Most companies’ tech stacks are in a near-constant state of flux.
The laundry list of apps, products, plugins, platforms, sites, and “suites” that teams use rarely looks the same from one year to the next. Oftentimes, the turnover is more frequent than that.
Every time a new version of a program is released (used to be annually, now seems like quarterly), a subscription service is due for renewal, an algorithm evolves, or your firm’s accountants start talking budgets, every digital tool in the shed gets called into question. Or at least held up for examination.
For managers attempting to stay one step ahead of this incessant deluge of updates – not to mention the ever-shifting landscape of integrations – the process can feel overwhelming on a good day and hopelessly Sisyphean on others.
Add to that the pressure of maintaining a strategic understanding of what these software changes mean for your business, and you’ve got yourself a full-time job.
Enter the Platform Consultant
Fortunately, understanding marketing software very much is our full-time job. Keeping pace with the latest in MarTech isn’t a chore; it’s our bread and butter, our jam, our wheelhouse, our… some other folksy idiom denoting expertise. You get the point. It’s what we do.
Our goal in writing this piece is to impart some of that proficiency to you by laying out our methodology for conducting effective platform audits. We’ll grease the wheels stymying your marketing processes, get those workflows flowing smoothly, and hopefully make it all feel a bit less chaotic.
So, if you work in a tech-heavy field and have ever found yourself struggling to maintain a tidy toolshed of apps, we suggest you continue reading. DI is here to help you declutter, like Marie Kondo for your digital household.
Step 1: Know the difference between a platform and a product
Very few apps exist on an island. Most of them are connected. Therefore, performing a tech audit is rarely a simple matter of “this or that.” It’s also about assessing how they’re related and how they rank in terms of hierarchy.
You might look at a house and think that a single pillar is ugly, but if you remove that pillar, the porch collapses. The same principle applies to your digital tools. You can’t just go around either or-ing before you understand how each individual element fits into the whole system.
Two key differentiating terms are “platform” and “product.”
Platform is an unfortunately vague word, and as such, it tends to get thrown around with thoughtless abandon. Anything and everything can be termed a platform, it seems.
These designations aren’t, strictly speaking, wrong. And yet, if your goal is to run a tight ship, it’s worth understanding why they aren’t wrong and in what cases they could be.
In marketing, a platform refers to a tool or application that acts as a central hub. It’s a connector. Some apps are designed to be hubs, while others become forced into the role because they’re just that important.
Either way, platforms facilitate how individual products work together, share data, and endeavor towards a common goal.
Many platforms are single entities, nuclei around which disparate bits of technology are organized or linked via APIs (application programming interfaces).
But, absent a central, unifying force, a platform can simply refer to an interconnected group of technologies that cooperate to accomplish something, like a town that doesn’t have a mayor but is instead governed by a committee of more-or-less equals.
This latter definition means that, yes, your entire tech stack could theoretically be termed a “platform.” We know it’s a bit confusing. But a couple of defining factors to keep in mind here are goals and connections. If one app has a whole ecosystem of other apps connected to it – either to benefit from or bolster its capabilities in pursuit of an objective – that’s a platform.
Step 2: Draw out the connections
Once you’ve separated the connectors from the connectees and designated which programs are team captains and which are team players, it’s time to map out how they all fit together.
If you use hundreds of apps (first of all, use fewer apps), it might be difficult to physically diagram this family tree with a marker on a whiteboard. But if and when you do, the first thing you’ll notice is that, sometimes, the ways in which apps are connected are obvious.
For instance, you may have a project management tool like Trello integrated into a group chat app like Microsoft Teams.
That’s a clean, straight line.
However, the relationship could be much more subtle than that, like if your company uses spellcheck software like Grammarly that seamlessly suggests edits to employees’ writing across apps. Those relationships are much hazier.
Whether the connection is solid and pronounced or tenuous and tangled, the goal of this step is to develop an eye for:
- The threads that connect the different parts of your tech stack.
- How, when, and where in your business process are these tools being used?
When you come across more complex connections, you’ll just have to inspect the threads closer to see if they really are jumbled or simply interwoven.
Step 3: Identify overlap and redundancies
The insights you gain from drawing out the connections will hopefully bring to light whether or not you have two tools that do mostly or entirely the same thing.
Or if you have one tool that serves multiple functions and therefore renders other, more specialized apps unnecessary.
If you do have two overlapping apps, is the difference between them negligible or notable?
Sometimes, a case can be made for keeping two similar tools in your belt at once, like MOZ Pro and SEMrush, for SEO purposes.
But the more common scenario is that one can go.
If you come across a pair of apps that accomplish largely the same goal and you feel like one of them can be culled, here is a checklist of criteria that will help make that decision easier.
Fill in the following information for each of the two (or more) similar programs.
- Name of app
- Team(s) using it
- Total number of users
- Billing owner
- What business goal does this app help accomplish?
- What other apps are integrated or connected to this app?
- What information or metrics do you gain from this app?
- How much does this app cost annually?
The value that a tool provides to your business can be difficult to measure using broad metrics like subscription costs or the number of users.
For example, one single employee can find a mostly ignored app incredibly helpful and use it to create immense value for the company.
But, there will always be outliers, and when comparing two similar subscriptions, this checklist will give you a good idea of which is generally more worth keeping.
Step 4: Prioritize functionality over ROI
You’ll notice that cost was at the bottom of the list of our considerations for “when to keep or cull a piece of your MarTech stack.”
This isn’t to say that money isn’t important. It’s just that measuring the usefulness of technology is more nuanced than simply glancing at its price tag… especially if it’s become engrained within a larger system.
Companies who rate the value of a subscription using “as long as the outcome is income” logic are at risk of jettisoning cargo that they didn’t realize was precious until it was gone.
So, before you judge an app based on dollars in versus dollars out, ask yourself what business need is being met by this product?
And on the flip side, if you removed that tool from your arsenal, what processes would be disrupted?
The connections that you (or your hired platform consultant) drew out in step 2 above will reveal how vital an app is in the day-to-day functioning of your office. If it:
- makes employees better at their jobs,
- improves daily workflows, or
- even just bolsters the usability of another tool,
…then it doesn’t matter if it’s not explicitly making you money because it is. Just not in a way that can be immediately calculated.
Step 5: Are you using each app to its full potential?
The functionality of a platform or product can appear insignificant at first glance but, in reality, have much more to offer than you assumed.
In these cases, it’s worth taking a beat and considering if something you’re about to get rid of is truly expendable OR if you simply aren’t milking it for all it’s worth.
Overlooked opportunities are especially common with big, multifaceted platforms like HubSpot or the Adobe suite. To an extent, oversights are understandable given the fact that these tools take hours of training to master.
Still, leaving potential untapped is costly. With HubSpot specifically, we’ve noticed that certain features within their marketing and sales hubs go overlooked so often that most people don’t even get the most out of their subscriptions.
At this midpoint in the audit, you’ve probably noticed a common theme. Each step involves taking a moment to reflect and analyze each app from multiple perspectives.
During this particular step, however, the point isn’t so much to look at the apps but to look inward and ask if there’s something more you could be doing to keep an app on board.
If the answer is no, then go ahead and cut it from the team.
Step 6: Jettison those zombie subscriptions
Fortunately, not all apps require such careful and contemplative consideration. Some are quite patently garbage.
Under this umbrella are…
- Subscriptions you forgot about but are still siphoning money from your bank account.
- Superfluous plugins that have long been left unplugged.
- SEO tools that haven’t been updated for several algorithms.
These are dead weight, and you should feel no remorse in giving them the Viking funeral they deserve. Just set them on fire and push them out to sea.
Some platform consultants might suggest doing this step first, but we believe it’s best to leave all the elements of the system untouched until you’ve seen how they work in tandem. That way, you get the full picture of how every cog in the machine fits together before dismantling it.
Step 7: Take stock of the timelines
Time waits for no app. If your contract with a service is about to expire, your trial period is running out, or the tool itself is about to be rendered anachronistic by a software update or merger, you’ll want to take that into consideration.
The project manager or billing owner responsible for renewing your engagements with these platforms should be able to provide a subscription timeline.
Beyond that, do your best to stay up to date with the latest MarTech news so you’re not caught off guard by an algorithm change that unexpectedly cuts the legs out from under a program you rely on.
This happens more often than you’d think, especially with the ever-evolving landscape of user privacy and data regulations.
Step 8: Integrate, replace, or keep intact
Before we can finally put a bow on this tech audit, we need to go down the roster of apps that are staying and ask the following questions:
- Are there any opportunities to integrate this tool with another?
- Is this the best available version of this tool? Is there another similar tool that would better fit our needs? Cost less? Sync up more seamlessly with the rest of our tech stack?
- Is this fine as is? Can we just leave it untouched?
After this last pass-through, you can step back and take stock of your leaner, cleaner, more efficient collection of digital tools.
Whether these seven steps resulted in a complete overhaul or just a minor tidying up and reshuffling of things, performing tech audits is always a worthwhile endeavor. It invites you to look at your business critically, encourages you to think in systems, and reveals how certain processes could be improved to run more smoothly.
If you read through this blog and thought this all sounds great but who has the time to go digging through our whole tech inventory? The answer is, that we do.
Our MarTech gurus would be more than happy to wheel your whole operation into the DI garage, pop the hood, and optimize your tech stack until it’s running better than ever.
Or, if you’d rather get in there and fix it yourself, we’re equally happy to provide support and guidance. Either way, the goal is the same: assembling the best array of digital marketing tools for your unique business. If any of the above strike your interest, we enthusiastically invite you to reach out.