Main illustration: Kyle Wayne Benson
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 2019, Brinker had added more than 2,000 vendors – that’s over 7,000 marketing software companies fighting for the same buyers’ attention.
One thing is clear: this market is HUGE. Marketing technology is now one of the largest portions of a company’s total marketing budget (26% on average according to Gartner).
We wanted to understand how businesses are defining and redefining their martech stacks in 2020 and beyond. So, we chatted with leaders from some of the fastest growing software companies – including Sprout Social, Segment, G2, Unbounce, and more – to get a sense of their vision for the year ahead and what areas they’re investing in most. (Hint: marketing tech stacks are about to get smarter, sleeker, and infinitely more connected in 2020.)
We’ll also show you how your business can navigate the martech landscape to build a lean, productive marketing tech stack that will serve you this year and beyond.
What is a marketing technology stack?
A marketing technology (martech) stack is the collection of technologies that marketers use to optimize and augment their marketing processes throughout the customer lifecycle. Marketing technologies are used to streamline internal collaboration, analyze the performance of marketing campaigns, and conduct personalized and proactive communication with customers.
2020: The year of the smarter martech stack
Before we dive into how to strategize and design your martech stack, let’s take a look at some of the key trends for 2020.
Like we mentioned earlier, we chatted with some of the most innovative, fastest growing companies in software to understand how they’re planning their martech stacks for 2020. The most notable finding? In 2020, companies are thinking about how they can attract and engage customers in increasingly personal ways – all while using less or more streamlined technology.
Instead of the shiny penny approach where marketing leaders are trying out every new tool that emerges on the market, businesses are focused on creating tech stacks that are smarter, more streamlined, increasingly connected, and dramatically more powerful.
This shift comes as no surprise. According to a 2019 Gartner Marketing Technology Survey, last year marketing leaders reported only utilizing 58% of their martech stack’s potential, which may indicate a need to rethink and perhaps even streamline tools.
#1. From siloed tools to all-in-one solutions
Scott Brinker recently wrote about how platforms can bring greater cohesion to marketing tech stacks. Marketing leaders are echoing the same sentiment – with many leaders hailing the benefits of moving away from multiple siloed tools and towards all-in-one solutions like platforms and CRMs.
All-in-one solutions consolidate and in some cases eliminate the need for disparate point solutions. They’re also powerful for aligning cross-functional teams – like marketing and sales – to work together in harmony and with greater speed and efficiency.
#2. Tools that connect and play nicely together
TechCrunch recently hailed APIs as the next big SaaS wave – it’s no surprise when you consider that “connecting disparate tools” is one of the biggest challenges marketing leaders face today.
Many of the marketing leaders we spoke with expressed the desire for tools in their tech stack to play nicely together. API-first tools empower businesses to add, remove or swap out solutions with greater ease as the need arises.
Former Head of Marketing at MadKudu Liam Boogar-Azoulay put it perfectly when he said, “Instead of ripping up a foundation it’s better to build something on top of it – a better roof, a better floor.”
And, of course, APIs fuel the free flowing exchange of data between tools, systems, and channels – another area that’s top of mind for marketing leaders for the year ahead.
#3. Leveraging data to create personalized customer experiences
At Intercom, our mission is to make internet business personal. We’re not the only ones who understand the power of personalization in 2020 and beyond.
This year, businesses are focused on creating increasingly personalized experiences for their website visitors and customers.
They plan to leverage data-rich tools to understand the customer and their journey better, so they can deliver more tailored content and experiences to the right customers, at the right time.
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, compare feature sets and pricing, and maybe kick the tires with a free trial to see if it’s a good fit. In fact, 47% 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).
Before you start building (or updating) your marketing stack, it’s crucial to devise your marketing strategy. This approach must be shaped around your product, your desired audience, and how to reach them. You’ll have to carefully analyze your current marketing practices and identify where they match the strategy and where they block it.
Find out where you lack processes and where you need to do things differently, and choose technology based on that. Once you’ve mapped out this process, you’ll have a better understanding of the required tools you need for your business.
To summarize: martech is all about devising the strategy that is right for your business, and only then identifying the technology that will help you execute on that strategy. Thinking about it the other way around – trying to improvise a strategy that fits the technology you want to use – simply won’t work.
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) will use different channels and techniques to acquire customers, and will have varying technology needs as a result.
That said, there are some technologies you should consider as foundational to your marketing technology stack as you begin to build it. These work as well for a B2B company like Intercom as they do 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 marketers have rated lead generation as their biggest challenge in 2019.
But lead generation starts with traffic and this is what our first collection of tools will be taking care of.
Google Ads – ad tech
When it comes to driving qualified traffic to your site, Google’s search, video, and display ads are still the fastest way to get results. Not only are you targeting people who show a specific interest in what you’re selling, Google’s ads act as a first point of contact for lead nurturing tactics like remarketing, email marketing and conversion optimization.
Alternatives: AdRoll, Quantcast
Demandbase – ad tech
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
Unbounce – landing page builder
What’s the point of spending hours creating targeted ads only to send prospects to a generic, soulless landing page? This is one of the fastest ways to lose potential leads and sales opportunities.
The good news is that Unbounce lets you quickly and easily create beautiful custom landing pages that convert more website visitors into customers. You can create and publish a landing page in minutes – with no code required! Their powerful A/B testing functionality also allows you to experiment with your messaging, design, and forms to understand what makes visitors convert more often.
Sprout Social – social media management
Sprout Social allows you to manage your entire social media strategy from one place. In fact, it’s how we attract and engage with hundreds of thousands of customers and prospects at Intercom. With Sprout Social, you can schedule posts at optimal times, streamline your publishing workflows, and turn social data into meaningful insights. All of this is geared towards helping you optimize your social media strategy and better connect with your audience. That’s a win-win in our books.
Alternatives: Buffer, Sprinklr, 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, Drupal
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, Conductor
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
Last year marketers were estimated to have spent over $6 billion attracting businesses to their websites.
Isn’t it amazing how much attention (and cash) we pay to the campaigns which drive traffic to our websites, but in comparison how little we think about what happens once a prospect lands there?
Usually we just select from a list of stock tactics like asking them to fill out a forms so they can book a demo or get some cool content. And once we get that email address we add them to an email nurture campaign, even though we all know the messages are going to end up buried behind Gmail’s Promotions tab.
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 – customer engagement and lead generation
Obviously we’re biased (though I would point you to the reviews on G2 Crowd to show that we’re not that biased) but Intercom’s conversational relationship platform is the backbone of our entire marketing technology stack.
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, all too often that truth is only considered after the fact, with analytics tools bolted on afterwards rather than informing the marketing system as it is being built.
But the tide is changing. According to Gartner, marketing analytics is the top marketing budget priority for CMOs in 2019. 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 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, mParticle
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 2020
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.
For Segment, creating a seamless, personalized experience for website visitors and customers is top of mind for 2020 – in particular delivering content based on user activity and preferences.
Unbounce is paving the way for usable, marketer-friendly tools with their easy to use landing page builder and platform. For 2020, they’re focused on ensuring that their data is flowing cohesively throughout the customer journey, which they’ll use to fuel key marketing decisions. They also plan to optimize their chatbot technology which they’ve seen pay off handsomely in 2019.
Head of Content Marketing Jennifer Pepper says, “We want all our tools to talk to each other and to get a more complete consolidated picture of what’s really happening from discovery through to customer experience.”
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. Review site G2 is leading this revolution – 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.
In 2020, G2 are focused on merging their data, finding patterns in it, and using whatever insights they gain to understand where they can better invest their resources.
Video marketing has exploded this year, with over 72% of people preferring to learn about a product or service via video. Frame.io have been at the forefront of this revolution – helping teams collaborate and create world-class content together with their cloud-based collaboration hub.
This year, Frame.io is moving upmarket to the enterprise and VP of Growth and Analytics, Kyle Gesuelli, is keen for their marketing tech stack to reflect that shift. Kyle says, “We’re shifting our team’s focus and existing tools towards account-specific demand generation versus broader consumer-type marketing.
Bonus: the marketing tech stack that has helped us grow Intercom from 0 to 30,000 paying customers
In just over four years, Intercom’s marketing team has grown from one person to well over 70. 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 and it powers our conversational marketing strategy. 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.
No software is an island – the need to connect tools and teams
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. As businesses move toward creating more personalized, cohesive, and data-driven experiences for their customers they need increasingly connected tools.
The tide is changing from software islands to all-in-one solutions that empower not just tools but also teams to play nicely together. Rather than simply growing larger, tech stacks are getting smarter, more streamlined, and ultimately connected. 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, just remember that the technology you choose must also connect into your strategy, not the other way around.