Silver Bullets: Software Solutionism in Digital Marketing

Solutionism defined as “The providing of a solution or solutions to a customer or client (sometimes before a problem has been identified).”

We’re living in wonderful times if you like technology and tools. I myself love them, and every day I browse through to see what is new and sign up for all the new tools being released. It’s a time-consuming hobby but it usually pays off somewhere down the line in my profession as a consultant.

The well known Martech Landcapes by Scott Brinker

Thanks to Scott Brinker from we have some visual representation of the explosive growth of software in the marketing space. Basically, for every industry, niche, vertical and every problem within each of those there is a SaaS tool trying to turn complex processes into easy to use software. Which is awesome!

Software Solutionism

When rationally talking about it, there are few people who would disagree with the following statement: It’s advised to first diagnose the problem you’re facing, understand where you want to go, evaluate the options to get there and then apply/buy/create a solution.

All too often though, that is not what happens in business.

What we end up with are (poorly) implemented tools, often accompanied by expensive multi-year contracts that end up dictating the processes and the people to use them instead of the other way around. This usually results in disgruntled employees hacking around the implemented toolset to get the stuff done they are paid for to do in the first place.

Why we fall for Solutionism

So why do we fall for “Software Solutionism”? I think there is a combination of causes at play that have to do with basic human psychology, the current world we live in and the way our industry is funded.

Human Psychology

People are creatures of habit that rely on prehistoric instincts for most of their decisions. If you’ve read “Thinking, Fast and Slow” or any derivate theory based upon it this should sound familiar.

Whenever we’re really busy, scared, overwhelmed or feel threatened we tend to fall back to our system 1 thinking which is good for solving your problem in the short term but does not account for the long term implications.

Our Busy World

We have screens filled with red notification bubbles. Email inboxes full of meeting invites and slack messages piling up. Technology has enabled us to do so many great things, but we’re in a constant struggle to make technology work for us instead of it running our lives.

The result is a fragmented and unconcentrated approach to everything in our lives and this does not exclude the workplace. Analyzing problems and addressing root causes costs time, and with a plethora of solutions floating around advertising to us, it’s really enticing to just pick one of the shelves.

This all ties in together in us preferring to spend our attention on solutions, not problems. Everybody likes a well-designed product information page that clearly shows that Tool X solves Problem Y which you can identify with.

The FOMO Effect

It’s my personal belief that the shortening attention span and the more frantic way of working combined with the increased exposure to a different specialized tool for every single problem is also creating a Fear of Missing Out effect.

“We’re not yet using Artificial Intelligence and Personalization and I’ve repeatedly heard people speak about it on conferences and seen articles about it online. Now this company pitches us these awesome looking slides with 30% ROI uplift promises with a simple plug & play installation. What if we don’t do it and it turns out to be the next best thing?”

Vendors are driving our market

Technology vendors understand this and so do their sales forces. Vendors sponsor most events and because of the SaaS business model (usually subscription based) and venture capital funding, they can spend a lot on customer acquisition. Often focussing on multiple stakeholders within large enterprises to get deals done.

Whenever a SaaS company sets their sales targets and starts to scale up, inevitably they diverge from their original founding customers to sell to a broader audience. With scaling up your salesforce you almost always end up with a less tailored and more feature based selling approach. (Which feeds the customers need for shiny solutions.)

What is the problem?

Let’s start with the obvious danger of wasting money and time buying and integrating a tool that turns out not to suit your company. Which happens. A lot.

But even if the tool is free, there are still a lot of downsides. To name a few

  • Disgruntled employees
  • Technical debt
  • Creation of dependencies (try switching your CRM!)
  • Data outside of your control

What to do about it?

Being aware that as a human you’re prone to this is step 1. So what else can you do to evaluate the technology you’re about to buy?

Understand your Industry & Business

Not all tools apply to all industries. Although some salespeople might try to convince you of this though. It’s a lot of fun to read and learn about how and Uber use, implement and create their own tools for success but that usually does not apply to your business.

Have a Strategy & Plan

If you’re able to clearly articulate where you want to go, why you should go there and how you plan to get there it becomes a lot easier to evaluate if the tool you’re looking at is going to help you achieve that goal. If it doesn’t fit any of your strategic plans, usually it will just add noise and friction to the organization.

Include your People

The people that actually have to use the tool usually have something meaningful to say about the topic. However, it’s my observation that the larger the company is, the less these people get included in decisions like this.

Be Direct & Honest with Sales

Tell the salespeople that you don’t believe in Silver Bullets solving all problems at the beginning of your talks. Tell them what you are hoping to solve for and why. Ask them about realistic time to value and ask them for reference to other companies that are already successfully using the tool.

(If you find somebody in your network already, don’t tell the salespeople and get an honest and direct review from your connection.)

Spend more time on fewer tools

Looking at the companies I’ve worked with over the last few years, my parting advice for this blogpost would be to spend more time with fewer tools. Figure out which tools fit your strategy best and either cover your weaknesses or enhance your strengths and double down on exploiting those instead of spreading yourself thin across a new tool every month.

Hope this was helpful!

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