It’s becoming increasingly hard to be an effective and persuasive marketer without possessing technical skills and abilities. Marketers and developers are working together more and more in the workplace so it’s going to be nothing but helpful for you as a marketer to understand the technical side of the house as much as you can.
Yeah yeah, but….how?
I recently sat down with colleague and web analyst Adrian Palacios (he recently made the leap from our marketing team to our business operations team) to pick his brain about how marketers can awaken the technical abilities that live (sometimes very deep) within all of us and use these skills in our current role.
Knowing (generally) how a web browser works
Marketers spend most of their working moments using a web browser. Marketers also use data to optimize all parts of customer acquisition including impressions, clicks, page views, and conversions. Guess where that data is generated? That handy-dandy web browser you stare at all day long.
Understanding what’s going on behind the scenes of said browser provides you with a deeper understanding and ability to analyze and troubleshoot the data you use–not to mention you may just be able to figure out any rogue bugs on webpages, blogs posts, or email templates.
This post will not attempt to fully break down the nuances of how a web browser works. But at a high level, the web consists of several layers working together to spin up what you see on your screen by completing one of the following actions: fetch, process, display, and store.
When you click anything (link, button) on a page, you are making a request to a server that needs to recognize the request and fetch the appropriate and matching piece of information from a backend server.
There’s plenty more going on in between these steps and tricks used to make this process more efficient (cache, for instance, is a great concept to internalize as a marketer), but each function is commanded by applying a programming language.
“Don’t feel like you have to be a software engineer, but knowing even a little programming will help,” says Adrian.
Adrain suggests having some knowledge of a programming language that represents each level of the stack. For example:
- HTML and CSS represent the UI and styling that you see on pages. Knowing this basic language will allow you to modify structure and style on the page.
- Scripted languages such as Python and PHP or the query language MySQL control and represent the back-end of the web stack.
Adrian put together a wonderful series on how marketers can set up and use Python so this is a great place to start when you’re looking into scripting languages.
And don’t forget about Stack Overflow. Any question you may have while you are learning anything program-related has already been asked on this platform (really!). Save yourself some time and use the site as your first stop when troubleshooting anything web-related.
We live in a world of countless software applications and tools that claim to help us become more proficient. Just check your work email and you’re probably swimming in sales emails from folks promising to solve all your business and marketing needs (no offense salespeople).
But I’ve spoken to several technical marketers and by far they have said that mastering the features of Excel is still the most helpful tool they use on a regular basis.
How it relates to email and marketing
The vast majority of marketing tools, everything from Google Analytics, Twilio SendGrid, to Salesforce are going to have some sort of CSV export function that you will end up using. And if you’re at an early stage startup, you probably don’t have all the bucks to shell out for fancy software to connect all those data sources—so you’re going to do them in Excel.
Excel, well excels (sorry, not sorry) at summarizing and filtering large data sets. For example, if you’re trying to advocate for a higher budget for your organic SEO content efforts, you would likely find that providing a pivot table with data such as conversion rates and effort level to produce the content to be very helpful. Or let’s say you would like to account total revenue to the Facebook ads you have running. You’re going to combine everything in Excel for that.
The beauty is the pivot tables never change the spreadsheet, they just provide you with the view of the data that you need at the moment. This super simple Excel pivot table tutorial will get you set up in no time so that you can use this in your next report or presentation.
Although the finance world may seem like a different universe than web development and programming, having a firm background in this industry is another valuable skill set that marketers will find helpful when making strategic program decisions.
Having a firm handle on the following metrics (as well as how your company tracks them) is helpful:
- Gross revenue – total revenue before deductions
- Margins (and what influences your margins) – the percentage difference between the cost to produce and sale price
- Velocity/turnover – how fast you can sell a product or service
- Monthly recurring revenue (MRR) – a common metric used at SaaS companies used to model future potential revenue.
These are only a few metrics that your company is likely using, and every company will track things a bit differently, so it’s important to discover what metrics your company uses the most.
This knowledge will help you in discussions when you’re prioritizing marketing budget and activities. For example, perhaps your product sells fast but at a lower margin vs. the slower selling profit at higher margins. That’s the kind of detail that executive teams discuss and it guides how large decisions are made.
Adrian recommends the book, What the CEO Wants You to Know for a deeper dive in how you can hone your financial skills.
Becoming a more technical marketer allows you to become more independent, persuasive, and strategic. Adrian puts it best when he also says that technical knowledge is a “Great bullshit detector when on a sales call with a new tool someone is pitching.”
But it can certainly feel overwhelming if you are just starting to think about learning new technical skills. Keep in mind the following tips whenever you are teaching yourself a new skill or concept that may make you feel uncomfortable.
Go easy on yourself
There is no end to what you can learn and the learning curve, especially If you’re new to programming, is going to be steep. Don’t get discouraged when you take longer than expected and don’t listen to people who try to put you down.
Don’t listen to the haters
There are always one or two people at a company who will respond cynically to your efforts. Oh you’re learning Python? Ruby? You should be learning Java. Instead of deciding what to conquer based on other’s opinions, think honestly about where your skills fall short.
Ask yourself: If I only knew these two or three things (fill in the blank) I would be more productive. And then make friends with those who can be your allies in your efforts and ignore the haters.
To learn more about how marketers and developers are working together and tips for optimizing the relationship, check out Twilio SendGrid’s State of the Marketer Developer Relationship in 2019.