5 Principles for Building an Effective Best-of-Breed Tech Stack
With the proliferation of technologies and devices, companies are increasingly realizing the necessity to build robust tech stacks to better operationalize customer experience. Easier said than done.
Many a marketing department have already flubbed this hugely important strategic initiative. With over 5,000 technologies out there (and growing at a 20%+ YoY clip), most claiming to have far-ranging value propositions, and marketers relative inexperience with technology, it’s no wonder there are growing pains.
To solve this pain, customer experience and development teams should work together to build a cross-functional, best-of-breed tech stack. By following these five principles, you can ensure the best-of-breed stack you build achieves maximum ROI.
The 5 Principles for Building a Best-of-Breed Stack:
- Build a Foundation
- Emphasize Neutrality / Flexibility / Openness
- Focus on Distinct Outcomes, not Features
- Assign Owners/Stakeholders
- Avoid Overlap, but Recognize it Will Happen
Build a Foundation
Look for foundational capabilities that your company’s business is built on. Does it make sense to have an email platform at the center of your stack? If you’re running a daily deals website and the promotional vehicle is your email list, that probably makes sense. Otherwise, you might want to look for something more central to build around.
The flow of data is a critical, foundational consideration. So in addition to picking out the few technologies that are foundational to your execution, make sure to establish a data foundation/hub that will serve as the connective tissue across the whole stack.
TIP: Build from a data foundation. Identify the few critical capabilities your business is built on, then connect those through your data foundation. Focus on filling capability gaps iteratively over time.
Emphasize Neutrality / Flexibility / Openness
The promise of the all-inclusive, one-stop-shop technology vendor has largely fallen flat. The world is just too complex. Not to say these systems shouldn’t play a part in your stack…they just shouldn’t be THE stack. Even when a vendor with a large product suite has the capabilities you’re looking for, these suites of tools were generally grown through acquisition, not purpose-built from the ground up meaning they won’t work as well together like you might expect. They’re also expensive and can limit your flexibility to select tools that have a narrower focus, but superior functionality. But, the siren song of simplicity can be hard to tune out.
Instead of falling for false one-size-fits-all promises, build around the principle of openness and flexibility. It’s the only way to ensure you won’t find yourself in a dead end as technology and customer behavior continues to evolve.
TIP: Investigate the flexibility of every tool under consideration for your stack as a criteria for selection. Be disciplined by only adding technologies that integrate widely and beyond just one product suite. If you do adopt a technology that doesn’t integrate widely, the capability of that technology must justify it. It’s ESPECIALLY CRITICAL that your foundational technologies follow this principle.
Focus on Distinct Outcomes, not Features
Another trap to avoid is buying features. When you buy features, you’re valuing your ability to achieve some particular tactic at the expense of focusing on the customer experience you’re trying to deliver. Try to define the outcome you’re looking for, separate from the particular feature that will deliver that outcome. By focusing on picking technology in your stack that follows your same approach, you will buy tools that will evolve with your strategy even if the features that support that strategy evolve over time (which they certainly will).
TIP: Define the outcome you want from a technology and measure against that, instead of some particular feature checkbox on an RFP form. Think, “we need to be able to deliver data to a wide variety of channels” instead of “we need to be able to deliver data to ‘Company X’ and ‘Company Y’.”
It sounds obvious, but this might be the most common mistake of all. Any technology purchased must have an owner or a champion, and likely a team of contributors assigned. This should happen PRIOR to purchase. Developing a formal and transparent process also helps guarantee you’re setting yourself up for success.
TIP: Before purchasing anything, assign owners and think out the process for how the technology will be used. Formal and transparent structure, before purchase, greatly reduces the risk of purchasing a solution that won’t work well.
Avoid Overlap, but Recognize it Will Happen
This is tricky. Software, by its very nature, can do just about anything….or at least can be customized to do something in line with what you want. And, a lot of buyers (perhaps naively), buy on features. And sales pros are paid on commission. And…more is more, you know? It’s a perfect storm for false promises.
So it takes a little work to separate fact from fiction. This situation is why one-stop-shops got popular (a product can’t overlap itself, right?)….and ultimately why some of those adopters are now pulling their hair out. At the end of the day, there’s going to be overlap. The important part is that you can identify it and account for it in your process.
TIP: Identify the core capabilities for technologies under consideration. Look at the origin and history of individual products and the company as a whole as a clue to their technology core and approach. Make sure core capabilities don’t overlap, but some minor overlap is OK.
In summary, building a tech stack is hard. And a lot of times, you have to do it with little formal experience and significant challenges from legacy misadventures.
If you follow the five principles above, you’ll be well on your way to building a stack that not only serves your customer now and into the future, but also establishes your technology credibility at a time when that skill is difficult to come by.