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Author's profile photo Johann Wrede

The CIO-CMO Relationship: Practical Tips from Executives

ASUG-Panel.png“We meet every Tuesday.”  It’s what David Palmer, VP of Marketing and Customer Relationship at Raley’s Family of Fine Stores said when I asked him about his working relationship with Mike O’Dell, their CIO.  Both of whom were sitting on stage with me before a group of 50 executives attending the recent ASUG Executive Exchange event in Palo Alto, California.  We were also joined by Ven Bontha, VP of Customer Engagement at CEMEX, and Anthony Bosco, CIO at Day and Zimmermann, and we were just kicking off our panel discussion on the challenges facing IT and marketing leaders as they work to engage their customers.

After more than an hour of dialog among the panel and the audience, some great takeaways had emerged.

Speak the same language.

CPC or API?  SDK or SEO?  Every discipline has its own language – acronyms, abbreviations, catch-phrases – that streamline our communications with peers.  They also cause a lot of confusion when used with people who don’t understand them.  Agree early to speak in simple, common language that facilitates a clear understanding of what is needed.  It sounds obvious, but a lot of people forget about it.

Have a business conversation.

This one is directed at you IT leaders.  Resist the urge to have a technicalconversation.  Understand the business objectives first.  Are we trying to increase the number of customers?  Grow the average transaction size?  Re-brand part of the business?  Dig in.  Ask questions.  Hold off on the “how we can do it” until you really understand “why we need to do it”.  This will not only drive up your credibility, but help you hit the mark with the right solution.

Talk often.

During the panel session, I polled the audience and it seemed like most of the people in the room had regular meetings between IT and marketing leadership either once per quarter, or once per month – but the consensus on the panel was that this isn’t frequent enough.  Business simply moves too fast.  Short, weekly meetings ensure that issues are discussed early and changes in plans are communicated quickly, ensuring better outcomes.

Have shared goals and measures.

Nothing will create discord faster than two organizations with different goals, so it’s never too early to make sure that success is defined in the same way for both organizations.  And, while you’re at it, agree on a set of metrics that everyone – including the rest of the executive team, and even the board – will use to measure success.

Create composite teams, or at least a “ride along” program.

If your IT people don’t understand how a marketing program works, it’s almost impossible for them to find innovative ways to help accelerate the program team’s efforts.  Changing that is, however, surprisingly easy.  Day and Zimmermann embeds IT people in key business teams allows them to understand the processes and challenges at a deep and detailed level, facilitating better decision making and ultimately better results.  If composite teams won’t fly in your organization, the consensus on the panel was that IT people should at least shadow their business counterparts for a few weeks so that they can get a first-hand look at how the business operates.

Pick up the pace.

Builders don’t check with CEMEX when they upgrade their browsers.  Shoppers with smartphones expect Raley’s to have an app.  Customers expect you to continue to support and engage them seamlessly, even when they adopt a new channel, mobile device, or other technology.  The challenge in the enterprise is that IT is not generally organized to operate at this pace, and that causes friction with business leaders who are trying to respond quickly to the changing demands of customers.  CIOs, CMOs, and other leaders need to agree to a model that delivers faster for the customer (perhaps with less functionality than envisioned in the first release), while not compromising information security or putting the enterprise at risk.

In the end, there is no “one size fits all” prescription for harmony between the CIO and the CMO.  It is a relationship like any other, and requires trust, constant communication, and compromise.  Each company will need to establish the right balance based on culture, personalities, and budgets – and sometimes big changes need to be made in order to create a relationship that can thrive.  What do you think?

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