“Get Real” About Martech: Takeaways from MarTech SF 2017

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the annual MarTech SF event for the second time. I’m very passionate about the marketing technology industry, and this event was (and always is) an opportunity to get a pulse of the market. Martech is seemingly maturing more and more, whether it’s due to widespread education, technological innovations, or a rise in the collective intelligence of marketing professionals. And I’ll say this, both as a summarization of the martech industry’s inflection point and as a wake-up call: it’s time to Get Real. Martech innovations bring a lot of promise, to both companies and marketing professionals, and while we’ve digested learnings about the great potential of martech, we need to Get Real, as in get real strategies, real tactics, real performance insights, real ways to improve, and real honesty about the industry. Here are some takeaways from the event on how we can Get Real, broken down by the individual motives that one attends MarTech SF. These motives can be segmented in the following way:

  • Education for improving acumen as a marketing professional
  • Awareness of new tools and technology
  • Lead generation from MarTech attendees
  • High-level perspectives of the state of the martech industry

Get Real With Your Individual Marketing Skills

“What have you done for me lately?”

The accountability genie isn’t going back into the bottle. It’s obvious from all of the MarTech sessions focused on driving marketing performance and the questions being asked about marketing tactics. As part of a performance-driven organization, you either prove your marketing performance or you don’t make the cut. You are now driving real performance, and that means revenue. Marketers no longer just provide air cover; they generate pipeline and revenue. Fluff won’t do, even though it’s easy to find lots of fluff in marketing. So to cut through that fluff, the fundamental question being suggested by marketing veterans and leaders is: “What do we care about?” Then, a marketing practitioner’s job is to map and execute on activities to accomplish what the organization cares about (in this case, revenue growth). Be relentless about this and there is no limits to how dirty your hands can get, and that’s the true mark of a real performance-driven marketer.

The Get Real lesson: Real questions about marketing performance needs real answers, and marketers need to learn how to be analytical, diagnose red flags, investigate numbers, and paint the performance truth for all stakeholders. And do all of this in a scalable, standardized way of reporting. Don’t be satisfied with surface-level metrics, get your hands dirty and dig for the real truth about what’s really driving performance for your company.

Get Real With Your Technology and Your Data

“Does your technology work for you, or do you work for your technology?”

The role of technology is obviously to make our lives easier. In fact, we as vendors in the industry use the word “solution” to describe that role. But what does each solution (whether it’s an application, infrastructure, or any manifestation of marketing technology) solve? I’m going to borrow a phrase from a Usermind session at MarTech SF: “micro-conversion needs”. Do you need a specific marketing solution for a relatively small pain point? If you have data quality problems, what are you doing checking out social listening tools (or vice-versa)? If you have large-scale measurement problems and a lack of visibility in your full marketing-to-sales lead lifecycle, then you are looking for a holistic marketing solution for conversions and KPIs throughout your funnel. Otherwise, seeking point solutions solve micro-conversion needs, which are cumbersome to manage if you have too many AND should not be prioritized over sound measurement foundations with clean data, single source of truth, and comprehensive insights. And speaking of data, having quality data is important, but data needs to be actionable. Drive real insights from data by ensuring that the data allows you to investigate, diagnose, report, and gain knowledge. Real examples: if you have lead data, you want account context for each lead; if you have lead engagements, you want lead progression tracking (by funnel stages, and by the entire funnel); and if you have closed deals, you want attribution metrics that connect your campaigns to the revenue they impacted.

The Get Real lesson: Prioritize your true pain points in revenue growth and the order of operations when it comes to your martech stack. Ask real questions about what technology you need and how to leverage data to make your job easier, not harder.

Get Real About Leads at MarTech SF

“What do you sell? Sure I’ll take a demo from you, if you take a demo from me!”

This one’s for the attendees who hope to meet sales prospects at MarTech SF. I hope the above quote never gets said. At an event where martech vendors are all in one space, it’s even more vital to ensure quality in leads and conversations. Certainly, many attendees to MarTech SF are in the market for martech solutions from vendors. Marketers at the event will be pitched to, and martech vendors will pitch to them. But, if a visitor to your booth is only interested in your big giveaway prize, or an attendee at the networking reception doesn’t understand your product, you’re either having the wrong conversation or talking to the wrong person (or both). If you focus on quantity of leads at an event, you’ll drive down the quality of the leads (and your conversion rates). So, driving the right conversations with the right people is key, and while it’s easy to strike up conversation at MarTech SF about marketing tools in order to pitch your product, you’ll quickly realize you’re probably talking to another vendor rep trying to sell you something in reciprocation.

The Get Real lesson: Understand that an event full of martech vendors is going to have opportunities and challenges for generating qualified leads. Focus on real leads that will lead to real pipeline rather than the vanity goal of a fishbowl full of business cards. And evaluate event ROI holistically, including any long-tail effects on eventual deals from lead and account engagement at those events.

Get Real About the Marketing Technology Industry

“Be a part of the workflow [in a marketer’s job].”

As I was implying in the previous Get Real lesson, martech vendors at MarTech SF most easily strike up conversations with others in the space. Surprise, marketing pioneers understand other marketing pioneers! Caution: don’t let that color your view of the industry’s maturity. The stuff that was at the bleeding edge at MarTech SF included having true yet automated conversations with people and leads, infused with context and intelligent sequence (all made possible by AI and chatbots). We might get there, and I am excited about what comes out of that. Now, if you went to the fireside chat “Investing in the Future of Martech” with Scott Brinker and three venture capitalists well-versed in martech, their comments seemed like a critique on how crowded the broad martech industry is, with all of the vendors on the martech landscape. They basically agreed that there will be consolidation, and as a recovering M&A investment banker and venture capital professional myself, I know that consolidation tends to separate the wheat (the real) from the chaff (the noise). And, related to my point about micro-conversion needs, the VC experts agreed that there’s a difference between a martech solution that serves as part of the workflow, as opposed to a point solution. Both can be useful, but obviously the system of record or the backbone of a marketing measurement foundation is going to be considered more vital and less replaceable. So while martech vendors can enjoy growth when money is flush and VC dollars are being passed from tech startup to tech startup in a circular game of revenue hot potato, these solution providers need to become irreplaceable and real value-add (and martech buyers need to find those) to come out as winners in consolidation.

The Get Real lesson: Martech vendors (or buyers) need to be (or look for) the marketing solution that is solving a problem, not a solution looking for a problem to solve. Marketers want real solutions and want vendors to Get Real. They will become excited for innovations that help them do their jobs and become smarter.

Getting Real Tired of Reading (aka, “Conclusion”)

Here’s where we are and how far we’ve come: we marketers understand our objectives and where we need to go. We’ve had plenty of key learnings, broad concepts, the philosophies, and the need to get tactical. But, now’s the time to Get Real, and make it happen. That means learning the blueprints for 1) leveraging technology and data, 2) distilling insights, 3) driving marketing decisions and actions that lead to revenue growth, and 4) instilling processes to align and scale across the organization as it grows. Now I’m off to SiriusDecisions Summit in Las Vegas, where I’m already seeing some of the learnings of MarTech SF being echoed (speaking of the accountability genie, there’s “Building the Aligned, Accountable B2B Organization”). After this week at SiriusDecisions, I’ll tell you about how marketers need to Get Serious. Just kidding. Maybe.

For a blueprint of standardized reports that turn performance data into performance insights, download our “Four Pillars of Insights-Driven Marketing Measurement”.

Feng Hong

About Feng Hong

Feng Hong is a recovering spreadsheet addict with a background in covering enterprise software and martech in his VC and investment banking days. Now a B2B product marketer marketing to marketers (B2BPMM2M, obviously) at Full Circle Insights, Feng is an avid proponent of expressing clear product value propositions, providing quality educational content, and generating growth through inbound demand.