10 tips for achieving CMO-CIO alignment

CMO has collated a raft of marketing, IT, analyst and expert insights and come up with a list of 10 things you can do to foster better relations with your IT counterpart

All signs point to the need for marketing and IT leaders to work better together. Yet finding the way to interact effectively still proves to be a significant challenge for many organisations globally.

In fact, the Evolved CMO in 2014 report by Forrester and Heidrick and Struggles round 62 per cent of CMOs surveyed globally believe the CIO is a strategic partner in meeting corporate goals, yet less than one-third partner with their IT counterpart when procuring marketing technology. And only 41 per cent claim to share a common vision with the CIO.

CMO has collated a raft of insights from industry experts, analysts, CMOs and CIOs on the best ways to achieve a more collaborative, constructive relationship between what have historically been two distinct and disparate silos within organisations. Here’s our top 10 list of things that should help.

1. Agree on shared objectives

Aligning KPIs across marketing and IT functions is vital if the two sides are going to work towards the same outcome for the business. For Forrester VP and principal analyst, Shar VanBoskirk, these should be based around customer-oriented objectives, such as customer experience.

“For most companies to date, the two functions are not goaled on the same things,” she pointed out. “IT traditionally has been very focused on internal statistics such as cost, systems uptime or internal productivity applications, for example.

“If the enterprise is shifting to more customer-focused outcomes, then IT has to be gauged on supporting these objectives. That then gives them an ability to respond to marketing tasks over some internal productivity asks.

“For example for IT, it’s less about how cheaply you get things done, and more about how quickly you can respond to a dynamic requirement from marketing. How are you enabling the improvement of customer relationships, rather than how you help employees get more done on applications you built for them internally?”

Akamai director of marketing for Asia-Pacific and Japan, Frederick Moraillon, advocates using revenue as a shared metric and objective between marketing and IT leaders.

“From there, the pair need to collaborate on what activity leads to that revenue generation, then prioritise these as crucial, secondary or nice-to have,” he said.

2. Job swap

Putting on your colleague’s shoes and getting to know their priorities, challenges and position within the business is another invaluable practice to adopt, VanBoskirk continues.

“Some companies do job share, where marketers are put in IT on purpose for six months, or a quarter, to help them speak the language and get to know their colleagues,” she said. “It’s harder to have an antagonistic relationship with someone you sat next to for six months, even if you don’t speak the same language organically.”

More widely, allowing IT teams to be out on the field with marketing and sales staff, sharing voice of the customer data, or sitting inside branches with a direct line to the customer, are other ways to help foster a better understanding of the demands and needs of the other side.

3. Set rules of engagement

As more marketing functions invest in technology capabilities to transform digital properties and customer engagement, it’s vital that there is clear accountability and ownership around all pieces of the project.

Deakin University executive director of marketing, Trisca Scott-Branagan, found out first-hand why clarity is essential around job functions to achieve constructive collaboration with her CIO.

“When we were looking at a business case for marketing automation, we asked IT what role they’d like to play. They didn’t really know, so they asked us to fit them in when we needed to,” she said. “So we did and thought we were doing the right thing. But when it came to signing off the document to procure the solution, suddenly IT said we hadn’t done this or that.

“People in IT didn’t understand their role because they’d never had marketing driving and owning something like this, so they didn’t know it was their place to step up when it came to certain things to do with technology, risk and compliance.”

Scott-Branagan’s vision now is to work closely with IT to build in guiding principles around the roles and responsibilities.

“We come to the table and say ‘the role of marketing is to define what solution is going to suit our needs and project manage the implementation. IT, your role is to help make sure the technical, compliance and risk requirements are met,” she said. “We need to respect the wisdom IT has gained, and to respect some of the policies and procedures we sometimes what to leapfrog over.”

At Australian Museum, operational structures have also been introduced to ensure better engagement and accountability across teams, head of digital, ICT and online, Andrew Wong, said.

“If you don’t put the necessary structures in place, you are relying on the individual personalities of the people in those positions and that may not work,” he said. “By having that structure in place where my position is responsible for these digital areas, you make that an essential part of the role, as opposed to an optional one that people may take responsibility for or not.”

4. Get IT involved earlier in your planning

Tip number three leads very closely to tip number four, which is that IT isn’t just a function to bring in once the marketing team has made up its mind on which marketing automation platform they should adopt, or which data sets can be manipulated.

“Marketers have to get to a point where they don’t just ‘end run’ the IT organisation by skipping immediately to an outsourced option, but at least communicate with their technology resources,” VanBoskirk said. “It’s in their best interests to leverage what’s available internally first.”

5. Find a common language

IT and marketing have their own distinct “speak” and sets of acronyms. Just ask HCF’s CMO Jenny Williams: Explaining why the insurance company needed to acquire a ‘CMS’ (content management system) became confusing when she realised the acronym was also being used to describe a completely different management system.

Requirement specifications are another related issue, Williams said. “A requirement spec to a technologist versus a business person is completely different,” she said.

VanBoskirk agreed the different language the two functions speak means both “almost need a glossary” to understands one another. This language barrier needs to be addressed if CIOs and CMOs are going to understand one another.

“There’s just a fundamental lack of familiarity with the primary operations each group is responsible for,” she claimed. “It is marketing’s responsibility to create some better collaboration with IT. Many marketers have just skipped over IT and gone to an agency or vendor because they think IT won’t get it.

“Marketers owe it to themselves and their enterprise to have better conversations with IT.”

For Moraillon, finding a common language comes back to the metrics the two sides adopt. “They can talk the same language – both can talk financial language,” he said.

Talking in terms of customer journeys and experiences can also help by uniting projects around a more common customer-oriented language.

Up Next: 5 more ways to improve your relationship with IT

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