Migrating from one marketing technology platform to another is exciting and terrifying at the same time. The bigger the organization, the scarier it gets.
But no matter the company size, moving from one platform to another is an intricate dance. You have to get all the steps right to succeed from the start.
Moving to a new platform can seem daunting because you don’t learn how to do it in college. You learn through experience. Not everyone has had that experience; if they did, it probably was bad. Every migration is different because every company has different needs and setups.
COVID-19 spurred companies’ dissatisfaction with martech
Migrations are on my mind because more companies are now moving through the request-for-proposal process (RFPs) or migrating between platforms.
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Many discovered their martech partners weren’t fast or innovative enough to support their demands for speed and flexibility in a changing COVID economy.
Pre-pandemic, companies switched martech platforms mainly because they were unhappy with the cost, features or support. Now their patience has expired with platforms that aren’t sophisticated enough.
Getting realistic about migration
There exists the idea that migrations are simple and fast. I’ve had to counsel companies that think they can make a massive platform change in just four months. Sure, it can be done, but at four times the cost.
As I mentioned at the start, a migration has many steps, and you have to do them correctly if you want to succeed. You can plan on spending three to 18 months in a migration based on your program’s sophistication. Take that timeline into account in your planning.
These are the four most common complaints from companies that want to investigate new technology. Which one applies to you?
- “My system is wonky.”
- “We need a lot of hacks, workarounds, and manual processes to make things work.”
- “I need Mary in IT to move data around for me.”
- “I need external processes to get the reporting I need.”
These happen because somebody hurried through the migration.
4 focus areas for successful migrations
Although every migration is different, at a minimum, you should focus on these four areas when you migrate your systems from one martech platform to another:
This is the most important step and often the most overlooked. That’s because nobody ever thinks to look at internal systems first. I will spend a fair amount of time on this step because your success hinges on it.
Sure, you’re excited because you just signed a contract for a new shiny tool. You’re dreaming about everything you want to do with your new ESP. And you can’t wait to start sending emails. But to use your new tool effectively, with all the features you drooled over in your demo, you must know what to do first as you migrate to your new platform.
Your first critical step is to inventory all your martech systems, using your team, consultants with your ESP or a third-party agency. This means deep diving into where your data lives, how it gets there, and your processes, APIs, data fields, access, and governance.
Ask many questions. Talk to everyone who touches your email process, from your data and creative teams to the people who push “Send” and your CMO.
Don’t skip this step or rush through it. An effective discovery process ensures you can get the most from your new tool because it will reveal unexpected strengths, weaknesses, gaps and other things.
A proper discovery takes a global perspective of the entire operation. It’s not just individual teams in their silos and responsibilities.
Also, document everything in a manual. This will identify your important integrations, what’s useful and what isn’t, what has to move to the new platform and what doesn’t.
It takes time, and it must be comprehensive, but it’s critical for the success of your next steps.
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2. Moving to the new platform
Your new ESP can use the manual you created in discovery to define business cases and identify processes to move. The discovery process also reveals the order in which to move things over.
Migrating to a new platform isn’t about chucking all your triggers, templates and lists into your new platform and then hitting “Go.” It’s a systematic approach not driven by an IP warm-up plan.
I laugh (to myself) if the first question I hear from a client after signing a new martech contract is if the ESP mentions an IP warm-up plan. That’s step 325 in the migration. We’re at step four. Let your integrations and planning come to fruition first before you plan your first campaign.
Maybe you think your new ESP will handle all this for you. Surprise! It likely can’t get into your current ESP to do any of this work for you. Your internal teams or external companies do the work, not just to meet migration timelines but also to avoid disrupting business during the move.
Every business unit affected by the migration has its own objectives and KPIs. Migrating to a new platform means you’ve added to their work. You’re ripping data out of one place and putting it somewhere else. That takes planning, agreements and negotiations.
This becomes a systematic and precise orchestration of moving systems, processes and creative content from one platform to the other. Each element must be moved in the right order. I cannot emphasize this enough. Migration is not about speed; it’s about accuracy.
A good discovery process pays off here, too. If you do it well, you will have those things in place. Migration is a team effort, like an orchestra, and you’re the conductor.
3. User acceptance testing
This is another often-overlooked step. When you move from Place A to Place B, you must test to make sure everything is working correctly, with your old ESP as a backup if it doesn’t. That means you will need to have some runway with your soon-to-be old ESP. That gives you time to move everything over.
Develop a plan for user acceptance testing that shows what’s being tested and approved. Test all 1,000 of your triggers. Test all iterations of your templates and all of your inbound APIs.
A disciplined testing regimen keeps you from breaking things on your new platform. User acceptance testing is a big step that gets you closer to pushing that “Go” button. But you’re still not ready to push it.
4. Send an email campaign — but only at the right time
You might send an email early in the process to test the system or have a proof of concept. But don’t hurry this step. Do it when it’s safe and makes sense, not because a timetable says you should.
When sending an email campaign, don’t try every new feature on your platform all at once. Patience is a virtue in migration. Wait until you get to parity, or a bit beyond parity, when you do things you did on your old platform but do them faster, better or cheaper.
A new platform brings changes everywhere in your email operation. Phase in your new implementation, and rely on your new ESP partner to help. Pushing “Send” is the last step in this process, not the beginning.
In the last 23 years of being involved in RFPs and migrations, I’ve seen just about everything. Three key concepts get overlooked:
- It takes a massive, coordinated internal effort.
- Plan your cutover from the old platform to the new one, and that means possibly renewing with the old ESP for a short time.
- Give yourself enough time between the RFP and the end-contract date.
In our work with enterprise client migrations, we recommend a minimum two-year process between running an RFP and shutting down the old platform. ESPs are not great at extending contracts if the migration process takes longer than expected. It gets expensive, and it can be cumbersome.
Planning and partnerships can help you understand the innovation arc you want to be on and recognize the potential for your new program.
The pandemic showed us we must pivot quickly to stay ahead of changing business conditions. Maybe you saw right away that your old technology couldn’t meet the challenge, so you can be forgiven for wanting to step on the gas to switch platforms.
Don’t try to make the migration process from RFP to pushing “Go” move just as fast.
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