CMOs Shouldn’t Buy Tech, Ever!

Don't Buy Tech

According to Gartner, 2017 is the year CMOs (chief marketing officers) will buy more tech than CIOs (chief information officers). This is truly unfortunate. CMOs should never buy tech, ever! Buying tech should be left to technical managers who understand the technical debt each “bolted-on solution” is likely to cause. A quick tech overview of a typical (albeit oversimplified and incomplete) marketing tech (mar-tech) stack illustrates the problem:


Contact Acquisition, Nurturing, Retention, Customer Success


Social, Websites, Email, Interactive, Remarketing


Content Creation, Content Optimization and Scoring, Scheduling and Distribution

Customer Data & Analytics

CRM, Analytics Platforms, Insight Tools, Demand Generation


Shared Workspace, Productivity, Internal Communications Tools

A Quick Test

Rather than put the names of the most common software solutions in a pretty graphic above, I simply described the functions of the tools in this approximation of a typical mar-tech stack. Take a few minutes and fill in the names of the best practices, most interoperable (with your corporate tech stack) tools for each of the layers. Obviously, I can’t check your answers here, but if you enter your answers in my handy online form, I’ll happily grade your homework. (BTW, I don’t sell hardware or software so this is not an infomercial or native advertising, or other selfishness shrouded in altruism device. It’s simply a way for you to test your mar-tech stack knowledge against industry standards.)

It’s Hard Because It’s Not Your Job

To rephrase an old maxim, “A tech stack is only as strong as its weakest layer.” Choosing compatible (or interoperable), continuously improvable tools requires a knowledge of systems architecture that few CMOs possess. In practice, few CIOs possess the knowledge to craft a complete marketing tech stack. This is the bastion of highly specialized, independent systems engineers. Why independent? Simply because as independents, their only agenda is making sure you have a maximally functional, super-efficient stack.

Where Are the Buzzwords?

You will notice that the buzzwords Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Natural Language Processing (NLP), open source, and Bots are all missing from the sample mar-tech stack above. They absolutely have a place, but unless you know exactly how and why, you should not be directly specifying (or even making decisions about) which tools are best for you. Marketers should not fall prey to marketing.

Software Is a Religion

Conventional wisdom tells us the average lifespan of a CMO is 18-24 months. Which means most CMOs are infants (corporately speaking) and will likely inherit a pre-existing marketing tech stack replete with legacy hardware and software.

This is where it gets really tricky. Software is faith-based. It is, for all intents and purposes, a religion. There is the church of Microsoft, the church of Google, of Salesforce, of Amazon, of IBM, etc. No matter the abstraction layer of the stack, someone schooled in the art will have made previous decisions based on what they believed to be the one and only true doctrine.

Are you a believer in the same doctrine? The cliché answer is, “I’m tech agnostic.” You may be, but your legacy tech stack certainly is not. Especially if corporate IT helped design it.

Of Course There’s a Solution

It’s time to reorganize your marketing department. First, hire a computer scientist who understands marketing. You can teach an engineer about marketing in a few months, but you cannot teach a marketer about computers without having the marketer matriculate through a college-level computer science curriculum.

You’ll push back now and say that becoming a marketer takes at least that much education plus years of experience. I agree. But it is far easier to explain the marketing functions you wish to automate to a computer scientist than it is to teach computer science to a marketer.

Next, organize your marketing department into mar-tech teams. Pairing full-time marketers with full-time marketing-oriented computer scientists has been extremely effective in reducing time from needs analysis to deployment. We’ve also seen it dramatically reduce both capex and opex. A nontechnical marketer will ask pure marketing questions, and a marketing-savvy computer scientist will devise technical solutions accordingly. The results we’ve seen from these types of pairings have been nothing short of magical.

This Is Complicated

Combining the accelerating pace of technological change with the glacial pace of big corporate timelines is disastrous. By the time you get something designed and approved, the technology has already evolved. This will always be true for some organizations. But you can choose a different path. You can adapt your marketing department by inventing a new breed of marketing technologists.

Oh, and don’t forget to do your homework.

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About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit



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