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The Startup

It’s Time to Stack Up, Not Suite Out

Why Best-of-Breed is the Right Choice for your Marketing Technology Portfolio

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It’s a question that’s dogged the technology world since the Big Tech explosion of the early nineties, following the dot-com collapse of the noughties, through to Steve Jobs climbing onto that famous San Francisco stage and presenting a revolutionary smartphone — a device on which developers would eventually be forced into hiding key features disguised as flashlight apps.

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Apple or Android? Corporate Banks or Challengers? Walled Garden or Omni-Channel?

We’re gotten familiar with these kinds of decisions in our day-to-day lives, but more and more they’re becoming relevant in how we approach digital — you soon might find yourself asking:

What’s best for my business? The Suite or Stack route?

The crux of this debate revolves on whether it’s better to enshrine your Martech Stack into the authoritarian, walled-garden of a single Tech Giant or entrust it to the hot-shot wild west of multiple smaller, more agile Challenger Tech companies.

This choice reflects how your digital strategy will evolve; how you’ll bridge your application landscape from being a solely web-based affair — perhaps with a basic app and some google analytics thrown in for good measure — into a multi-channel, cohesive user experience across both your front & back end-user touchpoints.

Both approaches have their pros and cons and — all cards on the table — I have some skin in the game; I spent two & a half years drinking the Suite, big red kool-aid at Oracle as a Solutions Engineer, prior to joining champions of everything Stack at Jahia as a Product Marketing Manager.

Drawing upon that experience, I’m going to try my very best to give you a compelling state of the union regarding what I believe is truly the best choice for a modern Marketing Leader.

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Angle of a Stack

Simply put, adopting the Stack approach means defining the key areas of your business — be it e-commerce, sales, comms, etc. — and partnering with vendors who produce the best in class tools specific to each of these pillars.

It’s really hard to argue with this way of doing business when you look at the current landscape of tech. With the rapid pace of change in how we all consume digital, it pays to work with partners that are able to quickly adapt their products in order to meet new habits & expectations.

With a Tech Giant, you’ll have to trust that they’ll eventually overcome their massive bureaucracy by throwing huge sums of money at servicing a new development, one which might not necessarily be their main focus — their primary motivation more than likely being to tick a new feature functionality box off in an RFP.

Moreover, these smaller companies recognise that user experience needs to be at the forefront. Legacy Tech is still largely minded by individuals whose experience of technology was born such that they assumed when something went wrong, wasn’t clear or had no obvious fix, it was their fault as a user for not understanding the system, rather than bad design.

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Challenger Tech understands that the most important investment is in product usability; That’s why Slack is now a verb and why three-year-olds can use (and are subsequently bought) iPads — Product Lead Marketing is very much a goose that lays golden eggs, granted your product is easy enough to navigate. By stacking these kinds of technologies together, you’ll be reaping the rewards from the get-go — both in hours saved from lack of training required, as well as increased productivity due to your employees actually enjoying the software they work with.

The Stack Connect

Sounds pretty great right? Well, the catch — in theory — is that because these partners are separate entities, in order to create a cohesive Digital Platform, you’ll have to put in some serious leg work if you want to get these tools to talk to each other. This doesn’t really stack up (pun intended) in my book, and that comes down to the mythical nomads living behind the technical curtain: the Developers.

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Developers, by nature, keep up-to-date with the latest digital trends & cutting edge frameworks, and they’re all singing the same tune: API-first. Software these days needs to be built with integration and interoperability from the ground up — it’s table stake.

The Developer’s close-cousin, the IT exec, doesn’t want to be responsible for having to train entire teams on the nuances of using complex, feature saturated and laboriously out-dated IT software. They want to to be the data model masters, building and controlling the connections between these applications, their data lakes and reporting tools — as well as developing their own in-house software when necessary. They should be able to trust that Marketing/Sales/etc. have a tool that’s so easy to use, IT won’t have to step in and hold their hand.

Finally, let’s not forget the emergence of technologies like the Digital Experience Platform (DXP), which can be the beating heart of your Stack. DXPs combine content management, customer data tracking, personalization testing, and a dizzying amount of out of box integrations to the most popular business applications on the market (Jahia has 400+ for example). They allow you to evolve at a pace that suits your growth rate, providing a foundation to build upon which you can quickly and painlessly incorporate new applications onto, at a time as & when you’re business needs them to scale — with data and flexible technology driving that conversation the entire way.

Turn up the Suite

There are of course benefits in going the Suite route — of building out a technology portfolio where all the applications are provisioned by a single, well-established vendor.

It means that all aspects of your suite will fundamentally have some level of communication with each other, technical or otherwise — even if it’s just two different Product Managers meeting over a morning coffee, there will inevitably be some strategic oversight into ensuring that your products can communicate in an effective way.

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You can benefit from economies of scale with a trusted, well funded Tech Giant — and if something goes wrong, there’s only “one throat to choke” as the industry morbidly puts it. They’re better poised to weather a financial storm, should the Tech sector experience any volatility. They’ll have an expansive partner network with the resources to offer your business a variety of implementation routes, support packages, and established processes — with a guaranteed level of reliability, services-wise. It’ll cost you an arm and a leg but, to employ another industry saying:

nobody’s ever been fired for buying <insert your favourite Tech Giant here>

Although this might not be a huge value-add for smaller businesses that are just embarking on their digital journey, the implications can be massive for enterprises with multiple business units across several regions. Having a partner that can confidently guide a strategic digital overhaul on such a global scale can be seductive, to say the least. In such instances, the abilities of suite technology when it comes to managing large volumes of transactional data also come into play — Martech is one thing but when it comes to Financials or Supply Chain, where user experience takes a back seat to real-time transaction reliability, it’s hard to beat the cold efficiency of a Tech Giant.

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Look- if we all lived in some kind of technological utopia where implementation projects got a blank check and the march of time wasn’t so unstoppable, it’d be hard to beat a suite.

Ironically, this is the vacuum Tech Giants semi-exist in — they have the resources and manpower required to speak the language of a diversely complex audience. Their technology embodies the art of the possible when it comes to feature functions — whatever your heart desires, there’s a suite out there which can probably help your business achieve it.

But alas…

Not so Suite

We don’t live in such a utopia. The world we do inhabit — the fast-moving digital space — means that, despite the benefits afforded by a Tech Giant application suite, one size does not necessarily fit all. A suite is only as good as it’s weakest product and being locked into a single, faceless Tech Giant means that if they stop supporting something that’s key to your business, good luck changing their minds — lest you forget most of these companies have more lawyers than your business has employees; you can expect some difficult conversations on the horizon.

It’s also worth noting the value of being able to build authentic relationships through personable interaction with your digital partners. In the data age, it’s easy to boil down this value to a semi-meaningless commodity, where efficiency is king and purchases should just be transactions. Dealing with a Tech Giant, you might get this impression — especially when they start to juggle your ASRs and CSMs so much that it looks like they’re expanding their Suite to target the Circus as a new vertical.

To give this point credence, I’m going to lean on an anecdotal experience that was passed on to me by a senior purchaser and their dealings with a Tech Giant. This Tech Giant shall remain nameless, but they sold “a business suite” so to say.

This purchaser was at the top of the purchasing chain for their company and acted as the ultimate buyer — they put pen to paper on the largest deal in North America for this software suite that year. A few weeks later, after the Tech Giant’s fiscal year came to a close, the Sales Rep calls up this Purchaser and asks (and I’m paraphrasing) “So… what’s next?”

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They hadn’t even started implementing and the wolves were back howling at the door, hungry for more. There’s always one more application, one more process to be improved — “and seeing as you’ve bought so much of the suite already, it’d be crazy if you looked anywhere else!”

A straight forward implementation cycle can morph into an overreaching, multi-year slog of a project that never has an end in sight, where the vendor pressures you into scaling with new products at a pace which, sure, might suit their fiscal calendar — but maybe won’t suit the rate your business is growing.

There are a lot of fantastically genuine, amazingly talented people working at these Tech Giants — I can personally attest to that. But if you really want to get to know a company, to do business together rather than just be sold to, I’m not sure they’re your best bet.

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The Answer: Back the Stack

There’s a lot of hype in the industry at the moment about getting up and running with all the latest buzzwords — ML, AI, blockchain. These are amazing technologies that the Tech Giants are inarguably pioneering in the B2B/B2C spaces.

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The reality though, is that a lot of companies are only just embarking on their digital journey.

I don’t think there’s a single business out there which wouldn’t jump at the chance to embed these technologies at their core — but what’s the smarter play: rushing to scale quickly because you’re afraid of being left behind?

Or, is it adopting a technological mantra that affords you some breathing room to build out the core parts of your digital approach right now, with the ability to bring in advanced technologies as & when they’re able to meaningfully impact the way you run your business?

It’s very easy to fall for the allure of the suite; their sales teams will come in and pitch you your own wildest dreams of digital transformation, of “bridging the gap” to become the next tech unicorn in your industry.

Just don’t forget who’s also selling the bridge.

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