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Marketing software companies might orbit the planet marketing. But they certainly do not live on it.

Despite claims to the contrary, tech geeks still don’t ‘get’ marketers. But what can marketers do to improve relations with techies?

Disclaimer: I own and run a tech startup and before that I was at another tech company for more than three years. So some might argue that I don’t get marketers either. But in a not so distant past I was a marketer.

What’s wrong with the tech side of the equation?

99% of marketers are using a piece of marketing technology to achieve a result. A result is not to complete a task in a software program. A result is to remove a pain of something not working or to improve something already working fairly well.

That ”something” is always a something related to a large or small marketing KPI. An email marketing manager doesn’t send out a newsletter to distribute emails, she does it to execute that summer sales promo. It seems painfully obvious but to tech companies it’s not. I promise.

See, all software companies that I have come across work on the basic assumption that their users will want to spend time using the software application.

That (if done right) the marketer will enjoy spending time performing tasks and will consider it an important and even enjoyable part of her daily routine. That the marketer sees her performing software tasks well as a goal in itself. She doesn’t.

Reality is that marketers accept technology as a means to an end. Nothing more, nothing less.

Now that’s a solid foundation for mutual frustration.

Ever felt the need to scream at your technology provider in the face?

The supplier wants you to spend as much time as possible with their product. You want to spend as little time as possible.

It’s not that odd. It’s their baby, it’s what they do all day, every day and all year round. They live and breathe their product. And because it’s the most important thing in their lives, it’s extremely difficult not to think that it should be as important to you.

You do the same with the stuff you’re into. Every marketing department in the world thinks that the CEO should spend more time on marketing related issues. It’s important to you, so why shouldn’t it be to everyone else?

This conundrum is absolutely crucial for marketers to understand. Because it takes understanding and empathy if you want to turn around the geeks.

Divorce or couples counselling?

Most software companies have executives that are pretty keen on turning a profit. Because that how they keep their jobs and make their handsome salaries. Just like most married men are essentially pretty keen on staying married. For equally obvious reasons.

The technology executives are willing to listen to you – at least the smart ones are – because they’re eager to salvage a good business relationship.

But just like it’s counterproductive to tell your spouse that everything he does is utterly annoying and that “he should just shape up”, you need to be selective in guiding your vendor.

In my last job I was in charge of the commercial operation, which included customer support, so I spent a substantial amount of time speaking to clients and partners. I wanted to make things better and I had a mandate to do it.

But whenever someone told me that they ”just wanted it to be easier” or that ”it should just work”, it didn’t really help me much. And that made it very difficult for me to help them.

Think long and hard about what you really want from them. Let them know what frustrates you in particular. Is it that you’re spending too much time performing a specific task? Is it that you’re always really confused about how to do something specific?

You don’t have to come up with solutions but you have to express what’s wrong. If you just unload randomly, chances are that they’re going to change something randomly.

Take a serious stab at making your vendor relationship work before you file for divorce.

Is there still hope?

Are all of you poor marketers doomed to a career long experience of hopeless tech partners that seemingly strive to make your life miserable?

I don’t think so. As a firm believer in predictable structural development of industries, I think we can look to the past to predict the future.

Remember content management systems five or eight years ago? They were horrible unless you were a front-end developer with a serious can-do attitude.

Now they’re slick and easy to use. Mainly because new entrants have looked at the current products and have created solutions for the mass market (that’s you – the geeks were happy without WYSIWYG editors and drag’n’drop interfaces). The same will apply to the stuff frustrating you now.

So hang in there. Try and tough it out with your current vendor before you start looking for a young, handsome lover to come along.

Peter Schlegel

Published 12 September, 2011 by Peter Schlegel

Peter Schlegel is CEO & founder at Admaze.ly and a contributor to Econsultancy.

5 more posts from this author

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Nick Stamoulis

"You don’t have to come up with solutions but you have to express what’s wrong."

I admit that I've been guilty of not expressing what's wrong in the most productive way. So many of us, not just marketers, expect technology to "just work," but that's not always the case. Like any other product or service, even software can misfire on occasion. Getting mad at the provider doesn't fix anything.

almost 5 years ago

Peter Schlegel

Peter Schlegel, CEO & Founder at Admaze.ly

Nick, I genuinely believe that it's ok to get mad at your provider. As long as you try to channel your frustration into something that they can use to improve.
It's a bit like trying to raise a child only by telling her that she "should behave". Chances are that she really wants to make daddy happy, but you obviously need to provide more specific direction. Software vendors are a lot like children in that sense - they are eager to please but need guidance.
/pvts

almost 5 years ago

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Nina

I am a marketer who sits in a room full of techies everyday. They get me, I get them. It's not hard to work together to understand each other. The more you talk to each other, the more you learn.
Kind of like a relationship, the more you nurture it, the more you get out of it.

almost 5 years ago

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Ian Lloyd

Very interesting article. This issues actually stems deeper into IT also. Managers and Business people want certain things but can't talk techie and the techies I have found just want to add some value and can't talk manager speak. I have found having someone who can translate helps both sides. Understand how people think and understand will help. Eg:I understand better if you draw me a picture or show me that giving me a 1000 page doco to read.
In todays times it has become more important to talk some of the language or hire an IT translator....

almost 5 years ago

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Ian Gentles

I hope you're right Peter Schlegel .... it's been a challenging relationship so far.

almost 5 years ago

Peter Schlegel

Peter Schlegel, CEO & Founder at Admaze.ly

@Nina
You probably have figured out the best (if not the only) way to make that relationship work. Most marketers aren't lucky enough to have that opportunity. And quite frankly, neither are most techies. So even for you, it's probably the case that you have external techies that frustrate you - and need your guidance to improve what they're doing. And my point in this post essentially supports your claim: you need to talk to techies.

@Ian Lloyd
Thank you, glad you enjoyed it.
We have all had moments where we wanted a "geek-to-English" dictionary, so thinking in terms of intermediates is a solid point. I would argue, however, that is solves the problem the same was as hiring a couples councilor to live in your house. You need to fundamentally understand each other. Or in the case of software companies, you need to choose one that has a translator you can speak to.

@Ian Gentles
Not surprisingly, I believe I am right. And it has indeed been challenging so far.

almost 5 years ago

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jda

I use a lot of analytical packages and maybe I'm greedy but I want beautiful aesthetics with cool infographic reporting alongside all the nuts and bolts. If it's an enjoyable interface, of course I'll spend time playing about on it and looking at the nice graphs. Yes, it needs to provide accurate results and measurement to effectively increase conversion or whatever... but I'd happily spend time on it. Maybe I'm a geek after all though... I also enjoy procrastinating and software/analytics are great places to procrastinate!

almost 5 years ago

Peter Schlegel

Peter Schlegel, CEO & Founder at Admaze.ly

@jda
HA - you are indeed a geek after all :-)
Enjoy your analytics packages because I am sure that infographics will soon be an integral part of web analytics. My bet is that KISSmetrics will be first or second to introduce it. What do you think?

almost 5 years ago

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Mark Tawadrous, eCommerce SME at CGI

I've had the privilege of working on both sides of the fence, as a techie and as a marketer (amongst many other things).
One of the biggest challenges I see on a daily basis is the marketing people dictating to the techies how they want something to be - often telling them how things should hang together - since when did marketers become experts in technology? By the same token the techies sometimes need to take a stand and say no rather than just doing what they're told.
The best example I've seen it working has always been when the techies (usually the likes of a business analyst rather than a developer) are sat with the sales/marketing teams and collaborating on a daily basis. They get a great understanding of the business operations and often come up with very creative solutions to common problems, let's not forget that techies are generally pretty smart people, fostering this sort of collaboration is key.

almost 5 years ago

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Loren Nally, Owner/Online marketing manager at Dealsformums.co.uk

Fab article, Peter! Brilliant and unfortunately so true in my experience.

I've made a real effort to 'get' them but when you get responses like a flat 'no, the system can't do that' its kinda hard to feel any mutual love! They need to stop giving Boolean type answers and start working a bit more with marketeers to help find a solution. Then everyone's happy.

Not all is lost as you rightly point out. And don't opposites attract anyway...?!

almost 5 years ago

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James Pearce, Marketing Manager at Scientifica Ltd

I'm sure a lot of what's being said is true, but at the end of the day, is this not a business relationship based on a contract to supply a working solution.

I'd rather not invest too much of my time meeting my own requirements for them...

almost 5 years ago

Peter Schlegel

Peter Schlegel, CEO & Founder at Admaze.ly

@Mark Tawadrous
It seems that what you (and a few others in the comments above) are arguing is that there is a general need for someone to translate. On one hand I think it's true - but on the other hans you could also argue that technology is such an integral part of online marketing that as an online marketer, you cannot afford to take a position of "I can't talk to the techies". That being able to do that is in fact part of what it takes to be a great digital marketer?

@Loren Nally
Thanks bunches!
I agree - it takes an effort on both sides of the table. An effort that too many techies aren't willing to make. That's part of the reason why I make every single one of my developers sit with users on a frequent basis. To observe and grasp the reality of the people we're trying to serve. Forcing them to face reality is a strong tool. And one that opens their mind to listening more. And then - opposites sometimes attract...

@James Bishop
No doubt - the product should do what is says on the tin. That's what you have bought and paid for.
But with marketing technology there is often a need for the technology to evolve along with your needs. And sometimes it does what it says on the tin, only not in the way that you would like it to do. And that is an example of a situation where you need the ability and the patience to articulate what you would rather have it do. And that is a crucial point of my post. Do you think you end up mostly doing their job - or help them enhance their product beyond "just delivering on the specs"?

almost 5 years ago

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