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The quarter that was
Internet grifters, revenue operations, and 11,000 Martech companies: Quarter 2 has seen our most diverse season of essays from TMW yet. For the quarter that was newsletter, I look at the most popular essays from the past three months by highlighting the top three most read with a synopsis, a quote, a chart and a reflection. Here’s to quarter 2, 2023. Enjoy!
🥇 First Place: TMW #124 | The unbearable weight of new Martech
The point of this essay is in the name: Martech is getting too big, too crowded, and too heavy with solutions virtually no one will buy. I wrote this off the back of this year’s annual Martech Day, revealing that, yet again, newly discovered Martech companies have grown by another one thousand companies in 2023. In it, I think about how we have more marketing technology tools than ever, but the real fundamentals of online marketing haven’t changed for a long long time. A lot of Martech relies on ancient things like SMPT, HTTPS, APIs and ETLs; it’s like we’re building a new OS every year on 2008 iPhone hardware. What would it look like to see not another wave of new SaaS startups every year but a radical upgrade of our open protocols for a modern internet? In the unbearable weight of new Martech, I explore this question.
“If Martech is to continue to grow in its diversity and variety, it will need two things: New ideas and new channels. Like the Jerusalem of today, most of Martech is built on top of old channels for customers to access products and services. Social media gave us almost 600 software products, and the ability to send email has enabled more than 1,000 companies to build valuable products. And even though we’ve seen in recent years the growth of new paradigms for things like TikTok as a new social media channel, it’s still firmly in the category of social media, and marketers approach TikTok like they would Instagram – it’s just another social channel.”
After discussing this essay with a wide variety of people, I’ve come to the conclusion that Martech is still a relatively small industry that has plenty of room for growth. After all, it’s less than half the size of the Fintech industry. But sooner rather than later we will need to reckon with the fact that even at 11,000 solutions, a lot of companies on the Martech map won’t exist in the next few years due to rapid consolidation. Reports from Gartner, Nielsen and Optimizely all agree that spending on marketing technology is slowing, and marketing teams are becoming more weary of the promises from vendors to find unique ways to grow a brand. This goes back to my original point in the essay: new opportunities should come from new channels, devices, or protocols, and not another SaaS product.
🥈 Second Place: TMW #128 | The grifterverse
I’d been wanting to write an essay about online deception for a long time, but never felt like it fit the thesis of TMW. But then I read this fantastic piece from Zach Weismann, which brilliantly articulates how I think a lot of us feel about the proliferation of online growth personalities pushing courses, coaching or crypto tokens. So, I decided to take the risk and share a more personal view on why online grifters are bad for everyone on the internet – especially marketers. I came up with the name of this essay about three months before writing it, as I thought it was a funny way to indicate a cultural movement on the web. The ‘verse’ aspect reflects how varied and eclectic online deception is, and how innovative it can be at times. Strap on your VR headset – it’s time to jump into the grifterverse.
“And this is the sad thing: in the grifterverse, cash is king and personal autonomy is the highest virtue. It’s a small, selfish, and ultimately greedy way to think about the purpose and value of the Internet.
This is the trap that so many people fall into – thinking that careers are about our own personal accumulation of prestige, money and “freedom” – when in reality, our careers should be about serving other people. If anything, I hope my exploration into the grifterverse here inspires you to do more than sell online courses about building an audience on Twitter.”
Since writing this piece, I was met with people criticizing my views, and others having a cathartic experience reading it. This essay touched a nerve for a lot of people; especially people who have invested a lot of time and money in building expertise and sharing it online just to see course-selling growth gurus build audiences at lightning speed.
Over the weekend, I went for a hike with a friend. He’s trying to build an audience, and despite low subscription numbers for his newsletter after two years of writing, he explained to me that creating content for others has not only propelled him as the top voice in his academic discipline, but that it’s also helped raise awareness, create connections with others in his field and refined his long term focus. This seems to me as the purpose of creating content online professionally. And it’s way more fun than trying to sell another Twitter course.
🥉 Third Place: TMW #121 | The rise of Revenue Operations
This essay was borne from how hard it is to define this growing category of careers, technologies and business philosophies. And ironically, this essay may have added to its complexity. My conclusion here is that Revenue Operations is a growing category because of the business need to bring sales and marketing together as the customer journey continues to collapse into highly leveraged online interactions. In the end, however, there was no pinning down of an exact definition of Revenue Operations as it’s too dependent on customer success, marketing, sales and analytics departments to be its own thing.
“At a conceptual level, this is the clearest way to think about Revenue Operations: it’s a wedge between marketing, sales, and product with an operational and analytics focus on managing all the variables that impact the bottom line of company revenue. And that’s precisely why it’s so hard to pin down; each company has its own understanding of how these functions work, and there are variances between industry type and B2B vs B2C. Unlike working in just marketing, the role of Revenue Operations is to unify a variety of highly complex functions to influence the purchasing experience for consumers.”
If anything, Revenue Operations is about coordination. Reflecting back on this piece, I’ve realized that the need to bring various teams onto the same page is as important as ever. But it does depend on what you’re aligning on. Focusing purely on revenue was advantageous during the pandemic when customer acquisition was a high priority for technology companies. But now, most companies are thinking about profitability and minimizing churn. If the community that is promoting Revenue Operations can see the discipline as an advantage for keeping customers loyal, then it might have some staying power. Until then, it might be relegated to a time when customer acquisition was king.
That’s it for our Quarter 2 review. We’ll be back with the regular Sunday essay next week.
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