CMOs vs CIOs: Why can’t we be friends?

It can be subtle, but I’m seeing competition escalate between CMOs and CIOs. These executives have had a complete rewrite of their jobs in recent years, and as marketing becomes more of a technology game and IT becomes more consumerised, the two camps sometimes battle for both authority and budget.

Some CIO-CMO pairs see these authority and budget issues as a zero-sum game.

The truth is, CMOs and CIOs have the potential to grow the pie–really grow it–but only if they stop worrying about who is going to “win.” Of course, they first need to get over a few hurdles before they can hold hands, sing Kumbaya, and take over the world.

CIOs and CMOs speak different languages and work on different timetables. But the two also share the fundamental business challenges of delivering growth and innovation, as well as high levels of customer satisfaction. They need to remind themselves that they are on the same team.

I’ve been a CMO for several technology companies over the years. We are expected to create compelling customer experiences, be fast and responsive, stay on top of every new channel and technology, automate our CRM and sales cycle, and have perfect metrics and insight into what’s working and what isn’t.

We’re being held to much tougher key performance indicator (KPI) targets. Everything that can be measured is, along with some of what can’t really be measured. CMOs are increasingly uncomfortable leaving technology decisions up to CIOs–whose evaluation criteria may not be the same.

Meanwhile, the CIO’s job has completely shifted in the past few years. CIOs used to be the ultimate technology decider. There was no cloud or bring-your-own device (BYOD); there was custom enterprise software that tended to be inflexible and hard to use.

CIOs now have a very different agenda: to create an information infrastructure that is responsive–agile and highly capable so that it reduces the distance between need and execution.

It needs to meet modern users’ expectations for usability and functionality, and modern executives’ time frames. CIOs also have to ensure that legal considerations of governance, compliance, security, and privacy are maintained.

>See also: IT and marketing work together but disagree on roles – study

CIOs are working hard to ensure employees have the tools they want and need to be effective. It is not easy to meet both consumer expectations and enterprise needs.

Strategic CIOs are exploring the leading edge of technology and driving innovation that supports automation, analytics, and interoperability across the enterprise and myriad channels, including mobile and social. They are tearing down IT silos caused by legacy systems and updating infrastructures to meet modern constructs.

Just as CIOs have been forced to become more customer-experience savvy, CMOs must step up their tech prowess. But this is something CIOs and CMOs must do together. Working together, several great things can happen. First, innovation happens at the edges.

When two masters of their own disciplines are in intense discussion–the CMO bringing market insight and opportunities and the CIO bringing tech insight and opportunities–that’s where the big “aha” moment comes from. That’s when the big growth opportunities show up.

So how do you put an end to the zero-sum game? Histories and bad blood can make it tough. Aside from rough past IT experiences, CMO colleagues have told me they feel CIOs look down on their role as one that requires less expertise. And I’ve heard CIOs accuse CMOs of taking too many risks, blinded by short-term goals.

The bottom line is, CMOs and CIOs must be able to work together to merge market vision and technology opportunity to deliver innovation and growth. Once they recognise they need each other, they can find that sweet spot exponentially faster.

The first step is to synch goals. Get respective teams together to define a shared set of expectations. KPIs for each discipline must relate to one another and most certainly make sense together. If CIOs are concerned only about projects completed and uptime, and CMOs are concerned only about leads, then they are going to have a hard time working together.

Time frames should align. Budgets should be viewed as a shared opportunity that is aligned with those KPIs. And–perhaps most powerful of all–CMOs and CIOs should team on new initiatives, bringing them to their CEOs and boards as joint proposals. In doing so, they will gain maximum support and acceptance from the rest of the C-suite.

Disruption in both marketing and IT has been relentless. But as CMOs race to be transformational by building a responsive experience, and CIOs aim to be more strategic by building a responsive enterprise, the two can and should be each other’s greatest allies.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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