How to choose the right marketing tools

I love to camp. In fact, if not for work obligations, I would be backcountry camping every week of October (as well as a backpacking trip the first week of November). Camping—especially in the backcountry—is a serious hobby. Not just in that I take it seriously, but that one wrong decision could be life-changing. As I result, I’m very interested in camping gear and can easily spend half of a Saturday browsing at my local REI.

There’s always a cool new tool looking for a use on my next trip. However, shortly after the initial adrenaline rush subsides from pulling down that latest shiny tool from the shelf, reality sets in. Does that tool align with my strategy?

When camping, the strategy is to carry as little gear—and by extension as little weight—as possible and still have what I need to be safe, warm, dry, hydrated, fed and comfortable (well, as comfortable as possible). If that tool doesn’t meet my strategy, no matter how exciting and beautiful it appears, it goes right back on the shelf.

Do you take a similar approach when choosing your marketing tools? Do your tools support your overall marketing strategy?

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of marketing tools, marketing platform and marketing services providers out there. One site I came across listed 339 CRM platform providers. Another listed close to 400 email service providers. And while I didn’t find counts for mobile marketing providers and social marketing platforms, I’m fairly certain there is more than a handful. So with all those choices, how do you know the right choice for your organization?

You’re in luck: I have your answer.


It depends.

I know, not the answer you were hoping for, but it’s the harsh truth here. The right tool(s) for your organization depend on what you are trying to do, or more specifically, your strategic objectives.

As your teams evaluate tools, every “want”, every “need”, every requirement should be scrutinized based on its contribution or ability to meet your strategic objectives. All those shiny things that can take your eyes away from your objectives should be ruthlessly set aside. It’s not an easy thing to do.

There are many occasions where I’ve watched teams spend tremendous amounts of time fleshing out requirements or investigating a “wow” feature that have absolutely nothing to do with the strategic objectives of the project. It is an easy trap to fall into, especially when there is significant pressure to reach a conclusion quickly—which is typically the case.

While anecdotally I’ve seen more focus on strategy when talking with clients and prospects about services and tools over the past year, studies on the implementations of such platforms are not encouraging. In a 2009 study, Forrester reported that 47% of CRM implementations failed to meet their objectives. Merkle saw no improvement in their 2013 study, finding a failure rate of 63%.

Some of the contributing factors for these failures include a lack of executive sponsorship and low prioritization of the project. But even then, I have a hard time believing that failed projects have an alignment with the company’s strategic objectives. I’ll go out on a limb and say that they don’t.

But, don’t worry, it’s not all doom-and-gloom. You just need to keep the focus off the tool and on the strategy. Here’s how:

  1. Ensure that the team is clear on the strategic objectives that are to be met. If you don’t have or aren’t aware of a strategic objective or plan, you must start there.
  2. Ensure that the person that owns the strategy is deeply involved with the project.
  3. Any time you find your team deep in the weeds on a particular item, ask them to pause long enough to answer the question: “How will this allow us to meet our strategic objectives?” If the answer is anything close to “it doesn’t,” then put it back on the shelf and keep going.
  4. Create regular check-ins with your strategy stakeholder to ensure you’re on track and keep the team informed on your progress.