The real build vs. buy question in martech is around talent, not technology

Shaun H. Ruff


Martech: Features, Skills, and Value

“One of the things that doesn’t get talked about as much as it should in martech is the gap between the technology that is installed and the skills that exist in the organization.” In a recent interview I had with Anita Brearton, CEO of CabinetM, this was one of the points she was most animated about.

“Stack utilization is a huge issue. You build these big, complex stacks — are you getting your money’s worth? Probably not. There are few companies that have all the core expertise that they need to take full advantage of the technology. Then as people move around, especially with this Great Resignation, the martech skills in your org go up and down.”

Now, I confess, whenever the topic of “stack utilization” comes up, I tend to get a bit argumentative. Primarily because utilization is often framed in a very shallow way: the percentage of features in a martech stack being used.

That’s a terrible measure of utilization, at least in isolation, because not all the features in your martech stack — and there are a lot of features buried in those Misty Mountains — are relevant to your business. Using those irrelevant features solely for their own sake is Shiny Object Syndrome in its purest form. Surely we don’t want to go down that squirrel’s nest.

What matters: are you taking full advantage of the features that are relevant?

The Skills Gaps in Your Martech Stack

And this where Anita’s point rings true. Because in many companies, there are martech features in their stack that are highly relevant to their business — they should be using them. But they’re not, because they don’t have the skills. (Or, closely related, they don’t have the support of their organization to effectively put those skills into practice.)

Anita has a bird’s-eye view of this challenge. CabinetM not only helps companies track and optimize their technology stack. They also help you keep track of the different martech-related skill sets on your teams. Overlaying the tech stack with the skill stack reveals those gaps.

“You take something like some of these huge CDP and marketing automation platforms, and you add customer engagement and customer success platforms, with lots and lots of bells and whistles. How well does the team know how to use it?”

This is the martech stack equivalent of “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” If functionality exists in your stack, but it’s not used, then the only sound it makes is the silent flight of your budget for it flying away.

Only 19% of marketers feel very prepared

The team at MarketingProfs just released their 2022 State of B2B Marketing Training Report, which contains a wealth of data on types of training, motivations, norms for organizational support, etc.

But the headline stat that caught my attention was the subhead above: only 19% of marketers (in B2B) reported feeling very prepared for their future in marketing. As MarketingProfs eloquently noted in their report, “Yikes.”

Now, you could say the obvious answer is training. Which is kind of what you’d expect a report on training to conclude. But “training” as a one-word catch-phrase turns out to be as useless of a bromide as “utilization.” Because 70% of the marketers who participated in their survey reported that their teams already participate in training.

The kind of training matters. Assessments to clearly understand the gaps to be filled. More real-world examples. Tailored to industry. Assignments and exercises to practice skills. Either self-paced remote courses or in-person workshops and conferences.

But at higher level, very prepared marketers tend to work in organizations that have a formal process and an ongoing culture that supports training.

Very Prepared Marketers Have a Formal Process and an Ongoing Culture That Supports Training

Marketing enablement is marketing operations

This is achieved through marketing enablement as an explicit function in the marketing org. Someone takes responsibility for the organization developing the necessary skills — and being empowered to leverage them — to harness the (relevant!) capabilities their martech stack offers them.

I see this function as a key part of the marketing operations and technology management pillar in marketing. If your company is large enough, it should be a dedicated team. But even in smaller organizations, the person leading marketing operations should be given the mission and the resources to make sure their team — and the rest of the department! — is prepared to leverage the technology they put in place.

Without the right skilled talent, there is no capability.

Capabilities = Technology + Process + Talent

Marketing operations and technology teams have become highly proficient at the first two components of that equation. But we have room to grow with the third.

New Rules of Marketing Technology + Operations: Enablement and Empowerment

The annotated chart above is from The New Rules of Marketing Technology & Operations that I published a few years ago. The HUMANIZE half of this 2×2 is all too often under appreciated. But it’s the greatest lever for competitive advantage in martech.

Anyone can buy martech with a credit card. Culture and talent have to be carefully crafted over years to create something magical and unique.

The key word is “create.” You can’t buy culture. And while you can — and should — pay competitively for talent, you can’t keep up with the rapidly evolving skill requirements in marketing and technology today by constantly swapping in new staff. Not only is that buy-instead-of-build approach to talent increasingly harder to execute due to the imbalance of supply-and-demand in the market, such churn absolutely kills your culture.

You need the ability to build marketing skills within your team.

This will only grow in importance. As innovative no-code technologies continue to expand the set of capabilities marketers can wield, enablement and empowerment are increasingly the lynchpins of the 8 P’s of self-service martech:

8 P's of Self-Service Martech: Enablement and Empowerment

P.S. I’m pleased to announce that our final sponsor for our State of Martech report and webinar for #MartechDay is MarTech Alliance — who, as it happens, offer several terrific learning programs on marketing operations and marketing technology.

#MartechDay is May 3 to celebrate the martech profession and all the wonderful, talented people who work in it. We’ll also be releasing the latest marketing technology landscape that day.

Register for our free online presentation so you’re the first to see it.

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