How can companies leverage technology for growth? The answer to this question requires leadership from the CIO (technology) and the CMO (growth). And it requires a productive relationship to maximize the potential. However, there is much discussion around the challenges associated with creating a harmonious relationship. To better understand how this dynamic is changing and how CMOs and CIOs can do a better job of partnering, I turned to Suzanne Kounkel, principal of Deloitte Digital, a division of Deloitte Consulting, and a leader in understanding how firm leaders can exploit technology.
Kimberly Whitler: What is the most important C-Suite relationship in driving the potential of Big Data?
Suzanne Kounkel: The CIO-CMO relationship is the most important—the CIO has been collecting the data and has the reach across the organization. The CMO should be driving the outcomes and agenda Big Data enables. So those are the 2 executives that have the most influence and the most to gain by employing Big Data. Having a clear vision driven by the CEO (in the best case) or a strong COO about both the outcomes you want to drive and the magnitude of ambition desired is vital. This vision ensures alignment across the C-suite both in terms of priorities and level of investment.
Whitler: How are CMO and CIO roles changing over time?
Kounkel: There is no doubt that both the CIO and the CMO roles are in a high state of evolution. CMOs used to be responsible (in an overly simplistic view) for brand and advertising; now they are accountable for growth. Companies used to unilaterally influence the level of customer engagement; now customers have more sway with each other and with respect to influencing the brand. But we do believe the level of animosity and the degree of role overlap between the CMO and the CIO has been exaggerated. CMOs definitely influence a much more significant set of IT decisions; however they do not nor do we expect them to in the future influence more technology spend than the CIO. Marketing technologies have moved from spot and departmental technologies (which allowed CMOs to make unilateral—sometimes “shadow IT” decisions for marketing specific support decisions) to enterprise and evolving SaaS solutions which rely on the CIO’s enterprise-wide purview. The CMO and CIO partnership is critical to enable integrated disciplines that are required given customers’ expectations of a seamless experience and the digital explosion which has created “anytime, anywhere” mentalities.
Whitler: How would you describe the current state of the CMO-CIO relationship?
Kounkel: Our research showed that CMOs and CIOs believe that a CMO/CIO partnership is necessary for navigating disruptions in marketing technology and customer data. Both the CMO and the CIO roles are experiencing tremendous change, so both sets of executives are trying to accommodate and react to that. The good news is that CMOs and CIOs understand what is at stake—both an incredible opportunity and a potent threat if they don’t capitalize on the changes. While responses are inconsistent within and across industries, our research would say that the most energy is being spent on focusing on the customer as a unifying force (20%), understanding and impacting the evolving roles (71%), strengthening the partnership between the two roles (40%) and building collaborative teams across the CMO and CIO organizations (20%).
Whitler: What are the challenges / barriers?
Kounkel: In our opinion, the “war” between these executives is overhyped. But change always creates uncertainty. Industry news and studies more frequently address the need for CMO-CIO partnerships and tend to stress budgetary concerns and the types of turf wars that develop in business that function in silos as the primary challenges. We see less of this and more of specific challenges such as aligning on a shared customer experience vision that can translate into associated activities and investments, varying pace of marketing and IT activities which demand agreement on timelines and priorities, and honest conversations about evolving their own roles.
Whitler: You mention in the research that in fact many relationships are strong. What are the drivers of a strong relationship?
Kounkel: Again honest conversations about where the roles are evolving, specific strategies to strengthen the partnership and building teams that effectively collaborate all drive strong relationships. In most instances it is having a CEO who has articulated a clear customer vision and a team of executives who are willing to support that vision which fosters the best relationships. Strong cross-functional teams who are able to work together and speak each other’s languages is also a necessary component. Like most relationships, CMO-CIO relationships are strengthened when each executive shares an understanding of and respect for both roles and priorities and can speak each other’s language—but don’t try to significantly overlap skills and capabilities. CMOs are successful when they stay on top of emerging technologies and big data and analytics without building these within their function. CIOs continue to expand from simply running internal operations and understanding their impact on strategic business growth. The CIO can be a tremendous ally to the CMO who is frequently held accountable for the end-to-end customer experience even when the CMO frequently doesn’t own or control all of the value chain. Agile methodology also allows for a stronger partnership—creating a forum to quickly test and optimize innovative solutions to match speed and visibility marketing wants with alignment and priorities on outcomes that is critical to IT.
Whitler: What advice would you give to a CEO who has a CMO-CIO team that isn’t quite as strong as it needs to be?
Kounkel: They should work to balance responsibilities based on their understanding of each individuals strengths and weaknesses and set outcome measurements that keep the overall integrity of the ecosystem. Our research would say that the following is integral to a strong CMO-CIO partnership and are heavily driven or influenced by CEO involvement: driving CEO support and shared accountability (58%), communicating with shared vision (42%), creating an explicit governance structure (36%), sharing data and technology ownership (30%) and measuring progress (16%).
Whitler: What advice would you give to a CMO or CIO seeking to strengthen their partnership?
Kounkel: Embrace collaboration, look outside of your silo to see the value of digital across the organization, acknowledge what the other executive brings to the table, and, if necessary, help the CEO develop a vision for the organization to get everyone moving in the same direction. Focusing on the customer helps the organizations have a shared goal, fosters collaboration and breaks down the silos needed to truly deliver the experiences that customers demand. Customer then break ties rather than internal roles. In our research, CMOs and CIOs speaking on social media often mentioned giving up the notion of “ownership” of customer data and technology in order to break down silos in marketing and IT. Who owned what became less of a concern when the foremost goal was to serve the customer.
Five ways CMOs and CIOs can move beyond the “Turf War
1. Encourage shared collaboration to help the company grow. CMOs and CIOs know they must collaborate to guide their business operations into the next generation. They share the keys to customer access in the form of marketing insights and data, and through collaboration, can lead their organizations to evolve toward true customer centricity. Given access to the right data and technology, they can uncover business intelligence from their marketing data that can benefit the entire organization.
2. Focus on issues that are top of mind to increase innovation. CMOs and CIOs that are leading changes in their organizations have an opportunity to share their opinions and experiences. With more focus on finding solutions – including evolving their own roles, strengthening that partnership, and building teams that effectively collaborate – executives can push for innovation across the broader digital marketing practice.
3. Have a shared skill set to support evolved thought leadership. CMO-CIO relationships across industries are strengthened when each executive shares an understanding of their roles and priorities and can speak each other’s language. CMOs must stay abreast of emerging technologies and have a deeper understanding of how big data and analytics can inform smarter marketing decisions, while CIOs should look beyond their traditional focus on internal operations and infrastructure to build visibility for their department’s impact on strategic business growth.
4. Cultivate cross-functional teams. An informed cross-functional team helps keep slower-moving IT implementation and customer data-driven divisions up to speed with that of a fast-paced marketing team that is nimble to react to news-of-the-day opportunities in order to engage consumers. To avoid siloed teams that function as a “lab” or “center of excellence,” companies must hire and train staff with overlapping skill sets (e.g., tech-savvy marketers or strategic technologists).
5. Enable customer focus with a collective effort. Clear marketing goals, collaborative technology selection, and a defined governance framework for data and technology access are foundational elements of an effective collaboration. In the end, both roles need to be well versed in customer insights to drive corporate initiatives. This creates opportunity for businesses to craft a more personalized and seamless customer experience across both online and offline channels.
This article was written by Kimberly A. Whitler from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.