How user stories and design thinking can make us better martech buyers

Tony Byrne, founder of Real Story Group, lays out a more agile way to purchase in his Discover MarTech keynote.

Just because Scott Brinker’s newest version of the Marketing Technology Landscape looks like a Map of the Seven Kingdoms, don’t hack through it like a White Walker pillaging Westeros if you’re on the march for a new piece of martech.

There is, alas, a better way.

According to Tony Byrne, founder of Real Story Group, the answer lies in applying design thinking to the process.

Related: Watch the replay of Tony Byrne’s keynote

“It’s a human-centered approach to innovation, which means that really people have to be at the center of it, whether they’re your marketing colleagues, or whether they’re your customers,” said Byrne, who discussed design thinking as it applies to buying marketing technology during his Discover MarTech keynote.

Step 1: Empathize

The key to the first phase is to create diverse user stories that capture not only the range of use-cases for a given technology, but more importantly filtered those through the lens of the various personas who interact with that tech. According to Byrne, it’s important that these user stories aren’t centered around features of the technology. It’s about the people.

“The key thing here is to describe, rather than prescribe,” he said. “You don’t say someone hits the green button in the upper right-hand corner. Instead of you say ‘Delia, the marketer, should be able to create a segment based on the following categories and deploy that segment to her email service platform.’”

Step 2: Define

Once you have your user stories in place, now it’s time to build your RFP and vendor shortlist. But Byrne cautions against doing so the old fashioned way.

“The best way to encapsulate this, instead of long lists of requirements, is around actual user stories,” he said. “You create more definition by putting together some sort of RFP that has those user stories as well as advanced questions for vendors.”

According to Byrne, you should never list your requirements, but instead put them in terms of questions for vendors.

As for coming up with a vendor shortlist, there is no shortage of options to do that kind of research. For example, you may want to start with MarTech Today’s buyer’s guides

“The goal here is that the shortlist could be as short or as long as it needs to be,” said Byrne. It’s the next step where you can start to narrow down the list.

Step 3: Ideate

The key focus here is to gather your vendor proposals, narrow them down and proceed to the demo phase. 

The first step is the ask the vendors on your shortlist to send in proposals, based on the questions you had gathered in the requirements phase above. Then, after some back and forth with vendors, it’s time to invite the ones on your narrowed-down list to demo for your team.

And that’s an important element, Byrne said. “Make sure your full selection team is represented. You all want to be around the table here.”

When it comes time to view the demo, make sure the vendor is not running a canned presentation and instead should cater to the unique user stories you created and shared with them during the RFP process.

Once the demo is over, Byrne recommends taking a short break to really think about the final questions you want to ask the vendor. 

“You may find that some of the things that you thought were problematic are actually easily resolvable. In other cases, you may find that something that you think was a not serious shortcoming actually is worse than you thought,” he said. 

And don’t forget to ask the tough questions around pricing, licensing, user experience and even the lack of depth the vendor may have in your particular industry segment. It’s important to get those answers on the spot, while you are in the same room with the vendor.

Step 4: Prototype

Once you’ve been impressed or, at least, further interested by a demo, it’s time to put it to real scenarios. That means getting your hands on the platform yourselves.

“It may be a sandbox, because we’re not talking about a production environment,” he said. “And you may need to spend the first two-and-a-half days doing training and education. But then you spend the rest of the week actually executing on your scenarios.” 

“This is the best way to find out if the technology is the right fit. If the vendor is the right fit.”

Byrne said some vendors may push back on the idea of giving you a prototype, but it is important to make clear how important an investment this is for your company.

Also, running a prototype like this will certainly come with costs, so it’s important to be upfront with the vendor that you will want a prototype, or “bake-off” round as Byrne calls it.

“So what you do is in the upfront RFP you signal to the vendor that there’s going to be a bake-off round, if you make it that far,” he said. That’s when you ask how much they would charge for that, since it is still a very competitive situation for them. 

“Hopefully they’ll give you a reasonable amount,” he said, adding that this is also something that you can negotiate against.

Rip and replace

The methodology Byrne advocates for comes at a time when many marketers are looking to buy new tools to replace their existing platforms.

In fact, we surveyed nearly 400 marketers in the fall and found 83% had replaced a piece of their stacks in the past year. In nearly half the cases, marketers were replacing homegrown applications. But the other half ripped out 3rd party platforms in favor of new tech that better met their needs. 

Related: Get the Martech Replacement Survey

When asked why marketers were replacing technology, it was evenly split between better features, integration and costs.

Step 5: Test

The last step in Byrne’s approach is optional, but it involves analyzing the product life-cycle of the technology you are thinking about purchasing and trying to determine whether it is a good time to buy it.

The testing phase is also about looking at how the platform truly fits into your life-cycle.

“You want to understand where that technology is going, it’s going to fit in the stack of your future,” he said. “And in the stack of your future, you’re likely to get kind of lighter and more agile at the engagement tier, and probably more serious and complex at the enterprise foundation tier where you can share services and data across these different kinds of engagement platforms now.”

If you take away nothing else, Byrne said to remember buying martech is an agile process.

“You start out with imperfect user stories, imperfect questions for vendors, but you’re going through an iterative process here with proposals, demos, bake-offs, maybe a final PLC after that,” he said.

“But you’re refining those stories over time as you learn more around what works for you, what doesn’t and you’re testing at each step of the process.”


About The Author

Henry Powderly is vice president of content for Third Door Media, publishers of Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today. With more than a decade in editorial leadership positions, he is responsible for content strategy and event programming for the organization.

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