Anita Brearton of CabinetM is one of the pioneers of stack management and rationalization, and we were excited to talk about going from Franken-stack to Fabu-stack in this episode of the Talking Stack.

Should every CMO put stack rationalization on their agenda for the year?

21:02  Sure! Wouldn’t you, if you knew you could save up to 20% on Martech spending with an exercise like that?! + What can vendors do to help marketers build more effective and efficient stacks? Anita has a great tip for all Martech vendors - and its

We start with talking about why finding and managing the right Martech tools still a challenge.

Is it because there are too many products? Or is it that companies don’t know exactly what problems they want to solve with technology? How can the stack become a strategic weapon in customer acquisition, retention and revenue generation?

How can marketing organizations build internal discipline in the age of SaaS and credit card swipes?

There is a need to balance the strategic applications of the stack with tactical, ad-hoc needs that come up. Anita says it doesn’t matter if your purchasing is centralized or decentralized – the stack oversight must be centralized, else you will have redundant platforms or unnecessary renewals.

We talk about CabinetM’s tips and best practices to help build value-creating stacks and rationalizing existing stacks. Here are the highlights:

  • Run a stack audit – start with the business objectives and connect the dots to the technology needed at the functional level to meet those goals.
  • Then identify your anchor technology components - CRM, MA, CDP - and build a single source of truth for the marketing activities that will emanate from these anchor platforms
  • Build a stack with layers- start by rationalizing by technology category. Then move to outcome areas - customer journeys, relational data through the stack or any other approach
  • Finally, use a tool like CabinetM’s to drag and drop supplementary tools around these anchor technologies, evaluating the ease of integration of these tools so they can all feed from the single source of truth anchor systems.
  • Find a way to also track and document technology proficiency within the organization so that the tools can be used optimally by real experts.

So, what role does the marketing leadership need to play in ensuring the stack is strategic and that there is purchasing discipline in the team?

While marketing ops is centralizing stack oversight, we also see CMOs distancing themselves from the building of a truly strategic stack, and this is the wrong approach. Anita adds, When tech represents 30% of your budgets and is critical to meeting your revenue, CLV and CX goals, CMOs can’t afford to not be engaged.”

What kind of CMO does well with being hands-on with tech?

Anita says that there is every chance the CMOs of the future will come from a technology background. Unfortunately, she adds, it's becoming too easy to just ‘do things’ with technology without really knowing the deeper fundamentals behind the marketing strategy, brand, positioning, etc.

(ed.Note: This recent post on LinkedIn by Larry Kim about the modern ‘Unicorn Marketer’ and this article on MarTech Advisor by Dale Traxler reminds us of the sheer length and breadth of all the stuff a marketing leader needs to know today!)


We have a privacy Hail for a change! Manufacturer Axon says it won't use facial recognition software in police body cameras anymore. The announcement comes amid a debate over how police should use facial recognition software, and as cities and states consider bans of the technology. We’re just glad it's being debated.

And then a Friday Fail about the Instagram celeb with 2 million followerswho couldn’t sell 36 T-shirts. What does that tell us about influencer marketing? Anand has some ideas.

Liked the show? Hated it? Tell us either way on LinkedIn or Twitter! And grab a sec to hit like or follow on SoundCloud if you want to keep us motivated!!

Follow us on SoundCloudSpotify or leave us a review on iTunes. Have a great week. Thank you.

Chitra Iyer [00:00:14]  Welcome Back to the Talking Stack this Week on today's show we have Anita Brearton from CabinetM a name that's come to be pretty well regarded in marketing for helping make sense of the Martech stack. Now, I used to think stack rationalization is a pretty cool idea and you know an idea whose time had come and I'm excited to talk today with Anita along with David Raab  and Anand Thaker about how to build ,rationalize and optimize this Martech stack often called a Franken stack in a world of over 7000 tools a lot of decentralized and fragmented buying and signing up to SaaS tools and where integration between different stack components has come to be the marketers number one challenge. So today we're going to talk about how to build a stack that's strategic to the business, how to minimize functional redundancies in your stack, what vendors can do to help marketers build better stacks and buy the right tools. We're even going to talk about how to navigate the organizational politics of getting the best stack in place for your unique context so hang in there and listen to the show. Anita welcome onto the Talking Stack.

Anita Brearton [00:01:28] Thank you. It's nice to be here. And yes that's exactly what we do.

Chitra Iyer [00:01:32] Great. Let's start with you just telling us a little bit about how you came to be a co-founder of CabinetM. What it does and why it's special.

Anita Brearton [00:01:41] I'm a longtime marketer, but in my last job, I was the CEO of an e-commerce company. And while there, I watched how difficult it was for my marketing team to find new marketing technology tools to test and try. So when I left that that stayed with me when I left that company and so the original idea for CabinetM was to help marketers find the technology that they needed. But as any entrepreneur does you spend a lot of time doing market validation. And we spent six months talking to lots and lots of marketers and what we heard was yes finding products and technology was a problem, but the bigger problem was managing all of the technology that they had. And so that was the genesis for CabinetM. So what we built at CabinetM is a platform that helps companies manage all of the marketing technology that they're using and find the technology that they need.

Chitra Iyer [00:02:40] And so that begs the question why is it a challenge in a landscape with 7000 tools? Why is it a challenge to find the right tools and manage them?

Anita Brearton [00:02:56] Let's start with managing them. So over the last, I would say 5 to 10 years the marketing technology landscape has exploded, and on CabinetM we have over 12000 products in our database. So what's happened is that companies have been spending like drunken sailors. They find technology all over the place. And with many of these products being SaaS products, it's become really easy to swipe a credit card and acquire a product. And now companies realize that they don't know what they bought. They don't know who is using it. And they need that stack to become a strategic weapon as they seek to engage and acquire customers. Marketing today is very much on the front line of revenue generation, and it's the technology that's being deployed that's helping with that. And so if you don't know what you have and you're not managing it, how do you move forward to bigger strategic initiatives like digital transformation. So that's the first part about managing and then finding technology. There's just too much technology available for any one person to pass. So trying to make it easier for companies to narrow down the selection is part of the goal that we have at CabinetM.

Anand Thaker [00:04:15] So do you feel like things are going to get easier for people to build stacks? Whether it's in marketing or from marketing into the other parts of the organization. And if not? Well, where are we going with this?

Anita Brearton [00:04:28] I do. I do think it's going to get easier. I don't think there's a school of thought out there that this is an industry that is going to consolidate completely. We're going to have 20 vendors, and you know it's going to be plug and play. I don't believe that at all. If you talk to the prominent vendors, each big vendor can only rationalize maybe 20 acquisitions a year. So you know what you're talking about a landscape of 12000 products. It's not going to shrink down, but I think as organizations get their hands around the stack and they tie the stack to their business objective they become more clear-headed about what it is that they need to do and then can go and find the technology that supports that instead of just randomly buying technology. So I do think it will get more accessible from that perspective. And I also believe that there are a lot of organizations that are focusing in on helping people develop the right technology ecosystems and you know experts such as David Raab and CDP that can help clients figure out what it is they need to be using.

Chitra Iyer [00:05:40] so what you said about the strategic application of the stack vs. randomly going and buying solutions when you need to solve a tactical problem right. Both happen in an organization, especially when you're an enterprise size organization. There are so many silos so many sub-teams everyone goes off and swipes a card and gets what they need. So what role does leadership need to play maybe the  CMO or perhaps a layer below him or her? What role do they need to play in making the stack A strategic and B building in this discipline in the team?

Anita Brearton [00:06:21] So, first of all, I think it doesn't matter whether you're centralized or are distributed in your approach to, but you have to have centralized oversight of all of the technology that you're using. Fundamentally every piece of marketing technology that you buy impacts the cost of customer acquisition when they roll up those dollars every quarter and say how much are we spending in marketing and now sales. You know the value of the acquisition is directly impacted by technology spend. If you don't have centralized oversight what you end up with are organizations buying redundant platforms or signing contracts for the same product over and over and over again. One of the exciting things that that we've observed is that increasingly organizations are putting in place marketing operations teams to manage all of this technology and to provide that centralized oversight. But one of the biggest things that are still missing and this is a transition that is yet to come is that the CMO, in general, distanced themselves from this and that is just fundamentally the wrong approach. You know we've talked to so many CMOs that say oh I'm not technical I don't deal with this like somebody in the organization dealing with this. But when technology represents 30 percent of your budget, it's critical to meeting your objectives in terms of revenue, customer lifetime value, and customer experience. You cannot afford to put your head in the sand and not be engaged in this. So I think the next big challenge is for CMOs you know to take their heads out of the sand and get involved and make sure that this technology that their teams are deploying is working to achieve the objectives that they're measured against.

Anita Brearton [00:08:19] It's amazing to me the number of companies out there that just go into organization Small Medium Large to perform stack audits to figure out what everybody's using and then once they have all that in place what they're doing is taking a step back and starting with business objectives. So they're looking at what are their business objectives. How does that translate to marketing objectives? How does that translate to marketing functions? And how do those marketing functions need to be supported by technology? And then they're looking at what they have in their stack — getting rid of anything that doesn't support, what they need. And then start to build from there. You've got to put a process in place that engages all the relevant stakeholders. And you've got to agree on the process, and you have to admit on the objective. One of the things that I'm writing about it this month is the silly argument about a single vendor best of three platform ecosystems. You know it's it fascinates me that we walk into organizations where they're waging these ideological wars that make no sense. You know there's no such thing as a single vendor solution you know with companies using 250 products in their stack. There's not a single vendor that can deliver all of those. So you know to take the best from that vendor. Platform ecosystems are wonderful. If you need to integrate products into your primary vendor platforms, leverage the heck out of their ecosystem, and get products that have been qualified as being easy to integrate.

Anita Brearton [00:09:52] One of the challenges companies have is you know when you rationalize your stack, and you see you've got six email platforms it's easy to say oh well we only need two, not six. What's less easy to do is to say oh you know we're using our e-mail platform the same way we're using our marketing automation platform. We don't need both. And I think you know what I see the leaders in kind of stack building are getting down to the nitty-gritty of looking at functional redundancies across their stack so that they have the most efficient stack. And it's supported by a really good data architecture, and it's tied to business objectives.

Anand Thaker [00:10:34] I appreciate that. You mentioned redundancy. I mean it's coming up a lot. Because lots of parts of the organizations are siloed or maybe they aren't even aware of what others have. Is there a situation or have you heard of situations where redundancy is OK, or some level of that is OK?

Anita Brearton [00:10:52] Yes, I have. So you know when you look at again I go back to this example of six e-mail platforms. There may be a case for having two or three different e-mail platforms depending on functional requirements. So that's OK. And one of the things that I find very interesting is that in the stacks that are being managed on our platform and that's over 400 it is not unusual to see more than one type of marketing automation platform. So you frequently see Hubspot and Marketo together you occasionally see Marketo and L'Equipe together. And so clearly companies are tapping into different types of functionality for different kinds of programs. So you know there's there are times when that's justified.

Chitra Iyer [00:11:45] So you have your framework right as well at CabinetM for stack rationalization or management framework. So how does that work? And you know how it would. For example, how would it help a CMO trying to invest in a first-time stack or someone then trying to rationalize a messy stack?

Anita Brearton [00:12:06] Right. So there are two pieces. One is we've published a workbook called attack your stack that is agnostic. You do not need to be a CabinetM user to derive value. And that talks to the process of connecting business objectives to technology and then how you go about building the stack in the first place that you start building a stack is by choosing your anchor platform. So these are the big platforms that sit at the center of your marketing technology suite. So your CRM, your marketing automation, and your CDP. These are the big platforms you're going to spend a lot of money. They are going to be integral to everything that you need to do. You're going to have to connect them to other pieces. So these are the big decisions that you make. And so companies start by doing that and then build from there. So what we do with our platform is we give you the framework to build your stack. So it's a  drag and drop configuration, or you can drag all the products in that you're using or would like to be using, you can annotate them with functions spend performance information, you can drag in all the integration information and your contact information. So what we give you is the infrastructure to track and manage all of your technology. So think about it as a CRM for technology. And then once you have everything in the same place, it makes it much easier to rationalize. And I would say our experience is that users of our platform within six months are typically eliminating 20 percent of their marketing technology spend.

Chitra Iyer [00:13:47] Right. So that's a right sort of monetary outcome of doing that rationalization exercise.

Anita Brearton [00:13:54] Yeah. It means you don't have to have centralized purchasing of your technology. It's OK to have distributed purchasing as long as there's centralized oversight. So you know that's what we preach — centralized oversight not centralized purchasing.

David Raab [00:14:11] Anita, which CMOs have you seen  Who has been successful? Not the names but what kinds of backgrounds they have because what I hear from people who worry about this. Oh, the CMOS coming out of the advertising world and you know they are clueless about technology and as you say they don't particularly want to learn about it. So is there any class of CMO that you've seen who has successfully dodged into this?

Anita Brearton [00:14:42] Yes. And that's in young startup companies across industries, not just the technology industry. If you're in a young startup and you're the CMO you have no choice. You have to dive into the technology because you don't have the team that is there to support you. So regardless of background, you're forced into it. In those companies and we see some effective CMOs there on the bigger companies side you're right. If somebody has not come into the CMO role from the technology they're the ones that are mostly handed off. And I think over time we'll see a transition because I think more and more CMOs will grow up as marketing technologist because today if you're starting in marketing you are by default a marketing technologist. So this will change over time because the CMOs will ultimately come from a technology background. But you're right it's the ones that have come from advertising or communications, public relations or just worked on a strategy that is very hands-off on the technology.

David Raab [00:15:52] I'm not so sure I want to live in a world where all my CMOs are technologists. I kind of like them to actually be marketers and worry about brand and you know some of the other things beyond technology is it really that we're going to end up with the training ground for CMOs is technology and not those other things that you just mentioned it seems to me that ultimately those are more important.

Anita Brearton [00:16:17] What concerns me is that these new Young Marketers. Are not learning. The fundamentals of marketing strategy, brand positioning. It's Becoming too easy to do things with technology.

Anand Thaker [00:16:34] You know the brand has moved from logos and colors to relationships and trust and community as well as how do you engage with those regularly. So while many people are leveraging technology, it's kind of like saying Well yeah my kid's going to be a technologist Not really. They're going to be doing something else and technology happens to be you know a backbone to what Anita's point is. But I think the way that you engage a community and you keep that community and how that engages with the brand is incredibly important to what will make a future marketer a marketer.

Chitra Iyer [00:17:09] Yeah. I just saw a post on LinkedIn today, and from Mobile monkey I think that's Larry Kim's company and it listed you know the 'Modern Marketer has to be a unicorn Marketer' and they need to be everything from a storyteller to a data analyst to a teacher and you know an evangelist and all sorts of skills. I mean there's a huge bunch of skills undoubtedly. I think they will have to know marketing and technology like you rightly pointed out and those marketing fundamentals are getting lost along the way somewhere. It's like you know even though you have a calculator you still need to know your fundamental math basics right. Even though you know you can get a machine to do it for you when it comes down to it.

David Raab [00:17:50] Then it's not so much about buying the technology which of course is the first step but using the technology properly and of course that the other horror story you hear is all we have all these tools and we use 20 percent of each tool. So I don't know if you're getting involved with that. I'm sure you've seen organizations that do a better or worse job of making full use of the technology that they've acquired. Are there any things that those organizations are doing differently that you've noticed?

Anita Brearton [00:18:19] Yeah so. So this is one of the interesting things. So we worked with a number of these big enterprise organizations and so their first mandate is to get their hands around the technology. But as soon as that's done, then they say oh we have no idea what skills we have internally to use this technology. So what we built on CabinetM is something we call the skill stack configuration. So it works just like our other stack configuration. But instead of reporting on what the company uses, you can build a stack for each. So think of it as an individual creating their technology resumé so they can drag and drop all of the products they know how to use they can self-report on proficiency. Years of experience certifications etc. and then the enterprise can filter all of that information. So if they're thinking about bringing in marketing automation, they can say who do we have in the organization that's worked with marketing automation platforms before. And this is a very good process for also uncovering that you only have one person in the organization that knows how to use a marketing automation platform. One of the horror stories that we hear over and over and over again is that the first time a company finds out that they only have a single source of technical proficiency for their marketing automation platform is the day that person resigns. So companies are starting to focus on tracking and managing their technology proficiency as well as the technology they use.

Chitra Iyer [00:19:57] What other stories on the vendor side when it comes to helping clients build the stack they need and getting over those challenges with integration and stuff like that?  What can vendors do better and how can clients work better with vendors to get more out of their stacks.

Anita Brearton [00:20:15] So I think the most significant problems the vendors face working in a client environment is they're blindfolded. When they're proposing the product into the environment. If the organization that they're selling to has not created that single source of truth of technology or is not tracking and managing it, then the vendor doesn't know what environment they're going to have to function in, and that becomes costly. We encourage vendors to do is to ask their clients for their technology stack, and kind of we're seeing some vendors that are starting to offer services to go in and audit that so that they can figure out what they're walking into.

Chitra Iyer [00:21:00] Do you recommend that every CMO put an exercise in stack rationalization and stack streamlining on their agenda for this year? 

Anita Brearton [00:21:11] I do. I do. And. Because if you don't know where you're starting from. It's very difficult to move forward. And one of the things that we've seen over the summer is. We've had a lot of inbound inquiries to CabinetM from. Interns that have been given that task. As their summer job.

Chitra Iyer [00:21:32] I was going to ask you Do you think we're going to see a stack managers role in the marketing ops or marketing teams going forward? 

Anita Brearton [00:21:41] Well yes and I think we already see it in marketing operations and you know anecdotally what I say is that when companies particularly larger companies decide they have to look at the stack Audit, they do that eennie Minnie miney mo. Oh! You're the stuck one. You're the one. And they assign it to some fourth person. Randomly. To get it done.

Anand Thaker [00:22:07] Maybe those are the future CMOs.

Anita Brearton [00:22:10] Yeah, exactly.

Chitra Iyer [00:22:12] There's all the peoples' skills you are going to need to do that job just like Anand mentioned right now. Even new leaders who come into the organization have their preconceived, preferred vendors from experience, want to bring them in into the ecosystem, and you have to handle that as well.

Anita Brearton [00:22:29] That's right. That's exactly right. Yes. I mean we talk a lot about when stacks collide. And that's when two companies  Merge, or one acquires the other, and they have to rationalize two different stacks. Oh! You talk about navigating politics because then not only are you navigating politics but there's a lot of emotion involved as well. So having kind of a black and white process. Is the way to get through that.

Chitra Iyer [00:22:55] So to wrap up Anita, even within marketing today, I'm beginning to hear things about building a PR tech stack increasingly. There's, of course, the adtech stack. There's a Martech stack. And now there's possibly even mobile tech stack. So what's the best way for a marketer to rationalize this increasingly complex multi-system ecosystem.

Anita Brearton [00:23:18] Yes. So we see that the approach companies take they first rationalize all of their technology by technology category. So you see you know email platforms, marketing automation, SEO SVM you see just the very straightforward technology categories. Then once they have that. Then they start to build stacks. They do a stack by buyer journey. That could do a stack by customer experience goals. We were talking to somebody recently. That's going to create their stack layers by  How data relates to one another through the  Technology stack. So. One of the benefits actually of CabinetM is you can build  Many different stacks and many different ways to support many different. Requirements. So. You know the thing is to really. Start with the product categories so that you know  What's in the bag. And then build the stack With layers that make sense for your business so if everything that you're doing is about. The buyer journey then has the layers. Relate to the buyer journey. 

Chitra Iyer [00:24:33] And before we go, we have time for a quick hail and fail for the Week. David, you had one on a definite win on the privacy side of things today in your Hail for the Week, the makers of the police body cameras by a company called Axon says they will no longer use facial recognition software in the products they make which is great. I thought it was very noble that they vowed not to use facial recognition software, but I wonder if the police can't change their vendor.

David Raab [00:25:05] Well, what was interesting about it was that it was an acknowledgment by somebody in the industry that this stuff isn't ready for prime time — bearing in mind, of course, that Axon. Doesn't have a business that relies on facial recognition software, so they had nothing to lose by taking this very proper stand. Even so, when San Francisco banned facial recognition technology a few weeks ago, everyone was almost making fun of San Francisco about it. And then a couple of other cities did it. So it's gone from being something odd to ban to almost being something odd to allow. I think that's a good thing. Have been many many studies on the facial recognition software that says it has numerous flaws and numerous biases. So it is something that should not be used at this stage. No, it's good to see a sort of a reliable, responsible organization take that stand, and again it's a little easier for them to do it than for others. But still, that's how it should be done. So you know right on them.

Chitra Iyer [00:26:14] Anand, you also shared a fail for your Friday fun fail which is about an Instagram influencer who had 2 million followers but couldn't get them to buy what more than 36 T-shirts? When she launched her clothing brand. What are the lessons there for people that go a bit crazy with their social media followers?

Anand Thaker [00:26:35] Oh. Yeah! So influencer marketing hot. I'm Yeah. I'm not necessarily what I would consider your typical influencer, but I'm always in search for how people try to build their brands and then how do they engage in that. Especially in the social media space and this individual you know she's an Instagram influencer, she claims and then she wasn't able to sell 36 T-shirts, which was I guess a goal of hers. There's going to be a lot of people who have a lot of followers, and you're just not going to be able to you know convert. And I think this is the biggest challenge I hear this from you know people who were asking me a lot about you know what do we do an influencer marketing how do we make it work. The problem with influencer marketing as it's defined today is we are equating to the wrong metric the metric of a number of followers or likes does not translate into potential conversions right. The real influencers are the people who have a true community. People that engage with them and also you'll see even advocacy of that particular person, not just a reshare or rebuttal. I mean sitting down and making some comments or having some dialogue or some questions. Those are indicators of real influencers right. And we see a lot of those types of folks and marketing particularly they aren't in marketing technology. But it's funny I've worked with a few startups and followed a number of startups, and you'll see some people who you think are influencers and they're not because they do not drive revenue. They do not drive pipeline, but they certainly create a lot of buzz, and that buzz, unfortunately, does not translate. And you need both. I mean don't get me wrong, I mean just having a bunch of followers is not useful unless it builds awareness. So yes that's one bar. But the main bar or even if you don't have conversions being able to have a dialogue with the community is very powerful particularly if you're trying to kind of win your way into a new industry or creating a new subject matter of some sort.

Chitra Iyer [00:28:49] You're right. We suddenly see that shift from those volume and traffic based metrics to value-based metrics which are directly connected to engagement. And I have seen firsthand that advertisers are ready to pay a premium today for highly engaged audiences even though of course the traffic numbers may be smaller but especially in these segments like the ones that we operate in.

Anand Thaker [00:29:12] Engagement is the key. Engagement is the key nowadays. And then understanding that this idea of community that always perpetuate right, building real relationships can be done at a grander scale. They have to be done very carefully and very intentionally.

Chitra Iyer [00:29:28] So on that note if you are engaged with the Talking Stack then drop us a line on LinkedIn or Twitter or like us on iTunes. And follow us on SoundCloud and in general tell us what you think we'd love to hear, with that, Anita thank you so much for joining us today.

Anita Brearton [00:29:46] My pleasure.

Chitra Iyer [00:29:48] David and Anand  We'll see you next Week.


The Podcast Team

David Raab

Founder, CDP Institute and Principal, Raab AssociatesWidely recognized independent expert in customer data platforms, marketing technology and analytics; David specializes in marketing trends, technology strategy, and vendor

Anand Thaker

Martech Industry and Growth AdvisorA recognized MarTech, decisioning and AI/ML expert; Anand advises growth and go-to-market leaders and investors for global brands and funds while also being active in the startup ecosystem.

Chitra Iyer

Editor-in-Chief of Martech Advisor Editor-in-Chief of Martech Advisor and marketing veteran is the host of the show.

Guest Profile

Anita Brearton

Anita Brearton is the founder/CEO of CabinetM, a marketing technology management company. CabinetM’s platform makes it easy to manage the marketing technology that you use, and to find the technology you need. She has spent most of her career as a high tech marketer working for companies from inception to M&A and IPO, and has had extensive experience addressing the marketing challenges that come with fast growing businesses.