Main illustration: Kyle Wayne Benson
Table of contents:
You might be familiar with Scott Brinker’s famous marketing technology (martech) landscape slide.
Known as the Martech 5000 — nicknamed after the 5,000 companies that were competing in the global marketing technology space in 2017, it’s said to be the most frequently shared slide of all time.
By early 2018, Brinker had updated it with almost 2,000 more vendors — that’s nearly 7,000 marketing software companies fighting for the same buyers’ attention.
The reasons for this growth – high-velocity economics of software innovation, the migration of money from old media to new media, etc. – lie beyond the realms of this article but one thing is clear: this market is HUGE. Marketing technology is now the largest portion of total marketing budget (29% on average according to Gartner).
With marketing and technology becoming so intertwined, marketers are having to become ever more intentional about the software they choose. The “shiny penny” approach (focus all your attention on the hottest tools in the market) or “head in the sand” approach (fall victim to analysis paralysis and avoid choosing any tools) are no longer viable.
In this guide we’ll show you how your business can navigate the martech landscape to build a lean, productive marketing stack, and how some of the fasted growing software companies are building theirs.
What is a marketing technology stack?
A marketing technology stack (also known as “tech stack”) is the group of technologies that marketers use to execute, analyze and improve their marketing across the customer lifecycle. The goal of marketing technologies is to improve internal collaboration, measure the impact of marketing activities and reach customers in new ways.
Strategy first, technology second
When preparing for any technology implementation, if you’re anything like me your first step is to head straight to Google or G2 Crowd, compare feature sets and pricing, and maybe kick the tires with a free trial to see if it’s a good fit. In fact, 94% of buyers buy software in this exact way.
But here’s the thing: a tool is not a strategy. Sure, you can compare different software packages by their features, but that’s like marrying someone based on their dating profile. The real value marketing software offers is in the strategy and approach it enables — and how it impacts customer experience (the desired end result).
A strategy needs to be the foundation of any marketing stack, one that takes into consideration who you are, what your goals are and who you’re trying to reach. Without this foundation, your marketing stack can become a set of siloed tools that will bog your team down in complexity.
That’s why the first step in building a marketing tech stack is to monitor and document your marketing processes until you fully uncover the way your teams do things today. Find out where you lack processes and where you need to do things differently, and choose technology based on that. Once you have mapped out this process, you’ll have a better understanding of the required tools you need for your business.
To summarize: Martech isn’t about making your strategy fit to the technology you want to use. It’s about building a strategy, and then finding technology that enables it.
The anatomy of a marketing tech stack [with recommended tools]
In an ideal world, we’d be able to give you a one-size-fits-all marketing stack that could work for any business. But the reality is the type of business you have will impact which technologies you might find important, and how they should be organized. For example, a business that sells their products or services to consumers (B2C) or to businesses (B2B) and use different channels and techniques to acquire customers, and will have varying technology needs as a result.
That said, when building out a marketing technology stack there are a set of foundational technologies you should always consider. This works as well for a B2B company like Intercom as it does for any B2C company.
We’ll start by breaking your marketing stack down into three key stages:
- Stage 1: Attract
- Stage 2: Engage
- Stage 3: Analyze and optimize
Whether you’re a B2B or B2C marketer, one thing’s for sure: You have struggled with lead generation. Both landscapes are increasingly competitive and it’s little wonder that 63% of marketing executives have rated lead generation as their biggest challenges in 2018.
But lead generation starts with traffic and this is what our first collection of tools will be taking care of.
Google AdWords – advertising
When it comes to driving qualified traffic to your site, AdWords is still the fastest way to get results. Not only are you targeting people who show a specific interest in what you’re selling, AdWords acts as a first point of contact for lead nurturing tactics like remarketing, email marketing and conversion optimization.
Alternatives: AdRoll, Quantcast
Demandbase – advertising
ABM has evolved from buzzword to a “must-have” for marketing teams today. According to SiriusDecisions, 92% of B2B marketers consider ABM “extremely” or “very” important to their marketing efforts.
Demandbase enables companies to deliver personalized online ads to specific people at specific companies across the web while refining the message to try to convert them into customers. So let’s say Joe works for Pfizer. Well, by using Demandbase for digital marketing, Joe will served personalized ads for healthcare offerings, using pre-determined criteria, such as revenue, industry, and previous purchasing habits. Pretty neat, huh?
Alternatives: Terminus, Engagio
Instapage – landing page builder
While personalized and targeted ads resonate well with prospects, they usually click through to a homepage. Guess what happens next? They don’t take action. As marketers, it can be particularly frustrating to see all of your work — and budget — go to waste.
Instapage lets you create unique landing pages that can specifically match the context where visitors click from. For example, say someone clicked an ad to learn about landing pages. Before jumping straight into a full product portfolio, the visitor should be directed to a single page that explains what landing pages are, and why they’re valuable.
Buffer – social media publishing
Buffer allows you to manage your entire social media strategy from one place and collect reports from across your networks. You can also schedule posts to make your content marketing go further, which is a vital part of maximising your social leads – especially for time-sensitive networks like Twitter and Instagram.
If you’re on a budget, you’ll also be happy to know Buffer comes with a generous free plan. In fact, Buffer’s Kevan Lee recently built a $0 marketing stack that outlines many free alternatives to paid tools.
Alternatives: Sprinklr, Sprout Social, Hootsuite, MeetEdgar
WordPress – CMS
Intercom’s blog is the growth engine that powers much of Intercom’s marketing and it in turn is powered by WordPress. In fact, WordPress is the CMS (Content Management System) powering over 32% of all the websites on the Internet. Yes – more than one in four websites that you visit are likely powered by WordPress. 😦
WordPress lets users build everything from blogs to full-blown websites with 100s of themes to choose from. Better yet, WordPress makes building a website accessible to anyone – even people who aren’t developers.
Alternatives: Ghost, Medium, Joomla
Ahrefs – SEO
Want to drive a TON of organic traffic to your website? Here’s a tried and tested formula:
- Pick a topic/keyword
- Create an exceptional piece of content around that topic
- Promote it. Build links to it. Rank it.
It is a simple formula, but only if you use the right tools for the job. Ahrefs is a suite of SEO tools that helps websites, blogs and companies grow their search traffic, do in-depth research on their competitors and monitor their niche. Which keywords/topics should you be trying to rank for? How many links do you need to build to rank for your chosen keywords? Ahrefs lets you do all that and more.
Alternatives: SEMrush, Moz, Serpstat
Zoom – webinars
One-on-one meetings and conference calls are Zoom’s bread and butter, but it’s also a damn fine tool for hosting webinars that can drive people to your website. We’ve held close to 100 webinars with Zoom and the user experience for the business (it hooks into your CRM very nicely) and for participants (the video quality is unparalleled) is next level.
Bonus: You can now enable visitors and users to register for webinars directly in the Intercom Messenger with our Zoom integration.
Alternatives: GoToMeeting, WebEx, Blue Jeans
Madkudu – lead scoring
These days, marketing teams aren’t just responsible for filling the sales pipeline with quantity. They’re responsible for filling the sales pipeline with quality too. There is little point in attracting thousands of leads who would never be a good fit in the first place. Lead scoring is one of the best ways of guaranteeing the leads they hand over to sales are of a certain quality.
Madkudu is one of the most powerful lead scoring tools on the market and can help calculate tons of valuable information, most of which is not visible to your sales team. Beyond job title and employee count, Madkudu can evaluate the predicted revenue of each company, the size of specific teams, the tech stack and tools that a company uses, whether their solution is B2B or B2C, whether it has a free trial or not, whether they’ve raised venture capital and much more, meaning your sales team can hone in on leads who show the best determiners of success.
Alternatives: Salespanel, Infer
This year, marketers will spend $4.6 billion to attract businesses to their websites.
But before the billions have been spent, and the leads have been driven to our websites, we need to ask ourselves one important question: What’s actually happening when they get there?
Ask any marketer how they engage potential leads on their site, and they’ll probably say they’ve got it covered – maybe they have some forms people fill out when they want to talk to a sales rep or book a demo. Maybe a landing page prompts them for their details in exchange for high value content, dropping them into an email nurture campaign.
The fact is, buyers today have all the power. They don’t want to have to fill out forms and wait for lengthy follow-ups. That’s why we’ve put together a collection of tools that will help you engage your website visitors in a modern way.
Intercom – live chat and customer engagement
We use it for:
- Sending targeted messages to visitors on our website
- Building chatbots to automatically engage qualify leads 24/7 on our website
- CRM. Intercom’s power comes in tracking and monitoring customer data so we can better understand our audience and properly serve them with the right content and messages.
Additionally, Intercom solves one of the biggest headaches when it comes to constructing your tech stack – integrations. Even if a platform promises great results, it will do more harm than good if it doesn’t integrate with the rest of your tools. For example, if your live chat tool doesn’t integrate with your CRM and requires four different people to move leads from one system to another, you’ve got a problem.
Intercom has over 100 integrations with the likes of Google Analytics, Salesforce, Hubspot and many more so you can rest easy that everything will play nicely together.
Alternatives: None 😉
Clearbit – data enrichment
For many companies, over 90% of their web traffic is anonymous. At Intercom, we use Clearbit Reveal to help de-anonymize website traffic.
When a prospect visits the Intercom website, Clearbit uses their IP address to detect their company, its industry, its location, what technology the company already uses and more. This means you can customize your communication to each individual and avoid those spray-and-pray tactics from years gone by.
To give you one example: let’s say your sweet spot is B2B SaaS companies. By using Clearbit Reveal in tandem with a messaging tool like Intercom, you can have a personalized message that shows up when someone from a B2B SaaS company hits our website (and conversely doesn’t appear for a B2C company who you believe aren’t a great fit).
Alternatives: ZoomInfo, LinkedIn Sales Navigator
Marketo – marketing automation
Let’s face it: Marketo isn’t the sexiest of tools. In fact, it feels pretty old school compared to some of the names of this list. But boy is it powerful. There’s a very good reason it’s the fourth most popular product in marketing stacks today (behind Google Analytics, LinkedIn and Twitter in case you were wondering).
Marketo allows users to automate their marketing processes like creating personalized campaigns that scale, identifying top prospects, and finding and connecting with the right customers. It’s probably overkill for a smaller business, but if you’re moving from startup to scale-up, Marketo is perfect for those looking to grow and market to a large audience with a high degree of segmentation.
Alternatives: Pardot, Eloqua
HubSpot – marketing automation
Like Marketo, HubSpot is now a household name (if your house is full of marketers). The breadth of its platform is pretty breathtaking, with products that run the gamut from advertising, blogging, SEO, email, social media, call-to-actions and beyond. As a low-cost (and in some cases free) platform, it’s particularly popular with small businesses who can’t afford the wealth of software options that more mature companies can.
There’s now an app that integrates Intercom with HubSpot, making it easy to sync your data between both products. This means less time wasted copying and pasting between tools and less lost marketing opportunities.
Alternatives: Marketo, Pardot
Outreach – sales engagement
Marketing teams have always been great at generating and nurturing leads. But they haven’t been so good at handing those leads over to sales and making sure they’re acted on. In fact, they often have little insight into whether or not reps have actually advanced inbound leads or not.
Outreach is the kind of tool for team’s who are serious about sales and marketing alignment. It tracks your reps interactions with prospects and customers and recommends prescribed sequences of communications based on that. Better yet, instead of marketing logging into one system, and sales into another, both teams can use the the Outreach dashboards and tools, making sure no lead falls through the cracks.
Aircall – cloud calling
Every marketer knows that if they were given five minutes to show all new users the product and answer their questions, they’d nail their monthly recurring revenue targets. The problem is that setting up lots of screen shares each day is a teeth grinding process.
Aircall lets you start a phone call instantly from pretty much every major software system out there like Intercom, Slack, Hubspot and more. Getting visitors from chat into a face to face demo can all be arranged automatically in a matter of minutes to dramatically speed up the sales cycle.
Alternatives: Dialpad, Talkdesk
Arthur Nielsen, the pioneer of data-driven marketing, used to say that “the price of light is less than the cost of darkness.” The point is elegantly made – it’s not a question of whether you can afford to invest in analytics, it’s a question of whether you can afford not to. Unfortunately, analytics are often considered as an afterthought – a method of justifying the outcomes of a marketing system, rather than a tool to fine-tune the contributing aspects of that system.
But the tide is changing.
According to Gartner, marketing analytics spend has moved from the #4 to the #1 marketing budget priority in 2018. Marketers are embracing the validation capabilities of analytics at every layer of the stack.
Of course, half the challenge for marketers today is choosing which of the thousands of data sources to integrate into their marketing system. Not to worry. We’ve chosen a handful of tools that can be threaded throughout your marketing stack and in doing so will help give you a 360-degree view of your marketing effectiveness,
Google Analytics – web analytics
Sure, the UI is not the prettiest and I often find myself several menus deep, caught up in a perplexing mess of filters and date ranges. But it is a truth universally acknowledged that Google Analytics is brilliant for four reasons:
- Knowing where your website visitors are coming from.
- How they found you.
- What content they viewed.
- How long they stayed on parts of your site.
All this provides infinite insight into your buyer personas and countless data-backed optimization opportunities.
Combine this with a messaging product like Intercom to track visitor interactions with your Messenger all the way through the funnel and you, my friend, are in prime position to take your marketing effectiveness to the next level. And who doesn’t want that?
Alternatives: Firebase, Mixpanel
Tableau – business intelligence
Business intelligence (BI) software is an increasingly powerful tool in a marketing team’s arsenal, allowing teams to track every dollar and every movement throughout the marketing funnel. The real power comes in connecting multiple data sources to gain invaluable insights otherwise lost. Let’s take an AdWords campaign for example. You could look at your AdWords dashboard within your account, but with a BI solution, you could look at AdWords, Marketing Automation and CRM data in one visualization to get a complete view of your marketing efforts.
Tableau is recognized as the cream of the crop for its visual-based data analysis. Its data visualization is head and shoulders above what traditional BI vendors offer. You can perform fairly complex data visualization in a very intuitive, drag and drop manner so your team don’t need to be fiddling around with SQL and so forth.
Alternatives: Microsoft BI, Looker
LeanData – lead management
Conversions aren’t a nice, neat and organized path from point A to B. No, the conversion process is often more like a winding road of tangents, intersections and loops that involve a whole host of marketing touch-points. In order to understand the real ROI of your marketing program, you need to know which individual components really moved the needle. Without these, it’s all too easy for marketers to investing in under-performing marketing channels that yield poor pipeline and revenue.
LeanData connects with your Customer Relationships Management (CRM) to provides the most accurate, channel by channel view of campaign performance so that your team can choose how to spend money in the most effective ways possible. Different marketing attribution models may suit different business needs depending on the length and complexity of the buyer’s journey so LeanData features fully-customizable attribution models that can be finely tuned to your business.
Alternatives: Bizible, BrightFunnel
Segment – customer data infrastructure
Businesses today have data coming at them from a myriad of locations. Extracting that data from the various silos within which it sits, and then transforming it in such a way that it can be rendered useful is hugely complex. Anything that can automate the collection and transformation of that data is a good thing for your business.
This is where Segment comes in. It gathers together all the data about a customer from a variety of sources like your CRM tool, customer service application and website and pull that all together into a single view of the customer, something that is the goal of every company in the customer information business. Think of it as a data hub for your entire company. As companies employ a broader arsenal of marketing and analytics products, consolidation tools like Segment are only going to become more and more popular.
Alternatives: Tealium, MuleSoft
Hotjar – conversion rate optimization
It’s not easy finding an analytics tool which captures who your visitors are, and combines that what your visitors are doing on your website. Hotjar combines a range of essential analytics features (conversion funnel analysis) with user feedback tools (screen recordings, surveys etc) into a single platform
Probably one of the most used tools that HotJar has to offer is their Heatmaps, which visually represents your visitors’ clicks, taps, and scrolling behavior. It’s perfect for understanding you what areas of your website people are spending time on.
Alternatives: Crazy Egg, FullStory
Optimizely – conversion rate optimization
There’s a famous anecdote from Marissa Mayer’s time at Google, referred to as the “Forty Shades of Blue” episode. She ordered that 40 different shades of blue would be randomly shown to each 2.5% of visitors; Google would note which color earned more clicks. The best performing shade led to $200M in revenue a year.
We’re not all lucky enough to have enough design/engineering resources to embark on test like this (let alone enough traffic to test such a hypothesis) but the wider point should be missed – optimization and experimentation needs to be a key part of any marketing strategy in 2018.
Optimizely allows you to create variations of your existing website with A/B, multi-page or multivariate tests, and then tracks how customers respond to those different versions. The best part is that it’s absurdly easy to use. You don’t have to code anything to adjust your website with this tool. Optimizely has a visual editor, which allows you to make changes by clicking instead of coding, perfect if you don’t have a full time development team at your disposal.
Alternatives: Unbounce, Instapage
Winning marketing tech stacks in 2019
As soon as we started putting together our ideal marketing tech stack for 2019, we got an idea:
Let’s grab our magnifying glass and analyze what tools our peers in the industry are using, day-to-day.
From what live chat software they’re using to engage their visitors, to how they’re measuring success, we partnered with four leading companies to get a behind-the-scenes look at how the world’s top marketing teams operate.
Knowing how to leverage tools is at the core of Segment’s business. Their software makes it easy to collect customer data and send it to any tool for any purpose, from analytics to marketing automation. In short, if there’s anyone who knows about building and connecting a marketing tech stack, it’s these folks. Their Head of Growth, Kevin White, weighed in on his preferred tools:
Years ago you might have dumped all of your leads into a spreadsheet and had someone sort through them to find the ones worth pursuing, then they’d throw them over the fence to sales. In 2018, however, there’s finally an alternative to doing this by hand: machine learning.
You probably associate machine learning with dystopian AI or Google’s bot beating the world’s best Go player, but it’s actually becoming central to the marketing industry today. You don’t need a mathematics degree to leverage it, either, thanks to tools like MadKudu which help surface insights from that data on their own. It’s unsurprising then to see that machine learning tools are at the heart of their own marketing stack.
Tools like Outreach are leading the charge from the one-to-many marketing efforts of old to the one-to-one world of account-based sales and marketing. To do this, they’ve built a marketing stack that gives them a laser sharp view of everything that’s happening with their prospects: where they stand in the market, whether they’re in the news about something, whether they have a relationship with your competitors, and more.
This information provides them with that single bullet that will be most effective rather than taking the shotgun approach to marketing, trying to hit as many leads as possible in one nonspecific blast.
The next generation of B2B buyers will shop for software in an entirely different way than most decision-makers do now. Think about how you buy – you Google it, ask your friends, talk to colleagues. We’ve shifted from a supplier’s world – where supply is limited and the suppliers govern demand – to a world of infinite supply where, consequently, buyers have the power.
Leading this revolution are review sites like G2Crowd. With over 500,000 verified customer reviews about nearly 60,000 products, buyers can get real-time qualitative data about software before they make a decision. Needless to say, if anyone knows anything about buying the right kind of marketing software, it’s these folks.
Bonus: the marketing tech stack that has helped us grow Intercom from 0 to 30,000 customers
In just over 4 years, Intercom’s marketing team has grown from 1 person (Hi Matt 👋) to well over 60. It follows that the software we use has evolved significantly since then. What was once a basic setup of WordPress and Google Analytics has evolved into a sophisticated stack of well over a dozen tools.
As the team and tools have grown, one thing has remained constant: Intercom. It’s the beating heart of our marketing stack. From product announcements, nurture campaigns, marketing automation, lead capture, lead qualification, booking meetings, you name it, we probably use Intercom for it. The philosophy of our stack is to use Intercom as our default, and then to substitute when the need or desire arises.
A LOT has changed in 2018. And more change is to come.
What all of these marketing stacks point to is a shift in the way businesses are capturing, qualifying, and connecting with their leads and customers. Real-time, on-demand messaging is now the norm, and the explosion of data enrichment tools have meant messaging has become more and more personalized – and thus effective. In our conversations, three additional takeaways stood out.
Businesses are embracing the latest and greatest tools
Chatbots and automation have had an incredible year of innovation and adoption, moving from the trough of disillusionment into a productive tool for marketers in little over a year.
But aren’t forgetting the basics either
Free tools like Google Analytics and Adwords are still being used successfully by scaling companies and have yet to be disrupted by incumbents.
Marketing and sales tech are deeply entwined — and only becoming more so
The silos between sales and marketing tech are quickly eroding and there’s a growing trend for software like Intercom, Outreach and Clearbit that crosses organizational boundaries.
Whatever tools you choose for your marketing stack with, just remember: Building a marketing tech stack is like conducting an orchestra. If you want to succeed, you need to have both the sheet music (strategy) and the instruments (technology) — not one or the other.