CMOs and CIOs have more in common than you think

Jennifer Beck

Jennifer Beck is a vice-president and Gartner fellow. She serves digital marketing leaders, specialising in multichannel marketing across digital and offline channels and offers advice to CMOs and CEOs on how to competitively position their companies, create and manage their brands, enter the digital arena and maximise marketing and sales investments.

The conversation about CIOs and CMOs as partners is focused primarily on why these two executives can’t get along. But if you fundamentally believe IT and marketing need to work effectively together in more creative and collaborative ways, then continuing to harp on their differences just isn’t helpful.

There will be a spectrum of collaborative models for these two functions across different organisations that will hinge primarily on how aggressively digital the business wants to be, whether these two executives have lived in each other’s disciplines previously, and how well they know each other and share like views of the business.

So a better starting point to improve their working relationship is searching out the common ground. Interviews with both CIOs and CMOs have uncovered five aspects of their thinking and their areas of responsibility that actually suggest they may be more similar than you think.

1. Love their tech toys

This may seem really obvious, but they both LOVE their tech toys. And they feel this urgent need to show them to everyone. If you want to quickly facilitate an easy chat between these two executives, ask them any question about the latest technology or the 700,000 apps on an iPhone or their favourite website, and you’ll have plenty of time to get another cocktail before that conversation hits an uncomfortable lull.

2. Dependent on good technology decisions

They both rely on making significant and really smart decisions about technology to create value for the business. But it doesn’t stop there. They then become very dependent on a stable of providers to deliver on their promises. And that adds up to some serious exposure if things go wrong, but rarely deserved celebrations when things go right.

3. Target of Budget Cuts

They both suffer from indiscriminate budget cut-backs when the business goes soft. Even though these two executives together own decision rights for both keeping the lights on and growing the business – they are viewed as “discretionary expenses”. Crazy? Yes. But they’ve both sat around the big mahogany table during an operations review or waited for the memo to be handed down from the CFO about how their budgets will take a hit in the next belt-tightening.

4. Victims of experts

They both have huge virtual suggestion boxes hanging off their office doors. Everyone is a self-appointed expert in their fields. That’s never been truer than today. Everyone is a marketing expert because we’re all marketed to – and who doesn’t fancy themselves with sage advice on how IT should do things? We’re all either victims or beneficiaries of the services they provide.

5. Produce magical results

And finally, they are often equals at the leadership table and report to the CEO or one level down. However, CEOs expect they can produce magical results within their current constraints because they continue to do so. But neither can afford to let things break so things get fixed. Their charters are too critical to the minute to minute realities of running the business. They get creative. They figure it out. They try to do more with less even though that’s impossible. Yes, they compete for resources. Imagine if they combined resources and jointly funded projects of mutual value.

In the 30 years I’ve been advising and observing leadership teams, I’ve also often thought there is something a bit more Machiavellian going on here. It’s jealously. In my opinion, the CEO, CIO, and CMO are the triumvirate that is best positioned to think big and bold. These are the members of the leadership team who represent the leader part. Everyone else is part of the team that has to operationalise and support their ideas.

So I think it’s not true to say CMOs have the sexy job and CIOs – not so much. CIOs are sexy too. And everyone else is just jealous of both of you because today, technology and marketing rule.

Tags: Leadership strategies, digital marketing, CMO/CIO relationship

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