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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6. Collaborate – a lot

Communication and collaboration, whether it be around digital initiatives, product development, back-end marketing technology rollouts or customer-fuelled innovation, is another must-have.

At Macquarie University, conversations around Web development and initiatives are constantly going on between IT and marketing.

“When there are projects, they have to be co-located, and from that cross-skilling starts to happen,” the university’s director of strategic planning and information, Neil Fraser, said. “When you have to deliver an edge or change, bringing that structure together is vital.”

HCF has done lots of business-wide workshops, involving its IT teams, as the business determines what it’s doing digitally and why, Williams said.

“Once IT understands what’s happening at the front line and the customer, and the decision relating to the back-end technology, it changes the meaning and helps IT think more creatively about what the solutions might be,” she said.

Creating a team responsible for the user layer between back-end systems and front-end services has been another step forward towards bridging the gap between internal capability and customer experience, Williams said. In addition, HCF has implemented a more structured approach, with frequent communications across stakeholders, and has a sponsor actively engaged at each stage of the transformation agenda.

At Sydney Opera House, the CIO and CMO have brought their teams together and introduced several new roles to build digital and data capabilities that will help drive a more customer-first focus. Another aid has been assigning a marketing representative to communicate with IT, director of marketing, Anna Reid, said.

7. Bridge the speed gap

The distinct differences between each side’s expected or desired speed to market is a major hurdle that has seen many a marketer circumvent IT and acquire specific technology capabilities to do their jobs. The problem is, such decisions can cause major security issues, create disparate data sets in the long-term, and leave you without a strategic approach to customer engagement and marketing.

“I have used technology without the approval of the IT team because I have disguised it as a service,” admitted Akamai’s Moraillon. “But the workaround won’t be integrated with my other systems so at the end of the day, the company loses because it’s one step behind. It’s good for meeting a need in Q1, but not long-term.

“Whether the marketer likes it or not, tech will either be an enabler or limiting factor in what they’re trying to do.”

The “degrees of definition” each side expects in procuring technology haven’t helped, Williams admitted.

“As marketers, we want everything fast as we’re trying to respond immediately to things,” she commented. “I’ve taken on-board the fact that some things do take time; the most important thing in developing the collaboration between marketing and IT is about figuring out how to give marketing the tools to be responsive within their own ecosystem.”

Defining an actual process for work to be done is a must. Rather than deciding on either a waterfall or agile approach, Williams said HCF has adopted a “wagile” way of working.

“But what really has to change to done anything with agility, is that the mindset has to change,” she added.

8. Work out where tech and staff resources should sit

Marketing automation, digitisation of customer engagement and connectivity and customer experience management are all raising questions about where resources and technology capabilities actually need to sit – physically and operationally - inside organisations in order to gain the most effectiveness.

The Australian Museum’s Wong said one solution is to have customer-led project ownership, such as CRM, sitting with line-of-business.

“I’m pushing hard back on the business because they’re the stakeholders and sponsors,” he said. “It would have been scary if we’d got technology in straight away and we were making decisions based on what fits our IT environment better, as opposed to what meets our business requirements.”

It is then IT’s responsibility to make sure the platform is scalable, flexible and allows the business to grow. “But it’s the business that are going to be using it,” Wong said. “We’ve suffered from looking internally too much, or looking for something that fits our internal process, as opposed to stepping into the shoes of our education audiences and trying to understand what are they trying to do here and will the system meet that need.”

At Citibank, meanwhile, a multi-channel technology management platform rollout to help the marketing and digital teams better recognise customers and personalise content through data insights and automation saw headcount shift from IT to marketing.

According to MD of marketing, digital banking and customer experience, Linda Duncombe, this was because there had previously been a duplication of effort between digital and technology as something said or prioritised by marketing got lost in translation.

“Our CIO had to be the person to say she’d forego that headcount and lose that control so it can sit somewhere else,” she said. “But it made sense – as they’re building something, those staff need to understand how that interfaces with the customer.”

The project also saw IT and marketing physically relocated to work side by side.

“Now there is a great camaraderie,” Duncombe said. “The digital team has an appreciation for just how complex it is to change something in code. They know they now need to understand what that means to someone in technology, and technology understands that if we want to go live, we need to have the right customer experience. That give-and-take is important.”

9. Hire a chief customer officer

Sometimes a third-party or executive who can cut across both functions is the best answer. For example, a quarter of IT and marketing respondents to a 2014 Accenture Interactive survey said the appointment of a ‘chief customer or experience officer’ was a priority for improving collaboration across IT and marketing functions in their organisations.

The Cutting Across the CMO-CIO Divide: Digital drives a new wave of collaboration report found core benefits from creating such as role included delivering better products and services, improving customer service, driving brand value, loyalty and advocacy, and increasing revenue growth and cost and performance transparency.

The position was described as potentially a board-level role that owned the customer, with responsibility for a combined team spanning customer-facing IT, marketing, product development, sales and customer service.

Chief digital officers are another conduit to collaboration, particularly when you’re also getting the rest of the organisation to buy into digital transformation.

10. Build good old-fashioned trust

At Tourism Australia, strong CMO-CIO collaboration has been “built on good old-fashioned trust”, its CIO, David Rumsey said. And that ultimately comes down to proving you’re good at what you do best.

“It’s about building trust and an understanding around the problems we need to solve,” he said. “With our previous CMO [Nick Baker], that came down to delivery around our ‘Best Jobs in the World’ campaign and proving either through a campaign that we could deliver a scalable solution and the functionality he demanded to deal with all the people entering our competition.

“Through that, we developed a great level of trust, he left tech to me, and we’d have joint conversations and steering committees. I was invited me to be involved right in the ideas and early stages, and even if I’m just listening, at least I’m there.”

With Tourism Australia’s new CMO, Lisa Ronson, Rumsey said he’s also worked to establish trust through one-on-one meetings, attending events together, jointly owning projects and discussing the changes in mindset and customer focus needed for success.

“We work really hard to say yes – no is the last resort – because we’re an enabler to the business,” he added. “That’s a key message so then when you talk to your marketing and digital friends, and they’re dreaming about things that may or may not be possible, or practical or impractical, there’s no IT there straight away saying not. That allows an open environment for discussion.”

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