It’s never about the tools: Why your marketing tech stack isn’t that important

Early stage B2B startup CEO: “Should we go with Hubspot or Marketo for our marketing database?”

We got this question numerous times, and we do have a strong opinion regarding Marketo vs Hubspot (see the bottom of this post). But we have an even stronger opinion about the question itself: It’s the wrong question. It doesn’t really matter, and you’ll be ok with either.

As a B2B marketing agency, we often use whatever marketing tech stack our clients already have. Over the years, we’ve used all the popular (and some unpopular) tools in any given marketing category, and we’ve helped numerous clients build their tech stack from the ground up.

Here’s what we’ve learned about the shortcomings of marketing software, and why you shouldn’t obsess over how to build your MarTech stack

  1. No tool is perfect. Each has avid fans and rabid haters, killer features and gaping holes. No tool is going to bring you to the fountain of leads. 
  1. Tools are a commodity nowadays. Everyone uses the same tools, and infrastructure platforms (like CRM and marketing automation tools) keep adding features that make them similar. If you discover a tool that introduces truly new capabilities, it may give you a competitive edge for a while. But chances are that others will quickly catch up, and you’ll need to differentiate again. 
  1. Tools are often used as a crutch. Many teams use tools to “automate” a process that’s poorly defined or ineffective. Instead, you should start with a manual process, get to results that justify automation (if you don’t, kill it), and then find tools to automate all or parts of it.

    An example of this is when software is used to hide sales & marketing issues. Email prospecting not working? Let’s blame the tech and buy fancy software — which is much easier than admitting that our email copy sucks or our targeting is way off (or that our product doesn’t resonate!) Don’t get me wrong: good software can improve your email prospecting, but it’s not going to fix bad copy or faulty targeting. And it’s definitely not going to solve product/market fit problems.

Software isn’t going to fix your product/market fit problems.

  1. Each tool introduces overhead — of integration, training, costs, and maintenance. Is it worth the incremental benefits? 
  1. Tools are either flexible but hard to use, or vice versa. This trade-off has been around forever. Marketo and Hubspot are good examples: Marketo is powerful and can be wrangled into doing anything, but users pay for it with a complex UI and a steep learning curve. HubSpot is intuitive and anyone can use it, but it’s basic in many ways, and sophisticated companies quickly outgrow it.

    Marketing tools tend to fall on the friendly-but-inflexible side of the spectrum, leaving a lot of functionality to be desired — or cobbled together through integrations, unreliable Zapier hacks, and / or external data manipulation in a spreadsheet.
  1. Ultimately, a tool is never going to give you exactly what you want. We found that the combination of tools + people work best. For example, we use tools to do data augmentation for new leads, and then have people ensure the accuracy of the software and fix any errors.

The more tools a company has, the less successful it is.

Early stage + Enterprise? Tools are even less important

If your startup is early-stage, enterprise B2B, this is even more applicable. Your lead volume is smaller, so you need fewer tools for analytics and lead management. You do more offline marketing, like conferences and dinners, and less digital marketing (which comes with a plethora of tools).

In later stages, more software is needed: You’ll need tools to help you manage the complexity of multiple products, segments, and regions. You’ll use more marketing channels, run more experiments, and collaborate with external companies. All these activities are often supported by technology.

But early on and selling to enterprises? We’d venture as far as saying that in our experience, the more tools a company has, the less successful it is.

OK, so my marketing tech stack isn’t going to save me. What should I focus on instead?

Don’t look for a tool to give you a competitive advantage. Innovate and excel in other realms, like your product, your content, and your people.

A good analogy is cooking. My mother-in-law is a phenomenal cook in her small, old, no-fancy-equipment kitchen. Give me the fanciest kitchen and all the gadgets in the world, and I’m not going to come close.

Make no mistake: we’re not saying tools aren’t important. But your resources (time and money) are always limited, and you’re better off investing them in something else, instead of obsessing over the next cool toy tool.

What can deliver a sustainable competitive advantage isn’t yet another tool, but instead people and content.

  1. People. I’d take a good marketer over a good tool any day. Give me a smart person doing things manually vs a mediocre marketer using all the automations in the world, I’d choose the great person every. single. time.
  1. Content. Invest time and money in creating unique, high-quality content and building your audience, and not in integrating the current hot tool. And quality content doesn’t need tech bells and whistles. You can send your quality ebook through a text-only email and it’ll do just fine. We’ve secured prime time TV appearances, WSJ articles, and meetings with Fortune 500 CEOs through stellar content sent via Gmail.

Lastly, our four tips for selecting a B2B marketing tool — without making a big deal out of it

  1. Ask peers at similar startups (or ones at a slightly later stage) for recommendations.
  1. If you have someone on the marketing / sales team who’s advocating for a specific tool and has experience using it, that’s a good reason to go for it.
  1. Run a pilot or trial with 2-3 tools and see if you have a clear preference. This will also help with price negotiations. 
  1. Online reviews should be taken with a grain of salt. The reviewer might not be similar to you, and a lot of the review sites are heavily “influenced” by the software vendors.

The Bottom Line

Don’t obsess over marketing technology. It’s not going to make you a winner or loser.
Need a tool? Do some research, ask around, pick one, and move on. Spend the time and money you saved on hiring amazing people, and crafting drool-worthy content.

* We prefer Marketo. But really, they’re both fine.

This post is part of our crash course, Busting the most common B2B marketing myths. Read on for more of our thoughts on some of the most common B2B marketing myths and misconceptions.

Netta is the founder and CEO of Blue Seedling. She loves third wave coffee, thin crust pizza, and B2B marketing.

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