Who's Your Buddy? CIOs and CMOs Forming Effective Alliances

CIOs who build a partnership with the CMO find that it can pay off both in and out of the boardroom. IT and marketing departments really have something worthwhile to share with each other.

Felix and Oscar. Dharma and Greg. The CIO and the CMO. Talk about your famous odd couples.

IT and marketing departments have traditionally had a relationship that is best described—speaking diplomatically—as strained. Both sides have long-standing stereotypes and personal beefs: CMOs are creative and rely on gut instinct; CIOs are geeky and love process. Marketers are forever changing project requirements and leaving IT out of the loop; IT is a project slowpoke and doesn't recognize marketing as a priority. At least nobody is calling the other a slob.

But those old notions are fading. IT and marketing leaders realize they share the goal of meeting customer needs and winning market share for the business, according to a recent report by Forrester Research, "Partnering for Success: The CIO-CMO Relationship". In fact, CIOs are starting to realize that they may have no better partner in the executive suite than the CMO.

"CIOs and CMOs need each other to fulfill the strategic priorities of the CEO," says Liz Brady, senior analyst for Forrester Research's Leadership Boards, and coauthor of the report with Cindy Commander, analyst for Forrester's Leadership Boards. "To do that, they need to understand each other."

Commander notes that CIOs and CMOs also face many of the same challenges. "Both feel the need to be more strategic, to get respect, and to show value and results to the organization," she says.

For the CIO, the first step to understanding marketing is to engage with the CMO. CIOs and CMOs with a significant impact on the business have first built a relationship between themselves and their departments, according to Forrester.

"Going it alone in the boardroom can be a bit scary," says Commander. "But when you can go in together, you have an ally."

Brady and Commander point out that there are several strategic reasons for the CIO to cozy up to marketing beyond CRM and revenue generation: Think office politics (partner with the CMO and you have a buddy in the boardroom), governance (work with marketing and you can keep an eye on new customer-facing technologies that might fly under IT's radar) and career trajectory (master marketing and you'll have a core competency you'll need to become COO or CEO).

Come Together

One company the Forrester researchers studied was Symantec, maker of antivirus and security software. IT and marketing were not always aligned in early 2006, when Symantec CIO David Thompson arrived. It was clear there was room for improvement in the relationship.

"IT was not initially meeting the needs of marketing and there was little relationship to speak of," says Janice Chaffin, then Symantec's CMO. Chaffin says IT was more focused on back-office systems than on front-office systems at the time. "There was a lack of an underlying IT infrastructure for marketing," she says.

Thompson's arrival changed that. He was surprised by the lack of attention and resources marketing received from IT. Thompson's style is to build IT's relationships across the business, so he quickly moved to engage with Chaffin (now group president of Symantec's Consumer Business unit).

"Janice had a sizable business challenge to resolve," says Thompson. "She saw IT as a strategic player in achieving that goal. So I reached out to her to build a strong relationship from day one."

Thompson started by scheduling one-on-one meetings with Chaffin to get to know her and the needs of the marketing department. "It takes commitment to reach out and to understand the business issues and then figure out what changes your organization can make to help them meet their goal," says Thompson.

In their meetings, the two leaders focused together on project selection and top priorities. They also worked to incorporate customer experience metrics into those projects for internal and external constituencies. "I spent my time prioritizing with Janet," says Thompson. He also created a marketing solution delivery team, whose leader regularly sits in on marketing meetings. This has helped both sides understand the other's needs and goals.

The result? Thompson and Chaffin aligned their teams and developed a process for collaboration on a variety of projects, including a major redesign of Symantec's website and the implementation of a tracking system for marketing campaigns using Salesforce.com.

The key to success, says Chaffin, is their relationship: "It's all about open, honest communication and building a partnership. With that foundation, we are able to flag issues and work together to address any problems."

But they were also able to do much more than that, adds Thompson. "Our partnership expanded into a dialogue around how to help each other to be successful," he says. For instance, he says, Chaffin and her team worked with his staff to help them understand how to better market IT to the rest of the organization. Chaffin notes Thompson and IT improved campaign tracking and enabled marketing "to function more like a science and produce a better result for the company."

For CIOs and CMOs who want to form their own more perfect union, Thompson and Chaffin offer the following tips:

  • Interact regularly on a personal level with your C-level colleague
  • Take time to understand the business challenges your partner faces
  • Develop an action plan to address those needs
  • Invite each other to your team's meetings
  • Dedicate staff to working together
  • Set the tone by presenting a unified front and not giving in to the stereotypes
  • Trust each other's expertise
  • Seek the advice of your partner to become a better leader and a better organization

In the end, says Thompson, "you both have to drive for success and hold each other accountable."

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