How to Close the Gap Between the World of Possibilities and Reality in Martech

There are over 10,000 technologies in the martech space. But companies cannot fully utilize these tools’ capabilities to deliver credible marketing results. A marketing operations (MO) leader is key to closing the gap between martech opportunity and martech reality. Debbie Qaqish, principal & chief strategy officer, of Pedowitz Group, discusses the key characteristics of a MO leader.

We have a problem. And it is getting bigger every day. The gap between the promise of more than 10,000 technologies in the martech landscape and the reality of putting those technologies to work to deliver credible marketing results is massive. 

Today, marketers use technology tools such as email marketing software, social media management platforms, analytics tools, and more to create and execute marketing campaigns, track their performance, and measure the effectiveness of their strategies. Newer technologies many marketers use include machine learning, AI, and other advanced technologies to analyze data, automate tasks and gain insights that can inform their marketing strategies.

Some marketers are very tech-savvy and can use technology to its full potential. However, in October 2022, Gartner reportedOpens a new window , “Marketers report utilizing just 42{3eda5e173ca6275da4995c0ae548c8d458796745545971cbe387f3473f149606} of the breadth of capabilities available in their martech stack overall, down from 58{3eda5e173ca6275da4995c0ae548c8d458796745545971cbe387f3473f149606} in 2020.” And alarmingly, this comes at a high cost. The same study also adds that “CMOs reported allocating a quarter of their entire marketing expense budgets to marketing technologies in 2022.” 

A big part of my job is researching and reviewing what is happening in the world of martech. I am an avid follower of Scott Brinker (Chief Martech). In a December podcast, Scott and Frans Riemersma (MarTech Tribe) discussed the most significant trends for martech in 2023, including AI, cloud data warehouses, ecosystems/communities, no-code in-house creators, web3, and the metaverse. Every trend mentioned represented exciting opportunities for marketing professionals with tremendous positive implications for business models.

Whenever I hear of these extraordinary innovations, I am motivated and inspired to bring these more innovative solutions to my clients. However, so many marketing leaders are not ready to take advantage of the best martech offers.

Contrast this podcast to another from a large partner organization. In this scenario, the head of marketing operations explained the most fundamental values of marketing ops and the primary uses of martech to a broader audience of collaborative stakeholders. What I found most remarkable was that this presentation could have been from five years ago. Not because the head of marketing ops was uninformed but because the organization was not ready for these innovative opportunities.

What Does It Take To Be Ready?

As I work with marketing operations teams, the most common component that closes the gap between martech opportunity and martech reality is a specific type of marketing operations (MO) leader. Characteristics of this type of MO leader include:

  • Being a digital visionary
  • Serving as a business translator
  • Acting as a practical change agent

All three characteristics must be present as they all work together to help close the gap between technology’s opportunity and reality.

Being a Digital Visionary

A digital visionary is a leader who anticipates and understands the potential technology offers to drive the business. They can see how technology creates new opportunities and solves problems. Further, they can communicate this vision to other leaders in a way that inspires and motivates them to take action. 

Digital visionaries are often thought leaders and can drive change by introducing new ideas, products, and services that shape the organization’s strategic direction. Often well-versed in the latest trends and advancements in digital technology, they can apply this knowledge to their work to drive outcomes.

The most foundational capability of a digital visionary is managing and optimizing the current martech stack. While this sounds very basic, it is surprising how many marketing ops leaders need to learn what is in their current martech stack and how it is being used. Some do not even know who is using what and to what degree. 

Taking an inventory of the total martech stack is a good starting point. This will include comparing the platform’s features and functions to the department’s current needs to ensure the platform serves a purpose and helps drive a meaningful business result. 

Another key characteristic of a digital visionary is technology awareness. Leaders with technology awareness have the discipline to understand and stay abreast of technology categories and how each category helps achieve business goals. Notice that I did not say they are hands-on experts in each technology. With more than 10,000 different technologiesOpens a new window  to choose from, no one can know it all. However, the digital visionary is well-versed in the available platforms, sub-categories, and general tools. 

For example, a category on the 2023 MarTech Map is Content and Experience. Within that category, there are sub-categories such as Marketing Automation and Personalization. Based on the company’s goals — to become more customer-centric — and marketing — to deploy highly personalized content- the digital visionary looks at their tech stack to see if the technology needed to support these goals is in place. If not, the digital visionary prepares a business case for why this technology is required and how it helps achieve company and marketing goals and then educates key stakeholders about the world of this opportunity. 

Serving as a Business Translator

A business translator is a leader who bridges the gap between an organization’s technology, data, and desired business outcomes. They can communicate how a technology platform and the data it produces help the organization measure marketing strategies and make informed decisions. Ultimately, they ensure that the technology platforms align with the needs and goals of the business. Keeping up with changes in martech is virtually impossible for those outside this profession.

I recently presented to an undergraduate class at Texas A&M. Facilitated by a good friend of mine, the course was all about the ever more complex world of martech. At the end of my presentation, one enterprising student asked me, “Given that we are in college today and won’t be working in the field for another 2-3 years, which technologies should we focus on?” Great question, and the answer is not to focus on singular technologies but to think about these platforms more holistically. In other words, martech should drive business outcomes and support a process developed to achieve those outcomes.

This is key to understanding how technology’s power helps you achieve your goals. The marketing operations leader looks at strategies and plans to determine how they can improve business results through technology.

While this sounds straightforward, it requires that the head of marketing operations either has a seat at the executive table or works for a technology-fluent CMO. In either case, the head of marketing operations must be involved in the early stages of strategy development and planning so they can shape optimal technology solutions and, subsequently, outcomes.

Acting as a practical change agent

A practical change agent is a leader responsible for identifying and implementing organizational changes, often in processes or job functions impacted by technology. Change agents are proactive in identifying areas ripe for improvement as they have a keen eye for the big picture and can think strategically about achieving the desired outcome. They also possess a strong understanding of the organization’s goals and culture and can align their efforts with those.

A practical change agent can also effectively communicate the need for change and build support among stakeholders. They lead and manage change initiatives and navigate the complexities and resistance that often accompany change efforts. Working collaboratively with other team members, they provide guidance and support as they adapt to new ways of working.

Technology often represents change. Whenever you introduce a platform, you change how something happens. Some marketing operations leaders believe that all change is bad because it takes time to adjust. However, a practical change agent thoughtfully considers these impacts and plans ahead. One of the most successful strategies is understanding the human element of the change and accounting for the adoption time of new technologies. This demonstration of empathy is instrumental in driving a positive outcome while managing change on a team or in an organization.

Be the MO Leader Your Organization Needs

We can all agree that technology’s promise is powerful. At the same time, when we fail to consider some foundational characteristics of the leaders driving our technology, it is not surprising that we fail to get the full value of our technology investments.

If you are a marketing operations leader responsible for your martech stack, hone your skills as a digital visionary, business translator, and practical change agent. Seek opportunities to stay abreast of how your current martech stack serves your needs before you take on new ones. And when you do explore new technology, make sure it supports a strategy with specific business outcomes.

The following Debbie Qaqish, from 2023 provides their research perspective HERE