How CIOs can get along better with the CMO

Historically, CIOs and CMOs have often had an adversarial relationship. In the digital era, it's best to forge a partnership. CIOs share advice on how to build one
322 readers like this.
cio role 2021

CMOs are now the biggest tech consumers in some organizations, spending more on IT than CIOs themselves. Marketing budgets amount to 11.2 percent of company revenue, according to the 2018-19 Gartner CMO Spend survey, with technology the single biggest area of investment.

CIOs and CMOs are working side by side in the trenches of digital transformation.

Historically, some CIOs and CMOs have butted heads. Some IT leaders have worked with a CMO who complained that IT was too slow, cautious, and bureaucratic to keep up with marketing’s demand for new digital capabilities. Some CIOs, on the other hand, have griped that marketing’s fast-and-furious approach could put the enterprise and its data at risk.

Now that the two C-suite executives are working side by side in the trenches of digital transformation, it’s imperative that they also work well together.

“The business reality is that the CMO commands a larger tech stack and budget than the CIO,” says Otavio Freire, president and CTO of SafeGuard Cyber. “As more of the business elements that touch revenue move outside the network – marketing, sales, CRM, customer care – it becomes ever more important that IT and marketing regularly share information and work together.”

[ What’s next for the CIO role? Read CIO role: Everything you need to know about today’s Chief Information Officers. ]

The CIO-CMO relationship: 6 tips

IT leaders can take the lead, making sure that they and their organizations become better partners to the marketing team members. There are a number of things CIOs can do to get along better with their marketing peers. Consider these six tips from IT and marketing executives:

1. Make business goals a topic of everyday conversation

“CIOs and CMOs have joint accountability for driving business success, and communication is key,” says Shamim Mohammad, senior vice president and chief information and technology officer at CarMax. Don’t rely solely on monthly or even quarterly meetings to assess performance.

“Make an effort to touch base at least once a day to connect on KPIs,” says Mohammad, who talks to CarMax CMO Jim Lyski multiple times a day. “We’re constantly connecting to ensure our approaches are integrated, aligned, and we’re marching toward the same business objectives.”

2. Lose the tech lingo

“When talking with your CMO, be careful not to clutter the dialogue with industry-speak and jargon,” Mohammad says. Instead, use the lexicon of business. “To help reinforce this, I focus on approaching each conversation as a business leader first, and a technology leader second. By taking the time to think about how technology affects the larger business strategy, I’m able to more clearly illustrate the connection between what my teams are doing and CarMax’s marketing efforts.”

3. Bust those silos

“When the IT and marketing teams are isolated, they don’t have visibility into each other’s work processes.”

Silos are the biggest impediment to cross-department collaboration. “A lot of organizational swim lanes and responsibilities are holdovers from a different information landscape,” says Freire. “Companies are quick to change sales and marketing even operational strategies to meet customer needs, but very slow to do the same to meet employees’ needs. When the IT and marketing teams are isolated, they don’t have visibility into each other’s work processes and often don’t understand why decisions are being made.”

A team-based approach is the best way to improve this relationship and empower both teams to ensure digital synergies. At insurance company New York Life, that looks like agile, self-directed, and cross-functional execution teams of technologists and marketing experts, says Dave Castellani, the company’s senior vice president and business information officer.

At CarMax, it’s all about interdepartmental collaboration and co-location. “A marketing person could be sitting directly next to a technology associate,” Mohammad says. “Working in close proximity supports natural conversation and chatter. By talking to each other more, we’re building a stronger bridge to better business.”

4. Liaise early and often

Freire suggests creating a team of tech liaisons assigned to each business function, with one charged with attending marketing’s planning and strategy meetings. These liaisons can gather intelligence for the IT team, not only on how the marketing team functions but also why they want or need requested capabilities.

“This is a proactive approach, rather than waiting for a moment of conflict.”

“This is a proactive approach, rather than waiting for a moment of conflict,” Freire says. “ By creating a system of trust and understanding, you can develop a positive working relationship. When both teams understand why the other is asking for a specific tool, they can work together to find the best solution, rather than reverting to ‘no’.”

5. Challenge assumed benefits

While “no” should not be the default answer to marketing requests, “yes” shouldn’t be, either. IT brings real value to marketing by helping to guide its technology choices. “Be a voice to challenge assumptions about a project’s effectiveness, not just an order taker,” Castellani advises.

6. Get out of the office

Get to know who your marketing leader is beyond the scope of work. Try a non-working lunch or get together after hours. “Take the time to talk about family, friends, hobbies, and interests beyond the office,” Mohammad suggests. “Creating a strong personal bond helps fuel a more successful professional relationship.”

[ Are you leading through change? Get our eBook: “The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change,” featuring advice from 20+ IT practitioners, industry leaders, and technologists.]

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.