If you’re not overwhelmed by the exploding marketing technology marketplace, you’re not paying attention. By Chiefmartec.com’s count, there are now more than 1,800 vendors competing in a sector that barely existed five years ago. Here’s what you need to know to manage a successful marketing technology operation.

Do use marketing technology to liberate yourself from IT. If you’re routing website updates or email campaigns through an IT group, you’re at a competitive disadvantage. This is not an opinion, but a market reality – nimble marketing shops have been out-maneuvering their lumbering counterparts for several years now. Indeed, the primary benefit of marketing technology is its ability to make the marketing group self-sufficient. Meaningful adoption might require that you hire an IT-centric employee for the group, and change the group’s culture, but the effort is well worth it. If your marketing strategy lacks a heavy dose of technology, it could be time to sound the alarm.

Don’t underestimate the sophistication of vendors’ sales and marketing tactics. Although many companies in the category are small and scrappy, there are also a litany of well-funded entities with experienced executives at the helm who learned their craft at places like IBM, Oracle, and SAP. They follow the playbook, and spend a lot of money on brand-building to gain mindshare with CEOs and CFOs in an attempt to do an end-run around the marketing executive, just as they did to CIOs during the 1990s and 2000s.
Do prepare to battle with finance and IT to get marketing technology, especially if you work at a large company. At smaller companies, senior managers are typically involved in multiple areas of the operation, and so this isn’t as big of an issue. But conditions are vastly different at large companies ($1B+ in sales), where turfs are fiercely protected and used to build organizational power and careers. Marketing technology is a genuinely disruptive force and must be addressed, so senior marketers at large companies might need to be either knowingly subversive or unusually influential to make the adoption of this technology a reality. (See our tips on “becoming a procurement wizard” in this piece.)

Do plan to accommodate for a learning curve, testing period, and “hidden” costs. No doubt, the relatively low hard costs associated with most marketing technology are appealing-many are available for less than $100 per month. But as Todd Unger, chief digital officer at Daily Racing Form, says, “the cost of adding another tool isn’t just the monthly fee – it’s adding another person to run it.” And there aren’t a whole lot of people who are experts in this category, because it’s so new, and so they can be expensive.

Don’t expect disparate marketing systems to integrate neatly with APIs. Yes, you’ll be able to get most systems to integrate, but it’s rarely plug-and-play, and often requires IT involvement to get things working properly. This means when you make a meaningful change or update to one system, it might require an IT resource to reconcile it across the operation.

Do revisit marketing technologies that are already in place and ensure optimization. It’s easy to get lured by shiny new objects, but at least one McKinsey consultant argues that companies “may be leaving as much as 20 to 30 percent of potential [digital advertising] returns on the table,” and this is consistent with our experience, too. You probably have copious amounts of data available to analyze in older digital marketing functions, such as email and search, and therein gems can be discovered to guide improved performance.

Don’t lose sight of the end goal. Because marketing is getting flooded with software these days, the field is attracting more and more technophiles. That’s not a bad thing, and technology tinkering is now part of the job description for senior marketers. But it also adds another potential diversion to the mix, so staying focused on the job at hand is more difficult because of the increased noise. At the crux, marketing is about selling more stuff to more people at a higher price, not building the holy grail of marketing operations. Marketing technology is a means to an end, not an end goal in itself.
Tim Bourgeois is a partner at East Coast Catalyst, a digital strategy consulting firm in Boston specializing in digital marketing and media audits. He is also the founder of ChiefDigitalOfficer.net, a global community of senior digital professionals.

Note: this article was first published in July 2015 in eContent Magazine.