Martech is not a strategy: How an experience-forward approach drives ROI

In many ways, the rise of marketing technology has been a game changer for marketers. Before the emergence of SaaS, marketers struggled to easily attribute and measure value. They relied heavily on IT to implement requirements and were forced to outsource many channels to agencies. But there’s been a sea change over the past decadeIn 2020, marketers have undoubtedlearned a seat at the leadership table.  

Admittedly, the martech revolution hasn’t been seamless. Even as a technology-loving marketer, I have to confess that martech has caused some headaches down the road. And I know I’m not alone. Despite taking the lion’s share of the budget, marketers are only utilizing 61% of martech functionality.  

While SaaS has enabled individual departments to select and implement their own applications, interdepartmental communication continues to be an issue.  

Many companies now have an overwhelming number of applications that don’t necessarily communicate with each other,” states a 2019 Forbes report. “This is leading to organization-wide breakdowns and data silos that manual processes such as spreadsheets, email and hand data entry barely mitigate.” 

Step one is always admitting you have a problem. Now that it’s out in the open, what comes nextHint: It’s about more than technology. To deliver true 1:1 customer experiencesyou need an experience-forward strategy. Yes, you need to connect your sales, service, marketing and ecommerce technologies, but you also need to empower your people and create processes that enable connected customer experiences. That’s a lot to bite off. But adopting an experience-forward approach can be achievable—start with these three focus areas 


1. Build a business case for technology and data integration  

Whether you’re mulling over brand new tool, scaling up usage of an existing tool or looking to integrate platforms, you need to start with strategy—or vision—rather than technology. Sure, it’s easy to get sucked into G2 reviewsprice comparisons and free trialsIn fact, 47% of companies take this tack to buying and implementing software.  

But this surface-level approach doesn’t dig into the ways technology and data will help you achieve your vision. Instead of comparing features, you need to align technology to your specific business cases.  

Setting your strategy can seem overwhelming. But think of it this way. You’re not just buying a product or integrating platforms—you’re investing in a solution. And that solution needs to be centered around your product, your target audience and your plan for reaching themFollowing these steps—even at a high level—will help you define a more concrete vision of the solution you need: 

  1. Define your desired outcome. 
  2. Determine your target audience. 
  3. Map out common journeys prospects take to reach their desired outcomeWhich touchpoints do they interact with? 
  4. Evaluate how your current people, processes and technologies address these journeys. Where are the gaps? 
  5. Write and document requirements to fill the gaps you’ve identified. This will help you outline next steps to take once technology is implemented/integrated. 

If your company requires a request for proposal (RFP) for choosing software and consulting services, use these requirements to craft the document’s questions. If you prefer a more informal buying process, share these requirements with the sales teams you engage. This isn’t showing your cards—being transparent with vendors gives you a much better chance of obtaining a solution tailored to your needs. 

UnitedHealth Group, one of the largest healthcare employers in the US, used this exact strategy to scale their hiring process. By taking an experience-forward approach, they were able to transform the applicant experience and drive financial value. With a defined vision, they maximized the value of Sitecore and Salesforcereducing cost per hire by 50% and rising to #14 on Forbes Magazine’s job portal. Check out the full story here. 


2. Align processes to promote cross-team collaboration  

Remember: Solutions aren’t singular technologies. Customers expect 1:1 experiences no matter where they engage your brand. They don’t care that your CMS isn’t connected to your CRM or that your web design team doesn’t talk to your customer service team.  

At Horizontal, we believe that brands are only a strong as their worst customer experience. And when we say customer experience or CX, we don’t just mean marketing experience. Today, martech’s reach goes far beyond marketing use cases. But are teams truly collaborating across the full customer lifecycle—from first touch to customer support tickets?  

The concept of connected customer experience is certainly on the radar for many companies. 62% of companies report that they will invest in improving CXBut what’s curious is that budgets and teams aren’t on the same pageMarketing, sales, customer support and IT all report CX as a top priority—but they’re still operating independently. 

The emergence of SaaS has been a double-edged sword. It enables teams to choose and implement their own tech—but it also allows them to operate within their own bubbles. Companies like Salesforce are at the forefront of breaking down these barriers. Salesforce’s acquisition strategy has resulted in a product suite that consolidates customer data into a single view and enables business process automation across departments. In theory, the strategy of Salesforce is pushing teams to sync up.  

But in realitySalesforce’s vision is outpacing most companies. Plus, it hasn’t quite covered the full CX lifecycle. When we implement best-of-breed martech like Salesforce, the biggest challenge we see is that teams are siloed into business functions and technology usage. The Sales Ops/CRM team doesn’t communicate with the Marketing Ops/Marketing Automation team, and they definitely aren’t talking to the website/CMS team.  

This results in a disjointed CX strategy. It’s also one of the biggest reasons why companies are underutilizing their martech. When strategy fails to cross department lines, so does data. Without the right data, teams can’t fully harness the power of their expensive martech tools. 

The tension between the business and IT is age old. I won’t harp on this—involving IT early and often in any technology project should be table stakes by now. But as we move into a world fueled by connected, personalized experiences, cross-department collaboration must go beyond the minimum. Brand marketers need to be aligned to marketing ops, sales opscustomer service and vice versa.  

Redefining process, job roles and business goals is pivotal for fostering company-wide collaboration. It’s also the key to extracting the full value of the technologies you’ve adopted. 


3. Invest in your people (not just your technology) 

The notion that value comes from implementation is the biggest misconception around martechEven with a defined vision and process alignment, you’ll fall short of success if technologies don’t get adopted.  

Over half of IT leaders report that skill gaps are a major challenge in delivering business requirements. This is a concern given that 21-35% of labor demand is projected to center around AI and data by 2030. During the next 10 years, the skill gap will likely expand from IT to marketing and other business areas.  

Want to know which martech features are most frequently underused? Personalization, AI and machine learning. The rate at which technology and skills are evolving is outpacing the rate that US higher education institutes can train new students. To meet the demands of customers, you must invest in training your current workforce. If you wait, you’ll be too late. 

Best-of-breed experience platforms like Sitecore and Salesforce are building tools that lower the barrier to entry for the everyday business user. With clicks instead of code, users can build predicative models, manipulate data and deploy personalization. This is great news for companies facing upskilling challenges. Not everyone needs to become a data scientist— but they need to learn best practices and figure out which features best align to their use cases. 

Enterprise technologies have also invested heavily in building online training models. These are great for best practices, but they don’t cover specific scenarios, cross-platform programs or other in-the-weeds needs that arise 

That’s where partner expertise comes in. We’ve seen a huge uptick in requests to train teams to use multiple technologies together. Our clients have found that a deep cross-platform knowledge and a highlevel understanding of their full tech stack is essential in increasing productivity and platform adoption 

Jackie Mennie, a Senior Consultant on our Salesforce team, often collaborates with our Sitecore Strategists to train marketers on both platforms. She’s found that providing platform overviews—in the context of her customers’ use cases—sparks strategic collaboration. 

“Giving your Sitecore team a 101 course in Salesforce Marketing Cloud enables them to raise their hand during project planning and say ‘Hey, I know that Marketing Cloud has this core integration with GA360, which might really optimize our process,’” says Jackie. “Without that training, they may not have known they could leverage this Marketing Cloud data, and Sitecore features may have gone underutilized.” 


Tailoring an experience-forward approach to your business 

In the experience economy, technology isn’t enough to meet customer demand. As experience platforms begin to expand and companies look to deploy AI and personalization strategies, an experience-forward approach is the key to building martech roadmaps that align with your CX vision.  

Curious what an experience-forward strategy could look like for your company? We’d love to show you.