Amazon’s Jeff Bezos said back in 2013:
We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient.
It stands to reason that you can’t put the customer first if you don’t know much about them. In today’s digital world you can’t know the customer well without mastering the digital realms. So, if you’re not striving to master martech, you’re not really putting the customer first.
The Digital Buyer’s Journey
Customers tend to complete many phases of the buyer’s journey before visiting a retail store or requesting a quote from a salesperson. Most of this pre-purchase activity occurs in digital space—company websites, social media, and so on. Martech detects, synthesizes, analyzes and reports all of this pre-purchase digital activity. Then, most purchase and post-purchase activity is either created digitally (e.g., automatic digital invoice) or summarized digitally (e.g., customer service rep note). In short, digital customer information encompasses the vast majority of what we can know about the customer.
The Customer Insight Imperative
The second ingredient of the Bezos success formula is invention. There is no innovation without insight (except for the occasional flash of blind luck), and digital customer data is the central wellspring of customer insight. While it can and should be supplemented with original market research, the innovation process comes back again to martech, because all great ideas must be proven in the market. In other words, testing is critical to the innovation process, and martech should play an integral role in facilitating the testing process.
The third Bezos success ingredient is patience. This is an especially tricky wicket. CMOs have the lowest average tenure in the C-Suite, so they need results—and martech ROI—fast. Further, disappointment with martech seems to be on the rise, given recent surveys that show a decline in martech’s share of the total marketing budget.
Given the prominent role of martech in Bezos’ first two ingredients, the biggest differentiator between future winners and losers may very well be martech patience. In other words, those companies with the most long-term patience with building true martech excellence will be the winners.
Perspective and Education
One of the most powerful tools in fostering patience is perspective. First, the Chief Marketing Technologist (CMT) must constantly tie major martech initiatives to marketing and business strategy. Second, he or she must establish quarterly milestones and tick them off along the way.
Perhaps the most significant barrier to martech patience is martech understanding. Few members of the C-Suite or board of directors really understand the guts of martech. Even CMOs struggle with this one. It’s OK for an executive to drive a car loaded with technology he or she barely understands. But is the same true for executives—and CMOs in particular—who rely so dearly on martech?
It takes a tremendous time commitment to keep up with martech. It has evolved quickly through eras, terms, functionality, innovations and vendors. Its complexity is more than one tech expert can fully master. The implication for the CMT is to view C-Suite and board member education as a primary job responsibility.
In the end, an emerging yet essential CMT capability is executive education. CMTs must constantly illustrate martech’s essential role in putting the customer first and in supporting innovation. And they must find effective ways to help executives understand how strategic martech contributions are easily undermined by a lack of patience.
The conclusion that martech is highly strategic flows directly from the Bezos/Amazon success formula. The implication presents two organizational issues. The first one should be obvious: every marketing organization needs a CMT. Second, martech must become a C-Suite and board-level issue. The board is where strategic positioning, competiveness, and corporate transformation must be assessed. And, this is the level best suited to determine whether a company’s martech investments and transformations are sufficient relative to what is required for long-term success. Unfortunately, few companies have digital expertise on their boards. This is a make-or-break challenge: boards must have more digital expertise to play an effective role in supporting martech and related digital transformations.
Frank Grillo is the CMO of Harte Hanks. He is a passionate advocate for bringing the human back into marketing by better understanding and facilitating customer journeys.