According to Conductor, 80% of marketing executives added one to five new pieces of technology into their stack during 2017. Walker Sands’s survey of marketers found that 27% of enterprises add technology once a year and 26% add technology every six months. Making a commitment to purchase a new marketing technology platform is often a daunting challenge and frequently accompanied by a great deal of stress.
First, you have to determine what type of tool you need, and then you have to create a list of products to assess. With a list in hand you can narrow your options through a feature comparison and road-map assessment. Believe it or not, that’s the easy part. There are so many resources to use to support the front end of the acquisition process. Use CabinetM to find the right product category, build your product list, and manage your evaluation process. Then leverage technology review sites (G2 Crowd, Trust Radius, and GetApp) and reports from category experts and industry analysts (Forrester, Gartner, Sirius Decisions, The Real Story Group) to help narrow your list. If you have the budget, you can even hire a consultant or one of the advisory firms to assist you in the search and qualification process.
A note about reviews: While reviews can be very helpful in narrowing down a list of products in a category, in most circumstances they should be considered as just one of many data points when evaluating a product. In marketing, the assessment of how a product performs is impacted by the products that surround it, how it is integrated with those products, and the quality of the campaigns running through the product, as well as by the technical expertise of the team members using the product. I’ve had many marketing leaders tell me that reviews are a good starting point for narrowing down a list of possible vendors, but that unless a reviewer is operating in a virtually identical environment, it’s difficult to draw enough conclusions to actually make a product decision.
Leveraging Your Peer Network
The tough part of the product discovery process comes in trying to make a decision among your three finalists—the more expensive and complex the platform, the tougher the decision. You conceivably could be making a decision that commits you to a vendor and technology strategy for the next three to five years. I’ve talked to a lot of marketers who have been in this position, and without exception, all have mentioned that reaching out to their peers for input was beneficial to the decision-making process and to the alleviation of stress around making the final decision. Even with so much information available online and so many experts to reach out to, there is nothing quite like the honest opinion from a trusted colleague who has walked down the road ahead of you.
Testing and Implementation
Evaluating new products can range from taking advantage of a free trial to specifying custom development and integration. Regardless of how simple or complex the exercise is, you need a well-thought-out process and agreed upon test plan to ensure that whatever product is being implemented actually supports the functions it is being purchased for. Not every vendor provides the option to test a product prior to purchase. If you don’t have this option, it is critically important for you to have a list of agreed upon acceptance criteria that, if not met, provide you with the justification to discontinue product use and payment. One way to improve the evaluation process when you can’t physically test the product is to ask for a local reference; then if it’s a major purchase, visit that client and see how they are using the product.