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We live in a golden age of marketing technology (martech). Powered by the cloud and an everything-has-a-service culture, there’s an app for every business problem or need under the sun.

But as we’ve written about in earlier posts, even as we add more apps to our martech stack, we seem to be working harder to get utility from them. There are only so many hours in the day and not enough time to realize the full potential of our investments. Likewise, sometimes we tend to focus on feeding our digital addiction before thinking about how the apps we are using can effectively serve the greater good of the organization, or how we’ll maintain control and accountability over our stacks.

If you feel like this describes your organization, rest assured you’re not alone. Solutions overload is a real challenge for marketers. That’s why it’s time to get strategic and optimize your martech stack with the essential applications that will drive our businesses forward. While everyone’s martech stack is unique, here are five foundational tools that can benefit any business.

For an efficient stack, we need to consolidate management tools with marketing automation tools.

Project management, marketing automation, marketing asset management, CRM, CMS

1. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) – Understand Who Your Customers Are

CRM tools are at the heart of your marketing operations. Platforms like Salesforce, NetSuite, and Apptivo help you track and manage customer interactions, nurture leads, and automate outreach activities.

You can also integrate your CRM application to other tools in your martech stack, creating a powerful hub and spoke structure that breaks down silos and delivers value across your business. With the CRM as your hub, other martech tools can connect to it for enhanced data sharing and insights. Integrating data across your tools, you can uncover more context about your customers, build accurate buyer personas, tailor content, and time your outreach efforts for more effective engagement.

2. Marketing Automation – Communicate with Your Customers

Marketing automation is a pivotal part of your customer communication efforts. Data shows that over 51% of companies use marketing automation tools like HubSpot and Marketo, and more than half of all B2B companies plan to adopt the technology.

Why? Because marketing automation optimizes everything you do – it saves time, produces measurable results, and offers greater ROI. Through automation, repetitive tasks such as customer segmentation, email marketing, social media, and more, are streamlined. In just a few clicks, you can create more effective customer communications for hundreds or thousands of people. You can tailor messages based on profiles and deliver a more personalized customer experience across channels. Your efforts can also help your sales team by providing them with more qualified leads, and you can monitor and measure the effectiveness of your efforts.

3.  Content Management System (CMS) – Manage Your Website and Content

In the past, creating a website and managing the content on it required complex coding or programming experience. Today, anyone with access to a CMS can build a site, add pages, and post and update content – no expertise required.

While WordPress is the most popular CMS with a 60% market share, there are many options to choose from, each with differing features and functionality. When choosing a CMS, it’s also important to consider how it will fit into your martech stack and support your business needs today and tomorrow. Use a multi-layered CMS that can grow as your needs evolve. Look for a solution with a robust ecosystem of plug-ins and extensions, so that you can connect and integrate your CMS to other tools in your stack for a higher performing site and richer insights.

4. Project Management – Keep Track of Everything

Marketing is a world of ideas and actions. Keeping track of it all can be overwhelming. It’s time to ditch the Post-It notes, IMs, and Outlook reminders in favor of project management and collaboration tools like Trello, Wrike, and Workfront.

Whether you’re tracking a blog from the idea phase through writing, review, and publishing or chasing down approvals for a press release, project management tools eliminate disconnects; help visualize tasks, actions, and deadlines; prioritize work; and automate approval processes – all from a single dashboard. They allow you to keep track of who’s doing what, and when, and can be invaluable for managing your workflows.

5. Marketing Asset Management – Centralize Your File Sharing

Even with the best collaboration tools in the world, content fragmentation is a problem for any marketing organization. Assets are buried in email, saved to desktops, hosted on file servers, and change hands faster than you can say “where’s the latest version of that solutions sheet”?

This can lead to version control headaches, brand inconsistency, inefficiencies, impeded customer outreach, even lost sales. Research shows that 66% of companies lose sales when content isn’t available and more than 25% of sales teams create content without waiting for marketing to do it. It’s not that organizations don’t value content as an asset, it’s just they don’t treat it as such – fewer than half have a strategy for managing content as a business asset and only 18% have the right technology in place to manage their content.

Solutions like Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive eliminate content fragmentation by making it easy to access, share, and search for assets – all from a single location. They make it easier to ensure your assets are on-brand and up-to-date, and can facilitate faster approvals. The result is a more streamlined and centralized content repository for you, enhanced support for sales teams, and a more unified experience for the customer.

What About Analytics?

You’ll notice that analytics aren’t part of our recommendations. While there are hundreds of analytics tools to choose from, experts argue that “analytics tools aren’t just another level of your martech stack…that they should be interwoven throughout the technologies used in the marketing process.”

With this in mind, the best place to start for most organizations is using the tools you already have. Your marketing automation system and CRM have analytics infused within each platform, while analytics plugins can be added to your CMS with ease. If those aren’t enough, then carefully consider adding standalone analytics solutions to your stack. Remember: the goal is to optimize your martech stack, not buy things you don’t need. Focus on mastering the basics first, then assess whether you need more tools to fulfill your business goals.

Build on Your Foundation – Wisely

Today anyone can purchase an app with the swipe of a credit card, but choose wisely – ripping any of the above tools out and replacing it with one that better fits your needs is no walk in the park. The tools that make up your martech stack need to be highly-considered purchases. Start with these five essentials and grow from there. And remember, as you assemble each brick in your martech stack, be sure to assess your needs, gain consensus, find ways to control your growing stack, and, above all, make sure your investments align with the overall long-term goals and multi-year objectives of your company.