Gartner recently predicted that by 2017, the CMO will spend more on technology than the CIO. We’re not surprised. Having worked in legal and professional services marketing for more than a decade, there has never been more marketing tech vying for a CMO’s ‘share of wallet’ than today.
But most marketers we know didn’t enter the field because they wanted to be professional software buyers. So, at One North, we regularly find ourselves coaching our clients through software selection processes.
Initially, it’s not uncommon for the CMO to believe that a single, integrated solution is the way to approach their marketing technology. And if we were living in 2005, we’d probably agree with them – buying a big piece of software from a single ‘throat to choke’ is, at the very least, easier. But its 2017, and this strategy completely ignores the opportunity to leverage the myriad of awesome marketing technology software available today and coming online in the future.
One North believes that a flexible, ‘hub and spoke’ approach to marketing technology provides the perfect balance for many of our clients. The basic idea is to evaluate and build your marketing technology with a central hub and integrated spokes. This approach enables the firm to leverage best of breed, high-quality software and flexibility.
Hubs – Building a Strong Core
Hubs tend to be enterprise-grade technology that will serve as the backbone for the marketing technology ecosystem. Generally, hubs are systems that aggregate and syndicate data from the ‘spokes’. For example, a CRM or a robust CMS are excellent examples of hubs. At One North, one of our ‘go-to’ hubs for content management system (CMS) technology is Sitecore. At their most basic level, CMS systems like Sitecore enable non-technical staff members to update content on the web site, such as bios, practice descriptions, etc.
For the purposes of this discussion, we will use Sitecore as an example of what to look for in a ‘hub’:
- Ambitious Roadmaps in Competitive Markets. The problem with using proprietary, industry-specific applications as your hub is that they have no incentive to continue to evolve the software. On the flip side, commercial software vendors like Sitecore MUST continue to evolve in order to remain competitive. Furthermore, they have much larger addressable markets, enabling them to justify funding new and innovative features. Sitecore, for example, is leading the way in Customer Experience Management, employing advanced technology like personalization and marketing automation to drive actual ROI.
- Analyst Reviewed. Let’s say you are considering buying a significant amount stock, and are presented with two different companies to invest in. One is privately held and the other is publicly traded. Your only source of information on the privately held company is what the company themselves tells you. For the publicly traded company, multiple independent analysts cover the stock, providing regular research reports on the ins and outs of the company, its customers and the market.
If you are investing for the long term, we’re guessing you’re going to go with the publicly traded company. Well, the same holds true when spending on hub software. Our clients value the fact that analyst organizations like Gartner rank Sitecore a top performer in its Magic Quadrant.
Gartner reviews all the notable software players in the market, talking to not only their leadership, but their clients and partners as well. The analysts provide a spotlight on the software’s claims, and independently verify what they’ve heard. They see through vapor-ware, and validate that the firm can achieve its vision. When you are investing in a hub, third party validation should be an absolute must-have.
- Portable. Imagine building a house. Would you ever allow a plumber to install a plumbing system that only they could support? No! Beware of ‘software’ vendors that are really just services companies that have a reusable code-base that they implement for their clients. Only they can support and implement the software, leaving clients beholden to them. Organizations like Sitecore have a vibrant partner network, enabling you to pick and choose who you want to support your implementation over time.
Spokes – There’s an App for That!
Once you’ve installed a strong hub, it’s time to add your spokes. Frankly, this is the fun part. In the marketing technology world, there is a HUGE amount of innovation going on, and most of it manifests itself in the we like to call ‘spokes’.
Spokes can be described as applications that accomplish very specific objectives, are typically industry or business process specific, and are typically less complex to implement than hubs. An added benefit of spokes: they are typically much nimbler technologies with fast evolving roadmaps. Great examples include Hubspot and LinkedIn. At One North, we use Hubspot for our own marketing automation needs as well as advise clients on it.
Within the professional services space, we see a variety of spokes including proposal automation and experience management applications. Over the last year, One North has evaluated Foundation Software Group’s Experience and Expertise management solution. We’re big fans of their approach and will use them as an example of what firms should look for in ‘spoke’ technology:
- Domain-expertise. The most important attribute when selecting a spoke is to look for a software platform that has a clear ‘thesis’ or ‘point of view’ in your domain. Do they know your industry? Do they understand the business processes? Do they have hands-on experience with either or both? These are all questions you should be asking.
FSG, for example, is the brainchild of a professional services industry veteran. This enables FSG to tap into a wide array of users, and develop acute feature sets accordingly. More so than with hub technology, spokes should absolutely have specific domain expertise.
- Obsessively-focused vision. When it comes to spokes, you want to know that they are committed to doing one thing, very, very well. Spokes that try to be ‘all things to all people’ are bound to fail as their vision becomes diluted.
Think Southwest Airlines versus United Airlines in the air transportation industry. Southwest knows what it does best and doesn’t stray from the strategy, resulting in high profits, traveler and employee satisfaction. United, well…
So, look for businesses committed to building the best experience management system for your targeted industries, and those that are keenly aware that quality and user-alignment are critical to success.
- Configurable v. Customizable. Spokes should be straightforward to implement, configure and utilize. Configurable means the software can be updated to your needs “out of the box” with a few simple keystrokes. The configuration options are built into the software, and will be forward compatible with future releases. Customization requires additional software programming, typically provided by the vendor and incurring additional costs to the customer. Customization is risky because there is no guaranteed future compatibility.
One dirty little secret of the software industry is that many software companies rely on their services teams to ‘finish’ the product upon installation at a client site. They are in such a rush to create the software that they don’t tie up the loose ends, and instead their clients must pay extra for services that shouldn’t be necessary if the software was truly configurable.
When looking for spokes, aim for software companies that understand what it means to have a ‘product’: easy to install, fully baked, with frequent releases and a clear distinction between configuration and customization (think Salesforce).
Keep an eye out for providers with a track record of successful software development. If they have a defined roadmap and strive to create a configurable product rather than a customizable one, you’ve probably found the right provider. Having this clear line in the sand as to where the product ends will not only make buying and implementing the software easier, it will save the firm money in the long term.
The market today provides an exciting range of options for CMOs to advance their marketing technology solutions. But with the added power and options available to them, CMOs need to adopt a strategic approach to their marketing technology spend. Evaluating the attributes of software options using the hub and spoke model will help CMOs create a more powerful and efficient portfolio of marketing tech.