CMO-CIO alignment has hit the “trending” phase as Marketing organizations invest in technology to improve customer experience, increase customer value and drive revenue. This “alignment” effort makes for good headlines; however, the reality is there is not much aligning happening. Why? The alignment effort is set up to fail in today’s fast-paced, customer-driven business environment. Alignment – in the pundits’ world ‒ translates to a comprehensive attempt to bring key facets of each department onto the same page and working together harmoniously on tech-driven initiatives. My view is the customer-focused, revenue-generating mandate for marketing is enormous and marketing is evolving way too fast to wait for these execs – who speak completely different languages ‒ to focus on comprehensive alignment.
For some context before diving into what I believe is a better alternative – based on successes and scars experienced while building my career at the intersection of IT and marketing – let’s frame the present and future of marketing and tech.
With marketers expected to spend huge dollars on tech (insert hyperbole marketing tech stat here) to transform their antiquated, manual operations and catch up with their customers’ always-on expectations, I get the idea of wanting CMOs and CIOs to align and work together. However, let’s learn from the past and then use our telescope to look out to the fast-arriving future of marketing and the tech required to get there.
The CMO of today is like the CIO of the late 90s. IT, with CIOs at the helm, was the strategic lever to apply technology to transform businesses, automate and digitize processes, and provide operational data.This required technology, new ways of thinking and new skills. Sound familiar CMOs? The mantra in this past operational era was CIO-CFO alignment. Over the past 15 to 20 years, many departments have been automated using technology, including IT, manufacturing, finance, sales and even HR organizations. This did not happen because of alignment (although CFOs and CIOs naturally became more familiar). The lesson here is the winners were the companies with CIOs who took the “bull by the horns,” didn’t wait for alignment, attacked the opportunity head-on, and thought differently to create new, better ways of doing things.
Fast forward to 2015, it’s marketing’s turn in the spotlight. The biggest difference in this marketing-first phase of business is that the marketing technology revolution has the customer as the driver, NOT internal operations and improvement (most IT group’s core competency). This requires an updated playbook with a much more agile and growth hacking approach.
So, if CMO-CIO alignment is not the best path, what can CMOs do to capitalize on tech to deliver new levels of customer experience, predictable revenue and business ROI?
Know When and What to Focus on With IT
Many IT organizations today are set up as primarily infrastructure providers with support services for internal ops and/or they provide technology around their company’s core business. For example, manufacturers may have advanced knowledge in logistics technology or an online retailer’s IT groups may be masters at ecommerce. Rarely, do IT groups have deep knowledge in marketing process or customer behaviors (unless marketing is your business). Today, an increasing part of marketing and customer technology is delivered via apps and in the cloud, making it easier (not easy) to adapt and integrate. IT’s most typical purview is infrastructure and implementation; if that is needed, tap into this knowledge.
Stop Aligning, Start Doing
Do NOT try to create a partnership and strategy, first. By the time you focus on CMO-CIO alignment, hold meetings, and schedule off-sites, months have gone by and no tangible work has been done to get on the path to automation required to create customer value. Pick a marketing tech initiative where it is so blatantly obvious there is a winning hand, marketing is driving, and where tech infrastructure is required. By diving into a simple, straightforward initiative, CMOs can figure out work styles, strengths, weaknesses, what process work, etc. and better define marketing and, as needed, IT’s role in this process.
Hire and Developed Tech-Minded Marketers
Another successful tactic is hiring a marketing technologist. This person can work with marketing peers, business stakeholders and, when needed, liaise with the IT group to tap into IT’s talents, manage MarTech providers, work with IT procurement for purchasing, and lead marketing tech implementation.
Depending on company scope and focus, hiring a single marketing technologist on your team may not be enough. And, an imperative is for CMOs to create an active learning culture where understanding how to utilize technology, such as marketing automation and analytics systems, is part of marketing’s mindset. It’s expected and embraced. I am not stressing the bits and bytes of code, necessarily. Rather, an understanding of how to plan, buy, implement technology and maintain technology vendors and initiatives.
Impactful Marketing Tech Must Go Way Beyond the CMO-CIO
The “real” work gets done at different levels of the organization, not always the C-suite. In times of disruption, companies require more change management, new thinking and a sense of urgency driven by your customers. Likely, this happens with managers and hands-on pros in the trenches experiencing and observing firsthand what is needed. They feel the pain. This means creating a culture where Marketing pros work together on identifying and applying technology, using unifying tools like a MarTech blueprint, a MarTech manifesto that creates vision and goals, and a MarTech plan that drives how, when and where to invest in technology.
None of these efforts, outlined above, shields today’s CMO from knowing how to buy and apply technology. And, alignment between any two executive groups is not inherently bad. However, trying to invest time in CMO-CIO alignment won’t meet the immediate expectations of executives, shareholders and, most importantly, customers. My advice – get over alignment. Marketing execs take the reins, and get to the business of automating marketing. Your customers (and stakeholders) will thank you.
About the Author: Scott Vaughan is CMO of Integrate, a cloud-based, closed-loop marketing software provider. Scott leads the company’s go-to-market and marketing strategy focused on serving its growing customer base of marketers. Scott’s experience and passion is focused on unlocking the potential of marketing, media and technology to drive business and customer value. Connect with Scott on Twitter via @ScottAVaughan or on Linkedin.