In the past year or so, I’ve been at a number of technology platform user summits and at some point on the agenda, there is always the product feature enhancement announcements. With much fanfare I listen as they roll out enhancement after enhancement, and I can’t help thinking: do people really use all these features?
I suspect every platform, whether it be sales automation, marketing automation, paid search management, website analytics or testing and optimization platforms all suffer from the same under utilization. When it comes to technology, there always seems to be an arms race between the product development people and the users…and at first glance, the user always loses. They always have far more functionality thrown at them than they can possibly use. Function turns into performance dysfunction. But ultimately, the users will have the last word. Stuff that doesn’t get used eventually doesn’t get renewed. It becomes fat that gets trimmed from the operational budget.
At Enquiro, we’re going through this right now. Several months ago, we decided we needed some new project management infrastructure software, so we compiled our list of wants and started shopping. We made our choice, based largely on the fact that the winner seemed to be able to do everything we wanted and some stuff we hadn’t even thought of. But all this functionality came at a price. We have been struggling to implement and even with our limited implementation, our team members are finding the overly complex interface a pain-in-the-ass to use. The technical assessment gave our final choice flying colors. The real world assessment is much less rosy.
Tools that Don’t Get Used Aren’t Tools, They’re Ballast
It’s like I’ve said before: technology is simply a tool. And a tool only has value if it’s used. It has to feel comfortable, familiar and useful. It has to match the way we work. And often, too many features jam up the interface, getting in the way of the user. Elegance is sacrificed for a grocery list of customer wishes.
Part of the blame lies with the developers, but honestly, most of it lies with the users. We ask for the stuff, so they give it to us. With our project management platform, they simply gave us everything we were asking for. Granted, they could have made it easier to use and integrated functionality a little more holistically, but developers have every right to defend themselves by saying, “hey, we’re just responding to our customer’s requests”.
So, where does the blame ultimately lie? Well, I think we marketers are focused on exactly the wrong thing. We keep looking at technology and asking for features without really understanding how we’ll use those features. There is no integrated strategic flow for us to follow, so there is no way for developers to build elegance into their interface. They have to give us access to every lever and button, bloating the user experience hopelessly, because we want everything but we’re not exactly sure what we want to do with it.
We fall into this trap because we’re focused on technology, not on end goals. We got mired in the minutiae without knowing our ultimate destination.
Objectives First, Strategy Second…then Technology
Let me give you an example. Let’s say a business objective of yours is to convince sales managers of mid sized companies selling to other businesses that your solution will allow each of their sales reps to sell 20 to 30% more. That’s a pretty simple objective. If you start by understanding what it would take to reach that objective, you begin to understand all the steps along the way. You begin to identify the desired inputs and outputs on the persuasion path and how they relate to each other. You map the journey your prospects have to take. And then, finally, you can see how tools can help you maximize your potential at each step of that journey. Suddenly, you’ve put your objective first, your strategy second and only then do you worry about the technology. Prospect behavior drives technical requirements and dictates the features you’ll used. In the optimal situation, you would come out of it with a buyer-centric strategy that pieces of technology can plug into seamlessly, with no wasted functionality.
Well, you say, that’s exactly what we do! Hooey, I say. I’ve yet to see a company pull that off successfully or consistently. First of all, ownership of that prospect path is brutally sliced up and scattered across your corporate org chart. No one owns it from start to finish. So, you look at your slice, along with your accompanying success metrics (which are at least 2 or 3 steps removed from the ultimate business objective) and you start looking for the tool to optimize that slice. There’s no one to connect all the technical pieces.
Meet the MT
Enter the Marketing Technologist. This is a brilliant concept from my friend Scott Brinker (who is the Chief Marketing Technologist) at ion Interactive. This is someone who can bridge the gap between marketing objectives, at a very high level, and the technology needed to execute against those objectives in a more integrated way. They own the entire process, beginning to end, and understand the end goals. They stitch together the distributed pieces of the campaign with the right features and the right tools, determined not by isolated wish lists but rather real marketing objectives and a deep understanding of prospect behavior.
If we keep people at the front of the process, where they belong, and technology at the end, everyone benefits. We can give clearer direction to tool developers about what we really need. If they understand ultimate requirements, rather than proximate ones, they can start to streamline the interface by building intelligence into it, doing some steps in the background and simplifying the interface by only including controls we really need to change. The customers benefit because our wooing of them becomes more integrated, smoother and much less irritating. And the marketers can focus on what they need to focus on, persuading people rather than trying to wade through complex technology.