For years, a mutual sense of frustration and resentment has festered between marketing organizations and their IT counterparts. Their perceptions of one another are almost clichéd at this point: The IT leadership perceives marketers as mavericks who are drawn to bright, shiny objects and who have no regard for governance and risk management policies, while marketing department heads view their IT counterparts as lumbering technocrats who love nothing more than to say “no” to their every request. This struggle has played out in the battlefield of budget allocations and organizational purview. Thank goodness the world is changing.
In high-performance organizations, CMOs and CIOs are increasingly finding that working in alignment toward a common goal actually elevates the status of both parts of the business and leads to better, faster and more repeatable success. It’s not a process entirely without friction, but savvy leaders have demonstrated that a give-and-take approach is usually more productive than territorial passive aggression.
1. Rally Around Customer Service
So what are these successful executives doing differently that used to seem so difficult? For starters, they understand and acknowledge their respective department goals are to serve the end customer. Marketing’s role has always been customer-centric, but applying the same thinking in IT circles is relatively new. Netflix CIO Mike Kail put it in a CXOTalk interview earlier this year:
“IT’s charter should be to improve business efficiency and move the business forward rather than being [sic] trying to ‘protect employees’ or prohibit them from doing something.”
This is the same philosophy I’ve seen put into practice within highly effective QA organizations. Rather than acting as a gatekeeper to change or as a barrier to rapid innovation, the best QA leaders simply present facts about the health of systems and let business stakeholders make the launch call based on their own risk versus reward calculus. In other words, instead of being roadblocks, the best and brightest see opportunities to become enablers with every challenge.
2. Evaluate Performance against Shared business Objectives
Second, tightly-integrated IT and marketing groups are measured and rewarded based on their performance against shared business objectives such as growth of the top line, increased customer satisfaction and retention, higher conversions, increased content engagement, etc. The keys to enabling this alignment are business intelligence tools that provide each group with insights into customer journeys in the context of their respective domains. For example, an email campaign may underperform, and subsequent analysis might uncover poor segmentation, messaging, timing or frequency, or it might uncover a technical shortcoming in the tool set being used. The next iteration might begin with an A/B test to a sample population or a migration to a SaaS provider of email marketing tools instead of in-house tools. Regardless, without the analytical tools to drive transparent and better-informed joint decision-making, it’s easy to imagine the old finger-pointing blame game as a result of the failure. When that happens, can IT be surprised when marketing decides to bypass them and go rogue to outsource their platforms? Likewise, can marketers claim surprise when IT stops answering their phone calls because they have more important things to do than to support ill-conceived, poorly-planned campaigns?
3. Work Together to Accelerate Innovation
Third, with the progressive shift toward cloud-based platforms, CIOs are increasingly shedding the drudgery of maintaining core infrastructure in favor of accelerating innovation, with their arms locked with their marketing counterparts. This means IT can focus on bigger-picture initiatives: to help marketing generate revenue, to build next-generation mobile apps, to build a culture of high performance that attracts bright, young talent, etc.
As an interesting footnote, there has been some recent speculation in the industry that in a few short years, the CMO and CIO roles will overlap so much as to effectively render any distinction nonexistent. Analysts point to the fact that marketing budgets have already overtaken IT budgets (and are growing faster), and the fact that cutting-edge technology is playing an increasingly critical role within the marketing discipline as indicators of a functional merge. It’s too soon to say how (or if) this will play out, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that marketers are becoming more and more analytical, and IT departments are outsourcing more and more of their core platforms, enabling them to support marketing missions with things like connecting corporate data sources (like CRM records, sales data and even HR/performance data) to cloud-based BI tools.
Despite the traditional priorities valued by each group (stability, structure, security, standardization and efficiency in the case of IT, and agility, responsiveness, customer focus and brand integrity for marketers), CIOs and CMOs are finding that they have more in common than not. Ultimately, both must remain accountable to customers, their CEO, and shareholders. In an environment where customers enjoy ever more choices, both sides must acknowledge that they need each other to succeed and to move the business forward.