When you think about it, it's remarkable how this business has changed in the last 20 years. When I think back about where we’ve been and where we are today, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s almost too easy these days. You can roll out a website in literally minutes that looks as good as anything else out there. Web hosts make it easy to sign up and have WordPress installed with a theme – it takes just a few clicks. And, products such as Wix and Squarespace have made it even easier and cheaper than ever before to have a great website.
However, in reality, things are harder today than ever before. The market is flooded with service providers, tools and other offerings – regardless of what you are trying to do. For web creators, the industry is littered with everything from self-service solutions to full-service agencies – and a lot of noise in between. And for our clients, well, their industries are packed with competition as well.
Today, it isn’t enough to have a website – anyone can do that. You need to have a series of interconnected tools and techniques mixed with insight to drive success. I wanted to write this post for a while, to outline what I see as the minimum viable environment that a marketer needs for success in today's highly competitive and data-driven world. Below are the components that are essential to achieving any success in this saturated environment we call the web.
Content Management System
Well, you expect me to say this, right? Clearly, anyone who markets a product or service needs a system to allow them to manage content regularly. But, I still need to include this as a first component necessary because it is the centerpiece of everything you are doing. Your CMS either enables you by empowering you with control over your site content, or it serves as a deterrent to your success.
I’ve covered many times before the process one should undergo choosing a CMS, including our CMS for the CMO series of posts, so I don’t feel I should go into detail now on one architecture versus another and which is right for you. But I will say that some CMSs are made to empower marketers and others are not. Serious marketers should consider what CMS works better given their particular use case. It isn’t right to assume that one platform is better than another – especially if the only argument is “everyone uses it.” You should consider the points we’ll cover below concerning your CMS or desired future system – does the CMS allow you to handle these requirements easily? Or is it leaving you behind?
The centerpiece of a successful digital enterprise is shared. On the one hand, it's your CMS, which as detailed above is a vital part of your ecosystem. While the CMS manages and distributes content, the goal with almost every B2B and most B2C digital properties is to generate leads which can be later translated to sales. To accomplish this, a CRM system is essential.
Today, there are so many CRM offerings that it’s hard even to keep up. You have low, mid and enterprise tier players offering services that can be confusing and overwhelming. Some focus heavily on sales, some on marketing automation. And then you get the more prominent players who are pretty much offering all of that. As I mention a bit more below, Hubspot is a player that I tend to prefer and recommend. It’s a great tool, it has marketing, sales, and service all as parts of their offering, and the ease of integrations is excellent.
I can spend forever comparing tools like Hubspot to Marketo, Salesforce, Eloqua, Sharpspring, and on and on and on. The key, I think, is that you dedicate to a system and make it a commitment. These products are notoriously difficult to change later. They become a lynchpin in your day-to-day operations. So you have to be careful to choose the right system early.
As an aside, I will say this – the choice of CRM tells us, as an agency, a lot about the client and how seriously they take their digital marketing initiatives. I don’t want to cross the line of being brand-happy or overly judgmental, but there is a difference between those who are utilizing lower-tier players and those who acquired the services of top-tier providers. You can have extremes in either direction. Those that license the players on the lower end of the price scale are typically going to try to piece together their marketing stack, which, as we will address below, will rely on a lot of loose integrations. This leads to a high level of inconsistency throughout the stack. On the other extreme, sometimes you get enterprise players who are licensing the most expensive platforms merely because they are “enterprise” grade but without much thought into their overall functionality. I’m looking at you, Marketo customers. The choice of CRM tells your agency partner a lot about how much importance you place on your global marketing campaigns and solution stack.
Look – everyone has base analytics. Everyone installs Google Analytics and calls it a day. But analytics goes much further, and it includes other secondary products as well. So, let’s just assume that you should always have a base layer of analytics software installed, and in most cases, Google simply has the best product.
But above and beyond, what should you be looking for?
Truth be told, there are literally hundreds of products that can provide you with valuable insights. What you need to determine is what insights you will rely on. Base packages such as Google provide you with the highlights, and some specificity, around web visitor behavior. You can customize these systems to a great degree and factor in conversion information to understand how your site is performing.
Where these platforms fall short is in the area of specific user behavior. For example, watching in real time how your users browse a page, with video replay or similar. That’s a use case for a third party tool – and there are too many to mention. Also, Google doesn’t do much to tell you WHO is looking at your site. Again, enter third-party tools such as Leadlander or Snitcher. Finally, don’t forget 3rd party data – statistics on your competitors – that tools such as SEMRush provide.
It’s crucial for you to set up a variety of tools that will provide you with the insight you need to measure the success and performance of your marketing campaigns. The key, I believe, is to try to stay consistent. Changing tools on a whim simply adds to uncertainty. It’s like the man with two watches – he can never tell what time it is. Switching from one tool to another adds a layer of confusion and inconsistency which can negate the positive effects received from having the insight in the first place.
I think the real difference between marketers who are achieving success these days and those that aren’t is the depth and effectiveness of how they integrate all of their tools together. As I explained in my introduction above, in some ways, these integrations are almost too easy. Set up some Zaps and you are good to go, right? But in reality, it’s difficult to properly integrate all of your marketing, tech and sales stack into a cohesive unit.
I find the best advice is to find a base piece of software that can do much of it in an organized fashion. As I mentioned above, for marketing automation, as an example, I like Hubspot. The tool ties together many features that you’d otherwise need to subscribe to multiple services for. It’s highly extensible via API, and it has a sales suite of tools which are seamlessly integrated. For most SMBs, Hubspot makes a lot of sense, provided they value the product enough to stomach the license fees.
Sometimes you need additional tools to make everything work. In my case, I like spinning out landing pages with drastic design differences quickly and easily. So I may utilize Unbounce for this purpose. In that case, it’s essential that Hubspot treats those leads as being nearly natively integrated.
Likewise, there are always other tools you’ll use that are specialty items. Take webinars – we perform and distribute our webinars via WebinarJam – it’s an excellent platform for this particular purpose. However, WebinarJam handles registration to the events, which makes life easier but then introduces a problem for lead management. The answer? A connection via API from WebinarJam to Hubspot – also known as an "integration."
The less-astute marketer will stop at the systems being separate and deal with it. The worst marketer will try to integrate 50-million tools together "seamlessly". But the experienced marketer will know that integrating a few of the best tools are what makes up a sophisticated and comprehensive marketing stack. When we come in to conduct a digital transformation, it’s too often that we see clients who have many disparate systems in place with zero connectivity between them. However, when we see clients with top-tier systems in place, connections or integrations made and the entire process is documented, we can tell they are taking their digital marketing initiatives seriously.
Finally, it isn’t enough to just have a website, you also need a team. While everything is a bit easier, everything is also more much more complex, and now you have even more disciplines in the digital space than ever before. Each of the above has its own set of expert practitioners. Some developers and implementors specialize in integrations, as an example. There are others such as marketing automation specialists that can work on your CRM for both initial configuration and ongoing support. And, you have an entire collection of expertise needed for CMS implementation: design, development, sysops. And with analytics that’s an even broader community of specialists. You can’t seriously go it alone and compete with players who have carefully assembled a team to manage all of these moving parts.
Agencies can provide an excellent level of support because they offer the depth of knowledge needed in each of those areas. An individual hire really only makes sense when it is someone who has a top-level understanding of what all the required components are, and in turn, can coordinate the management of the specialists needed to optimize their usage. To hire an in-house team to manage every part of your digital ecosystem would mean a million dollar investment per year in payroll and benefits.
I started this post by explaining how everything today is so easy. But, the truth is in the details – while products are always claiming to make life easier in this industry, the people who compete at a high level are those that understand that there is a series of components necessary to make their digital marketing efforts successful. An initial web presence is no longer enough to succeed – today, you need a concerted and organized ongoing attempt to drive success. It’s easy to be distracted by all the noise which claims simplicity, but, the truth is that digital marketing results are inspired by the right tools, working in combination with each other, amended and optimized regularly, by expert practitioners