How to build a better CIO-CMO relationship

Marketing and information technology are both critical to an organization's success. Here's important advice on how each department's top leaders can forge a strong partnership.

A CIO's job is rooted in technology and tied to facts. A CMO's job focuses on creating narratives and painting pictures in the minds of current and prospective customers. These two roles appear as different as two roles can be.

And yet, an effective CIO and CMO relationship is critical to the success of the company. The pandemic has created issues in the supply chain and disrupted the workplace, to name just two issues. Companies are scrambling to transform marketing, advertising and operations to meet changing customer expectations and new business realities. As part of this, creating complementary IT and marketing technology investments is critical. CIOs and CMOs working together effectively can be a benefit -- and in fact a strategic differentiator -- for a company embarking on a digital transformation.

Here's advice on how CIOs can take the lead in contributing to an effective partnership with their CMO.

Why CIOs need CMOs

People get into the IT field for a range of reasons. For many, the sheer love of technology is predominant. Many are inspired by getting their hands on a new tool and beginning that flight of creative fancy that starts with, "I wonder what I could do with this?"

What many in IT may not realize is the degree to which their career depends not just on that technological creativity, but on their ability to communicate creative thoughts meaningfully.

The effective use of business technology isn't just about seeing what new tools, organizations or processes can do. Instead, getting the most from technology requires framing those new tools, processes and organizations in the context of a broader narrative that tells a story of business value in a way that makes sense to non-technologists.

Fortunately, an entire discipline focuses on the problem of how to frame ideas in a broader narrative. It's called marketing. CMOs and their teams tend to be quite good at it. From that perspective, the CMO may be the CIO's new best friend.

Strategic marketing assistance

The CMO's team can provide to the CIO's team two levels of assists.

The effective use of business technology isn't just about seeing what new tools, organizations or processes can do.

The first is strategic: IT efforts are typically integral to an organization's success -- but nobody knows that. But there's a range of people who should know, from shareholders and boards of directors, to customers and prospective customers, to employees. The CIO should be regularly and actively engaging the CMO for assistance in "telling the story" of new technology investments. For example, they should share how the new HR system not only provided a good ROI and TCO, but made employees' lives easier and better.

Technology vendors are well aware of the value of having their technology leaders "tell the story." The deputy CIO of Zoom spends a considerable amount of time evangelizing about the company and its products -- and is highly effective at it. Spotify has a well-regarded series of videos about how its DevOps culture helps it succeed.

CIOs at non-technology companies -- or more accurately, at companies that produce products other than hardware, software and cloud services -- would do well to take a page from the technology CIO's playbook. CMOs and their teams can assist CIOs and their teams with developing a campaign to market a new technology implementation. They can ensure the campaign captures the appropriate attention of the desired constituencies, up to and including developing success metrics, so CIOs are able to assess how effective they're being.

Tactical marketing assistance

At a practical level, the marketing team has a lot to offer the IT team. The latter typically gives a lot of presentations as part of making business cases, showing strategic plans and raising overall digital fluency in the organization. CMOs have access to graphic artists, videographers, illustrators, sound engineers and the type of people who can turn a presentation from "ho-hum" to "spectacular." In this day and age of personal branding, creating a compelling and engaging persona is important, which marketing can help with.

If the CIO is not taking advantage of that in-house expertise, they're missing out. They can consider engaging marketing to help with any of the following:

  • Develop and promote their personal brands and those of their technology teams.
  • Improve important presentations for senior management and the board.
  • Develop campaigns to explain strategic initiatives to employees.
  • Engage with social media to tell technology success stories.
  • Visualize benefits of technology initiatives, including TCO and ROI.

Why CMOs need CIOs

Marketing teams are often early adopters -- and enthusiastic users -- of technology. Many even include shadow IT groups, which could lead to friction with the IT team, but it need not.

The CIO's team brings a systems-level view to solving challenges. If CIOs fully understand marketing's current requirements and future plans, they can deliver the right software and create faster and more scalable systems that have lower TCO. For example, that new graphics package might work more effectively on an edge computing device. And SD-WAN connectivity might make that interactive media application run more smoothly.

CIO plus CMO: Better together

Most companies have digital transformation initiatives underway. And because digital transformation requires innovative technology to enable key business processes, it makes sense for CIOs and CMOs to collaborate. Key areas in which IT and marketing can work together to deliver on digital transformation include the following:

  • prospect and customer engagement and retention;
  • digital media interaction;
  • selection and implementation of marketing platforms;
  • mobile app development;
  • IoT for various applications, from pop-up stores to product data capture;
  • metrics and selection and capture of KPIs;
  • finding the best ways to use AI and machine learning;
  • visualization and display; and
  • analytics and modeling.

How the CIO can engage effectively with the CMO

To start a useful dialogue with the CMO, a CIO should plan to focus on one or more of these three areas: how marketing can help the CIO's team, how IT can help marketing or how the two can work together to deliver digital marketing.

They can start by focusing on projects with tangible metrics or key performance indicators, such as revenue generation, customer retention and lead conversion rates. Position the engagement as a way to improve those metrics.

If the initial conversation goes well and leads to a project, plan for regular, scheduled discussions. The CIO can focus on the project and explore different areas of collaboration. They shouldn't forget to augment these formal discussions with informal ones, though. It's important for teams to engage and get to know each other in a less structured way. They can consider rotating staffers in "day in the life" exercises. For example, they can have IT staffers shadow marketing teams to see how and what they do, and vice versa. This often sparks ideas for future collaborations and projects.

In sum, developing a healthy relationship between CIOs and CMOs can generate benefits to both parties as well as to the enterprise as a whole.

Next Steps

The effect of digital transformation on the CIO job

Dig Deeper on Leadership and strategic planning

Cloud Computing
Mobile Computing
Data Center
and ESG