Playbook: The e-commerce marketer’s guide to auditing and refining the martech stack

This Playbook, sponsored by Klaviyo, explores how e-commerce brands are auditing and refining their tech stacks as part of the pursuit of personalized, omnichannel customer experiences.

As e-commerce brands work to provide the level of personalization that consumers expect, many are realizing that their existing martech stacks need to catch up. Data silos across a fragmented landscape of martech tools and customer touchpoints create disjointed and less personalized experiences for shoppers. And that impacts revenue.

E-commerce brands need seamless data integration to support omnichannel marketing efforts. In 2024, step one for accomplishing this goal (no matter how long the team has been pursuing it) is auditing and refining the martech stack. The mission is to optimize their tech to create increasingly personalized customer experiences and drive growth.

However, evaluating martech solutions can be overwhelming, time-consuming and expensive. In this new Playbook, Digiday and Klaviyo explain how a methodical approach to a tech-stack audit is fundamental for a successful marketing strategy. From bringing together stakeholders to team experimentation during the evaluation process, these plays will help guide brands as they consolidate — and expand — their marketing technology toolkits and partnerships.

Play 1: Define the ‘present state’ and ‘needed state’ of the martech stack

Fragmented data leads to fragmented relationships, but consolidating a tech stack unlocks opportunities for e-commerce brands to create personalized experiences with customer data. This starts with a successful tech-stack audit, which requires a thorough understanding of what a brand already has in its toolkit and what it needs for its next growth phase. 

  • What to know: Gathering input from crucial organizational stakeholders is essential for the audit. According to Josh Mendelsohn, director of product marketing, SMB and self-serve at Klaviyo, this can be a mix of direct and indirect users of any piece of the tech stack — including the ads ops team, IT team, marketers, merchandisers and others. “Even people who are not using the systems, they’re affected by the systems,” Mendelsohn explained. “For each of them, what are their core requirements? Are they being met today or not? That’s the most important place to start.”
  • What to expect: An existing tech stack often needs help scaling effectively as a brand grows and customer demand increases. This is why stakeholders must take a forward-looking approach when considering their wishlists. For example, will the organization soon expand to new product lines, new brands, or new geographies? These considerations will shape the audit’s ultimate goals.
  • What to consider: As Mendelsohn explained, every organization has a tech stack, “whether they think about it that way or not.” Even if the stack is as simple as an online store and email marketing platform, as teams prepare to conduct a tech stack audit, it is critical to consider where the data used is coming from and where it is going. Meanwhile, organizations starting their martech stacks from scratch have not necessarily identified active pain points to address in an audit and the RFP process that is likely to follow. In these circumstances, Mendelsohn suggested teams review where they want to grow, including new channels. “You have more freedom to think big when you’re starting from scratch because you’re not replacing anything in your tech stack,” he said. 
  • What to use/resources: Access to current martech tools and platforms, including documentation and contracts related to each, will help stakeholders address their tech stack needs more effectively during the audit process. Analytics and data reports that offer insights into marketing performance metrics, customer behavior, conversion rates, and more provide much-needed context for an existing tech stack’s performance. Knowledge of industry benchmarks can also help a business assess how the tech stack compares to competitors.  Information on the costs associated with the martech stack — including subscription costs, license fees and other expenses — will help stakeholders address budgetary concerns during the audit and subsequent RFP process.
Magnifying glass and a paper map
Play 2: Identify core requirements and business goals for the audit outcomes

Understanding the entire landscape of a brand’s martech stack — including core requirements and business goals — will make the tech-stack audit process easier.

  • What to know: By understanding how well an existing tech stack works and what challenges users face as their brand grows, stakeholders can better determine the goal of updating their tech stack. Goals can include improving performance, unlocking efficiency and saving money. “In most organizations, it’s going to be all of those things,” Mendelsohn said. “As you get into an internal audit and an RFP process, stack ranking the goals helps teams know what they’re measuring against.” By stack ranking, stakeholders identify strengths and weaknesses and prioritize various tech stack components based on predefined criteria. Components with lower scores or higher risks may be prioritized for improvement. Addressing critical dependencies and relationships between different elements of the martech stack may also influence how parts of the stack are ranked.
  • What to expect: Decision makers on the marketing, business operations and IT teams should be involved in driving the decisions and requirements for a tech-stack audit, as their teams are the most accountable for how different components play together. For instance, IT and development teams will want to evaluate technical aspects of the stack, including integrations, APIs, security considerations and compliance requirements.
  • What to consider: The more disjointed a martech stack, the more challenging it is to have a single source of truth and leverage data effectively. That being said, it is essential to consider that some systems may not be replaceable. Outside the martech stack, data must also play well with other platforms, such as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. “Where else does that customer data need to play outside of that of the marketing tech stack?” asked Mendelsohn. “That’s a super big requirement that is much easier to fix upfront than later. And it actually is where a lot of problems get caused around measurement around compliance.”
  • What to use/resources: During this phase, a comprehensive assessment of the current technology inventory and business strategy will fuel cross-functional conversations. Discussions with key stakeholders across departments allow each side of the business to offer perspective into what the brand is trying to accomplish and the limitations teams face. Specific questions include:
    • What types of programs does a business want to run?
    • What areas are being invested in? (Subscriptions, mobile apps, etc.)
    • Are new product lines being added?
    • What are customers’ pain points and feature requests?
Characters stacking building blocks
Play 3: Create and issue a request for proposals

By creating a robust RFP, e-commerce businesses can properly and objectively evaluate martech vendors.

  • What to know: A well-thought-out RFP is the best tool for an e-commerce brand to attract qualified vendors and facilitate a structured evaluation process. An RFP generally has two components: the body — which frames the business need that is the root of the process — and the questions that prospective vendors must answer for consideration. Detailing the pain points that have spurred the RFP and how these have impacted the business gives candidates a clear opportunity to address how they would add value to the organization. The RFP should also include questions about activation, data storage, implementation and testing of the tech stack.
  • What to expect: Being rigid about processes and requirements when issuing the RFP ensures stakeholders can compare proposals apples-to-apples. “One thing I’ve seen cause problems on both sides is when a vendor tries to change the RFP after the fact, you end up with different businesses submitting based on different criteria,” Mendelsohn explained, complicating the subsequent scoring process.
  • What to consider: Once the RFP process is underway, stakeholders’ conversations become about trade-offs, Mendelsohn explained. “Even the easiest implementation takes time, so you’re weighing effort versus return on any re-platforming.” Mendelsohn also cautioned that stakeholders must agree upon non-negotiables before an RFP is issued to vendors.
  • What to use/resources: The body of an RFP may include several sections, including a business overview, scope of work (including details on budget allocation, technical infrastructure and compliance requirements), anticipated roadblocks and logistical parameters (including project timelines and formatting guidelines). Vendor questions in the RFP can span several categories, including company overview, data handling, marketing channels, data science, developer experience, analytics and reporting, security and infrastructure, ecosystem, pricing and successful use cases.
Call for proposals
Play 4: Create an implementation plan before vendor selection

Even the most straightforward martech stack implementations take time, but being prepared helps limit the potential for breakage during the transition.

  • What to know: An implementation plan, including onboarding and data transfer, should be part of the RFP process. “Before you even choose a vendor, you need to build the right cross-functional team, having a clear leader and timelines agreed upon internally,” Mendelsohn said. That internal alignment before making a final selection is really the key to a successful implementation.” 
  • What to expect: RFP submissions from prospective vendors can give organizations insights into how the implementation process will work. Mendelsohn pointed to customer testimonials and recommended that brands look for vendors that have successfully worked with businesses of similar sizes.
  • What to consider: Different departments may work on their own timelines, which must be clarified before implementing a new tech stack. For instance, an IT team may be implementing the technical aspect of a new marketing stack while a marketing team is testing processes and flows for a tentpole shopping event, creating confusion.
  • What to use/resources: Transparency around resource allocation — including budgets and personnel — as well as timelines and milestones — is essential for key stakeholders to create an implementation plan. These expectations can then be communicated to prospective vendors to ensure alignment.
Play 5: Evaluate RFP responses and select a vendor

A comprehensive evaluation process allows businesses to compare various vendors and potentially test platform functionality to narrow the choices.

  • What to know: Establishing detailed criteria and parameters during the creation of the RFP helps ensure a smooth and objective evaluation process. As Mendelsohn explained, the tech-stack audit should flow into creating and evaluating an RFP, featuring a selection of the same key stakeholders. “You need to have a cross-functional scoring team,” he said. “The biggest thing is stack ranking what’s in the RFP, and then making sure you have multiple people scoring, not just a single individual.”
  • What to expect: Before a vendor decision is finalized, it is critical to experiment with the new platform or martech stack through a free trial or a sandbox. It’s essential to enlist day-to-day users in this step of the process to gauge basic usability and ease of implementation. “This is where efficiency comes in,” Mendelsohn said. “If it’s going to be too hard for power users, that’s a reason not to continue with that vendor.”
  • What to consider: During the experimentation phase of the evaluation, Mendelsohn suggests going beyond basic use cases to push the platform’s limits in the sandbox or trial version. For instance, an e-commerce team may start by replicating existing processes, like cart abandonment automation, and then introduce price drop automation based on multiple data sources to trigger alerts across multiple channels. “Try things that are outside of the day-to-day activities but that you want to unlock in the future,” Mendelsohn said. “Dream big and try to break it, and then you’ll have a better handle on the limitations — or the possibilities.” 
  • What to use/resources: An organization’s RFP scorecard will make or break the proposal evaluation process. This might include vendor information, evaluation criteria based on the brand’s requirements and priorities, scoring metrics, comments, an overall score and final feedback and recommendations. The standardized scorecard will allow the stakeholders to make objective and transparent decisions by evaluating the proposals against predefined criteria and priorities. 
Play 6: Plan to measure the outcomes of the martech stack audit and refinement

Once a new martech vendor is selected and integrated, a detailed plan with defined timelines and KPIs empowers organizations to determine the impact and benefits of the latest tools without bias.

  • What to know: Setting clear expectations around timelines throughout the audit and RFP processes puts an organization in a stronger position for the implementation stage. Similarly, KPIs to evaluate the new martech stack should reflect the objectives outlined in the auditing phase. These can be qualitative or quantitative, including ease of use, improved time to market on new programs, and better performance metrics across channels.  
  • What to expect: Organizations can benefit from evaluating a martech stack’s operational and performance KPIs. Operational KPIs measure the efficiency and effectiveness of specific organizational processes or activities. For example, determine if the tech stack saved time and reduced resource waste. Performance KPIs evaluate an organization’s overall performance in achieving its strategic goals and objectives. For example, ask if the tech stack grew customer retention rates or drove revenue. “A tech stack isn’t an ad campaign; you don’t get immediate results from an overhaul,” Mendelsohn cautioned. “It takes some time for the benefits to appear on the operational efficiency side and on the performance side, and you don’t want to be changing these things out too often.”
  • What to consider: After implementing a martech stack audit and refinement, it’s vital to regularly review the tools in the context of the organization’s long-term business objectives and growth plans. The ability to do so effectively depends partly on the initial audit and stakeholders baking business goals and strategies into the RFP process. Otherwise, organizations risk focusing too much on a martech stack’s end-user experience rather than executive-level, big-picture thinking. “Future-proofing and accounting for growth goals really should be happening in the RFP process,” Mendelsohn explained. “You don’t want to hit a rapid growth spurt and realize that none of your tech stack is going to work. You need to anticipate where it’s going to go.”
  • What to use/resources: The stack rank and the RFP scorecards can serve as the foundation for future evaluations of the martech stack. “Create milestones in the implementation process for the first month, three months, six months and then on an annual basis, evaluating the tech stack overall,” Mendelsohn said. Establishing a timeline and milestones will allow teams to ensure the tech stack implementation is on the right track and living up to its potential. It also gives stakeholders regular opportunities to flag issues proactively with their vendors.

As e-commerce brands strive to meet consumers’ evolving expectations for personalization, a robust martech stack can unlock seamless omnichannel experiences. With a thorough and thoughtful tech stack audit, brands can identify their core requirements for achieving growth and elevating customer experiences. By planning for a smooth transition, brands are well-equipped to select a vendor best aligned with their short- and long-term needs.

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