The Evolving Relationships of CIOs and CMOs

- 20th Jan 2017


CIOs and CMOs are famously referred to as an odd couple. The duo increasingly finds it difficult to understand each other’s perspective. However, given the different school of thoughts, backgrounds, and skill sets they accompany, it does not come as a surprise. But these internal differences can at times burgeon into severe disruptions, adversely impacting an enterprise and its end customers. This increasing drift can be detrimental to a brand’s image. So let’s understand the evolving roles of CIOs and CMOs in the light of pervading digitalization and analyze their different opinions to see why they should bridge the gap in the larger interest of the company and customers.

Digitization has brought in an unseen technological shift, blurring the line of responsibilities between CIOs and CMOs. A Forrester report on CMO-CIO collaboration found that “70 percent of marketers and 66 percent of tech management executives agree marketing technology plans will gain more support and funding if they’re developed jointly by the CMO and CIO.” Technology and marketing, the two core functionalities of an organization have to move beyond their distinctively individual boundaries and collaborate to emerge as customer experience leaders. However, delivering such an experience calls for a role reversal as well as role amalgamation where, together they propel each other to achieve the common objective of creating uninterrupted digital transformation and delivering unmatched customer experiences.

Organizations operate in highly competitive and dynamic environments with glaring challenges on all fronts be it technology, marketing, or customers. Digital transformation has brought in its share of risks which, if overlooked can lead to serious repercussions; from a complete breakdown of a network to serious security lapses to privacy concerns and to facing demanding digital age customers with diminishing brand loyalty and high expectations. The two leaders need to understand and acknowledge that they cannot realize the extent of their capabilities alone. According to the 2016 Annual State of the CIO report, almost half of the respondents said “the CMO-CIO relationship has become much or somewhat closer and more collaborative in the past three years.”

The evolving role of Chief Data Officers (CDOs) is in sync with this latest trend. 2017 will be the year that organizations with CDOs become the majority, according to Forrester’s customer insight article, “Predictions 2017: Artificial Intelligence Will Drive the Insights Revolution.” Although CDO appointments are steadily growing, “assigning executive data management to a CDO is a short-term response to support the mass movement toward digital transformation.” Firms will realize that they have to assign data responsibilities to CIOs, CMOs, and CEOs if their goal is to become insights-driven.

While CIOs are best-suited to understand and manage the entire digital shift coherently through seamless and enhanced Wi-Fi, user-friendly apps, complex analytics, burgeoning big data, integration, and scalability, CMOs have insights and instincts to connect with customers. CMOs play a crucial role in mapping the organization’s marketing initiatives to its profitability, data-driven decision making, branding, and positioning.

In their evolved roles, their respective areas often seem to overlap. With customer data assuming a critical and strategic importance and Big data growing in size, CMOs often have to interpret large volumes of data, real-time analytics, and other technical tools. In their evolved role from customer communications to managing customer experiences, it is imperative that they sharpen their technical expertise to be able to play a proactive role in understanding the customer expectations and requirements.

Similarly, CIOs are expected to play a crucial role in driving positive customer experience, participating in customer facing roles, and indulging in strategic activities such as analyzing market trends, designing marketing strategies, and driving innovation. CIOs are all set to play the role of a catalyst in enhancing the customer experience.

This is not easy by any standards — the CIOs, who so far had the prerogative to deal only with the customers within the enterprise and challenges very technical in nature have to play the role of  torch bearer in unison with the CMOs. CIOs are expected to  meet the happiness, satisfaction, and  experience quotient, forcing them to have an unprecedented shift from a very metrics driven culture to a very intangible impalpable culture of emotional intelligence.

“It’s a tremendous mind shift, because setting up a network, an ERP system, or a website is very practical. There are metrics and acceptance tests — does it record the inventory, does it record the shipment, does the network work, do the phone calls come in, are the ports there,” said Michael Maoz, Gartner’s Research Vice President and Distinguished Analyst in the Customer Experience: Where do you Start” Podcast. “Now you’re saying something very soft — is the customer happy, is the customer having a good experience, what is happy, what is experience. These are not things for which [CIOs] know the proper metrics.”

With emotions into the picture, it is definitely not as quantifiable as earlier. Yet, this shift is inevitable. One of the biggest mistakes a CIO can make is thinking customer satisfaction can be seen as a discreet project with a fixed start and end date to it, Maoz said. Rather it is an ongoing program that is bound to run incessantly and nurture along the way.

Combined with the CMOs knowledge and experience, the CIO and CMO relationship will be able to produce holistic approaches to their challenges in customer experience. A periodic switch in their roles will bring in better understanding and cohesion. Colocating IT and marketing teams and assigning an IT business analyst to the marketing leadership team helps with alignment and ensures that both functions are represented on project teams. Simple initiatives such as cross training seminars, customer visits, and joint lunches can help bridge long-standing divides. To create better experiences for customers and understand their needs, CIOs and CMOs will have to work in tandem.