by Minda Zetlin

6 Ways CIOs Can Make Peace with CMOs

Jun 08, 201213 mins

There's a natural tension between IT and marketing. But these days the CIO and CMO need to collaborate and focus on what's best for the customer.

It seemed so straightforward. The marketers at Genworth Financial Wealth Management wanted to launch a new project and hired an outside consultant to help. Three months into the contract, the consultant requested some data about Genworth’s project plans. But when Genworth’s marketers twice tried to upload the data, nothing happened. So they called the company’s tech support for help–the first time they’d alerted IT to what they’d considered a pure marketing project.

It turned out the consultancy was trying to use a cloud-based tool for collaboration. And Genworth’s security controls automatically blocked any such upload to the public cloud. The failed transfers merely meant that the block was working correctly.

“It was the kind of thing that could have led to a screaming match between the CIO and the CMO,” says John Murray, CIO of Genworth Financial Wealth Management, a unit of the Fortune 500 parent company Genworth Financial.

Except for one thing: This CIO-CMO pair have an unusually strong and trusting relationship.

“I have empathy for what drives her business,” Murray says of Myra Rothfeld, the unit’s CMO. “And she has empathy that if we get hacked, no one is going to call the CMO.”

That empathy came into play when Murray found out about the attempted upload. “How could they know that the brand-name vendor they chose was going to use a cloud-based project management system?” he asks. “It wasn’t their fault.”

So when his staff told him about the situation and added that they planned to deny the request for the upload, Murray insisted that they respond with more than a simple “no.” Instead, he and his IT staff looked for alternative ways to help marketing achieve its business goal. “Do we allow them to VPN into our environment? Do we set up a SharePoint connection for them?”

Perhaps as important as finding an alternate solution was the style of communication, he says. “We didn’t say: ‘You can never do this, so just go away.’ They have schedules and deliverables, and if you throw a monkey wrench into their gears and force them to stop and negotiate with IT for a week, they aren’t going to like that. It helps if you go into the conversation knowing that, and say something like, ‘I’m very sorry to do this to you, but you can’t do this. Here’s how we can work together to try to solve this. And by the way, when you’re picking vendors in the future, we can get involved early in the process to make sure you don’t have this problem again.'”

Thanks to this approach, the incident only served to strengthen the partnership between marketing and IT at Genworth Financial Wealth Management. And indeed, IT is now invited to assess vendors before marketing commits to them. “Sometimes it’s a deep assessment, sometimes it’s very quick because the project won’t touch our technology,” Rothfeld says. “But I do think it’s critical, even though it’s an added step. Because I don’t think it’s possible for anyone on the business side to understand what technology a new project will affect.”

Natural Conflict

Given their respective roles, it’s easy to see why CIOs and CMOs come into conflict. “If you think about a CIO’s job holistically, they have some things on their plate that are not on the CMO’s plate, and the CMO has some things not on the CIO’s plate,” Murray says. “I have to worry about risk management. For some CIOs, any year in which nothing happens is a win, so any change brings risk. Meantime, CMOs are in a perpetual state of dating, trying constantly to keep the customer interested.”

The result is that each has a completely different attitude toward risk. From a purely IT perspective, risk is best avoided whenever possible, but that kind of thinking can hobble a company. “You have to understand that having a growing business means it’s going to undergo some amount of dynamic change,” Murray says.

Part of the problem is that traditional IT compensation schemes reward risk-averse behavior, such as meeting minimum uptime metrics, says Frank Cutitta, CEO of the Center for Global Branding and a research associate for the CSC Leading Edge Forum, an IT think tank. There is no incentive to try something new.

The result: “Marketing sees IT as the land of slow and no. And IT sees marketing as unguided missiles,” says Cutitta. He spent six months interviewing CIOs and CMOs about their relationships in a project commissioned by the forum.

A second issue is that marketing and IT have completely different concepts of time. Most IT departments say they use agile development methodologies, and both functions agree on the need for speed to market. They just don’t agree on how fast that is.

“IT would be doing things in a way that seemed very agile to them,” Cutitta says. “But marketing didn’t feel that IT was agile at all, as they defined it. It was lethargic, from their point of view.”

Most of the CIOs and CMOs Cutitta interviewed think relations between CIOs and CMOs are not getting any better. “Our initial findings are that about 40 percent of the CIOs and CMOs we interviewed feel there is a marked improvement in the relationship,” Cutitta says. “About 40 percent say it’s the same, and about 20 percent say it has deteriorated as marketing set up shadow IT organizations.”

And, he says, in companies where relations were seen as improving, it was often due to a big change at the top of the organization. “Improvement occurred with the appointment of C-level management that wanted to install a culture of technology in the enterprise,” he says.

Even without a change at the top, though, there are several things that smart CIOs and CMOs can do to bring their departments into harmony. Here’s a look at some of them:

1. Rally ‘Round the Customer

One way IT and marketing can quickly get on the same page is if both focus their attention on customers. “Realize that the CIO and his or her team is an extension of the marketing team, and they’re enabling marketing to better serve customers,” says Glen Hartman, global managing director of digital consulting at Accenture. “Taking customers from awareness to conversion to sales to loyalty–which marketing typically focuses on–needs to be just as important to the CIO as it is to the CMO.”

For many IT departments, this means rethinking who their customers are. “When tech people say ‘customer,’ they often mean internal customers, and therein lies the problem,” Cutitta says.

But in some companies, IT is already learning to focus on the customer, while marketing is becoming increasingly steeped in technology. With the growing focus on digital marketing, and more recently on data analysis, marketing today requires solid technical and analytic skills. As a result, an increasing number of IT employees are finding that their career paths lead them into marketing departments.

“There’s a domain convergence going on between marketing and technology,” Murray notes. “It’s not that uncommon these days to see someone who’s a senior product person and has a computer science degree. Twenty years ago, that would have been unusual.”

2. Take Joint Responsibility

Having a CIO and CMO able to work well together is essential for Digi-Key, which sells a wide array of electronic components. Very wide: the company offers more than 2.15 million different items. It used to sell them via a catalog that was more than 2,300 pages thick, but a few years back it wisely chose to move to an e-commerce model instead. Today, the company has 81 websites in 10 languages, “and growing,” according to CMO Tony Harris.

Harris, who arrived at the company about five and a half years ago, knew he needed a solid technological partner–what he calls “a corporate soul mate”–to make this transition. He helped recruit John Collins to be the company’s CIO.

Collins and Harris not only talk several times a day but are so completely on the same page that they literally finish each other’s sentences. “You can’t have a single perspective on how to develop and deploy e-commerce websites,” Harris says. “One thing that can happen in some companies is that you design it based on IT’s concept, they build it, and it doesn’t look anything like what we wanted. But IT says if they did it our way it wouldn’t be compliant and the functionality wouldn’t work…”

“…and the battle rages from there,” Collins says. “Instead, we ask ourselves: What’s the ultimate result we want for our customers?”

“We work hard to beat customers’ expectations and have a consistent user experience,” Harris continues. “I have customer interface studies, and guess who is part of those studies? IT. Even if we’re just looking at it from the customer’s side, IT is in the room.”

And in the trenches. “We do have cross-functional teams,” Collins says. “But Tony and I also sat down with all the team members from marketing and IT and said, ‘Here’s where we want to go and we’re going to hold all of you jointly responsible and accountable for the products that are delivered.’ Everybody has skin in the game.”

Harris says it’s more than just collaboration. “We take a different spin: It’s ownership, at every level. There’s no way to cut and run. Everyone has fingerprints on it, and everyone’s responsible.” (To figure out whether your collaboration is working well, see “How to Tell if You’ve Got a Good Relationship With Marketing.”)

3. Share Your Team Members

Cross-functional work teams, rotating team members through positions in the marketing department, and embedding them in marketing are all effective ways to strengthen the marketing-IT partnership. But so is simply attending each other’s meetings.

“What happens is people tend to say things about another department–until that department is in the room,” says David Cooperstein, a Forrester Research analyst. “So that mere act of having someone in the meeting already tempered a lot of bad behavior and misconceptions about what each department does.”

It can also help to dedicate one or more IT team members to meeting the marketing department’s needs. “One thing we’ve seen as a best practice is handing over staff to the marketing team, whose responsibility is to deliver marketing projects,” Cooperstein says. That should be their only responsibility, he adds, so that when marketing needs them they won’t be focused on getting SAP running or making sure the phones are working. “It has to be someone who is fast and agile and willing to make changes on the fly.”

And some truly forward-thinking companies are creating independent groups where team members from IT and marketing can work together on specific projects. These teams go by different names, such as collaborative innovation centers, Cutitta says. Such innovation centers can dramatically improve the IT-marketing partnership by removing the pressures and distractions of the employees’ usual workday. “They’re designed to break the IT-marketing collaboration all the way out of office politics,” he says.

4. Help Each Other With Hiring

At Genworth Financial Wealth Management, part of building a tight partnership between the people in IT and the people in marketing is giving each group a vote about who those people are. “There has to be mutual respect, starting from the top,” CIO Murray says. “It’s explicit and intentional and not accidental. When I interview senior people, they all interview with marketing before we hire them. And when they hire a product person, he or she interviews with my team. We can say something like, ‘This person isn’t technically savvy enough,’ or, ‘Our stipulation for buy-in is that you make him or her understand how we work.'”

This ensures that IT and marketing have shared responsibility for personnel decisions. “You can’t go to the marketing department and say, ‘I hate that product manager,’ because you were involved in getting that person hired,” Murray says.

5. Find Ways to Give Up Control

This recommendation may seem counterintuitive. After all, one of IT’s biggest motivators for working more closely with marketing is the desire to reduce or eliminate rogue IT, in which marketing departments simply purchase outside services–often cloud-based–rather than waiting for IT staff to meet their needs. (See “Why Marketing Goes Rogue.”)

But one of the most effective ways to retain overall control of your company’s technology is to give up that control whenever you don’t need it. At Digi-Key, Harris needed a way to rapidly add new content and new products to the company’s many websites. So Collins took an unorthodox approach: He divided Digi-Key’s websites into two completely separate entities. One is the product marketing pages; the other is the transactional pages where a product is searched for and priced, payment and shipping info is entered and purchases are made.

Then his IT team created a robust content-management system and gave complete control over the product marketing pages to Harris and his marketing team.

“Maybe a lot of CIOs wouldn’t want to give up that control,” Collins says. “That’s a lot of the key to our success. We never have turf issues.”

There are no governance, compliance or regulatory problems, he adds, because of the complete separation between the product sites and the transactional sites. “There is no private information on those sites, and the transactional sites are under IT control. They’re highly secured and [payment-card industry]-compliant. And no one from marketing has a need to be in that environment.”

6. Celebrate Together

“When you are enabling marketers through data and technology, it’s a good idea to have the CIO and the CMO take credit together for certain kinds of wins,” Accenture’s Hartman says. “It doesn’t have to be just an effective marketing campaign. It can be a cost [reduction]. Maybe the company has 15 different brands running 15 different products with different security issues. Consolidating all that would be a big win.”

Such celebrations are an important feature of working in marketing or IT at Digi-Key. “Our mantra is: ‘Do great work, do brave work, and have fun!'” Harris says. Digi-Key is the market leader in many product areas, he adds, and the only way to maintain that position is to take risks.

“To do great work, you’ve got to be brave,” he says. “We celebrate our wins–proud of them, too. Any major project that comes through, you better believe the IT and marketing teams are sitting somewhere not far from the office having dinner and cake and ice cream. We celebrate every single win together.”

That kind of bonding is all-important, Murray says. “Then you have enough in the karma bank to get you through the tough times.”

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer based in New York.