5 Ways for a CMO to Forge a Powerful Partnership with the CIO

Marketing technology. The very term was an oxymoron just a couple of decades ago. There were creative people in the marketing department, and there were technical people in the IT department. And never the twain should meet.

As the digital revolution has continued to churn, the line between the creative and the technical has become ever blurrier. As Ben Rossi wrote in Information Age:

“Traditionally, the CIO has overseen technology spending and technical innovations, while companies have relied on the CMO for creative insight and never expected that role to make technology decisions. But increasingly, the CMO is expected to drive digital from both a creative and a technology perspective.”

Changing Dynamics

Just this week, I’ve received more than a dozen emails promoting this or that new piece of technology, each of which promises to supercharge my marketing automation, email marketing, customer relationship management, and more.

In the old days, the CMO’s only role in onboarding one of these tools would be to vet that the solution included the right features to fit the business needs. From there, he or she would turn it over to the CIO, whose team would engage directly with the vendor to negotiate the contract and deploy the new system.

With today’s cloud-based solutions, however, it’s possible for marketers to purchase and onboard a solution without so much as a consultation with IT — especially if the software is inexpensive and doesn’t integrate with anything else. But is this wise?

On the one hand, marketers can hit the ground running with new tech almost instantly, without starting at the bottom of the IT backlog and waiting to be added to a weekly sprint. On the other hand, we run the risk of making an unwise choice, overpaying for the software, and causing security issues that extend beyond the marketing department.

While the days of the CIO as the solitary gatekeeper of all new tech may be over, the IT team is still a powerful ally for marketers as we navigate a hyper-connected, automated, analytics-oriented, mobile, social new world. Here are five ways marketers can leverage the strengths of their IT counterparts.

1. Collaborate Daily
 A 2014 Accenture survey of CMOs and CIOs revealed two interesting statistics:

  • 69% of CMOs said they need to align and interact with IT on their strategic priorities — a 13-point jump from 2 years prior
  • 83% of CIOs say they need to align and interact with Marketing — a 6-point increase from 2012

Clearly, both parties see that collaboration is essential — and not just when there’s a new SaaS solution to deploy. It has to happen daily, if not hourly, depending on how the organization is structured.

At a company with a website that’s primarily a marketing vehicle, tech and dev teams might report in to the CMO. This makes daily collaboration easy and almost automatic. At other companies, the tech and web development resources could comprise a standalone business unit, headed by a CIO, that acts as a service provider to the marketing group. This is where communication can be challenging.

Given the growing interdependence of marketing and IT, cloud-based collaboration tools are one of the best ways to maintain a transparent relationship between the two teams. The right work-management solution provides a single place to prioritize, route and manage work — not to mention offering total visibility to both teams and the organization as a whole.

2. Seek the CIO’s Stamp of Approval
 While the CMO surely has a more intimate understanding of solutions that are built specifically for marketers, not to mention the particular needs of that marketing team, the CIO has a broader perspective on the tech scene as a whole.

When the need for a new tech tool arises, the CMO will naturally lead (or delegate) the initial search, and narrow down the options to a few finalists. This is a great time to invite the CIO to evaluate the solutions’ security features, price, and integration needs.

Especially for high-dollar investments, a case will eventually have to be made to the CEO and CFO. If you have the CIO’s stamp of approval already in hand before you ever approach the executive board, success is virtually guaranteed. Alternatively, if your CEO turns to the CIO to ask for an opinion after you’ve made your case, and the response is, “Marketing hasn’t said a word to us about this,” you might be in for a lengthier conversation.

3. Request Security Analyses

Most marketing solutions these days are cloud-based, which means they’re not 100% invulnerable, as you well know from the overblown press coverage that follows every security breach, no matter how isolated the event or how unlikely it is to recur. You may be fully confident that the cutting-edge security at most cloud-based data centers far surpasses anything in an on-premises server room — but you’re still not a security expert.

Your IT team is immersed in security issues all day long. Ask them to perform a security audit of every potential new solution, rather than simply taking the vendor’s word for it. Not only do you want an expert to sanction your choice, it’s also helpful to preserve the documentation of the audit, for protection in case of a security issue down the road (as improbable as that may be).

4. Get Help with Tech Contracts
 The typical CIO has been negotiating tech contracts for a decade or two at least — far more than the average marketer has encountered in his or her career. Why wouldn’t you want that expertise and experience on your side during your next software purchase? Sit back and watch the CIO get you the best possible purchase price for the features you desire.

5. Benefit from Expert In-House Training
 Once you have a new solution procured and installed, you have a couple of options. You could unleash your creatives, whether they’re technically gifted or not, and allow them to poke around inside the tool, figuring out how to use it by trial and error. Or you could recruit help from your IT team, whose experience navigating new systems is both broader and deeper. If they helped set up the solution in the first place, they’ll certainly have some tips that will shorten your learning curve.

A Powerful Partnership

According to the CMO/CIO study referenced earlier, 43% of marketers and 50% of IT leaders think their relationship had improved over the previous year. These are encouraging statistics, given how much each team’s ultimate success depends upon the other. But there’s still room to grow.

CMO-CIO alignment is not just a “nice to have” anymore. It’s essential to customer centricity. Marketing and IT leaders must partner up to leverage the strengths of both — the CMO’s creative vision and understanding of the customer plus the CIO’s expertise in information architecture and solution integrations — in order to achieve greater internal alignment and ultimately meet customer needs better.

This article was originally published on MarTech Advisor