Like Peanut Butter and Jelly: the New CMO and CIO Relationship

Marketing and IT are often at odds and their efforts don't always align. With a symbiotic relationship intact, the benefits that this partnership brings to the table are worth the effort.

Throughout life, we are constantly reminded that everyone we encounter is different. Just as no two snowflakes are alike, no two humans are identical-even if their DNA says otherwise. But, as we grow in age and in wisdom, we also recognize that we will inevitably have to cross the divide that marks our individuality and bridge the gap in an effort to move forward and enable progress in whatever way necessary. For CMOs and CIOs, this need to set aside differences and collaborate has never been more prevalent and paramount than it is today.

Traditionally seen as being at odds with one another, these marketing and technology leaders hold much of the power that drives an organization forward. CMOs justifiably focus on matters regarding sales, market share, brand positioning, and churn, while CIOs gear their efforts toward operational efficiency and implementing and leveraging new technology. However, while CIOs like to plan ahead, CMOs are commonly noted as spontaneous individuals who must act upon budding market trends as they arise or else miss the window of opportunity-a widespread source of tension. IT may seek structure and discipline, but marketers must cater to the customers' emerging needs, which continue to evolve daily.

Laura Ward, vice president of operations and technology at Revana, highlights that each leader, as well as their respective teams, occupy entirely different mindsets. While information and intelligence specialists are typically seen as introverted and technologically inclined, marketers have earned their reputation as outgoing, creative workers. But, as technology's role throughout the enterprise continues to gather momentum, marketers must learn how to incorporate and embrace these new channels. Conversely, IT must begin to develop an understanding of the demands facing marketers each day. If these two groups refuse to come together, duplicate IT roles and conflicting goals will find these teams in an unpleasant, sticky situation.

"Marketers need to be incredibly agile in their response to the market, the demands of the customers, and in the adoption of the best technology to support all of the channels available," says Adele Sweetwood, vice president of marketing and at SAS. "IT needs to be agile in their development efforts and in their own adoption of technology. And both have to focus on innovation and what is possible."

Debbie Qaqish, principal and chief strategy officer at The Pedowitz Group notes that the coming together of these departments requires two people to sit down and have a discussion. Both must come to the table with the desire to improve the business, willingly blending these two worlds to impact the bottom line, or else risk putting the company at a distinct competitive disadvantage. The CMO and CIO must speak the same language and put the customer at the center of their focus if they are to collectively move forward.

"Often, the CMO and CIO are talking two different languages and working against two different timeframes," says Kevin Cochrane, CMO at OpenText. "What these two share are new expectations for growth and innovation, new technologies, and new ways of using that technology. Start with a position of respect. These two people, and their reports, should spend time together getting to know one another, each other's language, and the challenges each faces. We need a kind of couple's therapy here: Begin by listening to each other's concerns without worrying about who's right. They're both right and the only way to fix it is to work together."

Because these departments come from different educational and experiential backgrounds, they're accustomed to being measured by different performance indicators, thus clashing when it comes to their overall motivations and objectives. Together, marketing and IT should move away from metrics that focus solely upon cost and transition to measurables that emphasize success and progress in the area of customer service and satisfaction. Though no two scenarios or data sets are alike, CMOs and CIOs across the board should look to align their focus when pursuing the same goals. Most understand that their role plays an essential part in the future of their companies, but they must open their eyes to the fact that their organizations' successes also depend upon the achievements of their fellow departments. Deep down, at the heart of all areas within the enterprise, lives the customer, and therein lies the key to cultivating and maintaining the collaborative relationship necessary to generate results.

Individually operated budgets are yet another factor that contributes to the divide. Both marketing and IT are viewed as cost centers and as a result, are conscious about maintaining their individual budgets. Larry Bowden, vice president of Web experience software at IBM, notes that instead, both departments need to realign their focus, working together to generate revenue collectively. They must look upon their respective budgets as a shared opportunity to embark upon joint customer-centric initiatives that will garner greater support among the C-suite and across the entire organization.

For instance, earlier this year, Skittles announced its decision to change its green pieces from lime to green apple. To explain this transition, the company launched a timely website detailing the switch. Though simple and straightforward, this Web page highlighted all the necessary information, satisfying the customers' hunger for details. This move also displays the brand's marketing and IT departments' ability to quickly come together and produce a relevant marketing piece that appeases both the consumer's tendency to look to the Internet for answers and the opportunity to entice and retain customers that may be questioning their loyalty.

Ward emphasizes that, without customers, no company would be able to stay afloat, but they must be able to keep up with customers constantly changing tide. IT needs to be adaptable to marketing's rapidly changing customer engagement initiatives, while marketing needs to become tech savvy, not leaving every project for IT, for today's route to market depends upon technology and remaining in tune with how buyers want to buy. For both objectives to become reality, marketers must educate IT, and vice versa, in order to keep the teams on the same page. Often times, CMOs who don't get what they need from IT may attempt to build the technology themselves, which often results in increased silos. Without system integration, these independent technological endeavors often lead to increased costs, and cause the company to miss out on huge market opportunities.

Ideally, both teams will come to look at one another as a single entity dedicated to seizing and leveraging the opportunities each has to offer. "Focus on what the alignment makes possible, not on all the problems it creates," suggests Stacey Haefele, CEO at HNW. "Both CMOs and CIOs love the art of the possible. It's a much better place to start to build a common vision than fixating on what doesn't work today. Build a relationship on creativity and possibility, and it makes all the other hard work so much easier to bear."

By establishing a more holistic customer experience, marketing and IT would bring improved customer profitability and overall business performance to the enterprise. Understanding customers' needs, desires, and propensity to spend are essential when designing ways to deliver the service and quality for which customers are willing to pay. Plus, by addressing the customer experience at every touchpoint, both departments are increasingly motivated to work together and collaborate in order to further their new mutual goal of enhanced customer satisfaction.