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Wrenches, Riders, and Marketing Technology

By Chris Ross | August 24, 2017 | 3 Comments

As a kid, I worked part-time at a bike shop (selling bikes, not building or repairing them). While working at the shop, I quickly learned that some of the most amazing mechanics, who loved to ride, were often not particularly good riders and many of employees who were the most talented riders often knew very little about how to work on their bikes. “Knowing about bikes” meant very, very different things concerning abilities.

Marketing leaders are increasingly looking for more talent that “understands marketing technology.”  Seeking martech talent makes a ton of sense given our Gartner 2016-2017 CMO Spend Survey shows marketers are spending a hefty 27% of total budget on marketing technology. The challenge is similar to how “knowing about bikes” isn’t crystal clear in terms of meaning, there are wide variations in what marketing technology capabilities marketing leaders want.

One way to look at this is to distinguish between those who know how to build, implement and integrate technologies (wrenches) and those that know how to actually use those technologies (riders). This distinction is critically important for a couple of reasons. First, wrench work is often the domain of IT. Marketers hiring too many wrenches risk duplicating skills and resources that may already exist and/or creating unhealthy internal dynamics and a perception of an autonomous, disconnected IT organization. Yes, marketing can own and manage technical resources, but it needs to be managed very carefully and with full cooperation and transparency with IT.  

The other major issue ties back to what might be called a shelfware epidemic. In my conversations with hundreds of clients there is often a sheepish acknowledgment at some point that despite already using advanced technology, they may be nowhere close to realizing the full capabilities of those technologies due to capacity and skill issues. Marketing leaders typically don’t need more wrenches; they need more riders.

Talented riders need something to ride, and inversely bikes with no riders are paperweights. A balanced approach to building out talent and technology is, of course, best, but the reality is that a perfectly balanced approach is rare. More often the technology is ahead of the talent, or the talent is ahead of the technology. A gifted rider is capable of compensating for less sophisticated equipment and a less talented rider can evolve their skills to utilize the benefits of a high-end bike. Both scenarios can have a positive outcome, but it’s important to be aware of which scenarios fits your situation.

Maximizing marketing technology means being a power user of all the marketing technologies you already have. A well-designed bike, tuned by a talented mechanic, piloted by an experienced rider is what wins bike races. That same combination also works for marketers. Ride on!

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  • Ashish Jha says:

    Thank you for sharing this interesting blog about the role marketing professionals have to play. The market is evolving on a daily basis. People who can match this change will be in a high demand. In the end its all about evolving and applying new methods.

  • Tom Robson says:

    Great post Chris!
    Your analogy is spot on and the challenge of optimizing the use of Marketing Technology is a never ending pursuit! Marketers should add a Marketing Technology adoption metric to their scorecards and measure it on a regular basis. Think through what scoring a 10 on adoption might look like!


    • Chris Ross says:

      Thanks Tom, totally agree marketers need to be more focused on adoption, lots of latent tech out there. Thanks for the comment.