In a recent conversation about her 2017 marketing technology road map, the digital marketing manager at a major US publisher commented off-hand about how a tool they had been really excited about (and is very popular today) had to be scrapped because it bottlenecked their site so badly. Despite the fact that the vendor’s product could do so many cool things, she remarked: “If it interferes that much with the customer experience, you just can’t do it.”
Unfortunately for digital marketers, collateral damage often doesn’t reveal itself until it’s too late – you’ve signed on the dotted line and you have a year-plus contract to fulfil. There are three commonly over-looked, but also hard to vet, complications when you add marketing tech to your website:
- Site performance
- Product customisation
- Real-time functionality
The good news is, you can you avoid these complications while still in the buying process. Here’s how:
Compromised site performance – There’s a lot happening behind the scenes of a website today: tons of scripts are running. These scripts are often not well maintained or updated. Many of them trigger other scripts, which may then in-turn trigger other scripts. The trend, even when keeping scripts well organised and centrally managed, is to simply add more. This often results in brutally slow load times, causes flicker, or otherwise compromises the experience for a visitor.
Adding a new product to the website, of course, requires the addition of new scripts, and you’ll need to test for the impact of that on your overall site performance. Today there are myriad tools to assess site performance, including tools built into our browsers that help hone in on scripts messing with your site’s mojo. Partner with your web operations team or a third party to ensure a sound approach to testing your scenarios. If you can’t get a live test of all the functionality you’re planning to use with a test or POC before buying, go to the source. Vendors conduct these tests but loathe sharing them for obvious reasons. Make a purchase decision contingent on seeing site performance for your specific use cases and the functionality you plan to use. This should be possible, whether on your own sites or in a comparable environment.
Unanticipated product customisation and services – This is the constant frustration of marketers everywhere: expected investment skyrockets as the project develops. Deploying code isn’t nearly as simple as promised. The integrations required are more complex.
The Chief Digital Officer at a media conglomerate undertook a major data project which ended up requiring 9x the investment the company planned to achieve their objectives. What was promised initially didn’t pan out and, of course, once you’re knee deep in such a large undertaking, going back just doesn’t feel like an option (though candidly, it should be). Customer references are critical. If a vendor can’t supply at least two references of companies that have successfully deployed the technology, including feedback on the scope of resources required, be skeptical. Negotiate the contract to protect your business from preventable implementation issues, even when you’ve done your due diligence. Tactics include: structuring payment to align with the achievement of certain technical milestones; capping costs after which a new contract has to be agreed upon; and/or including an SLA for technical performance.
Real real-time – This is one of the more loosely employed phrases in marketing technology today. Depending on who you’re talking to, “real-time” can mean 30 seconds, one minute, or five minutes. It can also mean speeds in the milliseconds, but that’s rare. An even bigger issue than the liberties taken with what qualifies as real time is that, especially for multi-product vendors (*ahem marketing clouds*) latency varies according to the module or action. In other words, there could be a real-time connection between the ESP and CRM (the CRM registers that an email has been sent to a specific customer) but not from the CRM back to the ESP (so a change in status will not trigger a change in what email that person gets until a day later). Don’t assume that the speed for one action is the same for all actions. Come to the table with many relevant use cases that require speed and go through them one by one with prospective vendors to understand what the reality will be in your environment.
These are exciting times in marketing technology as tools can deliver highly differentiated and effective customer experiences. Vendors will pepper you with similar buzzwords and common phrases. Trust that there are definitely differences that will matter to your business, but you will have to dig for them. These three are good starting points.