Five Ways to Heal the Marketing-IT Rift

Want to know more about your customers? Want to improve marketing efficiency while reducing IT costs? Provide some marriage counseling for your CIO...
Martha HellerOctober 15, 2012

CFOs, I’ll bet you your company’s entire annual technology budget that your chief marketing officer and chief information officer are not getting along. 

Why would they?  Your CMO needs technology, data, tools, and solutions, and she wants them ASAP. Your CIO wants security, process, governance, and long lead times.  See the problem?

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And I’ll bet your CMO is so frustrated with your CIO’s inability (or unwillingness) to give her what she wants when she wants it that she’s doing an end run around the IT organization and buying technology solutions herself. In fact, Gartner recently predicted that by 2017 many marketing organizations will be spending more on technology than IT itself. That kind of uptick in technology spending outside IT is likely to spook the IT organization a bit, and if your CIO was already defensive about his value and his turf, he’s probably ready to blow his proverbial top.

This is not good for anyone.  In a recent IBM study, 60% of marketers said their poor relationship with the CIO was their company’s greatest barrier to capitalizing on new technologies in order reach customers.

You need your CMO and CIO to get along.  In fact, you want them to be best friends.  Your customers are buying an increasing percentage of your products over mobile phones.  They’re spending the rest of their time on Facebook.  Big Data holds out the promise of allowing you to market to your customers in ways you have never imagined, and data analytics are your guiding light.  In fact, marketing is becoming almost synonymous with technology, and if your CIO and CMO are at loggerheads, you’re leaving money on the table.

So what can a CFO do to get these two crazy kids to get along?

  1. Create a digital marketing group.  One sure way to end a turf war is to change the turf.  Establish a new digital marketing group that includes members of the IT and marketing organizations. The group’s sole mission should be to craft technology-enabled marketing strategies and road maps.  Members of this cross-functional group can work together to prioritize spending, select vendors, assess security issues, and plan implementations.  The group should be co-led by the CIO and CMO, or by an up-and-comer from each group.
  2. Appoint a business-relationship executive for marketing.  The monolithic “plan, deliver, run” IT organization that delivers all things IT to all departments has gone the way of the dinosaur.  Today, CIOs are appointing business-relationship executives to manage the partnership between IT and most major departments. Be sure your CIO is hiring a technologist who can be an effective member of the marketing organization.  When you walk into a marketing meeting, you shouldn’t be able to distinguish the IT person from anyone else on the marketing team. They’ll share the same goals; they’ll speak the same language. And if that works, establish a formal rotational program between IT and marketing.  Tech-savvy marketing people are incredibly important to your growth plans, but they do not grow on trees. You will need to grow your own.
  3. Get commodity tasks out of IT. If your CIO is still dragging his feet about delegating commodity tasks to managed-service providers, his troubles with the CMO (which you can point out) should finally make him see the light. When the IT organization spends all its time upgrading back-office systems and managing data centers, there’s no way it can have the focus, knowledge, or available resources to get really good at providing data analytics to marketing. There is a paradox involved in running sound in-house operations and being creative, innovative, and forward-looking.  Help your CIO manage this paradox by encouraging him to distinguish the context from the core, and hand the former over to someone else.
  4. Make sure there is only one customer.  When your marketing leaders think of their customer, they’re thinking about the people or institutions that respond to your sales and marketing efforts with dollars that go directly to your top line.  When your IT leaders think of their customer, they typically think of you, or the head of supply chain, or your company’s business-unit presidents.  For IT and marketing to form a partnership, they should share a common vision of the customer. Let’s be clear: your company’s business leaders may the CIO’s partners and stakeholders, but they’re not his customer.  Be sure your CIO changes that legacy concept of the customer to align with sales and marketing.
  5. Hire the right people.  When you’re hiring key marketing leaders, involve the CIO. And the same goes when you’re hiring key technologists: involve the CMO. The intersection between IT and marketing has never been more important and each should have a stake in the other’s key hires.

For most companies, everything is changing. Customers are behaving differently, and your ability to understand them and market to them has shifted dramatically. Unfortunately, a human response to all this change can be the defensiveness that inspires turf wars. With your company’s growth strategy on the line, you can’t allow that kind of behavior in your executive ranks. 

As CFO, it is time to put on your marriage-counselor hat and make sure your CIO and CMO are playing nice.

Martha Heller is president of Heller Search Associates, a CIO and senior IT executive recruiting firm, and a contributing editor to CIO magazine. Her new book, The CIO Paradox, has just been published. Follow Martha on twitter: @marthaheller.