Why Buying Marketing Technology is Hard: David Raab and Atri Chatterjee Discuss the Obstacles

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Editor’s Note: David Raab has thirty years’ experience as a marketer, consultant, speaker, and analyst. He’s the author of The Marketing Performance Measurement Toolkit, and the Raab Association’s reports and guides, including the B2B marketing automation vendor selection tool, the VEST report. You can keep up with David at his blog, Customer Experience Matrix. Atri Chatterjee is Chief Marketing Officer of ZScaler.* They held a three-part conversation which covered the obstacles to buying technology; common mistakes in buying technology; and best practices in buying technology. This blog post is an edited transcript of the first part, obstacles. You can listen to the Conversation on the audio player below.



ATRI:              Technology has changed marketing so profoundly, and with such potential, that Gartner has said that we can expect the CMO, the chief marketing officer, to outspend the CIO and the IT department by 2017. Marketers are investing in technology so they can meet the buyer where they are, which is usually online or some other form of digital communication. And in this medium they can measure the results of the marketing engagement and quantify their efforts.

This in turn means that a lot of marketers are making business decisions and buying decisions in technology, something that was previously done by the IT department. Many marketers do not have the background or experience to do this. David, would you agree with that analysis?

Fundamental issues in purchasing technology

Raab headshot croppedDAVID:           Well certainly I would agree with that analysis. [LAUGHTER] And I’d argue that many IT people don’t have the right training to do procurement. But certainly marketers, although they are very skilled in procuring other things like media, they’re by and large not trained in technology procurement. And technology procurement is hard.

Even if you’re an IT person, you often don’t really understand the marketing technology itself. So marketers first have the issues that IT people face, which include understanding whether a system will perform the way it’s supposed to perform, will the vendor be in business, will it scale, will it integrate?

So the marketer has all these same fundamental issues that IT people face. You have additional issues in that you can’t turn to the corporate IT department for help. They have software-as-a-service vendors who make everything sound very simple, but in fact there are integration and more technical issues that the marketers don’t understand. So – you have a whole range of things, capabilities, that marketers have to learn about in order to make the technology decisions.

ATRI:              I began my career in product marketing. I started off working at Sun Microsystems, and then later on worked at Netscape and a few other technology companies. I was pretty well versed in technology. Being a product manager and defining things really got me to a point where I thought I understood a lot of the needs; as a product manager you end up writing a lot of requirements yourself. But I can say that for myself, purchasing the right technology is never easy. Even when you think you have all the things that you need, in terms of the requirements and so on, there’s always something new that comes up.

Probably the first place to start is determining what you need. Figure out what problem you’re trying to solve, and then figure out whether a system will function as promised and whether it will meet those needs. And you must get into things like reliability, and scale, and ease of use, and the ability to integrate with other systems. You also have to think about what you’re going to need in the future.

DAVID:           I agree. That’s one of the classic differences between buying marketing technology and buying, say, an accounting system. You know what an accounting system’s supposed to do. If you’re a senior person you’ve probably seen quite a few. You know what the problem is, and you know what to look for, and you certainly have a very long and specific list of functions.

Whereas in marketing you’re often buying a system that does something you’ve never done before. So you don’t have that reference base and that very specific checklist of requirements that you have in other kinds of technology acquisition. That’s one of the biggest differences right there; you don’t even necessarily know what you’re trying to do – let alone what you need the system to do. So yeah, I’m going to do some of this digital marketing stuff. I’m gonna get me some of that social marketing, whatever that may be. I’ll take a bucket of it. [LAUGHTER]

What do I actually need this thing to do? What do I even want to accomplish? Do I really care if it does sentiment analysis? Stick with social for a moment. I don’t know, maybe I do, maybe I don’t. So maybe I’ll buy a system that can’t do it, and then I’ll find out we do need sentiment analysis. What specifically do you need in terms of sentiment analysis and how do you test it? You barely know. So it’s really, really hard if you don’t understand even your business needs or the requirements related to those business needs.

Understanding the technology is its own problem

DAVID:           And then you get into technical issues. Again, we’re marketers here. SaaS, on-premise, Hadoop versus SQL, REST versus SOAP. Why do I have to choose REST versus SOAP? Either I take a bath or I take a nap? What does that even mean? It’s about APIs. Most marketers have not a clue what these things are – and they’re supposed to be making judgments about which one is better? Extremely difficult. Then you have all the mechanics of actually managing a selection process, which some IT people are trained to do, but marketers are not. It’s extremely challenging.

Atri ChatterjeeATRI:              Well said, David. To summarize, the main issues seem to be knowing what your needs are, and what is it that you’re trying to accomplish, then relating those needs to system requirements, and trying to make sense out of the new technology that’s out there. How best can you manage this process, selection process? That’s a challenge in itself, isn’t it?

DAVID:           Oh, it is. Like everything else in marketing, it’s changed over time. Back in the day we used to write these very long detailed requests for proposals; it was a very formal process. Particularly when you were buying on-premise software, because you were going to make a very large investment and you were going to be stuck with it.

Now, generally speaking, we see fewer formal processes overall. The buying process has changed. In some ways it’s gotten harder because it is a less structured process. It actually requires more of the marketer, to apply judgment. And again – it’s a judgment muscle that they haven’t had a lot of chances to exercise in the past. It’s not easy.

ATRI:              Thanks David. I think in this first conversation we just established that for marketers buying technology, you’ve got a really difficult decision to make. There are a lot of variables, and there’s lots of room for making a mistake … and that can be a very expensive mistake. I’m looking forward to our next conversation, in which we outline the most common mistakes marketers make when purchasing technology.

Thank you very much, David. Thanks for your time.

DAVID:           My pleasure, Atri. Thank you.

Want to read the other posts in this series?

Part 2: The Biggest Mistakes Marketers Make in Buying Technology

Part 3: Best Practices for Buying Marketing Technology

Want to read the paper this discussion is based on? Click here to get When Marketers Buy Technology: Issues, Obstacles, and Solutions

Raab paper: Wjen Marketers Buy Technology

*At the time of these conversations, Atri was Act-On’s CMO.