6 things martech vendors don’t want you to know

Marketing technology vendors make promises they can't always fulfill. Here are some pitfalls in martech selection to look out for.

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We love martech, don’t we? To be honest, many of us owe our careers and jobs to marketing technology and the results it drives for marketers. 

We also owe a debt of gratitude to many martech vendors, who not only build the platforms on which we work, but who also produce a plethora of marketing education including classes, workshops, and certifications. However, with this great influence that martech vendors have over the industry, there are some challenges that deserve to be brought out into the spotlight. 

But let’s start by pointing out that martech vendors are not completely at fault for some of the issues explored in this article. It’s only natural to lead with your “best foot forward,” and the same can be said for martech vendors who are understandably trying to drive adoption of their products. Who among us for example, would share all our dirty little secrets on a first date with a potential partner? 

That being said, it’s time to take a hard look at the tough questions. It’s my hope that in this article you’ll be able to identify some of the weaknesses some martech vendors share — and how to avoid pitfalls when dealing with them. 

1. A lot of vendors excel at one thing, but are lacking elsewhere

Too often, martech vendors will tout being an “all-in-one platform” or a “complete technology suite”, but that is rarely the case. While some of the multi-billion-dollar firms will indeed have many robust tools under their belt, the vast majority of the almost 10,000 tools really only have one or two value propositions. 

A direct mail vendor, for example, will understandably make it a breeze to send gifts to customers in the mail. But they may also claim to easily drive social media engagement and referrals. To subscribe to said platform to drive those secondary metrics might be a mistake. Another example: An analytics vendor may make it easy to determine the efficacy of marketing programs, but will it be able to survey customers to find out which would work better? Would it be able to provide the creative to improve the marketing programs that aren’t working? Answer: Very unlikely. 

“I’m wary of martech vendors who claim that their platform ‘does it all in one solution,’ says one martech leader at a hyper-growth start up. “The truth is that many martech platforms are great, but there isn’t a one-size-fits all that will serve every business. Marketers need to trial and experiment with different mixes of tools to find the right combination to help them drive value for their target market.”

And this isn’t surprising, given the difficulty of building these sophisticated products and the engineering effort required to launch even one new feature. While we can cut vendors some slack on not having everything we could ever want in marketing in one place, we should be wary of vendors saying they will solve multiple pain points beyond their main value proposition. 

2. Many martech tools require a high volume of use to realize full potential 

Years ago, I met with a martech seller who pitched his product as a way for me to orchestrate hundreds of campaigns per month and aggregate the data in one convenient location for reporting. The problem? My team was only running five to six campaigns per month. Talk about overkill.

Many martech vendors offer a Ferrari of a tool when some of us only need a Honda Civic to commute to work. Statistically significant results from marketing experiments typically require large sample sizes of customer actions. Digital engagements usually require tens of thousands of interactions to conclusively say one tactic performs better than the other. And visually appealing dashboards don’t look so great when there are only a handful of data points being displayed.

The truth is, many martech platforms truly excel when they help marketers manage volumes that are too large to handle manually. 

3. Martech vendor ‘support’ will rarely be able to answer all of your questions

Many vendors will proclaim having “world-class support” or “white glove service.” In reality, they mean something closer to “respectful and timely customer service.” While vendor support are experts at their own platform and will look into any native issues, the same cannot be said about the tools said platform needs to integrate with, or issues that arise when data isn’t being passed correctly among systems. 

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In addition, vendor support will not know about the unique objectives you may have. Ask any support representative “what is the best way to drive X for my business” and you’ll likely be met with silence, or vague answers about using their platform more. 

I have to qualify this section by saying that many of my interactions with martech vendor support have been pleasant, and I would highly recommend many of them to colleagues. The mistake lies in believing that vendor support will serve as a consultant or strategic advisor to help achieve your martech goals. Unfortunately, that benefit doesn’t come along with paying your martech bill. 

4. Martech will not fix bad content or bad marketing 

The most grievous error when it comes to buying martech is holding the belief that you can solve your toughest marketing problems by buying technology. Martech vendors often exacerbate the problem by claiming that their category of platform will change the face of marketing as we know it, and because of the arrival of this “innovative solution” the entire industry will change. While some categories such as marketing automation and analytics can at least aspire to that, the truth is that many Martech tools provide incremental value. 

“As much as the vendor promises, implementing a new martech platform is not a panacea that will automatically suspend the laws of marketing,” said Chris Willis, marketing ops leader at industrial tech firm Trimble. “The ‘Four Ps‘ still apply to you and if you aren’t considering them in every touch of your content marketing, you do so at the risk of your MarTech investment.”


Willis continued: “Expecting an implementation of new martech to drastically improve your marketing is like putting a cup of coffee on a table with unstable legs expecting that it will not spill. The same is true of your marketing strategy and content.”

When it comes to marketing strategy, especially content strategy, technology won’t solve your problems. Effective marketing strategy requires a deep understanding of your target market, unique value proposition, positioning and messaging, and constant iteration and experimentation. Martech vendors can help with many of those learning objectives, but the big mistake is thinking that deep strategic work will be done by buying a tool.

5. Implementing martech doesn’t automatically generate results 

Another pervasive misconception is that buying martech will magically create leads, pipeline, or revenue. If a martech vendor isn’t careful, they can paint the picture that their platform will somehow drive business results without context or effort. 

“Technology isn’t a substitute for strategy or data hygiene,” said Amy Goldfine, founder of MarketingOpsAdvice.com. “For example, if your company wants to do account-based marketing, your first step should be to develop an ABM strategy that both marketing and sales agree on. Then you need to get your CRM data organized. Only then should you consider technology vendors to support your strategy.”

Part of this is a misunderstanding of what martech does in general, while part of it is a misunderstanding of what each tool does. Marketing automation is a great example of this. It helps facilitate and streamline lead generation, lead management, and lead nurture, but it doesn’t generate results from thin air. By implementing marketing automation, you can improve your results in these categories, but your business will still need effective marketing deliverables such as events, reports, and guides to fuel the fire. 

6. Martech has a scaling problem 

When martech vendors claim that their product will help you scale your marketing activities, they usually refer to an increase of between two and five times the size of your current operation. Almost all vendors will neglect to mention what happens when you scale your campaigns 20 or 30 times.

For those unfamiliar with working with enterprise size databases and campaign volume, this should help provide some context. Large increases in data and activity immediately impact system performance, and you’ll notice symptoms such as long loading times in the UI, and even longer report generation times.

In the long run, the major impact you will see is technical debt. Technical debt is the extra work teams have to do to fix or maintain a solution that wasn’t built for long-term or for scale. Most martech vendors don’t have a way to easily update thousands of assets, such as landing pages, emails, or videos, that need to be updated when the business is growing fast. 

Dig deeper: Sometimes the biggest vendors impose the biggest risks

It’s not a panacea 

In summary, while martech does helps marketer move faster and scale, many make the mistake of thinking martech is a panacea. There are many pitfalls when it comes to selecting the right solutions to power your marketing.

Make sure to get a first-hand account of potential tools from your peers, not just from the businesses selling them. 

Contributing authors are invited to create content for MarTech and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the martech community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Darrell Alfonso
Darrell is an award-winning marketer and Martech professional. He was named one of the top Martech Marketers to Follow in 2020, won the Fearless Marketer award in 2018, is a 2X Marketo Champion, and is a certified Salesforce Administrator. He has consulted for several Fortune 500 companies including General Electric and Abbott Laboratories and currently leads marketing operations at Amazon Web Services where he helps empower hundreds of marketers to build world-class customer experiences. Darrell is a frequent speaker at martech events, and regularly posts thought leadership content on Linkedin and Twitter.

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