HomeBlog Which Comes First – The Process or the Technology?

Which Comes First – The Process or the Technology?

April 12, 2017 | By Jeff Clark

  • Technology enables marketing, sales and product functions to deliver better outcomes
  • A process view of technology provides a foundation for developing requirements
  • Collaborate with key stakeholders to define the desired outcomes

There is often a debate in marketing technology circles that starts with the conundrum: “Which comes first, the process or the technology?” Should you purchase technology that fits your processes or let the technology define new processes for you?

The resolution is as simple as the “chicken and egg” debate, which can have a different answer depending on whether you take a purely scientific or philosophical view.

Let’s start answering with two assumptions both sides of the debate can agree on. First, marketing runs on processes, (e.g. lead management, content production), which can be automated in part or in their entirety by technology. Second, organizations that are investing in new technology are either striving to improve their existing processes or creating a new one to deliver better outcomes.

Where do the opinions diverge? Those taking the technology-first stance would say, “The people who designed the technology must know best how the process should run.” Those taking the process-first approach would ask, “How do I know if I’m buying a solution that fits my needs unless it fits how I want to run my business?”

Both statements are correct on the face of it, but lead to traps. The technology-first approach leads to buying solutions that include redundant processes with existing systems or are not the right fit for the skills on your team. The process-first approach leads to designing unique workflows that can only be automated through custom development. Plus, it ignores new ways of working that have been developed in today’s technology. For example, Web site technology can identify anonymous visitors and personalize interactions in ways that would have been unthinkable years ago.

Organizations should address this dilemma by striking a balance.

What Process Are You Trying to Fix?

To make the right technology choices, you need to understand what makes your use case unique and be open to new ways of running marketing. Start by identifying the process (or processes) you need to improve. Are you trying to improve one of marketing’s core processes (e.g. lead management, campaign execution, content development, contact personalization, planning)? Or, are you fixing a sub-process that feeds those core processes?

Engage Stakeholders to Define What Good Looks Like

Next, engage key stakeholders to design the optimal process. The stakeholders are both process owners – those who are responsible for managing and monitoring the process – and internal customers who get the benefits of that process. Ask them to help you document the process workflow and describe how it can be improved:

  • What is the desired output?
  • What does a good process look like?
  • Who is involved in executing the actions of that process?
  • What are the skills of the people?
  • What data do they need to complete their part?
  • Where do they get it?
  • Where does the output go?

Asking these questions, even for each step in a process, gives you a deeper understanding how technology can help deliver better outcomes. It will also help you identify the players in the process, their skills and whether an enablement gap needs to be addressed.

Document the Draft Process

With the input you have gathered, document the process in a workflow diagram and worksheet that capture the details – e.g. the owners of specific actions, process inputs, outputs, business rules, and what existing technology may require integration.  With these documents, the objective is not to configure the solution, but to provide the vendors or a development team with the necessarily information for them to do so.

Research Current Best Practices

Once you have your stakeholders’ view, it’s time to see how others address the challenge. Your stakeholders may even have leads on colleagues at other organizations, vendors or industry analysts (e.g. SiriusDecisions) to contact. The objective is to get new information on how to improve your process. Then you can revise your documents and confirm the new view with your internal stakeholders. Don’t be afraid to iterate in conversations with vendors until you and your stakeholders feel comfortable with how your defining your needs.

The documentation you create from this exercise is a great foundation for an RFP, as it outlines the functional requirements necessary to optimize your processes and deliver the right outcomes. This due diligence makes you an informed buyer, and helps avoid being trapped with a solution that won’t fit your organization’s needs.

Jeff Clark

Jeff Clark brings over 25 years of B2B marketing experience to the Marketing Operations Strategies service. Jeff develops SiriusDecisions’ research on marketing measurement and technology planning. His work helps b-to-b organizations effectively quantify, understand and convey the value being created by their marketing functions and assists marketing operations teams in their planning and management of technology.