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Marketing Tech’s Bumpy Road: Consolidation, Growth And A New Frontier

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Marketing technology has become big business over the last five years, securing $134 billion in venture funding and spawning more than 2,000 new companies. New channels, new data streams and new workflow have emerged to disrupt important aspects of marketing at big and small companies alike. And CMOs are buying — roughly $23 billion in 2015, according to IDC, and likely growing to $32.4 billion in 2018.

So why is the mood in martech so bleak? I’ve seen dozens of articles in the last few months expressing pessimism about the state of martech in 2016. Many investors and entrepreneurs are lamenting how crowded and fragmented the sector is, arguing that it’s overfunded with too many point products. Others have pointed out that sales force automation produced a $50 billion company in Salesforce.com, yet marketing automation has produced only a few public companies collectively worth less than $5 billion.

Both concerns are legitimate. There are indeed too many companies fighting for limited time and attention from busier-than-ever marketers — and equally true is that martech hasn’t hit the big time for public valuations. We expect to see significant winnowing over the next few years, driven by customer choice (CMOs don’t want to buy from hundreds of vendors) and lack of funding (investors will tighten the reins on Series B and Series C investments due to the broader economic climate).

Regardless, I continue to be extremely optimistic about the martech opportunity, and believe someone will build a $10 billion-plus martech company. As a long-time investor in this space, I’ve seen first-hand how technology can transform sales and marketing — and empower teams with better insight, more precision and, ultimately, more predictability.

The entrepreneur who figures this out will create value for marketers on par with what Marc Benioff has successfully done for the sales function.

Moving forward, it’s important to remember that martech is not monolithic. I see very different prospects and paths ahead for the three macro categories in martech: B2B marketing, B2C marketing and advertising technology. Each has a set of characteristics and verticals and needs that are distinct from each other — and while there may be some overlap, each will require a different “stack” of software.

Advertising technology

Adtech has seen very few sustainable public companies — Criteo being the primary exception. Adtech’s challenges are well documented, but they fall into two buckets:

  • The solutions tend not to be sticky. Marketers are more than willing to switch to a new adtech solution if they can get a better return on ad spend, and they happily force vendors into annual or bi-annual head-to-head tests.
  • The adtech companies must contend with the power and leverage of the underlying supply platforms, primarily Google, Facebook and Apple/iOS. These underlying platforms continue to innovate and add/absorb functionality, reducing the value that adtech “middlemen” are able to provide over time.

The bottom line: There will be exciting companies built here, but it will be a much, much harder path to a multi-billion dollar exit.

B2B and B2C marketing

Let’s first look at Salesforce.com. While they now sell into consumer companies via the ExactTarget acquisition, their bread-and-butter business has been selling “sales force automation” solutions to medium and large companies with sales people.

The concept of managing a pipeline, opportunities and accounts is very germane to B2B companies and a small segment of B2C — where the purchase is a large, multi-step, highly considered purchase. Similarly, the marketing automation companies have all grown up selling initially into B2B. The concept of managing “leads” and nurturing them through a sales cycle and then passing on a set of leads that are “sales qualified” is again very specific to B2B companies.

If you look at the P&L of a B2B business, the bulk of their “front office” spend is in sales, not in marketing. In fact, a 10:1 ratio between sales and marketing spend is pretty typical. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the market cap ratio is also 10:1 between the leading sales automation company (CRM) and the leading marketing automation companies (MKTO and HSPT).

With all that said, B2B will continue to be a strong market for martech startups with plenty of demand from CMOs; we expect to see several new $1 billion-plus companies emerge in categories like top-of-funnel marketing, account-based marketing and predictive analytics.

The software system to support B2C marketing is the biggest prize left in the front office.

B2C marketing is fundamentally different. The P&L within B2C companies (brands, retailers, consumer financial services, travel, etc.) is the opposite ratio: 10:1 in favor of marketing. Most B2C companies don’t have large sales forces, and if they have sales people at all, they’re focused on small segments of their business (very high-end customers or a B2B channel). Therefore, the software system to support B2C marketing is the biggest prize left in the front office.

New frontier: B2C system(s) of record

The big new opportunity and challenge for entrepreneurs is to create a system of record for B2C marketing. Historically, email was the closest thing to creating a B2C digital system of record, and the B2C software company exits (Responsys and ExactTarget) had multi-billion-dollar market caps reflecting the size of this opportunity.

Where does the system of record start? With the customer database. In today’s environment, the customer database captures not only people who have purchased from you, but people who have not. It includes logged-in users and non-logged-in users. It includes rich data about those customers and their households, linking purchase data with browsing history, social data and detailed demographics.

Historically, having one system of record that brings together Omniture website data, retail point-of-sale data, Teradata transactional data and social media data was next to impossible. Now, with advances in big data and cloud systems, the syncing of these data sources is finally feasible — and huge volumes of customer data can effectively be managed via the cloud.

Once the core database is in place, a true B2C system of record doesn’t stop there. A next-gen system will use machine learning and predictive technology to identify and generate dozens to hundreds of useful market segments — more actionable than the three-five segments typically derived via demographic data. It will link directly into personalization platforms like BloomReach and Optimizely to power customized and relevant experiences for each consumer. And this system will be the foundation for all forms of channel marketing, whether that is email through SendGrid, social through Sprinklr or ad-targeting through Kenshoo and Turn.

The entrepreneur who figures this out will create value for marketers on par with what Marc Benioff has successfully done for the sales function.

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