The CIO-CMO Team: Rules for Success

Among history’s more implausible relationships — Reagan/Gorbachev, Van Halen/Roth, Unger/Madison — the budding hookup between CIOs and CMOs is not so much bizarre as it is unexpected.

Market trends including social media are forcing CIOs to look at the world beyond the firewall and prompting CMOs to focus as much on employees as on would-be customers.

Combined, their complementary skills and backgrounds can profitably address a mobile, vocal and savvy audience at home in an inherently insecure digital world. However, neither they nor their companies can expect to succeed in this era without a strong alliance with the other.

In fact, some companies are creating chief customer officer posts, says Prof. Peter Fader, marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Fader is also co-director of the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative.

"The post is going to be tight with the CEO and the CIO — because it’s designed to create hard-number metrics — and the COO, because it will analyze the supply chain," says Fader. It will gain respect that the CIO and CMO by rights could be getting by collaborating.

So, what are the cardinal rules you need to follow in order to foster and maintain a deeply collaborative partnership between the CIO and CMO? Of course, it’s all about communication and earning trust. It has to be broken down to elementary actions.

Recognize that technology isn’t the business. Technology is just one tool in a company’s arsenal. It’s not even the most strategic tool all the time, says Craig Neeb, CIO and VP of multichannel marketing for International Speedway Corp., which owns and/or operates 12 NASCAR tracks.  It’s relevant only to the extent that it’s understood internally and it delivers on the corporate strategy.

A corollary to this: "True" marketing is instinctively distrusted by would-be buyers, says Neeb. That’s why social media is the revolutionary business development that it is. It opens the messaging to the entire market, dismantling iron-sided brand statements. And CMOs need CIOs if they ever hope to organize the chaos of social networks in their favor.

Leave your ego (and career fears) in the car when you arrive at work. There absolutely is risk involved for CIOs and CMOs when they are told to reach over the divide, says Sri Raju, CEO of Smartbridge, a business-app maker and consultancy.

But the hard truth is that it’s easier to hire people who understand this critical need than it is to retrain senior executives.

CEOs are less and less likely to allow a "shadow IT unit" to exist in marketing, says Raju. And CIOs who are most proud of the money they save will fall out of favor in organizations pushing for innovations.

There must be a healthy overlap of skill sets for the CIO and CEO. Too many glassy stares for one while the other excitedly discusses important developments means the pair are moving in separate directions. Each has to have a solid grounding and appreciation for the lot of the other.

Dahlberg goes so far as to say the CIO and CMO should be able to fill in for each other in certain situations.

The model needs to be applied across the C suite. As revolutionary as it can be to have CIOs and CMOs who are joined at the hip, the same needs to be true among all of their peers, says Dahlberg. The site of the CFO heading for one’s office, for instance, can’t be cause for anxiety.

The integration must go deeper than the chiefs. IT and marketing staffs have to get the religion and permission when it comes to interacting with each other. Departmental stovepipes must be replaced with flexible hierarchies that promote cross-organizational communication, which leads to innovations.

The CMO and CIO both need to be involved in the R&D budget process. Dave Dahlberg, CMO of Model Metrics, an international cloud-computing consultancy, says they have separate but parallel views of products and product capabilities informed by being in the field with customers and in the trenches with IT support.

Where possible, free IT from commodity tasks. Dahlberg says his firm, unsurprisingly, has dumped all of its servers in favor of cloud computing. "John (Barnes, CIO of Model Metrics) is able to take his team and focus on being innovative."

Barnes and Dahlberg say this reduces the incidences of IT refusing reasonable requests for lack of resources.

It also cleanses tech staffs of those who are overly comfortable with the familiar.

Don’t underestimate your value to marketing. Lisa Arthur, CMO of marketing software maker Aprimo, says CIOs are "an absolute gem" in helping to create strategic marketing roadmaps because technology underpins and promotes the firm’s conversation with its market.

If you’re the CIO and the firm is looking for a new CMO, get involved. Collaborative teams more often occur when one or both CIO and CMO are hired for that purpose. Execs unanimously said that it’s hard to retrain for this need.

So when you get word that a new CMO is being sought, work with the C-suite to describe the ideal candidate. Suggest people you’ve met who might meet the needs. Interview candidates in depth. And then, following these rules, build a dream team.

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