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The hidden costs of customer engagement platforms: the implementation nobody asked for

Why implementations drive up the total cost of customer engagement platforms, and what we can do about it

This is part 1 of a multi-part series where we shed light on the hidden costs associated with adopting new customer engagement platforms, ESPs, or marketing automation platforms.

Every marketer knows that customer engagement implementations are notoriously long and painful. In our conversations with marketers, a typical implementation for a mid-market, growth-stage company is anywhere between 3-6 months. Some smaller startups can get set up in less time, but we’ve also spoken with companies that have crossed the 1 year mark(!) with an ongoing implementation – with no end in sight.

However, in the martech ecosystem both vendors and customers have accepted these time horizons as standard practice. There’s no shame for vendors who recommend implementation partners for a 6-month project, because no competitor can do any better. And marketers have gotten used to planning out migrations quarters in advance of renewal dates, and marshaling dedicated resources to doing migration work.

Customer Engagement Platform cost breakdown
Customer engagement platforms are more expensive than you think!

Data integration purgatory

What does a customer engagement implementation entail? Well, there’s warming IPs for sending emails, and of course there’s building the actual marketing campaigns. But we find consistently, the most time-consuming and most complex (and most important!) part of the implementation is data integration.

It’s no secret that customer engagement products require access to a firehose of customer data to unlock hyper-targeted segmentation and personalized messaging, not to mention full-funnel analytics and AI/ML capabilities. Depending on the business, there could be hundreds of user attributes, events, and other datasets that need to be ingested on a continuous basis, often in real-time.

One challenge is data integration work requires engineering support, which is always limited. In fact, lack of necessary technology resources is the single biggest reason customer engagement implementations fail. And often this happens after leaders have already signed the vendor contract! Getting access to tech resources is such a big problem that there are entire playbooks designed to help marketers navigate the organizational barriers.

But let’s say you’ve wrangled the resources to do the data integration work. Congrats! Now the real work begins. Building data pipelines to reliably move, format, and reconcile customer data points from various databases, SDKs, and custom APIs is long and tedious work. It’s inherently error-prone and marketers spend a ton of time auditing results to make sure things behave as expected. Because every customer engagement product consumes data slightly differently and comes with its own quirks, it can be painstaking work to map the same business logic from the old product to the new one.

The cost of long implementations

It’s true, customer engagement products are expensive pieces of software by themselves. But the software isn’t the only cost, or arguably even the biggest cost. When you factor in another 6+ months of implementation time due to data integration, we’re looking at two additional categories of expenses.

First, there’s the labor cost of the implementation itself. You’re paying for countless hours of your own team’s time and the implementation engineer’s time to ensure its success. You’re potentially paying for outside consultants to assist your team with the implementation. And you’re likely paying the vendor a one-time integration fee to onboard onto their platform.

Harder to quantify but just as important is the opportunity cost of the campaigns you’re not running. It’s either because the new platform isn’t ready yet, or because the team is just tied up in the integration: the marketer who would normally be running new campaigns is focused on migrating existing campaigns to the new platform, or perhaps auditing the data integration with the implementation engineer.

In today’s market, it’s not easy to find great marketers with the right mix of analytical and creative skills. And for growth-stage companies, the business impact of customer engagement (when done right) exponentially compounds: companies simply cannot afford to wait 3 quarters to run a new retention campaign that can move the needle today. Unfortunately, implementations today force marketing leaders to divert their talent away from the revenue-generating activities where they can drive the most impact.

It’s no wonder so many companies end up sticking with customer engagement software that no longer meets their needs! When there are pressing business priorities, there’s a really high bar to justify starting a migration that won’t be complete for another 8 months.

10x cheaper and faster implementations

The status quo for customer engagement implementations is broken, and it’s time to come up with a process that’s 10x cheaper, faster, and more delightful for everyone involved.

Imagine the possibilities if you could set up a working, risk-free POC in a few hours, and get fully integrated in days or weeks, instead of months and quarters? What if the process didn’t involve negotiating with engineering leadership to prioritize your integration on their roadmap? What if you didn’t have to choose between driving business metrics and migrating to a new platform? What if you could start running campaigns on a new platform in a few weeks and see business value immediately, instead of hoping that you’ll get results next year?

That’s the world we’re building at Supergrain, a new customer engagement platform that is seamless to integrate and get started with. If you’re interested in learning more, contact us to see a demo.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this multi-part series, where we’ll talk about the hidden cost of data pipelines in today’s customer engagement and marketing automation ecosystem.