How much technical knowledge do we need as part of our M.A.R.T.E.C.H. competency framework? A range of technical expertise lies somewhere between your parents think you're really good at technology stuff and you can operate the quintillion supercomputer. Fear not, on this spectrum it is much closer to what your parents think of your technology savviness. I think about my own career journey from understanding printed-and-bound matter to marketing technology as a way to advance your technical competency in the interest of your metamorphosis into a marketing technologist.
There has to be a better way!
While you are in the trenches performing marketing functions, you might catch yourself saying, “there has to be a better way!” I am pleased to report that there is most certainly a better way to perform marketing functions with the right technologies. On that journey you may encounter two possible outcomes, 1) a cool technology that provides a better way or 2) an opportunity to create a better way for others through your own entrepreneurial spirit.
In my own experience as a young, inefficient phonebook-trolling, cold-calling machine, I recall the use of our contact tracking and activity logs in a legacy system designed for financial reporting and tracking. It was a painful process of entering, managing, customizing, and reporting. Although it took awhile to realize there was a better way, once I started looking, it was like I discovered a whole new world. Systems that would give me control with design appeal and easy ways to roll it out to other people. If only I had taken action a few years prior!
Pancakes & Tech Talk
Networking with technology people that I trust is near the top of the technical competency development list. Bringing patient technology experts into your social network and getting them to talk about their tech philosophy and what they see going forward introduces you to lots of words you will have to look up later. Really. But at least you have some keywords to discover on your own that allows you to prepare for the next conversation. Invite a technical colleague to breakfast at the local diner with a simple agenda; “just want to learn about your technical philosophy and vision for technologies you see us using going forward.”
Lost in Conversation
Nod and smile. Getting lost in conversations with technical people is probably more entertaining for a nearby witness, but it has some competency development merit. I have usually done this at conferences that have a more technical twist. If you want to learn, you need to engage. Ask the right questions and keep them generic. “Tell me more,” “What were the other options,” “Would you do it differently if….?” A cautionary tale to this approach, you meet some arrogant people that will attempt to make you feel intellectually small. Like lots of other crowds, most people are helpful but you’ll have a few awkward conversations.
RFP Me ASAP
I cannot go without saying that Request For Proposals did help advance my own technical competencies. I am not going to have an “I <heart> RFP’s” bumper sticker anytime soon, but the questions triggered an investigation, a pursuit of information, then the need to communicate that information in both written and oral presentations. I treated RFP’s like a training ground for technical content. Especially when the world wanted installed software and ASP/Hosted/SaaS/Cloud vendors need not apply. Those were funny days. I enjoyed taking huge columns asking about technical specifications and merging the response cell into one simple answer, “Software-as-a-Service, Not Applicable.”
Webinars, sandboxes and free trials, OH MY! Gaining technical knowledge while pursuing the technologies that solve your problems is fun. Just start configuring to see what is possible because new ideas will come. I encourage the creation of user scenarios and to start engaging vendors to figure out how those user scenarios play-out within their technologies, but don’t forget about play time. I liken playing with these marketing technologies to the transformers I had as a kid. Sure there were instructions to change Optimus Prime from a semi-truck to a robot, but instructions are mind-numbing, just like technical documentation. There is time to read documentation later, just have fun exploring at first and doing things on your own.
Training & Certification
Some of the vendors in the marketing technology space with more sophisticated offerings provide advanced training and certification programs. It’s like a college degree in that specific technology, which is awesome if you can get there. It feeds your own intellectual wellness desires and it advances your occupational wellness by demonstrating to your employer that you have reached specific milestones. Some providers are farther along than others with these programs but I would expect the learning environment from marketing technology providers to continue accelerating in the interest of advancing the technical element of our MarTech competencies.
As with anything, a dedication to keeping up with technical knowledge is important. Although you expect the marketing technology providers to do it for you, you should also stay sharp. And you can continue doing so through the aforementioned suggestions but also through the knowledge sharing that must happen within your team. Coordinate tech breakfasts, attend Meetups, host events, bring in speakers, anything to bring the knowledge out.
In a recent example, I learned one of our product teams was advancing on the React library for the UI of a new project. As this progresses, this team will expose to our other teams their experience with React to help everyone, technical and non-technical, understand why.Lastly, you could also attend the MarTech Conference in San Francisco March 31 to April 1, more at www.martechconf.com. See you there!