It’s no secret that marketing has become heavily dependent on technology and that the number of marketing technologies has been growing at an exponential rate.

The inaugural (2011) version of Scott Brinker’s marketing technology landscape graphic contained roughly 150 solution providers. The 2020 version of the graphic includes 8,000.  This indicates the marketing technology landscape has grown by an astounding 5,233% since 2011.

The growing dependence of marketing on technology means marketing leaders are frequently acquiring technology tools.

In a 2019 survey of marketers by Martech Today and Scott Brinker, an overwhelming 83% of respondents said their organization had upgraded or replaced at least one marketing technology application in the previous 12 months. In this environment, marketing procurement professionals need to be proficient at sourcing technology products and services.

There is an abundance of resources available that describe the “right” way to select and acquire technology. Vendors often produce buying guides for the types of technologies they offer. Technology-oriented consulting firms have created “frameworks” and “models” describing the technology buying process.

One of the better resources I’ve seen is “The Right Way to Select Technology” by Tony Byrne and Jarrod Gingras. Tony Byrne is the founder and Jarrod Gingras is the managing director of Real Story Group, a technology research and advisory firm. Real Story Group is a “buy-side” analyst firm. It works exclusively with enterprise technology customers. The firm emphasizes that its advice is truly vendor agnostic.

The buying process described in “The Right Way to Select Technology” is grounded in principles of user-centered design, which means the process’ objective is to identify the technology solution that is the “best fit” for a specific organization based on its particular business objectives, needs and capabilities.

“The Right Way to Select Technology” provides a clear road map for making smart technology buying decisions and contains a wealth of practical suggestions and tips. It’s impossible to adequately summarize the entire book in this article, but here’s a brief overview of several of the book’s main points.

Start With a Sound Business Case

Every technology selection process should begin with developing a sound business case.

Too often, marketers decide to acquire a new technology application based on an intuitive sense of what they need or on what they see other successful companies using. Then they prepare a formal business case to justify their decision.

This approach isn’t uncommon, but it’s backward. Developing a business case first forces you to think through your assumptions about what technological capabilities you truly need.

Byrne and Gingras argue that one key to developing a sound business case is to identify your top two or three business objectives and keep them front and center throughout the selection process. By focusing on these key objectives, you are less likely to become distracted by the multitude of details that will inevitably arise during the course of the buying process.

Identify Critical Requirements

Identifying and documenting requirements are essential steps in any technology selection process.

Byrne and Gingras write that many selection teams approach this task by developing a large and detailed requirements document. The authors contend that this approach doesn’t work very well for multiple reasons. First, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to identify all important requirements at the beginning of a selection process. Secondly, a “check box” list of requirements often fails to capture important requirements relating to how real people will interact with a technology application.

Byrne and Gingras recommend capturing requirements through user stories and effective vendor questions. A user story is a short, real-world narrative that describes your company’s available data, work processes, business needs and desired business outcomes. It speaks from the perspective of a specific user persona, which can be defined as an archetype of a type or group of users. User stories capture how real people will interact with a technology application and what they need to accomplish.

As valuable as user stories are, they are not always the best way to articulate your requirements, particularly those relating to technical issues. The authors recommend posing questions to prospective vendors to address these types of topics.

The key to making your questions an effective tool for articulating requirements and gaining meaningful information is to use open-ended questions rather than yes/no questions. As Byrne and Gingras put it, “In particular you advance the conversation by converting all your ‘Does your . . .’ checklist items into ‘How does your . . .’ questions.”

As its title suggests, “The Right Way to Select Technology” is not focused exclusively on marketing technology. In fact, the process described in the book works equally well for a wide range of technologies, including sourcing and procurement solutions.

This article first appeared in Future of Sourcing here.