I have all of these marketing and sales systems, now what?

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A publishing powerhouse brought our team in as strategic technical consultants to help drive their organization's digital transformation. Their goal was to prioritize a marketing technology stack that would enable their organization to build brand presence, streamline sales processes, and empower users.

Best in Breed or Best in Need?

In this case, the client had a set of best in class tools and the skillsets necessary to use them individually, but lacked the staff to properly integrate them to optimally serve the overall needs of the business. The investments already made into their martech stack helped to guide our recommendations on what tools would fit best in their overall digital ecosystem. Having a partner that has an understanding of how tools will work together and can also implement your vision is critical.


  • Content Management System Assessment

  • Martech Investigation

  • Salesforce Integration

  • Eloqua Integration

  • Content Management Systems - Sitecore

  • MVP Investigation

  • Agile Methodology

Silos instead of Stacks

The notion of a stack from a software systems standpoint is a platform made up of components that work together seamlessly. In many cases, as the name implies, a technology stack is layered and lower levels of the stack form a foundation on top of which the upper layers operate. In this case, this client had bought the best of everything, but the result was a pile of independent tools and siloed data about existing and potential customers. In some cases, the systems involved worked well in isolation but together due to poor integrations actually caused problems and had a negative business impact for the organization.

They recognized they had a technology problem and understood that they needed an outside perspective to remedy the situation.  Like many large companies, organizational inertia, unclear ownership of data and systems, and a lack of orchestration of efforts around customer data were primary drivers behind the current situation. We worked with the client to identify both short and long-term strategies to address the critical issues in front of them. As we worked together, we identified several areas that needed improvement.

Marketing Automation and CRM

One major pain point for them was the way their CRM and marketing automation platforms communicate with one another. Contact duplication was a significant concern for the client due to a difference in what constituted a unique contact in Salesforce vs. Eloqua. Without a common model, costly licensing problems arose due to a policy based on the number of contacts within the system.

Licensing issues were the least of their problems as the duplication was also causing serious customer experience issues. Customers were either not receiving emails, receiving the wrong emails, or receiving duplicate emails. This caused many customers to complain or unsubscribe altogether, resulting in a loss of actual and potential revenue.

Cleaning up this incorrect data also proved challenging and was a time consuming ordeal for employees.  The client was unable to do segmentation within Eloqua due to the data integrity concerns and resorted to segmenting in an external database which was then synchronized back into Eloqua, a time consuming, messy, and unnecessary process.

In addition to the issues mentioned above, a critical flaw in the way their CMS, commerce, and marketing automation platforms were integrated led to difficulty in performing personalized campaigns based on user behavior and purchase history, like abandoned cart campaigns for example, causing many missed opportunities to engage with their customers.

When Good Analytics Go Bad

The company had both Google Analytics 360 and Adobe SiteCatalyst in place on their sites for general web analytics as well as for commerce metrics.  Two different teams (an outside agency and internal IT group) were managing the systems without any coordination on the strategy or implementations. Based on reviews of their custom analytics reports and interviews with their analytics teams, it was clear this was an area where marketing dollars were being wasted on largely duplicative efforts.

An Integration that’s Less than the Sum of its Parts

“A website that does too little for too many people.”

The quote above was from a project stakeholder and it was interesting, as we eventually found, how this was reflected in many of the systems behind their website.  The problems were mainly in the architecture of how a number of systems were brought together to deliver their web presence.

Almost all of the content delivered to an end-user came from a combination of three systems: Sitecore, Adobe Search & Promote, and SAP Hybris.  From a content management perspective, content authors had to work with a Sitecore implementation that didn’t follow a modern component-oriented approach to page composition.  Having only monolithic page templates to deal with meant that authors had to resort to trying to build out new functionality based on whatever was possible via rich text editor. This was in addition to basic functionality within Sitecore, such as the Experience Editor not being utilized and in most cases actually malfunctioning due to the implementation.  

In terms of ecommerce management functionality, the product data was all stored in Hybris, a system that the ecommerce managers were not permitted access to.  Product search and landing pages were all driven via configuration within Adobe Search & Promote, another system the related staff only had limited access to. The overall effect was that the staff had a very narrow ability to promote or merchandise via the ecommerce site.  The lack of flexibility from both a content management and commerce standpoint left customers with a disappointing experience. This highlights an important failure that we’ve seen across martech projects: a lack of consideration for the internal users of systems as a key persona at the outset of the project. The end-user or customer is obvious and gets the lion’s share of requirements gathering and design time. That effort is squandered if the users who manage the experience are unable to innovate or even complete basic components of their responsibilities.

Ultimately, while each of the systems that were brought together to deliver the web presence were robust, mature systems, the integration did not allow them to fully leverage their strengths to support the organization’s goals, but rather hindered them with their lack of cohesion.

Our Strategic Recommendations

Ultimately, we made a number of strategic recommendations for improving their overall martech stack:

  • Undertake a comprehensive initiative involving the sales and marketing departments to address data integrity and modeling issues within Salesforce.

  • Though the integration between Eloqua and Salesforce could have been refactored, there were obvious efficiency gains from a move to a marketing automation solution on Salesforce in Pardot and/or Marketing Cloud.

  • Standardize analytics on Google Analytics 360 (for which they were already paying) and retrain internal staff with Adobe SiteCatalyst experience with the help of a reliable partner to guide strategy and implementation.

  • Re-architect and rebuild their current website with a focus on providing ability for staff to take full advantage of each component system.  

    • We recommended that the team embark on an investigation for alternatives to Adobe Search & Promote.

    • An important piece of realizing the above recommendation would require a major investigation of the flow of product and customer data from SAP.