CMO Talks: 5 Ways to Befriend Your CIO

Posted on by David T Scott

CMOs are naturally very friendly and outgoing so we tend to have a lot of friends. No, really, it’s a known fact. The thing is, we can have all the friends we want, but are they the right ones?

Just like in our personal lives there are some relationships in the business world that are worth courting more than others – ones that “complete us” as business professionals. As CMOs we just might be overlooking the one person who, today, could be the most critical to our success—the chief information officer.

Yes, the CIO – the quiet yet insightful person who sits in the dark corners of the data center staring at lines of code and is good at fixing computers. Ten years ago we might not have thought so, but today this just might be the match made in heaven we’ve all been pining for. I’m not saying to show up at their office bearing flowers and chocolates. But now that technology and data are crucial components of business process, specifically marketing, this relationship is becoming more important now than ever before.

Much like the marketing agency did decades previously, internal IT departments over the past few years have taken on a prominent role in the success of marketing organizations. And rightfully so. As marketers in particular, with marketing automation, real-time bidding engines for display advertising and social media monitoring systems (not to mention the massive amounts of data these systems emit), we rely more and more on technology to be successful. And the dependency on the CIO and their IT department is only going to increase as technology and data continue to proliferate inside the marketing discipline.

And let’s face it.  Data – BIG DATA that is – has taken over the marketing department. Despite the excitement and hype around big data the past few years the quantity and quality of the data poses a big problem to marketers and companies as a whole. While there is a lot of great information being collected there is also a lot of terrible stuff finding its way into executive’s hands. And I’m a true believer of bad data equals bad decisions.

To make smarter decisions, we require more computing power and smart people to look at the data so we know exactly where to invest our precious marketing dollars. This is where a strong partnership with the CIO can help marketers decide on the right technology and methodology to collect the right data to make better business choices.

So, basically, if the CIO isn’t on your side, you won’t be able to (or simply can’t) correctly execute the initiatives you want and at the scale you need. Or worse, you won’t be able to do any of it at all. As a result you will be forced to hire outside firms to run your software and data programs, an expensive solution that will only dilute the value of your programs and perhaps your department as a whole.

When I was CMO of Intermec Technologies, the CIO, John Guevara, was my best friend. I respected his cautious and scientific approach to solving problems and he appreciated my well thought-out projects and measured expectations. Needless to say we had a long and productive relationship – we got a lot done and were very successful in our efforts, especially lead-generation initiatives.

George Thacker, the CMO of Gerber Life Insurance Company, is a perfect example. He’s worked hard, during his 11 years as CMO, to establish and maintain a strong working relationship with his CIO.

“As part of a data-driven organization, my relationship with our CIO is mission critical,” Thacker said. “Knowing that I have the right technology and best data at hand gives me the confidence to make better business decisions that are not only good for me and the marketing department but for the entire organization.”

Creating this powerful union wasn’t easy, though.

“I’ve worked for it,” Thacker added, “I make it a point to invest the time in this relationship.”

So, what made him successful in fostering this long-standing relationship? Below are five techniques he used to get the most out the relationship:

  • Seek to Understand. Make sure to understand the constraints and possibilities of a joint initiative before setting it in motion. Doing so will ease any IT concerns that you will stuff an unrealistic project down their throat with an impossible timeline.
  • Be Intentional. Clarity is your friend when it comes to working with IT. The people in this circle all have mathematical related degrees so they appreciate precision. When scoping a project out, be as detailed and specific as you can so both teams are on the same page when it comes time to kickoff a new project or initiative.
  • Understand Program Management. Knowing the CIO’s process – how IT gets stuff done – is invaluable. Not only will you appreciate the steps they go through and the work needed to accomplish a set of goals, you will know how best to work within the process to ensure your needs receive priority.
  • Be the Chicken. This doesn’t mean you should be afraid of the CIO or that you should channel your inner fowl. Actually, in the agile development methodology, there is a defined role in the process for “the chicken.” The chicken is a nontechnical member of the development team who provides insight into the requirements of a project but doesn’t have a vote in how the project gets completed. This person’s only job is to be helpful without hindering. Be like this. Be a chicken.
  • Defend Them in a Gunfight. In any company there is bound to be a shootout or two between departments or executives – it’s the nature of corporate life. There is no better way to show your allegiance to your new friend other than to have their back. Many times, the CIO is quiet and thoughtful, whereas we CMOs are more vocal and communicative. Stand up for your CIO when it matters most to them and they’ll have your back when the time comes.

There’s no question you should be friends with everyone on your executive team, but befriending your CIO is critical for the next generation CMO. With technology on our side, the modern day CMO is unstoppable.

David T. Scott has served as CMO and head of marketing for startups, Fortune 500 companies and billion-dollar organizations, including GE, AT & T Wireless, PeopleSoft, Foresee, and Intermec. He is the author of The New Rules Of Lead Generation.

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