The many benefits of a CIO-CMO alliance

The many benefits of a CIO-CMO alliance

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I have a close working relationship with the chief marketing officer at the American Cancer Society, and that has enabled us to collaborate on several key initiatives and concepts that greatly benefit the Society. The approach has paid huge dividends. Here are just a few:

A shared customer vision

If you’re a CIO and find yourself succeeding these days without understanding the end-to-end customer experience, don’t congratulate yourself. You are experiencing what I call blind luck. Today’s CIO absolutely has to be a master of the customer experience and of business process, because everything we do is about marrying technology to customer experience, business process, and delivering value for our customers or constituents. And out of the very deliberate communication I have with our CMO has come a shared vision of who our customer is and who we’re targeting.

Deliberate collaboration

Collaboration doesn’t just happen. It’s all too easy to lose contact with someone, even in the same building, because you get absorbed into your own function, your own silos, your own meetings and your own travel schedule. When the CMO and the CIO deliberately communicate, the result is collaboration.

Measurable success

In order to celebrate success, you have to know what you’re measuring. That’s why we have shared success criteria as well as outcomes. Cancer.org is a landing spot for more than 100 million people a year who visit to get the latest research and information. It’s one of the tent poles of our overall digital ecosystem. To keep that site as the gold standard of its kind, the Society CMO and I kicked off a complete re-platforming and reengineering of that digital ecosystem. The success criteria for that project are ours; they’re not mine, they’re not hers. Ultimately, they’re the American Cancer Society’s. So if she is not successful, I am not successful, and vice versa; we are dependent on each other.

Mutual accountability

The CMO and I set the bar very high for our respective teams and for each other. We hold each other accountable, too. When you’ve built a relationship where you trust one another, you can ask, “Hey, Jay, did I get that right?” And she is willing to hear me say, “Well, you might have missed on that one,” after a presentation. Or I’ve gone to her and asked, “Give me some feedback on how I did in front of the board.” And she might say, “Nine out of 10 things were awesome, but this one thing you may want to think about reworking.”

Cross-pollination of skills

The CMO and I operationalize our projects not only through very clear communication about what we’re trying to achieve, but also through a practice of putting my people on her team and vice versa. This has brought a level of IT knowledge to her organization it’s never had before. For our part, we’ve acquired more marketing and digital capabilities than we’ve ever had. In the process, we’ve eliminated the need for the notion of a chief digital officer. To be honest, I often think a chief digital officer is a byproduct of a CMO and CIO not being on the same page.

Honest, constructive conflict

Is our CMO-CIO relationship perfect in every way? In a word, no. There are obviously tough conversations that have to happen. My team has let our CMO’s team down. Her team has let my team down. There are certainly disagreements along the way. But with a mindset that we’re on the American Cancer Society team and trying to accomplish the same thing, with a shared acknowledgement of who our consumer is, we move beyond those disagreements quickly. Our tolerance for the occasional failure now is built out of the mutual trust we’ve established.

So does the CIO have to be a marketing expert? Not any more than the CMO has to be an IT expert. What is needed is mutual respect and a commitment to getting along, even when you disagree. I call those leadership qualities. And I think this is where the disconnect comes in a lot of companies. There is a lot of competency but not a lot of leadership.

I have to give credit to our respective teams as well, because senior managers can collaborate all day long. But even if we model the right behaviors, there is no guarantee that our respective teams will operate the same way. Happily, we have done away with any territorialism that may have existed. Our outcomes are shared. There is plenty of glory and work to go around.

Luckily, I find myself learning from the CMO’s team every week, and learning from her. I learned about brand awareness and consumer sentiment in grad school, but to see them put into action and to see plans laid for how we continue to grow these particular aspects of our business and how IT plays a role in those, is pretty powerful stuff. Thanks to this collaboration, I find myself becoming a much better digital marketer while she becomes a much better CIO. That’s the power of mutual learning.

Jay Ferro is an innovative technology leader who works with diverse global corporations to accelerate growth, improve profitability, and achieve exceptional operational results. 

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