Learning from others mistakes

What I have learned in my short time in the middle east is that the pace of life is quick, this of course has an affect on the way decisions are made in business too. RFPs come in with short notice, technology selection is made within weeks not months as it is in some other markets. On one side that is great because it means that you don’t have the back and forth procrastinating over every fine detail. In a growing economy like this, you have to be nimble and agile as there is a constant influx of foreign direct investment into ever expanding free zones. However quick decisions should not be at the expense of careful consideration. Why do we care about consideration? Well, inevitably without it you will be increasing the TCO of your platform, sometimes to a point it is no longer maintainable. The good news is that careful consideration doesn’t necessarily have to take time, particularly when you can learn from others mistakes. Furthermore it is not too late as the next few years is set to be a cloud computing boom driving the economic benefits in the UAE is the growth of cloud computing, which will grow 27%, from $184 million in 2018 to $778 million in 2024. UAE IDC Report, June 2020.  

I therefore want to outline two trends that I’ve seen over the past few years in Europe and the US that the middle east could learn from: 

  1. Working back from standard 
  2. Vendor alignment 

Working back from standard 

One big move (& it has been ongoing for some time in more mature/ larger companies) is a distinct move away from customising everything to everybody’s needs and ensuring that there is a more consistent process across the board which requires less maintenance. 

The temptation when investing in a new tool is to explore all of its capabilities and push it to its limit. I can assure you that it is a temptation worth avoiding especially as it is often done in silos. The amount of re-work needed to re-align departments and to re-align the technology is truly monumental.  

To be clear, this is not a plea for you to go out and just install a totally vanilla solution, the repercussions of doing that can be equally as bad because you will end up behind your competitors. What this is is a piece of advice to do the following: 

  • Think about how you will align common and integrated business processes with key stakeholders before you make the purchase. Hint: Talking is not enough, you have to dedicate an exercise to this with documentation signed off by all relevant parties and an agreed process. Think also about setting a vision and decision making pillars to maintain that alignment throughout the programme.  
  • Understand what tools (or common suite of tools) are aligned to your specific requirements. To add detail here it should be an exercise centred on metrics which maps the technologies capabilities to your specific requirements, remember again to think across departments. 
  • Prioritise where you need extra effort and customization. As the sub-title suggests this is to ensure you apply the complexity where it is required and not waste time where there is a more efficient solution. That sounds obvious but it does require careful thinking because it is all too common that your problem is the most unique, it might be but also it might not – you need to decide across the board. 

This isnt about cutting corners and cost saving either. It is about balancing the needs and requirements of the business  with the complexity of maintaining business as usual. Furthermore it is not just an IT problem – sales, marketing & customer service will all ultimately be affected if the tool is too complex or too difficult to maintain because the outputs will be sub-standard which will lead to either a poor employee experience or a poor customer experience.  

Vendor alignment 

As I mentioned before decisions are often made in silos – that’s probably not something new to you. However the impact of doing so often takes time to reach the point of full detriment. Silos don’t just have to be departments, they are often regions too, I recently worked with a company that had 28 different marketing automation/ email marketing tools. The license cost of doing that alone should be enough to deter you from taking such a regionalized model.  

Again, I am not suggesting to totally centralise, that is the other extreme and one that can be very difficult to accomplish particularly where you have strong regional HQs. What you should do is understand what vendors can provide the best functionality and product roadmap specific to your needs across regions and departments. Again, extending the platform is always a possibility if you’ve selected one that allows for it.  

Those in Europe & the US went through a boom of hand picking the best technologies in each category. I guess many of you have seen Scott Brinker’s martech landscape, if not take a look here for the 2020 version. It truly is an explosion and there is a plethora of fantastic tools within that graphic. Now though, you can’t even read the graphic let alone be able to manage the tools within it, the likelihood is you don’t have all of the skills required to get the most out of each platform so the TCO of your martech stack becomes unbearable. Furthermore to create the experiences you want you have to centralise your data therefore there is an integration cost to maintaining such a stack. The trend now is the polar opposite where companies are looking at selecting 2 or 3 key technology vendors to deliver the vast majority of their front end experience (e.g Sitecore) and back end orchestration (e.g Salesforce) 

A final point to consider here is measurement, we live in an inherently more measurable world now that we move more to digital, therefore there is an expectation that you do exactly that. In order to measure and more importantly provide meaningful insight you have to have a common approach to data collection and centralise this otherwise it becomes too manual. Of course it goes without saying that vendor alignment is a solution to this. A couple of quick words of warning though, even with alignment the data model may not be the same, so it isn’t as easy as clicking your fingers. Secondly is be aware of how much you are measuring – just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I was once told if we can’t run our company using 100 reports or less then we are measuring the wrong things. Personally I feel that is a step too far but the approach is correct – it forced everyone to think about what they really wanted to measure and what they were going to do with the metrics they receive. 

In summary, as everyone becomes more mature in their understanding  of leveraging tools across the  worker and customer experience their approach changes with it. As I eluded to in my opening statement however here in the Middle East we don’t have to go through such a long protracted cycle to learn, we can get it right first time. 

It’s not easy, I remember sitting with the COO of a multi-billion dollar software firm in a kick-off meeting of a 3 year transformation project where he asked everyone to cross their arms, now uncross them and cross them the opposite way, how does that feel? Awkward? Yes, everyone replied. Well that is how it is going to be for a while until we align he said but don’t forget the outcome there was exactly the same. So there will be some folding and unfolding of arms in your company (maybe literally) but the important factor here is to take everyone on the journey with you by going through some of the steps I mentioned. Also, don’t forget the earlier you do this the better, if you hadn’t spent the last 30 years crossing your arms the same way each time it wouldn’t feel as strange. 

The best part is, if you work back it is much easier to build on top of rather than undo. Core business platforms like Salesforce allow you to easily integrate, customize and extend in whichever area you like, they just won’t tell you what that area is, you need to go through an exercise to do so. 

Download Marketing Transformation in 2021: The Definitive Middle East Guide