Perhaps no C-suite relationship today is more broken than the relationship between the CMO and CIO.  In the past, there has been little need to collaborate.  Far too often the CIO functioned as a technologist who was not recognized for having a complete view of the overall business.  He concentrated more on cost cutting and efficiency.  On the other hand, the CMO was about direct mail, magazine advertisements, and television spots.  He was aimed primarily toward branding, lead generation, and communication.cmo-cio-best-friends1  They were almost like two ships passing in the night.  Neither had a tremendous need to interact with the other.  Each was relegated to (or chose to remain in) his own realm.  In some ways, there have been a number of similarities between the two positions.  It was quite normal for neither of them to actually sit on the executive team.  Corporate strategies were often determined without their input.  Just as the CIO struggled to explain the return on infrastructure investments, the CMO had difficulty proving the value of investment in various marketing programs.  It should not be surprising to learn that both the CIO and CMO have struggled in developing relationships with the rest of the C-suite (Outside Looking In:  The CMO Struggles to get in sync with the C-suite and The DNA of the CIO).

But as a result of societal, business, and competitive changes driven primarily by big data, analytics, cloud, social, and mobile technologies, the pressure is on both the CMO and CIO to transform themselves, their departments, and their relationships with other executives in order to ensure the success of their companies.  They need to markedly increase the collaboration between them.  Both need to move from their functional silos into becoming recognized leaders within the broader business context.  This will take a concerted effort – and for the benefit of the company, it needs to be done quickly.

Here are some suggestions for the CIO to improve his relationship with the CMO:

  • Make it personal.  Make it about him – not about you (see The Relationship between the CIO and the C-suite).  Learn about his family, his interests, his hobbies, his goals and aspirations.  Schedule regular meetings to discuss current projects/activities, the competition, future plans, etc.  A change in environment can also be helpful — be sure to get out of the office together regularly for lunch or coffee.  Development of a personal relationship enhances the business relationship and helps to foster more trust and understanding.
  • Acknowledge his expertise.  Be sure to convey that you understand the importance of marketing to the success of the company.  Ask him to mentor you in learning more about marketing within your industry.  Ultimately that will help you to help him. Become his advocate and cheerleader to other members of the C-suite.
  • How can I help you succeed?  Ask how his success is being measured by the CEO.  Is it customer satisfaction, sales leads, increased revenue?  Learn the metrics he is using to determine the success of his own team.  Talk about what he sees as his challenges and opportunities.  Specifically ask “What can I do to help you be most successful?”  Listen; learn; then commit to specific actions you will take to help.
  • Gain expertise on social media. Attend a boot camp on social media for your industry (here’s an example for insurance).  Identify an expert on social media marketing within your industry and reach out to establish a relationship.  Then introduce your CMO and facilitate a discussion between them.  Get personally involved in using various types of social media to broaden your knowledge of technology and business while contributing to the knowledge of others.  This has value you can use far beyond external marketing.
  • Become obsessive about the customer.  Put on your “customer hat” and look at things from that point of view.  What actions could your company take to promote a tighter affiliation and increased customer loyalty?  Are there things you might propose to open some of your internal processing to the customer thus improving customer satisfaction and internal efficiency?  Learn all you can about your target market and your current customer base.  Talk with your CMO about what he would like to know about your target market that would improve products or enhance relationships.  Identify external sources of information that would be useful.
  • Take a “business-first” mentality.  Regardless of whether you think it is valid, others in the C-suite have often seen both the CMO and CIO as operating in their own silos and looking out for their own areas rather than taking an overall corporate view.  Realize that you are not “just a techie”.  You are a leader in your company and in the industry in which your company operates.  Realize the pressure the CMO is under to deliver results.  He needs responsiveness, speed, and flexibility from IT.  And if you can’t give that to him, he will go outside to get things done….sometimes resulting in security and integration issues.  Quit fighting to maintain total control.  Make it easy for the CMO to do business with you.  Take a consultative approach.  Understand what he is trying to accomplish and why.  When you cannot provide the requested solution, be transparent as to the reason.  Offer alternatives that will still help to reach his goal.  Establish guidelines that will facilitate purchase of outside software and technology purchases.  Work with the CMO to establish a common vision for marketing.

What do you think?  What other suggestions do you have to help the CIO enhance his relationship with the CMO?

4 Responses to “Forging an Effective CMO-CIO Partnership”

  • William Gordon says:

    Wonderful insight. I can’t agree with you more. Allow me to add two additional comments. One. Both Marketing and IT have traditionally struggled to demonstrate ROI. This perhaps is why they have been relegated to lesser roles. Two. according to a recent article in CIO Magazine, seven percent of all CIOs now report into the CMO, and supposedly this trend is growing. Frankly, there is little option not to interact more closely with the CMO; in fact, it’s fast becoming a requirement.

    • Terry Bennett says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, William. Although I wonder how many CIOs will end up reporting to CMOs, the trend definitely shows recognition of the importance of both marketing and technology – and their intersection – to the future success of the organization. As you noted, it is a requirement for the two to have a tight relationship.

      Any other practical advice that might help this relationship?

  • Mark Seghers says:

    I find it interesting that you compare the CIO and CMO as both struggling for a seat on the strategic table… I agree that is probably true. Most of the “real world” leaders of a company (CSO, COO) deal in absolutes – and rigidly provable value e.g. hard dollar revenues and cost savings – while the CIO and CMO spend a lot of money to achieve arguable returns. Who is to say how much money WOULD HAVE BEEN earned if the company HAD NOT upgraded it’s operating system, or install a new CRM? Who is to say how many sales might not have been generated if a particular campaign had not been launched? Or how many more may have been generated with a different approach?
    Finding the SYNERGIES between the two roles might be a bit more difficult, however. How can the CIO learn from the CMO and vice versa? I’m not sure there really are that many overlaps outside of helping each other with inventive ways of assigning hard dollars to soft benefits and savings. Social Media may be one overlap as you suggest – and probably a very good one.
    The suggestions you list for the CIO to better collaborate with the CMO could also be flipped in the reverse. ALL players at the table need to TRULY understand 1) the end customer and 2) the other players and what they need so they can be strong leaders and serve the company’s true priorities.
    It’s possible that the needs of the customer might be more in the front of the mind of the CMO than the CIO, I would think, but I’m continually surprised by the number of execs who pursue personal (or functional, or political) agendas and forget completely about what the customer actually needs.
    I have found that 1) prioritizing customers by group and 2) surveying/understanding what they need is the single best way of reaching agreement among executives, and cutting through the political and (let’s face it) often self-serving political agendas some executives are (sometimes even unknowingly) burdened with. It is where we find harmony.

    • Terry Bennett says:

      Thanks for your insight, Mark. A PWC study found that companies with strong relationships between the CIO & the rest of the C-suite are 4X more likely than less collaborative teams to be in the top quartile of margin growth, revenue growth & innovation. Having everyone pulling together is necessary for the company to do its best.


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