Would Your CMO Have a Beer With Your CTO?

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

Besides sharing the word “chief” in their title, CTOs and CMOs rarely have much in common. For starters, CTOs spend most of their time worrying about downtime and building infrastructure, while CMOs are lost in a sea of customer acquisition, campaign strategy and branding best practices. For years, the former kept to themselves, while marketing did its own thing. The two seldom crossed paths, that is, until marketing became more dependent on technology. Now, this unlikely pair is finding themselves at a crossroads struggling to find a way to execute successful strategies.

In the following Q&A, Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp.’s Aaron Stibel, senior vice president and chief technology officer, and Judy Hackett, senior vice president, chief marketing officer, discuss how a strong culture of collaboration has allowed them to overcome some of the common hurdles the two positions typically face when trying to work together—and why no one should ever underestimate the power of a ping pong break.

QUESTION: What has led to this new wave of collaboration between the CMO and CTO?

Aaron Stibel
Aaron Stibel

STIBEL: The answer is twofold. First, it’s simply a matter of maturation. Twenty years ago, there was a divide between the CTO and, well, everyone. While executives understood they could reap efficiencies from technology, most didn’t “get it.” Today, it’s a different story as most business leaders understand technology—dare I say it—better than CTOs did 20 years ago. So, today’s CMO is more technically savvy than ever before. The second reason is the shift to digital. While traditional advertising isn’t dead, there’s a dramatic shift toward digital (for example, search engine marketing), which demands a technical CMO.

Judy Hackett

HACKETT: Marketers have evolved tremendously; they’re no longer one-dimensional. When I started in marketing, it was all about the brand, whereas, today, it’s all about the delivery of profitable growth. And Aaron is right; now that marketing has gone digital, CMOs are dependent on technology to help model, manage, track and report the effectiveness of marketing and sales programs. I wouldn’t make it without our data team’s and CTO’s support. Whether it’s to grow revenue, optimize a funnel or reduce churn, the CMO and CTO have to be aligned.

Q: A recent Accenture study found that only one in 10 marketing and technology executives feel that collaboration is at the right level. Why do you think technology and marketing are so disconnected?
HACKETT: I think it comes down to whether there is a mutual respect for what each individual brings to the table. I’ve worked with CTOs in the past that don’t understand what marketing does and frankly don’t want to. They want to get their piece done, turn it over and move on to the next project. CMOs aren’t innocent either. They have been known to bypass the CTO completely and pull in technologies without any consideration for technology standards. I think that, first and foremost, there needs to be a level of respect. For example, Aaron is a conceptual thinker and problem solver so when brainstorming on new products, he will sometimes chime in on how to position the product, which some marketers might see as overstepping his boundaries. But, he always prefaces his statements with “I’m not a marketer but….” I respect that—and more than respect his ideas, I value them.

STIBEL: I’m lucky to have absolutely no clue how to answer this question, as our collaboration here is very good. I can speculate as to why marketing and technology are so disconnected. More often than not, it’s an “us versus them” problem. I agree with Judy that trust and respect are important. Those 90% of marketing and technology executives who feel their teams need better collaboration are wrong. You don’t need better communication between your teams; executives need to understand you are the same team.

I often say that technology and marketing is one department here. Our teams work closely together, even sharing physical space for projects. When projects succeed, we celebrate together and, more importantly, when they fail, we move on together. In our five years, I can’t think of a single finger-pointing event between technology and marketing.

Q: Both CMOs and CTOs are often reluctant to take charge fearing that they will overstep their boundaries. How can trust be built?
HACKETT: It’s a lot simpler than it seems. Sit down at the table and find out the passions of the other individual, what they enjoy most about their job and what motivates them. In other words, get to know each other on a deeper level. You may find that just getting those answers starts to build a foundation of trust.

STIBEL: Understand the union of responsibility and where the CTO and CMO responsibility overlaps. For example, marketing automation, lead analytics, and product … whatever the responsibility is, own it together, plan together and lead together.

Q: Aaron recently said in a roundtable discussion that one of the things he likes to ask himself about a potential candidate is “Would I want to have a beer with this guy or this woman?” Why is that level of comfort important in terms of the CMO/CTO relationship? How can it help the two executives work together more strategically?
STIBEL: As a CTO, you can either take the safe route—keep the lights on, respond to requests, go to bed, wake up and repeat—or you can be business-driven and take risks. We like to take risks. We never stay awake at night worrying about a server going down; I let Amazon handle that. We spend more cycles on new products and top-line efforts, which I couldn’t do without a great culture of collaboration and support. Our executive team has worked tirelessly at creating a culture where risk and failure are not just accepted, but demanded. I am lucky to have a CMO who allows me that flexibility. She welcomes it rather than being threatened by it, and helps without being dismissive. At the end of the day, if you can’t trust your fellow executives to the point of laughing off your failures over a few drinks, you’re never going to feel comfortable taking risks.

HACKETT: As marketing becomes increasingly technology-dependent, CMOs and CTOs will have to work together—it’s inevitable. For some companies getting technology and marketing to agree on much of anything is like pulling teeth. This is unfortunate because great collaboration can spark great innovation. With Aaron, it doesn’t feel like “work” to collaborate because we’re not only a team, we’re also friends. My team knows that I’m going to lean on him and vice versa. There are no battles over turf; I genuinely believe he has the best interests of marketing at heart. And, in the end, we share the same goals: make our salespeople successful, produce awesome products for our customers, and grow our business.

Q: What are some actionable steps CMOs and CTOs can take to help bridge the gap and create alignment?
HACKETT: It all goes back to respect and trust. Put egos aside and ask each other how can I help you succeed? As marketers, we need to position and pitch our needs/wants in a way that the CTO can appreciate.  Create the business case and back it up. For example, if shopping out-of-house, offer your team up to do some of the heavy lifting. Also, make it a fun environment. At our office, we have hack weeks, a week where the technology team splits into groups, partners with other departments, and works on projects of their choosing to compete for a prize.

STIBEL: I agree with Judy. But it really depends on the reason why. If you are threatened by your CMOs involvement in your territory, quit, get a director of engineering gig; you’re not a CTO. If it’s an “us versus them” problem—which it tends to often be—it could be a culture thing. What works here is the one team culture. Make sure that even in early stages of projects, people from all teams are involved. Build a product roadmap together, which can help align both technology and marketing for the year. Review the roadmap together as a team so the adjustments can be made and both parties can hear and understand why there may be delays or change to the plan.

Q: What are some of the benefits companies can gain from CMO-CTO alignment?
STIBEL: The largest benefit is that both teams—marketing and technology—will be aligned. When technologists understand product strategy and marketers understand the build process, the two teams can work in much more harmony, making sure product and digital initiatives get out the door much faster.

HACKETT: A happy CEO for one and a more favorable work environment. You can’t expect your marketing and technology teams to value collaboration and respect when their CMO and CTO are at odds. And just as Aaron alluded to above; collaborative and respectful leadership at the top generally trickles down to middle management and employees.


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