Dun & Bradstreet CTO and CMO lean on each other to get results

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CIO Ying Yang

Besides sharing the word “chief” in their title, CTOs and CMOs rarely have much in common. CTOs spend most of their time worrying about downtime and building infrastructure, while CMOs are lost in a sea of customer acquisition, campaign strategy, and branding best practices.

For years, the former kept to themselves, while marketing did its own thing. The two seldom crossed paths, that is, until marketing became more dependent on technology. Now, this unlikely pair is finding themselves at a crossroads struggling to find a way to execute successful strategies.

In this interview, adapted from Chiefmarketer.com, Enterpriser, Aaron Stibel, chief technology officer for Emerging Business at Dun & Bradstreet, and his colleague Judy Hackett, chief marketing officer for Emerging Business at Dun & Bradstreet, discuss how a strong culture of collaboration has allowed them to overcome some of the common hurdles the two positions typically face when trying to work together.

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): What has led to this new wave of collaboration between the CMO and CTO?

Stibel: First, it’s simply a matter of maturation. Twenty years ago, there was a divide between the CTO and, well, everyone. While executives understood they could reap efficiencies from technology, most didn’t get it. Today, most CMOs understand technology, dare I say it, better than CTOs did 20 years ago. The second reason is the shift to digital. While traditional advertising isn’t dead, there’s a dramatic shift toward digital (for example, search engine marketing), which demands a technical CMO.

Hackett: Marketers have evolved tremendously; they’re no longer one-dimensional. When I started in marketing, it was all about the brand, whereas, today, it’s all about the delivery of profitable growth. And Aaron is right — now that marketing has gone digital, CMOs are dependent on technology to help model, manage, track, and report the effectiveness of marketing and sales programs. Whether it’s to grow revenue, optimize a funnel, or reduce churn, the CMO and CTO have to be aligned.

TEP: Why do you think technology and marketing are so often disconnected?

Hackett: I’ve worked with CTOs in the past that don’t understand what marketing does and frankly don’t want to. CMOs aren’t innocent either. They have been known to bypass the CTO completely and pull in technologies without any consideration for IT standards. First and foremost, there needs to be a level of respect.

Stibel: Trust and respect are important. Those 90 percent of marketing and technology executives who feel their teams need better collaboration are wrong. You don’t need better communication between your teams; executives need to understand you are the same team.

TEP: Aaron, you recently said that one of the things you like to ask yourself about a potential candidate is “Would I want to have a beer with this person?” Why is that level of comfort important in terms of the CMO/CTO relationship? How can it help the two executives work together more strategically?

Stibel: We like to take risks at our company, and I couldn’t do without a great culture of collaboration and support. At the end of the day, if you can’t trust your fellow executives to the point of laughing off your failures over a few drinks, you’re never going to feel comfortable taking risks.

Hackett: For some companies getting technology and marketing to agree on much of anything is like pulling teeth. This is unfortunate because great collaboration can spark great innovation. With Aaron, it doesn’t feel like “work” to collaborate because we’re not only a team, we’re also friends. My team knows that I’m going to lean on him and vice versa. There are no battles over turf; I genuinely believe he has the best interests of marketing at heart. And, in the end, we share the same goals: make our salespeople successful, produce awesome products for our customers, and grow our business.

TEP: What are some actionable steps CMOs and CTOs can take to help bridge the gap and create alignment?

Hackett: It all goes back to respect and trust. Put egos aside and ask each other how can I help you succeed? As marketers, we need to position and pitch our needs in a way that the CTO can appreciate. Create the business case, and back it up. Also, make it a fun environment. At our office, we have hack weeks, a week where the technology team splits into groups, partners with other departments, and works on projects of their choosing to compete for a prize.

Stibel: I agree with Judy. But it really depends on the reason why. If you are threatened by your CMO’s involvement in your territory, quit and get a director of engineering gig; you’re not a CTO. If it’s an “us versus them” problem—which it tends to often be—it could be a culture thing. What works here is the one-team culture. We work to make sure that even in early stages of projects, people from all teams are involved. We build a product roadmap together, which can help align both technology and marketing for the year. And we review the roadmap together as a team so the adjustments can be made and both parties can hear and understand why there may be delays or change to the plan.


Aaron Stibel serves as Executive Vice President, Technology of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. Prior to Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp., Aaron spent nine years with software company Revenue Solutions Inc. where he co-created DiscoverTax and led technology efforts for multi-billion dollar enterprise data warehousing implementations for government agencies. He additionally led consulting and sales engagements for large-scale enterprise technology implementations ranging from $500K to $250M. Previously, Stibel was a senior technology consultant at Granitar, helping financial services clients develop eCommerce and data strategies, including implementations for Thompson Financial, MindBranch.com, Law.com, Boston.com, and NYT Companies. Stibel began his career at business consulting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers in the Strategic Change Business Unit. He holds a BS in Computer Science from The Johns Hopkins University.

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