Six Tips For Forging A Strong CMO-CIO Partnership

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Much has been made of analyst predictions that chief marketing officers will soon outspend chief information officers on technology. Technically minded CMOs are already major buyers of marketing-related technology, and there’s lots of evidence that forward-thinking brands recognize the overlap in accountability and the need to sync the two roles.

Conventional wisdom says technology brands have the most to gain from merging marketing and technical roles — CIOs, after all, are selling to CIOs. And while it’s true, NetApp (data storage) and Sybase (business intelligence) are combining and cross-promoting CIOs and CMOs, less technical brands are experimenting as well. For example, Gaylord Entertainment (hospitality) and Baker Hughes (oilfield services) promoted an executive from CIO to CMO and created a “chief technology and marketing officer” title respectively.

Whether leading brands fully restructure or make small course-corrections, it’s clear CMOs and CIOs need to sync up. Here are six tips for creating a strong partnership:

1. Create a common language. Put focus on the bigger communication picture, not just on vernacular, but tone and pitch as well. Consider using Socratic method programs to facilitate attitudinal change. For example, be an active listener, playback facts and feelings and use “if” questions appropriately: “If we found a way to address [insert technical challenge here], is there anything else you need to move forward?”

2. Establish common incentives and goals. For example, if fast time-to-market is a critical requirement, incentivize the CIO (as well as the CMO) to achieve this goal. Likewise, if system uptime is a top priority, incentivize the CMO (as well as the CIO) to make it happen.

3. Measure success based on common metrics. Historically, CIO performance is measured with machine tolerance (for example, 99.999%). Humanize these metrics (within reason) and integrate yardsticks like “brand awareness” into performance measurement. The corollary is true for counterparts in marketing — make CMOs accountable for five nine operational efficiency.

4. Synchronize time frames. CIOs often follow multi-year roadmaps while CMOs tend to be more short-term oriented. Create incentives that upend these tendencies.

5. Share responsibility for both operating and capital budgets. Conflict and misalignment can result when the CMO oversees operating budgets while the CIO oversees capital budgets.

6. Normalize risk profiles. The CIO and CMO should have the same appetite for risk. When the CIO is naturally inclined (or incentivized) to be risk averse while the CMO is rewarded for taking reasonable risk — this can lead to conflict. Instead, create an environment where taking reasonable risk is rewarded evenly.

By adopting these organizational realignment strategies, the partnership and collective productivity of the CIO and CMO will improve, along with the perception of your company. Success in this area hinges on a strong partnership between these key stakeholders, and no matter who controls the biggest budget, CMO/CIO synchronization is the key to achieving the type of results necessary for success in today’s environment.