CMTO University teaches marketers about tech (and vice versa)

The title ‘chief marketing technology officer’ itself defines the challenge of the position. CMTOs come from either the technology side or marketing side and often don’t have a firm grasp of the other discipline. That's where CMTO University comes in.

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There's a new breed of tech buyer working inside marketing departments and influencing purchasing decisions in the hottest enterprise tech market today. This buyer balances the needs of intuition-driven marketers with data-driven technology, speed with due diligence, vendors' lofty promises with technology realities.

And this buyer, often called the chief marketing technology officer (CMTO), is struggling.

sheldon monteiro

CTO Sheldon Monteiro created at CMTO University within SapientNitro.

The reason is that the CMTO comes from either the technology or marketing ranks and doesn't have a firm grasp of the other discipline. The position is so new that formal channels of higher education, such as colleges and professional training institutes, haven't gotten around to creating CMTO programs.

[Slideshow: The 6 faces of chief marketing technologists]

Enter SapientNitro, a marketing consultancy and technical services provider and division of Sapient Corp. Last year, CTO Sheldon Monteiro created at CMTO University within SapientNitro. The program is designed to tap internal expertise, industry experts and educational providers. The inaugural class of 13 SapientNitro technologists spent a year of intensive study, which included weekend work and global travel. This year's class has 20 students with backgrounds in technology. All had to go through a rigorous admissions process.

cmto welcome CMTO University

(Click for larger image.) talked with Monteiro about his ground-breaking CMTO University. How did the CMTO University start?

Monteiro: We saw a tremendous amount of dialogue about the need to have professionals sitting at the marketing-technology intersection. While there was a lot of tongue wagging about the need for this role -- and, frankly, a lot of recruitment -- there was slim pickings. It's a very new discipline. There aren't academic programs from universities really addressing this space. People who jumped into this space were essentially motivated because they found themselves having to wrap up their own skills.

In January this year, Gartner analyst Laura McLellan observed that 81 percent of organizations now have the equivalent of a chief marketing technologist. Companies are actually standing up this function. I asked Laura, 'How many of these are actually successful?' She said, 'Maybe a quarter of them are successful, while the rest are struggling in some way.'

I think they're struggling due to a lack of preparedness of the talent itself, because as I said the role didn't exist. The convergence of story and technology is something that all organizations have realized they need to do, and so they're putting people in these roles -- prepared or not. This is a shame. We could be grooming this talent, because we have all the domains in-house to teach the core content. And so we stood up a program. A SapientNitro study found that CMTOs come from all sorts of backgrounds. How do you go about crafting a program?

Monteiro: People can come at it from different career backgrounds. Depending on your background, you need to level up on different topics. This isn't a case of majoring in one area and minoring in another. To be fully able to bridge the gap between technology and story, you need to feel like a native in both. You cannot be uncomfortable in a conversation that goes across the two sides.

cmto photo2 CMTO University

Members of CMTO University. (Click for larger image.)

You need preparation that really matches your background, your gaps. CMTO University focuses on taking technologists who've already had a number of successes with customer-facing technology of significant scale. There's a very rigorous admissions process where we're looking for stellar on-the-job performance, client references, and internal sponsorship. Can you describe the CMTO University program?

Monteiro: From a curriculum standpoint, it focuses on three broad categories. One is the breadth of marketing and advertising from a business standpoint. This starts all the way from real marketing fundamentals and marketing history to branding schools of thought to advertising and advertising history to different kinds of media marketing, mixed modeling. A whole slew of topics. Second area of focus is marketing technology. There are roughly 31 topics ranging from enterprise architecture to putting together marketing technology blueprints to Internet of Things to physical computing.

Perhaps the most transformational one for people is the influence-communication (category), and where we work on their attitude and disposition, really driving them towards fearlessness. We focus on storytelling skills and speaking to different audiences, so they're able to walk into the CMO's office or the CIO's office and present to them.

Let me be really specific on this: If you come from an IT background, you have been beaten into submission that you are to reduce risk and do things in a manner that leverages experiences from the past. CIOs always ask the question, 'Where have you done this before? How can I be sure it will be delivered when you say?'

These are very important questions, but the reality is that it means you're going to do what everybody else has already done. In a marketing context, you're trying to create differentiation. You're trying to innovate. You're trying to break boundaries for the benefit of your brand and your customers. You still need to value reuse, but you also need to value intuition. You need to connect those two worlds. Graduates are able to push new kinds of thinking and working in the course of their work with clients, influencing a broader set of stakeholders, connecting the dots of creating new ideas and convincing others to take risks. Is this an online studies course?

Monteiro: No. We use a combination of different techniques. We have four in-person intensives, which are four to five days long depending on the intensive. We hold these in different cities around the globe, bringing the full batch of students. There are group projects, weekly assignments and discussions through an online collaboration tool, semi-weekly virtual classroom sessions held over the weekend, and presentations.

During the first interim, the period between the first and second intensives, we have a core technology presentation. This is where each of the students must pick a technology, which fits within the curriculum and is not familiar to them, and use their storytelling skills that we imparted during the first intensive to really tell the story of this technology. Then we provide active feedback.

We culminate the program with a conference, which will happen at the end of July in Delhi, India. Each of our students will present on their marketing technology topic (similar to a thesis) to a 300-plus audience consisting of peers, recruits, media. It's essentially exercising the skills acquired during the course of the program. Chief marketing technologists are in hot demand, good ones anyway. Are you worried they're going to leave upon graduation?

Monteiro: It's a good question. We invest over seven figures in this program annually. We put 15 to 20 of our people through it. At the end of the day, you have to have an employee value proposition where people want to work for you. Not training them to really be the best they can possibly be is kind of short-sighted. Of course, this always remains a risk just as it remains a risk with any one of our crazy, talented folks that we have within the agency.

There's this (business parable) floating around the Interwebs: A CFO asks the CEO, 'What happens if we train these people, and they leave?" The CEO retorts, "What happens if we don't train them, and they stay?'

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