Attack Your Stack: The Importance of Skill Alignment

Tools are just one element in successfully supporting business requirements. People and process can be just as important or more important than the tools, and there is a need to assess accordingly. Is staffing appropriate, and is the team properly trained? Are your business processes sound? Tools are sometimes blamed when the root cause is training or broken processes.

As part of the planning and budgeting process, it is critical to align skills with programs and technology requirements. We recommend that organizations profile their internal skill proficiency by asking each member of the marketing team to document their product knowledge and depth of expertise. With this in place it becomes easy to:

  • Identify and rectify potential critical points of failure
  • Frame a training plan and identify goals for each member of the team and for each department
  • Identify the important technology skills to advance your technology strategy

It takes time to maintain a skill inventory, but it is well worth the effort and will ultimately eliminate the frightening moment when you have to deal with the resignation of the one employee who knows how to use your marketing automation system. In mapping and managing your organization’s skill profile, don’t forget potential agency/service provider partners. There are numerous, cost-effective specialist agencies that can provide missing skills, or act as a backup, in the event that you don’t have a redundant skill set for a complex system.

 

To download your full copy of the Attack Your Stack workbook via instruction at the link.

Anita Brearton is founder and CEO of CabinetM, a platform that helps marketers take control of their marketing technology environments. In addition to CabinetM, Anita is a CMS Wire monthly columnist and speaks frequently on marketing practices and stack building.
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Attack Your Stack: Finding New Products

It is important to have a process for constructing, auditing, and rationalizing your marketing stack, it is important to have a process for adding new products to the stack. Without a well-defined process, you run the risk of wasting time, as multiple departments evaluate the same product, or as one team evaluates and qualifies a product, only to see their purchasing process stalled because another team identifies the need for something similar and wants to have their specific requirements incorporated into the work the initial team is doing.

While each company needs to define a process that aligns with their own business operations, there are some best practices to consider:

  • Once complete, make your stack visible as the single source of truth about marketing technology for your organization. Before anyone starts the process of looking for a new product, they should first see if products already in use could address their functional requirements.
  • Identify all stakeholders in the organization who are engaged in the development of product requirements, discovery, evaluation, approval, and implementation. Work together to define an efficient workflow for your company’s sourcing and approval process.
  • As you develop your own company’s workflow, it’s recommended that the process be defined in a way to accommodate different levels of product commitment. Evaluating and approving an anchor platform should follow a different process than evaluating a simple, nonintegrated tool for a single function.
  • Regardless of whether your organization has a centralized or a distributed purchasing process, it’s helpful to have an individual or team who has oversight of what is happening across the organization, so that requirements and activities can be coordinated across multiple teams. Increasingly, we see marketing operations departments taking on this role.
  • As part of the vendor selection process it is important to assess whether the tool’s value will outweigh its total implementation and support costs (license, people, process).

“When it comes to martech we have a detailed process for analyzing each technology. The process includes:

  • Defining the project charter—objective, goal, success metrics, project team and key stakeholders
  • Conducting first-level vendor analysis
  • Conducting first-round outreach to qualified vendors
  • Conducting pro/con assessments of qualified vendors
  • Short listing to the top 2 to 4 vendors, for onsite deep dives
  • Security and risk reviews
  • Partner recommendation presentation
  • Partner decision”

– Stacy Falkman

“In addition to the normal product selection activities, our team includes an assessment of the people and processes that will be necessary to extract the value from a new tool or platform. Do we need incremental headcount? Should we outsource the operations of the new tool? Is training necessary to ensure the team can properly use the tool to deliver value? Tools don’t provide value by themselves.”

– Jeff Harvey

 

According to Conductor, 80% of marketing executives added one to five new pieces of technology into their stack during 2017. Walker Sands’s survey of marketers found that 27% of enterprises add technology once a year and 26% add technology every six months. Making a commitment to purchase a new marketing technology platform is often a daunting challenge and frequently accompanied by a great deal of stress.

First, you have to determine what type of tool you need, and then you have to create a list of products to assess. With a list in hand you can narrow your options through a feature comparison and road-map assessment. Believe it or not, that’s the easy part. There are so many resources to use to support the front end of the acquisition process. Use CabinetM to find the right product category, build your product list, and manage your evaluation process. Then leverage technology review sites (G2 Crowd, Trust Radius, and GetApp) and reports from category experts and industry analysts (Forrester, Gartner, Sirius Decisions, The Real Story Group) to help narrow your list.  If you have the budget, you can even hire a consultant or one of the advisory firms to assist you in the search and qualification process.

A note about reviews: While reviews can be very helpful in narrowing down a list of products in a category, in most circumstances they should be considered as just one of many data points when evaluating a product. In marketing, the assessment of how a product performs is impacted by the products that surround it, how it is integrated with those products, and the quality of the campaigns running through the product, as well as by the technical expertise of the team members using the product. I’ve had many marketing leaders tell me that reviews are a good starting point for narrowing down a list of possible vendors, but that unless a reviewer is operating in a virtually identical environment, it’s difficult to draw enough conclusions to actually make a product decision.

Leveraging Your Peer Network

The tough part of the product discovery process comes in trying to make a decision among your three finalists—the more expensive and complex the platform, the tougher the decision. You conceivably could be making a decision that commits you to a vendor and technology strategy for the next three to five years. I’ve talked to a lot of marketers who have been in this position, and without exception, all have mentioned that reaching out to their peers for input was beneficial to the decision-making process and to the alleviation of stress around making the final decision. Even with so much information available online and so many experts to reach out to, there is nothing quite like the honest opinion from a trusted colleague who has walked down the road ahead of you.

Testing and Implementation

Evaluating new products can range from taking advantage of a free trial to specifying custom development and integration. Regardless of how simple or complex the exercise is, you need a well-thought-out process and agreed upon test plan to ensure that whatever product is being implemented actually supports the functions it is being purchased for. Not every vendor provides the option to test a product prior to purchase. If you don’t have this option, it is critically important for you to have a list of agreed upon acceptance criteria that, if not met, provide you with the justification to discontinue product use and payment. One way to improve the evaluation process when you can’t physically test the product is to ask for a local reference; then if it’s a major purchase, visit that client and see how they are using the product.

To download your full copy of the Attack Your Stack workbook via instruction at the link.

Anita Brearton is founder and CEO of CabinetM, a platform that helps marketers take control of their marketing technology environments. In addition to CabinetM, Anita is a CMS Wire monthly columnist and speaks frequently on marketing practices and stack building.
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Attack Your Stack: Leverage Agency Partners

The agency and consulting worlds have rapidly evolved over the last three years, with agencies deepening their technology expertise and offering new stack strategy services. Today there are many options for companies needing general or very specific stack strategy assistance.

Strategy, technology, and management consulting firms are now providing marketing technology services that range from strategy to implementation and management. In many cases, these firms are leveraging their IT expertise and experience to deliver a suite of complementary marketing services.

Large marketing agencies that have historically focused on digital media are extending their services to include stack strategy and construction. Agencies heading in this direction are typically taking one of two approaches to getting their arms around the marketing technology landscape: they are either establishing key partnerships with one or two vendors in each category and then developing deep expertise in those platforms, or they are staying vendor agnostic and knitting together a network of category experts whom they can call on to support specific client needs. Both approaches have merit.

Once your stack framework is in place, category/functional specialists and agencies can deliver exceptional value if you know what type of technology you need. You can find experts in virtually every technology category. Agencies that are category/functional experts (e.g., SEO, digital advertising) will in many instances source, deploy, and then manage technology on their client’s behalf. This is particularly helpful in resource- or expertise-constrained environments.

Some of the most interesting agencies are those that were created by founders with deep expertise in one or more anchor technology platforms (e.g., Salesforce, Marketo, and Eloqua), who built their businesses leveraging that core expertise. If you already have your anchor platforms or know which platforms you plan to implement, these agencies can deliver tremendous operational assistance; help with platform integrations; and can drive a sensible expansion strategy to make sure that all the pieces in your stack work well together if you don’t have the resources in-house. As a side note: if you are an organization that is fully dependent on a single internal person to run your anchor marketing platform, I would recommend having one of these agencies on speed dial in the unlikely event that your internal person decides to move on.

There is no right or wrong way to leverage consulting talent. You could choose a single firm to drive everything; you could hire a consultant to be the person who pulls multiple external resources together; or you can serve as the strategist who reaches out to specialists and agencies as needed.

Regardless of the strategy you employ, there are a few things to consider in selecting the right partners, beyond budget, basic capabilities, and cultural fit:

  • Do your potential partners have a bias toward a specific product or suite of products? If so, this is not necessarily a bad thing, and could actually be a good thing. But, if they have a bias, you need to understand whether that bias makes sense in your environment.
  • Do they bring practitioner expertise to the table? In working with someone to help me evaluate and decide on a core anchor platform, I would make sure that they had either deep practitioner expertise in the product category or could connect me with reference companies that could provide insight into the complexity of installation and use and the ease of integration.
  • What is the process they employ to stay on top of the latest technology trends and innovation? You need to make sure that your strategy won’t ultimately be limited by their lack of knowledge.

With the introduction of new privacy laws and, in particular, General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679 (GDPR), which makes companies responsible for the compliance of their data supply chain, it’s essential to understand how each technology vendor and data supplier handles customer data and complies with regulatory requirements. This is something that should be tracked within the marketing tech stack.

Once your data architecture is in place, the next step is to look at data flow. Start by understanding which elements of your existing stack are integrated, and map the data flow between these elements. Are the right elements integrated? Are they integrated correctly? Does your data flow support the objectives you are trying to achieve? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then stop, and assess what needs to be done to create the data flow that you need—this may lead to requirements for a new platform.

Evaluating Existing Technology—How Well Do You Stack Up?

With a clear data strategy and plan, and clarity around your anchor platforms, you should now move on to looking at the rest of your technology stack.

This is the time to revisit the functionality list that you and your stakeholders created for your marketing technology stack and the product attributes that you collected for each product

For each product in your stack—both acquired and internally developed products— review the following information that you’ve collected:

  • Which marketing function or functions from your list does this product support?
  • How well is the product performing its current function?
  • How is performance trending?
  • Are there any concerns or issues with the product?
  • Are there adjustments that should be made to improve performance?
  • What percentage of existing product functionality is being used?
  • Does this product meet data compliance requirements?
  • Has this product been assessed for data security risks? (If you have a well-controlled procurement process for all products, you may not need to review this.)
  • How well does this product integrate with the other elements of your stack?

In addition, you should now also consider:

  • How well the product aligns with your company’s data strategy
  • Whether the product could perform any of the new functions that are required in the stack. In a marketing technology stack, less is always more. The more you can do with each product you have, the less complicated the stack becomes over time.
  • The anticipated impact of additional product training on platform utilization
  • The relative importance of this product: A simple 1-to-3 scale will help prioritize efforts when it comes time to consider replacing, retiring, or investing in additional product training.

With all this information in hand, you are now in a position to determine for each product whether to keep it in the stack, retire it, or consider it for replacement.

A few notes:

  • For products you keep that you believe might support additional functionality, reach out to your vendors and ask them to discuss their product road maps. As noted earlier, not only could there be plans to introduce the functionality that you need, but you might also be able to influence the direction of the road map in order to acquire that functionality.
  • If feature utilization is poor for products that you are keeping, consider allocating time and budget to additional training.
  • For products that you are planning to retire, make sure that you are tracking contract end dates and can plan accordingly.
  • For products that you are considering replacing due to poor performance or general dissatisfaction, it’s important to give yourself the appropriate amount of time to find and evaluate potential replacements.

Finally, when reviewing internally developed technology, it’s important to understand why it was developed in the first place. If it was originally developed because there was no available off-the-shelf product, and now there is, it might be time to consider retiring your internally developed equivalent (unless, of course, you are happy with its performance and you have the resources to continue to support the product).

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Attack Your Stack: Vendors as Consultants

For many vendors, integrating into an existing technology environment is an essential operational requirement. Increasingly these vendors are asking for a list of the marketing technology stack components prior to generating a proposal and implementation recommendations, and they are learning a lot about stack architecture and implementation along the way. Some of these vendors are now beginning to offer stack audit and recommendation services and are willing to work with prospective customers to map their stack environments. However, if you engage them for these services, be sure to ask if they are compensated for recommending certain vendors. Some vendors, like Salesforce and Marketo, earn commissions on the sale of products on their exchanges, and this can bias their recommendations. If you need help with stack development or just with identifying all the tools in use across your organization, have a conversation with your vendors. You might find that they have a professional services team ready to step in and assist.

To download your full copy of the Attack Your Stack workbook via instruction at the link.

Anita Brearton is founder and CEO of CabinetM, a platform that helps marketers take control of their marketing technology environments. In addition to CabinetM, Anita is a CMS Wire monthly columnist and speaks frequently on marketing practices and stack building.
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Attack Your Stack: Are You Leveraging the Expertise of Your Anchor Vendors?

Once upon a time, before the introduction of structured inside-sales processes, it was easy to reach out to vendors to ask product questions and connect with a knowledgeable human being. Today, any attempt to do that will pull you into a vendor’s sales funnel, and before you know it, a BDR (business development representative) will be calling to qualify you as a prospective customer. To avoid that scenario, we marketers try to discover answers in other ways, which frequently becomes an exercise in trying to locate a needle in a haystack. We find ourselves digging through pages of community-generated commentary as we attempt to learn the answer to a specific question.

Back in the “good ole days” I viewed my vendors as strategic partners. I relied on them to keep me abreast of marketing trends and to share lessons learned from experience across their client-base. While it may not be possible to do that anymore because of the issues identified above, it is possible to develop that kind of relationship with an anchor vendor, and I would go so far as to say this should be an imperative.

You are spending a significant amount of money with each of your anchor vendors. It is not unreasonable to expect them to provide additional value-added services without turning every conversation into a sales call. As you work on your technology strategy, you should ask your vendors to provide their insights into what other companies like yours are considering and doing with their marketing technology stacks. Chances are, they have insights that go beyond the role and direction of their own products. They’ve also got a front row seat when it comes to seeing potential integration and performance issues as new products are introduced into the stack.

As marketers, we are easily attracted to the latest marketing jargon and to promises of the latest innovation in marketing technology. Sometimes we get so enamored with the invention of a new product category and the brilliant marketing behind it that we become convinced we have to buy a new product or platform, even if we are not entirely sure why we need it or how we’ll use it. Your anchor vendors can often provide a sanity check when it comes to new technology and can help you assess where, if anywhere, it might add value in your stack.

For those shiny new things that make sense for your business, the first step in your evaluation process should be to assess what your anchor vendor has planned in that area. It may be that your needs can be satisfied by the vendors and platforms you already have in place, and the same holds true for any new functionality that you may need in your stack. By keeping track of your anchor vendors’ road maps, you may be able to save money, time, and integration headaches that come with the sourcing of new platforms.

I recommend that as part of your vendor contract negotiation process, you request that vendors share their road maps with you on a quarterly basis and assign a point of contact that you can leverage for advice and information as you evolve your stack. It is in the best interest of your anchor vendors to keep you close, to ensure that you continue to leverage more and more of their functionality and to make it increasingly unlikely that they will be displaced.

Another key advantage to staying close to your anchor vendors is that it gives you an opportunity to provide input and to influence their road-map direction. At CabinetM we love nothing more than knowing that we are developing the features that our users want.

To download your full copy of the Attack Your Stack workbook via instruction at the link.

Anita Brearton is founder and CEO of CabinetM, a platform that helps marketers take control of their marketing technology environments. In addition to CabinetM, Anita is a CMS Wire monthly columnist and speaks frequently on marketing practices and stack building.
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Attack Your Stack: Anchor Platforms

At the core of every marketing stack is a suite of anchor platforms that are essential to your marketing and sales activities and that provide the foundation for the rest of your marketing technology stack. These platforms are generally integrated with other elements of your stack.

Typically, these would include your:

  • Data warehouse/management system/CDP
  • Primary analytics and measurement platforms
  • CRM system
  • Marketing automation platform
  • eCommerce platform (if relevant)

Because these platforms require a significant financial investment and an investment in operator training, it’s important to get the selection right.

As part of your stack rationalization effort, you should be assessing the value that each current anchor platform delivers and ensure that each platform meets your current functional requirements. You should also be checking that the vendor has a robust road map that will deliver new, relevant functionality to carry you forward.

It’s also important to look at how much of each platform’s capabilities you are actually leveraging, and whether there is an opportunity to take advantage of additional features.

Of utmost importance is ensuring that each platform integrates well with your other anchor platforms. If it doesn’t, you may need to develop custom integration code yourself or find a 3rd party provider to develop custom code for you.

To download your full copy of the Attack Your Stack workbook via instruction at the link.

Anita Brearton is founder and CEO of CabinetM, a platform that helps marketers take control of their marketing technology environments. In addition to CabinetM, Anita is a CMS Wire monthly columnist and speaks frequently on marketing practices and stack building.
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Attack Your Stack: Data Strategy and Compliance

Just like virtually everything else related to marketing technology, there is no right or wrong data strategy, only the right or wrong strategy for your organization.

Data strategy is likely to be driven by a number factors—philosophical beliefs about data organization and management; systems and capabilities already in place; internal technology expertise; data reach (are you working in a silo or across the organization); and budget limitations.

The four things to consider in defining your data strategy are:

  1. Data architecture and synchronization
  2. Data integrity and completeness
  3. Data compliance
  4. Data flow

Over the last few years there has been a lot of discussion about creating a single source of truth for customer data. Along with that, Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) have emerged. The idea is that customer data is fed into a single database by marketing, sales, services, and business systems, where it is cleansed, appended with 2nd- and 3rd-party data, and then fed back to each system as a complete data record. Advocates for this centralized approach believe it is the simplest way to manage data compliance requirements and to ensure that everyone is working with the same set of data. Detractors point to the complexity of implementing a CDP platform and to the complication of adding another source of data into the stack. For more information on CDPs, check out the CDP Institute.

Another approach is to pick a single system of record (usually a sales automation or marketing automation solution), and keep that pristine and then leverage a data management/orchestration platform to synchronize data among your other systems.

In this scenario, the data orchestration platform cleans, normalizes, appends and de-dupes records from multiple systems but does not serve as a data warehouse itself. All data resides in the separate platforms and passes through the orchestration platform to ensure data integrity and completeness. This approach is simpler, more cost effective, and more agile than introducing an additional database into your stack.

And, of course, there’s always the hybrid approach, which leverages a centralized platform within an organization (e.g., marketing) and then uses a data orchestration platform to synchronize data between organizations.

To download your full copy of the Attack Your Stack workbook via instruction at the link.

Anita Brearton is founder and CEO of CabinetM, a platform that helps marketers take control of their marketing technology environments. In addition to CabinetM, Anita is a CMS Wire monthly columnist and speaks frequently on marketing practices and stack building.
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Attack Your Stack: Stack Rationalization

Now for the fun stuff: making sense of everything that is in your stack.

First, eliminate any Zombie products. If you are trapped due to an auto-renewal clause with no immediate cancellation possible, make sure that you highlight the next auto-renewal date to ensure that you don’t miss your next chance to cancel the subscription.

Note: In my experience, I’ve found that many companies will allow you to cancel your subscription despite auto-renewal and non-cancellation clauses, so it’s worth reaching out to them to ask.

Second, identify every product being used by multiple departments, each of which has its own contract for that product. There’s money to be saved in consolidating contracts! For some reason, marketing automation seems to be a category in which this issue frequently exists. We’ve seen companies unearth more than five active contracts for the exact same marketing automation platform.

Third, identify redundant products. Email seems to be a common category for redundant products, and while there might be a reason to have more than one email platform, you need to consider whether there is a need for three, four, or even five different platforms. Compare these products alongside each other, and against your functional requirements, to see if there is an opportunity to reduce the number of redundant platforms. Make sure that as you work through this exercise, you take into account both existing functional requirements as well as anticipated future requirements, to ensure that if you do reduce the number of redundant platforms, you are as farsighted as possible in your decision-making.

Note: As you work through the rationalization exercise and spend time talking with the users of various products, you are likely to identify additional functional requirements to add to your overall list of requirements. It’s important to keep building, refining, and revising the list as you work through this process.

The foundation for a high-performance marketing technology stack is having a
well-thought-out data strategy and acquiring the right set of anchor platforms (those products that sit at the core of the stack, that drive campaigns, programs, and customer engagement and that house all customer data).  Your data strategy should ensure that data is acquired, complete, cleansed, normalized to your company’s specifications, and is leveraged properly across the organization and stack.

To download your full copy of the Attack Your Stack workbook via instruction at the link.

Anita Brearton is founder and CEO of CabinetM, a platform that helps marketers take control of their marketing technology environments. In addition to CabinetM, Anita is a CMS Wire monthly columnist and speaks frequently on marketing practices and stack building.
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Attack Your Stack: Dark Tech and Zombie Products — Uncovering Your Hidden Products

As you work to document all the products that your company has purchased, it is important to also identify all the custom products and integration code that have been developed internally. It’s not unusual for companies to have as many internally developed marketing technology products as acquired products. These internally developed products are frequently referred to as “dark tech,” because in many cases, very few people know that they exist and far fewer, if any, are tracking them.

It’s also important to try and uncover the Zombie products that might exist in your organization. Zombie products are subscription-based products that someone in the organization subscribed to and is no longer using. Zombie products can contribute greatly to bloated technology expenses. Digging up Zombie products can be challenging and may require working with your accounting department to review pages of credit card data. One place to start is by using Builtwith; Builtwith offers a free tool that scans your site and attempts to identify the tools currently in use. Though not always 100% accurate— since marketers are generally terrible about cleaning up code and tags on their sites when they stop using a product—it’s a great starting point.

Finally, if you are using agencies to implement and manage technology for you, it is important to catalog those agencies and the products that are being implemented on your behalf in order to develop a complete technology picture. Make sure that you know who is paying for the product and understand the implications of severing your relationship with each agency, should that become necessary.

Note:This also applies to 3rdparty data providers. It’s not uncommon for companies to pay five-figure licenses for data that entirely duplicates what they’re already buying from someone else.

To download your full copy of the Attack Your Stack workbook via instruction at the link.

Anita Brearton is founder and CEO of CabinetM, a platform that helps marketers take control of their marketing technology environments. In addition to CabinetM, Anita is a CMS Wire monthly columnist and speaks frequently on marketing practices and stack building.
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Attack Your Stack: Auditing Your Stack

It’s hard to begin talking about technology strategy unless you have a full grasp on the technology in use today, how well it is being used, and whether it is fully meeting the needs for which it was bought. For organizations that distribute responsibility for purchasing technology across the company, either functionally or geographically, cataloging all the technology in use may entail a significant effort.

Product Attributes

As you think about cataloging all of your technology, it’s important to define what information you need to collect about each product. We’ve seen companies track as many as 50 different attributes for each product they use.

Not sure what details to collect? We recommend starting with the following:

Function

  • Use case—What functionality does this product provide?

Performance

  • Performance measurement—How is performance measured?
  • Performance assessment—How well is this product performing? I recommend developing a scale or assessment process to create some uniformity in rating products across the stack.
  • Any concerns or issues with the product and how it performs
  • Percent of functionality being used

Contract Details

  • Contract number
  • Contract owner (who at your company “owns” this product)
  • Contract start date
  • Contract end date
  • Auto-renewal date

Spend

  • Annual and monthly spend
  • Spend variables (what causes spend to increase?)

Implementation

  • Product owner
  • Product users
  • Version in use
  • Latest version
  • Integrations and method of integration (possibly the most critical piece of information to collect, because disconnecting a product in your stack that has been integrated with several others can bring your entire stack tumbling down if not handled carefully). You should be tracking integration at the field level and noting whether the integration is one way or bi-directional.
  • Does this product meet data compliance requirements?
  • Has this product been assessed for data security risks? This won’t be applicable for all products. If you have a well-controlled procurement process, you may not need to look at this.

Vendor Information

  • Key contacts

To download your full copy of the Attack Your Stack workbook via instruction at the link.

Anita Brearton is founder and CEO of CabinetM, a platform that helps marketers take control of their marketing technology environments. In addition to CabinetM, Anita is a CMS Wire monthly columnist and speaks frequently on marketing practices and stack building.
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