Can tech and marketing ever work together? Four ways to build vital bridges

CIOs and CMOs need to work together: here's how to start creating better relationships.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
tug of war

For an organisation to succeed, there's no room for petty fighting between marketing and tech.

Image: Przemyslaw Koch, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Long gone are the days when the CIO alone was responsible for buying technology in a business. Just as likely now is that the marketing chiefs will be expected to procure and use digital tools to build brands and boost customer experiences.

So how can CIOs and CMOs create a mutually beneficial relationships? ZDNet speaks to the experts.

Find common ground to help the business grow

CIO consultant Andrew Abboud recognises that technology chiefs and CMOs can have a fraught relationship, especially in an age when both executives are fighting for investment.

Analyst Gartner's latest figures show that marketing chiefs spend 27 percent of their budget on technology -- equal to 3.24 percent of overall company revenue -- compared with CIO technology spend of 3.4 percent of company revenue.

However, change in the balance of spending power does not mean the CMO and CIO relationship must become more one-sided. Abboud says both executives have their strengths and should work in close harmony to help the business meet its aims.

"The best CMOs lean on CIOs," he says, arguing that IT leaders have great experience when it comes to implementing and then managing successful technology projects. "Success is ultimately about strong working relationships across the C-suite. Those partnerships are based on mutual respect and shared objectives."

Abboud refers to a project during his recently completed role as CIO at Laureate Education, where he worked alongside the firm's sales director to implement Salesforce CRM technology. "I made it clear from the very start that this was his project. We trusted each other and he was a great sponsor. He liked being challenged," says Abboud.

Understand the increased blurring of executive responsibility

Sarah Speake is an experienced CMO who has held senior marketing positions at ITV and Google, and she believes the role of the modern marketeer is inexorably linked to technology. "In such circumstances, the CMO's partnership with the CIO becomes the most important internal relationship to develop and foster," says Speake.

She says both parties must work hard to create a strong bond and that interesting approaches abound. Speake says there are now more examples of CMOs actively recruiting IT talent to their departments. The reverse is true, too -- she knows of CIOs who are searching for marketing experts, particularly if these professionals possess solid data and analytics experience.

Such skill trading, says Speake, can help create a complementary relationship where businesses are better placed to execute digitally. "The more we understand one another's worlds, frustrations, opportunities, and challenges via this approach, then we create more transparency and shared successes become attainable," she says.

CMOs, says Speake, need the data from automated systems to glean insights for the creation of better customer experiences. And CIOs need these customer insights to enable smarter investment in services and platforms, irrespective of the budget owner: increasingly, responsibilities are beginning to blur.

"Could we see a future where the CMO responsibility is centred around being a chief matchmaking officer of systems and suppliers to craft solutions, and the CIO function is centred around being a chief insight officer? For now, let's ensure we stay solid bedfellows who understand one another's language," says Speake.

Do not get distracted by smaller details

Mark Settle, CIO at Okta, has held seven IT leadership positions in a variety of sectors, including roles at Visa and Corporate Express. He refers to one position, where the business was moving from a traditional IT setup, with systems maintained on premise by the technology team, and towards a form of on-demand procurement.

"Marketing was one of the first departments to make a really aggressive move towards cloud-based tools," says Settle. "That move meant that as an IT department we had to establish fairly rigorous procedures. We used a 20-question checklist, where marketing folks who looked to buy IT as a service had to ensure that certain criteria were fulfilled, such as disaster recovery and certification."

Settle says that approach added a layer of complexity, but also helped to weed out requests that were inefficient and inappropriate. "We were at an early stage of the cloud journey as a business and we were hyper-sensitive to an uncontrolled application being used in the company," he says.

Now, the technology purchasing approach has moved on again and CIOs must deal with decentralised procurement. "In a technology company, you have a lot of spokespeople who have an opinion on the systems and services you use," says Settle.

"CMOs can help in all firms be helping to keep employees on message. It's crucial not to get distracted from the main event by less important decisions. CIOs should work with CMOs to ensure that IT purchases below a certainly threshold are allowed automatically, so long as important rules around security and governance are adhered to."

Focus on all c-suite executive partnerships

Dave Smoley, CIO at AstraZeneca, estimates 25 of his 30 years in business have been spent in tech, with almost 20 years as a senior IT leader across a broad range of sectors and firms. He has also spent time in sales and marketing. Smoley joined Astra Zeneca in April 2013 -- and says strong c-suite relationships are crucial, particularly when it comes to the CMO.

"It's an important part of the CIO role," he says. "You need to nurture and maintain that relationship. Historically, and maybe less these days, CIOs worry about whether they fit in structurally, and whether they get enough time and attention."

The good news is that Smoley has found a good fit at AstraZeneca. The close relationship works across all levels of the c-suite, including to the very top. "I'm lucky that our CEO is a very tech-savvy individual. I have a close working relationship with the boss, where we meet one-on-one to talk about technology ideas and key trends," he says.

"I don't report to the CEO and instead report to the chief operating officer. But I am part of the CEO's executive staff and my IT organisation is set up so that every person on the c-suite has one of my direct reports as a client relationship manager. As an internal account manager, they support the executive with their strategic priorities."

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