The 'Russian pencil' martech strategy checklist

This is how the famous story goes:

When NASA first started sending up astronauts, they quickly discovered that ballpoint pens would not work in zero gravity. To combat the problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 billion to develop a pen that could write in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on almost any surface, and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to 300 degrees Celsius.

The Russians used a pencil.

A fantastic story. Unfortunately it is an urban myth — but a very useful framework for evaluating martech investments in B2B.

1. Do you need a $12 billion ballpoint pen or a pencil?

Get clarity on the business problem you are looking to solve. It’s OK to not have a clear idea on the eventual technology outcome.

Methods of technology adoption are changing — you can pilot, learn, adapt and change your mind.

The ‘proper’ way used to be:

  • Define and model commercial requirements — alongside complicated flowcharts
  • Translate these requirements into technical requirements
  • Hand-off these ‘on paper’ requirements to procurement and IT 
  • Wait and see what flavour of $12 billion ballpoint pen comes back from the RFP

But the rules are changing:

2. Do you need to get real about internal processes and culture before doing anything?

“We are about to invest in the most advanced sales and marketing tools known to humanity — and then spend months integrating them into our CRM.

“Are we really mature or agile enough to use any of this clever kit?"

“Do we even know if the sales team will know what to do with the new intelligence?”

If you are about to invest in a new marketing automation or ABM backbone, why not test the individual vertebrae first?

Deploy and join up cheaper cloud-based apps, then see what happens.

For example, plug in individual task platforms such as Drip for email automation or Instapage / Unbounce for landing pages. The real-world feedback could help shape investment decisions on what you actually need from a fully-fledged backbone.

3. If it works can you scale it?

If you undertake small scale ‘pencil’ app pilots, you could then face the nice problem of ‘this is working — how do we make it work better”.

As long as you check that your ‘pencils’ have open APIs — or better still a Zapier integration, then you should be able to easily integrate with the rest of your tech stack as it evolves.

Or at minimum have a much better idea of the feature set you actually need on an ongoing basis.

The pencil could indeed be mightier than the ballpoint.

Do you need a more sustainable pipeline?

Open to new approaches for lead generation and sales enablement?

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