and data storage, access and manipulation.

“Look at all this thing can do!” we said. We got excited, and with support from management went all-in on a solution we would be challenged to step up and grow into.

Getting more than you really need

Then came the onboarding meetings (which the provider came onsite to conduct), and the quick realization that all of that power was unlocked by skills that few in our organization had. Still, we learned, we stretched and grew…some of us did, at least. Others almost immediately decried our new, time-saving automated reporting solution, and began looking for alternatives.

Then came pressure to monetize the system, to figure out how to get paid for the work it took to build, maintain and normalize all that data into marketing insights. And during those efforts, other alternative solutions, including “freemium” reporting options from one of the most popular analytics platforms available, started cropping up.

Soon, our reporting solutions became a convoluted mess of options. There were integrations, data storage options, delivery platforms, a non-ending stream of things. And all of that power and all of those options that the original platform afforded? We didn’t use half of it, by a long shot. Turns out we used just what we needed—an easy, marketing-only data reporting solution, not BI and predictive analytics and other features.

I tell you sincerely, we spent more money to figure out how to sunset one platform. We purchased more software in order to get rid of others. It was a long process of untangling a mess of wires that ultimately, at the time, we didn’t have the skill in-house to maintain in the face of cheaper, easier options that only did what we needed them to.

Getting in over your head is no fun

The point of the story? Over-investing didn’t just lead to paying for features we didn’t want, need, or use. It also created friction between teammates and unhealthy competition that resulted in a greater software footprint, demanded the need for technology champions to learn and maintain the software (which was nearly a full-time job for two or more people).

You risk a similar experience when over-investing in software. It’s a great idea to be mindful of how a software solution can expand, if and when you need it to, either through other tools within the platform, an app or integration marketplace, or other means. It’s a bad idea to pay for those expansions now, before you need them.

The cost will likely be more than the platform itself.

It’s a journey, not a destination

Always keep in mind that your marketing technology purchase is just one step in a process to solve whatever it is you’re solving.

There’s setup costs (either by a platform or third-party implementation team, or in the time and skill needed for your own team to implement), training costs, and ongoing maintenance, use, and upgrades. There’s naming conventions and data mapping and feature taxonomies to consider. There’s an impact on your existing processes and activities.

Buckle up. When you make the right decision, your marketing and sales organization will reap the benefits—after the hard work of implementation, training, launch, and use. It can and will pay dividends, in time, efficiency, information and revenue, when you make the right decisions upfront.

But wary be those who give the sports car keys to a teenaged team, for that way lies an even bumpier ride.

As the Senior Director of Strategy at Element Three, Dustin is dedicated to helping businesses grow, crafting demand generation strategies that stand above the rest and create true business impact. His background in journalism, digital communication, and ecommerce positions him as a unique voice in the cluttered digital marketing industry. When he's not writing about the forefront of digital marketing, you can find him jamming with a guitar or at home with his wife and two children.

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