The CMO and CIO can drive success - if they play nicely!

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher October 25, 2021
The symbiotic relationship between CIO and CMO can - and should - be business positive. Here's how.


Marketing and IT are known to have competing agendas, but it doesn't have to be that way. Instead, the most successful companies often build a strong partnership between the CMO and the CIO. Eric Christopher, co-founder, and CEO of Zylo, a SaaS management platform, shared his perspective on the relationship between the CIO and CMO and why it's more important than ever for the two to work closely.

Evolving roles for both the CMO and CIO

Christopher believes that the CMO is acknowledged as the new Chief Technology Officer because they buy more technology than any other department. This has, he suggests, been true for a while, especially with the growth of marketing applications and SaaS software.

On the other hand, the CIO has traditionally dealt with fewer enterprise applications and is responsible primarily for running the IT department, budgets, and so on. For some companies, this setup remains the same, but with the growth of cloud-based software and SaaS applications, things have changed for the CIO.

Today, the CIO deals with a growing number of SaaS applications that include everything from productivity and task management tools to conferencing and event software and more. Christopher also pointed out that HR is quickly becoming one of the faster-growing sectors in SaaS, another area the CIO must support.

Although marketing controls its own budget and technology decisions, it doesn't do it in a bubble; there is a role IT and CIO plays.

A recent study from the CMO Council, Making Martech Pay Off: The Future of Martech Depends on CMO-CIO Relationships, supports the need for a strong CMO-CIO relationship.

The study of 200 marketing leaders across 12 industries found that about one-quarter considered their relationship with IT "very effective." This highly effective relationship has led to high-performing MarTech operations, including roles and responsibilities, decision-making structures, and metrics.

When the CMO and CIO work together to drive a collective technology strategy, a company is most successful. What does this mean, though, in terms of who does what? And what is a very effective relationship?

In short, it’s one where the CMO and the CIO work together to be more strategic, innovative, enterprise-aligned, and data-driven.

The CMO leads the charge

According to the CMO Council report, for the CEO, the "future rests on revenue growth fueled by digital marketing and delivered by a tech savvy workforce." So it's clear the pressure on the CMO to build a marketing operation that supports the business goals is higher than ever.

The way the CMO makes it happen is to have an over archiving strategy that spans more than one year and includes IT at the beginning. At least, this is what CMO's with a very effective relationship with IT do. They also drive more innovation and employ more innovative technology, all in support of creating the right customer experiences.

Equally important is that they work closely with the CIO on strategies that consider the security and privacy of that customer data.

In a recent interview with Global Dialogues, Shantanu Narayen, CEO of Adobe, said: 

Digital technology needs to be tailored to the right expectations. […] Every company thinking about their digital DNA has to pivot. They have to think about things from a consumer-centric perspective.

One area where CMOs can struggle is with reporting on the performance of their MarTech investments. However, those with a very effective CIO relationship do a good job on performance reporting across four or more metric categories, including system and service provider performance, market utilization and output, and financial and customer impact.

In addition, 80% of the very effective category also report on customer experience, omni-channel engagement, customer satisfaction, and share financial metrics such as revenue, ROI, and CLV (Customer Lifetime Value).

The CIO as the orchestrator

Christopher argues that regardless of who has the ultimate purchasing power, the CIO must be the orchestrator, understanding what tools each department uses, how they will support departments, ensuring the company and customer data is secure, and that there continues to be a way for departments to collaborate easily.

The CIO also needs to understand cross-departmental needs between applications. For example, if one department uses a productivity tool and another department that needs to work with them is also looking for a productivity tool, the CIO can recommend the same tool for better collaboration.

Christopher explains that product-led growth is another example where the IT department isn't in control of the purchase process. Free trials and freemium options empower employees in marketing and other departments to find applications that get the job done efficiently. What the CIO needs, he cautions, are processes and tools in place to allow this type of software acquisition to happen and ensure his group is providing guidance, putting governance practices in place, and performing distribution management:

The real issue is how to have the CIOs responsible for making sure all the departments have the tools that they need to provide the best experience. And now marketing needs to make sure they're working with the CIO to be able to support that; support themselves but also be a part of the ecosystem of applications across the business.

Yes, marketing has the purchasing power, but that doesn't mean they should ignore the CIO and the IT department when making purchasing decisions. Instead, the CIO continues to play a crucial role around security, governance, and support operations.

The CIO wants to support a distributed buying process. They understand that marketing knows the business context they are trying to solve for and the type and key requirements for the applications that will help. IT cannot be the expert of the applications, sys Christopher. Rather, they can monitor what applications are used in the company and share that central view of software with the departments. Then, when a new software need arises, it's easy to see what's available and supported already.

If there was any thought that the role of the CIO is lessoning now that marketing and other departments are taking on the purchasing and management of their own software, it would be wrong, said Christopher. He said that the CIO's role is no longer just to manage the IT department and IT spend, but the entire worker experience across the company.

The CMO and CIO working together

So how do the CMO and the CIO work together? Christopher offers two key conclusions. First, they need to agree on security guidelines for software to ensure the applications marketing purchases support required security obligations. Next, they must work together to manage costs. Even if it is the marketing department's budget, the CIO must help ensure the tools are being used to justify renewals and support costs.

The CMO Council report offers additional suggestions to help marketing, and IT get to a very effective relationship:

  • Adopt an equal partners relationship where both the CMO and CIO work together on strategy, selection, deployment, and technology management.
  • Create a multi-year plan and budget for technology investments (minimum of 18 months).
  • Define a broad set of metrics, including key customer metrics, and ensure everyone understands and interprets those metrics correctly.

My take

I agree that marketing and IT need to develop a partnership that ensures the best technology is in place and supported. It's true that marketing understands its strategy and what's required to achieve it. But I think it's easy to get caught up in all the new Martech that's out there and not always consider the implications of bringing in that new technology.

The CIO and IT group may not have a complete understanding of the customer experience and what marketing wants to do to support a good experience, but they understand the underlying implications of technology, particularly from a privacy, security, and integration standpoint. The right IT group also loves to try new technology and will dive in to help marketing implement and test it.

The combination of marketing and IT can bring both the innovation and pragmatism necessary for a successful customer experience – from a technology perspective.

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