Owning your infrastructure architecture
Taking control of the tech stack
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Businesses have always leveraged technology to sustain or build a competitive advantage. We have gone through incredible business transformation including mass production, the Sears catalog, order by phone, web 1.0, the mobile application, or cloud computing. Utilizing the newest technology enables businesses to potentially get ahead. Over time, that advantage is competed away as these capabilities commoditize. As Revenue Operators part of our role is to ensure we have set up a technical infrastructure to help the business thrive.
At a high level, these are the technology capabilities I generally look for in order of importance:
System of Record:
Marketing Automation Platform
Customer Relationship Manager
Data enrichment and benchmarks
Business Intelligence and data visualization
ETL and reverse ETL
Workflows and Automation
Sales Engagement Platforms
Contracting, Pricing, and Quoting
Onboarding and enablement tools
In the next few sections we focus on the tools you can use to align the organization on how to support growth through technical infrastructure.
Use this five step framework to develop a thesis on how to structure your technology stack.
During the planning phase, you define and document your overall revenue strategies and goals. Your revenue technologies should align to your corporate objectives. In order to properly assess the technologies you need, it’s important to start with defining your requirements related to capabilities and revenue goals. If you already have your revenue plan in place, that’s an excellent place to start. If not, defining goals and strategies may require a heavier effort, including working with your various revenue stakeholders. In either case, you need to end with a clear definition of your marketing goals, strategies, and plans.
In addition, just like planning your revenue infrastructure and ecosystem, you’ll need to define your team’s capabilities. What are the main competencies required to reach the goals and objectives you have defined? For example, faculties such as planning, lead management, lead scoring, content management, nurturing, and data analysis may be on your list of required capabilities. Your list may be small or large depending upon the size of your company and the responsibilities within your marketing and sales teams.
By the end of this stage, you should have a detailed list of capabilities, or, if you’re so inclined, a visual map, illustrating your business and marketing goals and the processes and capabilities required to accomplish them.
Now that you have a formalized view of your goals and capabilities, it’s time to audit your revenue technologies. Collect a list of all technologies your revenue teams are utilizing regularly. This may include solutions related to CRM, marketing automation, conversion, web analytics, sales enablement, paid media, social, etc. You are not yet analyzing the merits of any one platform, nor should you be concerned about duplication, underutilization, or any other issues.
You are simply gathering a list of all technologies so you can assess them later.
To conduct a thorough audit, reach out to key stakeholders across various departments, business units, regions, etc. You may want to schedule short conversations with individuals to review their technologies, but in most cases a simple survey or worksheet will uncover all of the technologies in use. Consider supplying examples, capability categories, or other technology descriptors to help people remember the various technologies they use to accomplish their tasks.
At the end of your audit, you should have a decent list of all technologies in use across various groups in your organization.
Knowing all of the technologies used by your teams is a great start, but you need a full understanding of context in order to complete your assessment. To uncover this level of detail, conduct interviews with your key stakeholders and the users of the technologies. If you are planning to interview people during your Inspect phase, include your discovery questions at the same time.
As part of your interviews, ask questions that will help you understand the need and scope of the technologies. These are a few questions you can seek to answer:
Who is using the technology?
How are they using it?
What are some of the challenges they encounter with the technology?
Are there areas of improvement they see?
What value is the technology bringing to them and the team?
How does the technology interact with other technologies, if it does?
How is the technology configured?
At the end of the Discover phase, you will have a thorough analysis of the marketing technologies in use along with their context — usage, configuration, integration, data, value, users, etc.
Once you’ve reached this stage of the process, you will have identified (and perhaps created a technology and/or capabilities map of) your goals against capabilities and supporting technologies. You will also have supporting documentation to describe the details of each solution, including how it is used and who is using it. Armed with this information, you can begin your assessment and in-depth review of your overall marketing technology stack.
This is when you’ll begin to make cross-platform connections, dive deeper into what these technologies can do for your business, and detail how each solution can integrate with others. You’ll see patterns and areas for improvement in multiple areas. To start, keep your eye out for the following:
Gaps – Where in your map are there gaps in technologies? In other words, where have you listed goals and capabilities, but do not have technologies that can support these needs?
Redundancy – Where do you have capability overlap? Are there multiple technologies performing the same function and outcome? Are there certain business units or regions using different technologies that do the same thing (i.e., event management, lead scoring, etc.)?
Inconsistency – Are there varying ways that users are utilizing your technologies? Is a governance system required or something to be considered? Are some teams utilizing more of a specific technology solution than others?
Underutilization – Do you have robust technologies in your stack, but users are only utilizing a small fraction of what they can actually do? Are there capabilities within certain technologies that can increase productivity, quicken lead to revenue, and/or eliminate the need for additional technologies or processes requiring resources and money.
Don’t be in a rush to complete your assessment. Give yourself time to review your notes, continue conversations with users, and give your mind time to find opportunities for improvement. Consider feedback you’ve heard from key stakeholders and continue to include them in your analysis. Not only will this help you develop a thorough assessment, but it will also increase buy-in when you’re ready to take action.
When you reach the action stage, it’s finally time to create a visual diagram of your revenue technology stack, including a rollup to goals and capabilities. Illustrate areas within your diagram that need improvement, such as those identified in your assessment. Additional documentation detailing your recommendation is also required, but a clean visual will go a long way in helping you present your findings and acquiring buy-in and approval for change.
Change management, organization readiness, and internal onboarding are outside the scope of this post, but they are all imperative to moving your recommendations forward.
Build vs Buy
"We need to have a customized solution because our business is unique". We've all heard this one before. Snowflakes demand specialized solutions. Inevitably, the task falls to product or RevOps to ascertain whether certain capabilities should be built in-house or through an off the shelf vendor solution. For example, should you build a lead Routing solution within Salesforce or should you select a vendor such as LeanData. Using a Build vs Buy framework can help you decide.
Below is a useful framework I've used to succinctly communicate which path we should go.
1. Assessing Technology & Compatibility
Integration compatibility can be a deal-breaker when deciding on a new portion of your technical stack. Some solutions are just unfit for your architecture. As they say, “square pegs don’t fit in round holes”.
As you're shopping, consider two options to determine if a solution may be a good fit before fully committing. The first consideration is to consider a pilot or a proof of concept (POC). The second option is to ask for a customer reference. During that reference it's critical to do a deep dive. Vendors may often point you to a customer with rave reviews. What you want are the nitty gritty details of what went well and what did not with their own implementation. Look for customers who have a similar technology stack and staffing levels as you do.
If you choose to build your solution, compatibility is not likely to be an issue. However you’ll still need to consider how your solution will connect to its potentially disparate data sources.
Use the MoSCoW method to prioritize feature requirements. According to Wikipedia "The Moscow method is a prioritization technique used in management, business analysis, project management, and software development to reach a common understanding with stakeholders on the importance they place on the delivery of each requirement; it is also known as MoSCoW prioritization or MoSCoW analysis."
Must Have - Critical for success or otherwise failure.
Should Have - Important but not necessary or critical.
Could Have - Desirable but not necessary. Or if time and resources permit.
Won’t Have - Least critical or for a later time.
Collect your stakeholder requirements upfront. Use the technique above to determine what's non-negotiable and what is noise. Also, vendors should come with warning labels. What I mean is that you should look beyond what the solution claims it can do. Customer reference programs and pilots will ferret out what is legitimate and what is vaporware.
A solution is only as good as its ability to meet performance requirements. In addition to the feature set mentioned above your requirements should also include performance standards.
Not only must you establish your current performance needs, but you must look into the future to determine how your needs may change over time, and how you will address them.
Ask yourself the following questions:
What performance do we require if we launch internationally?
What happens if volume increases by 10X?
What happens if we launch into a new segment?
Forecasting out into the future will enable you to think about building for the long term.
Features and performance are great, but if your end users hate using the product then your project is sunk. Have a few parameters to think about the usability of the tool. Can it embed or overlay your current tools? Does it seamlessly integrate? Or do you have to open a new window or tab just to use the tool. Does this tool need to have a mobile option? Do you require push notifications? If so, how do you want those to be delivered?
Think with the end in mind.
5. Documentation, Training & Support
The success of your technology stack depends on your end user’s ability to learn the tools and get the results they want.
Documentation, training and support can make a huge difference in the success of a new launch. Unfortunately, they are often an afterthought, or under-developed components of the complete solution. Take the time to record yourself on Zoom or any video software with transcription abilities. Use the transcript as the basis from which to edit a guide. Your users will thank you (most likely not) one day.
6. Speed to Market
Signing up for a solution that takes two years to implement may not be acceptable to your stakeholder. Signing for a solution that's too lightweight may also not meet their needs. Find a solution that meets the middle ground and build out a project plan that clearly sets expectations and communicates the timeline to your stakeholders.
7. Cost & ROI
The KPI for any Build vs Buy is the ROI. On the buy side there is the overall time spent multiplied by your team's hourly rate. On top of that is the opportunity cost of missing out on other priorities. Contrast that to the direct purchase price plus any implementation costs. In the Total Coat of Ownership section all of the relevant costs are highlighted.
The beauty of an ROI analysis is that you’ll have a black-and-white number to look at and share with other stakeholders. The downside is that the number will only be as good as your assumptions and thoroughness.
It’s important to have a realistic view of the margin of error in your build estimates and your level of confidence in a potential vendor’s ability to deliver as promised.
So we've covered an Infrastructure Architecture and a Build vs Buy framework. For paid subscribers I leave you with a technology role matrix and spend tracker which you can use at your org. Here’s a preview of it.
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