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7 Ways to Learn the Tech in Martech

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Seven trapezoids in varying colors growing larger vertically as you look from left to right. All have a circle in the middle of them of the same color but at a higher transparency.

It’s nearly impossible to keep up with all the new marketing technology (martech) tools. Just look at the 8,000 solutions that show up on the 2020 ChiefMartech marketing technology landscape, which grew 13.6% from the previous year. 

While understanding the functionality and benefits of all  these technologies would be overwhelming (to say the least), you can still make learning a priority for you and your team. Well-rounded marketing technologists develop a habit out of experimenting with new systems and technologies, seeking out
martech training, and talking with technical experts.

Stay ahead of the tech curve

The future seems to change shape every time we map out our technology stack to get us there. And emergent technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), the Internet of Things (IoT), and autonomous vehicles aren’t fantasy anymore. They’re already here. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic taught us that the way we work and shop can change more dramatically and quickly than we ever imagined. So how do you get out ahead of a curve that’s constantly moving?

You can start with a technology stack that gives you a solid foundation to solve your everyday problems and prepare for emergent technology. That might mean you purchase an account based marketing (ABM) solution to upgrade your B2B marketing cloud. Or, if you want to create more relevant customer experiences, it could be time for a customer data platform (CDP). Theses solutions are becoming more and more popular. Twilio just acquired Segment, one of the leading CDP solutions, for $3.2 billion. Layer on a digital asset management (DAM) and product information management (PIM) solution like the Widen Collective® and you can deliver the right content to the right customer at exactly the right interaction. 

Sounds simple enough, right? It’s much easier to write about than implement. Even with the “perfect” technology stack, you still have to constantly learn and evolve your martech skills. That means you and your team need to prioritize learning the tech in martech. 

Here are seven ways to do it.

1. Get up to speed on machine learning and AI

New AI and machine learning solutions pop up every day. This tech does everything from modeling dynamic landing pages to writing and optimizing copy. Don’t worry, AI isn’t ready to take your job. But, you do have to learn how it works. The customer experience is getting more complex than humans can follow. Machine learning can step in and find the missing links in the journey. It can piece together data and show you opportunities for personalized experiences no human could pull from your pile of data. 

One good example of machine learning in action is a process called Collaborative Filtering. It’s a way to recommend relevant content to users with similar tastes based on their reviews and product purchases. And when this approach is supported by an effective PIM solution, you’re able to connect the dots between customers. 

2. Buy emergent consumer tech for your team

Have you seen Walmart’s VR shopping experience that premiered at SXSW? It's a fully virtual shopping experience that puts shoppers inside the store, without ever leaving their homes. After over a year of lockdowns and social distancing, emergent technologies like VR headsets aren’t just for gaming anymore. 

If you’re in e-commerce or retail, it’s wise to invest in some VR or AR devices and encourage your team to use them. See how they work. What’s the customer experience like? Is there an opportunity for you? Don’t worry, you don’t have to buy the Oculus Rift, you can get a $40 headset from Amazon that works with smartphones.
 

3. Invite an expert for pancakes and talk tech

This is one of my favorite ways to learn. Invite a technical colleague or a futurist friend to breakfast and ask them about their technical philosophy and future vision. If restaurants aren’t open for indoor dining or distance is an issue, you can have a morning Zoom session. You’ll just have to make your own pancakes and coffee. You might discover something new in their experience with customer relationship management (CRM) solutions that changes your whole strategy.

You might learn a lot of new words and it’s OK to feel a little out of your element. Especially when they start talking about the inner workings of blockchain when you just want to know how it can deliver customer rewards. Take notes. It might not happen the first time, but you’re sure to gain some new insights that you can apply.

4. Play with free trials, demos, and apps

Make time to get into sandboxes, take a free trial, download a new app, and experiment. See what you can build and imagine how it could impact the customer experience. Maybe you use the 14-day free trial of Salesforce and find out if it’ll solve your team’s biggest challenge. You don’t need a full training to learn the basics of martech software. You just need to get in there and see what it can do. 

In fact, you can save the training for later (it’s one of the next ways to learn). For now, use this as a way to play and give yourself a break from the normal day-to-day. Not sure where to start? Download Mona, a shopping assistant designed by former Amazon employees, and see what kind of new shopping experiences are possible. Or, check out Shoelace and see if you think AI can help you drive more sales and create happier customers.

5. Pursue martech training and certifications

Some vendors provide advanced marketing technology training and certification programs. It’s like a college degree in that specific technology, which is awesome if you have time to focus on it. For example, Salesforce offers a Marketing Cloud Email Specialist certification. These kinds of certificates will make you more valuable to your team and in your next career move. 

You can even invest in certificate courses at the university level. MIT Sloan offers an online six-week certificate course on Artificial Intelligence: Implications for Business Strategy, if you want to dive in. Right now, it might be more practical for you to learn your team’s project management tool inside and out. Asana offers a free course to help you learn the best ways to use it. 

6. Events, conference, Meetups, speakers, and user groups

Make regular martech events a part of your schedule. Learning directly from people in martech helps you and your team stay sharp. Tech breakfasts, speakers, monthly meetups, or vendor-sponsored conferences (like our Widen Summit), are a good place to start. If there aren’t any interesting ones nearby, host one yourself. When you’re ready to be immersed with other martech experts, check out the MarTech® conference.

Regional user groups also make it easy to meet regularly with other martech professionals, give you a sense of community, and deliver immediate takeaways to make your work easier. Look for user groups hosted by independent users or ones sponsored by your software providers. For example, if you use HubSpot, you’ll love HubSpot User Groups (HUGs) to expand your skill set. And we host Widen User Groups (WUGs) meetings all around the world for Widen Collective users, too. 

7. Set up Google Alerts and follow influencers

Set up Google Alerts for terms like “new DAM integration,” “machine learning for marketing,” and “VR retail experiences.” You might be surprised at how useful one of these alerts becomes down the road. It’s a simple and effective way to track news that’s important to you and your team. And if you’re not already following Scott Brinker, chair of the MarTech conference, find him on Twitter.

You can learn a lot on your own. But, you can learn even more about martech when you do it as a team. Share what you find with others and celebrate what they discover along the way. If you make learning a part of your culture, changes in technology become opportunities to grow instead of problems to solve.

Make learning part of your team culture

All that knowledge won’t go to much use without a solid cultural foundation. If you’ve adopted the M.A.R.T.E.C.H. competency framework, you know that “culture” is crucial. Culture doesn’t come from sending out a list of things for people to do and making people check boxes. It comes from getting people genuinely excited. And, it comes from modeling and encouraging behaviors that turn all the learning into useful action. 

There are many values you can lean into do this. For example, accountability. If you take a course on machine learning, you’re accountable or responsible for applying that new knowledge to your work. It’s also important that you remember to share with your team. Sign up to speak at the next fireside chat and show them what you learned. 

Here are some of the other values that can help make what you learn valuable to everyone else:

  • Integrity: When you implement a new idea, follow up and own the changes whether they work or not — especially if they cascade into other departments.

  • Decentralization: Martech teams can’t survive as immovable bureaucracies. New decisions need to be made closest to the problem and sometimes they need to be made quickly. Empower your team to make choices without restrictive processes.

  • Reflection + evaluation: Communicate clearly and consistently with everyone on your team. These continuous feedback cycles generate new ideas and create trust.

  • Transparency: Keep the right people informed in the right ways. Don’t send everyone in the company an email once and assume they’ll read it. This way, when you have a challenge to overcome or make a mistake, people will back you up. 

When all your technology hums and your marketing team has a healthy culture of learning, you might find days where you wonder what your role is. That’s where the “H” in M.A.R.T.E.C.H. comes in.

Turn someone else into a martech hero

It’s not your job to write the award-winning headlines or schedule the sales email that brings in one million dollars. It’s your job to make sure the technology is in place to turn other people into a “hero.” This is one of the main actions that makes you stand out as a marketing technologist

Let’s say that your email marketing manager learned something at the MarTech conference and they want your help to implement it. You make the changes to enable the idea and six months later email revenue is up by $3 million. Who gets the spotlight? Make sure the email manager does. You can be a part of it, too, but don’t stand in front of them.

Make other people the hero and you’ll cultivate a healthy culture of learning. When your team knows they can learn something new, bring it back to you, and turn it into a successful reality, you build trust. That trust leads to the momentum as a group that keeps you ahead of the tech curve. You’re never going to solve every problem or build the perfect technology stack. You can, however, work together to learn and constantly evolve in the face of an ever-changing digital landscape.

Note: This article was originally published in February 2015 and has been updated to include additional information. 

Topics: Marketing, MarTech

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