Which 8,000 companies offer free martech tools and how can you use them?

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

Scott Brinker is the VP of Platform Ecosystem at a marketing technology company called HubSpot. He helps HubSpot integrate with other different marketing and sales technologies, and he also writes a blog, chiefmartec.com, which he’s been doing for 12 years. On his blog, he dives into the dynamics of technology in the marketing world. As part of that, he also runs a martech conference of which he is the Program Chair.

When it comes to what he thinks technology can do for the small business owner, he says he’s biased on this, but he believes that the marketing technology revolution has served small businesses far greater than it has large businesses. Large businesses have always had large technology budgets, and while they sometimes have the challenge on how quickly they can change and adapt, which is perhaps one of the downsides of a larger organization, they could certainly spend money on it. When it comes to the large marketing and e-commerce platforms, for years, they were very expensive propositions. But what’s happened over these past couple decades, he says, is the cost of developing software has dropped so dramatically, thanks to all these cloud platforms like AWS or Microsoft, Azure, and all these open source projects. Creative software developers now confer a fraction of cost, create a great product, sell that at a very different price point, and help you build a great business. As a result, entrepreneurs have started building tools that marketers and salespeople at smaller companies can take advantage of, and they can now afford the technology. But because they’re also small companies and they’re entrepreneurial, they tend to be a bit more agile in how they actually adapt and experiment with that technology than some of their larger competitors.

Scott believes the adoption of these platforms has accelerated in recent years, mostly because small businesses are adopting marketing technology sometimes without even really thinking about it. Most of them start with wanting to build a website, so they might do something with Squarespace or Wix. All of a sudden, they realize they could use a CRM. That’s why one of HubSpot’s strategies has been to offer a free CRM that a lot of small businesses can use. And so without really thinking about needing a technology strategy, SMEs are creating their own websites, utilizing a CRM application, and developing their own email system to stay in touch with people. It’s become a part of daily life.

The “second golden age of martech”

In one of his articles, Scott mentioned “the second golden age of martech.” He says it began with around 100-200 companies offering marketing technology, which at the time seemed like a lot. But over the past 10 years, because of those absence of barriers to entry and software, the landscape of marketing technology solutions has grown to thousands, and they were able to map out 8,000 companies, which was still by no means comprehensive, because he heard from all the people they’ve somehow missed. Evidently, there is an explosion of technology. The challenge, however, was that most of those technologies grew independently. 

If a non-technical business owner wanted to bring several of them together, it was often on their shoulders to figure out how to, for instance, integrate a CRM or email marketing platform to a website, and that hindered adoption for a lot of folks. One of the things he talked about in that trend for the second golden age is that the platforming of marketing technology is being highlighted. He likens it to a phone with this universe of apps that can be downloaded onto it, and they work because iOS and Android are designed as a platform. In the marketing technology space, many of the large marketing companies like HubSpot, Salesforce, Adobe are starting to shift their product strategy to more platforms. They’re working with more specialized martech apps and making it easier to plug in. Ultimately, this is about getting business owners to a place where they can harness these different technologies without having to be a systems integrator himself or herself.

5 things every business should have when going online

For every business owner that’s starting out on their journey to digitalizing their marketing, Scott believes there are four or five core capabilities that pretty much every business needs. The first thing is a website. There needs to be a way that people can find the business online, where the company can share content and get discovered through search engines. The second is a CRM, which doesn’t have to be super sophisticated. It could simply serve as a common database to keep track of all customers and prospective customers and how those relationships evolve. The next thing that’s needed is an email marketing solution. These are also what they call marketing automation platforms, because it’s not just about sending out emails to everyone at the same time. This is for when the business owner starts to get a little bit more clever and discover that there are trigger moments for individual customers or prospects when they’re sent a specific email. 

Next, every business will want some way of managing their social media, and Scott’s not just talking about being on Facebook or Twitter. That might be part of it, but Scott is referring to simply paying attention to reviews that customers are saying about your company in different communities and forums and sites. This is so that when people are talking about you, or they’re looking to engage with you, you’re able to hear them and represent yourself. The fifth ingredient depends on the nature of the business, but there’s usually some sort of e-commerce layer to it. For a consumer business, the ability to transact and deliver certain goods or products to customers would be very useful. In B2B, that’s still a little less common, but nowadays, things continue to change rapidly. More and more B2B-oriented businesses are doing transactions with customers online. If a business has these five, that’s a pretty complete set of digital capabilities.

Another key aspect is a strategy to manage the workflow and the content within that universe. When it comes to managing this, which was a job companies didn’t really have before, the most important consideration is how to engage with the engage effectively. Setting aside the technical details of operation and execution, why would people want to visit your website? What value are you trying to provide for them? Why should people talk about your products positively on social media? Who is your tribe? Who is your target audience?

In the digital world, competition is, as they say, just a click away. So, on one hand, it’s an advantage for companies in that you can compete in almost any market if you want. On the other hand, you have to be really clear on your strategy of why customers should pick you and not the other options in that field. A lot of small businesses are getting started in implementation, and this is seen when they work with small digital agencies that are serving SMEs and getting them up to speed on what needs to be done and for a modest price point.

In terms of case studies on how companies have gone from offline to online and how that’s impacted them, what challenges they faced and how they overcame those start with or without an agency or maybe through guidance from HubSpot itself, Scott suggests checking out Hubspot as they have lots of case studies on there and picking one that you feel is best aligned to your particular industry. For an existing business that is looking to add this new digital layer, Scott says the first step is understanding how the existing customers want to interact with the brand and what they are looking for. 

AI and budget for the small business owner

An advantage of being a small business is the more intimate relationship with the customers. One can start by simply speaking with them and asking, “How can we serve you better? What would you like?” It really emphasizes understanding the rationale behind all the actions of the company. Once there’s that clarity, then the ability to hire someone or engage one of these agencies to help becomes easier. There’s even some agencies now that will do some of this work on a contingency basis. They will put their money where their mouth is.

One of the areas that’s getting traction nowadays is AI, and Scott’s opinion on the impact of AI on martech is it’s a really fascinating topic to begin with. When people talk about AI and marketing, they’ve actually usually been talking about a form of machine learning that essentially looks at a whole collection of data. It determines what the signals are that indicate a certain set of customers who have a higher propensity to purchase, and it helps predict which customers will have the greatest lifetime value. Now that computing and data storage are so cheap, with the help of these machine-learning algorithms, all this digital data can be analyzed and predictions can be made that will identify where to prioritize time. Many companies now use these predictive algorithms without even really thinking about it as deploying AI. It almost just becomes a feature in the software they’re using. These more generative AI models that have now reached a level of sophistication where they may not be writing Shakespeare, but they’re able to generate a lot of viable creative output from modeling on whatever you point them to. And so, Scott’s not sure if we’re quite at the point where we’re going to just turn the whole thing over to those machines, but the idea of marketers using these tools in partnership with the algorithms to generate new ideas and then choose, craft, and iterate will accelerate quickly in the next couple of years.

In terms of the budget required to get started and move up the martech chain, Scott says there are now a lot of solutions for small businesses, and these are often presented in a freemium model, which is perfect for those who are just getting started and want to try it out but don’t have much data or content running through it. Once the business start to get traction, a lot of them then offer packages at affordable starter prices. It’s not unusual for these starter prices to be under $100 a month for some of these tools. And then as the business grows and more and more is done through these digital platforms, then you will get to a place where you will pay more as well. The great thing about these freemium models in the way so many martech companies have structured them is you really only end up starting to pay a meaningful amount at the point in time that you’ve actually now started to see it work for your business and you’ve decided to scale it, and that’s a great relationship to have.

Scott has definitely proven his value with what he’s doing on his website, and if you are interested in learning more about martech, you should definitely visit his website or his Twitter. Scott would be more than happy to engage with you. These are just some of the many pearls of wisdom from Scott Brinker, VP of Platform Ecosystem at Hubspot and the “ChiefMartec,” on how small business owners can maximize marketing technology platforms to get the business noticed, especially in the online world.

 

This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo from DemandGen

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