Move Past Stereotypes and Connect With CIOs

Hook Up: Why the IT Organization Doesn't Have to Be a Marketing Obstacle

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Chief marketing officers work tirelessly to meet the needs of their customers, who are demanding a higher level of personalization as they interact with marketers. CMOs want to implement better websites, more-effective customer-relationship-management systems to boost customer service and e-mail-message relevance, and self-service options in stores and online. Unfortunately, they commonly face a major obstacle: the chief information officer and IT organization, who often respond to requests for projects with the same answer: no.
Marketing and IT can drive significant organizational change and growth, as Air Canada VP-Marketing Charles McKee and CIO Lise Fournel have shown. One key focus for enhancing the customer experience was improving self-service-technology options, including kiosks.
Marketing and IT can drive significant organizational change and growth, as Air Canada VP-Marketing Charles McKee and CIO Lise Fournel have shown. One key focus for enhancing the customer experience was improving self-service-technology options, including kiosks.

But with technology playing an even greater role in marketing activities and the importance of the customer experience, CMOs need to put an end to this pattern and form strategic relationships with their CIOs.

CIOs and CMOs both suffer from stereotypes applied to their roles. CMOs view their IT counterparts as the resource police who know nothing about the customer; care only about costs, processes and efficiency; and have no understanding of marketing. Likewise, CMOs are often painted as creative types with no accountability and little consideration for costs or the resources needed to address their technology whims. Judging just at the surface level of stereotypes, CIOs and CMOs seem polar opposites.

In reality, CMOs and CIOs are quite similar. They both often suffer from a lack of respect from their peers and want to prove their value, gain a seat at the executive table and increase their alignment with overall business objectives.

How can they accomplish these similar goals? By developing a strong partnership that will help them jointly meet their personal goals and specific functional goals. CIOs are important resources for CMOs, as the IT function often has the technology know-how to help marketers make better decisions that will lead to more seamless implementation of technology, resulting in better and more-efficient customer experiences. Additionally, CIOs often have the ownership over the majority of the company's customer data. However, without marketers, those data are simply data, instead of meaningful insights and knowledge used to better address customer needs and preferences.

So how do CMOs start moving past the stereotypes to build strong partnerships with CIOs? The first step involves understanding and educating. CMOs need to ask themselves: "How well do I really know my CIO? Do I understand his or her daily challenges and objectives? Do I know how the team is set up and how technology projects are prioritized and executed?"

Likewise, the CIO needs to become educated about the CMO, the marketing organization and insights about the end customer. CMOs can help increase IT's understanding of marketing's role in the organization by inviting IT to participate in regular marketing meetings or holding training sessions and town-hall meetings about the customer -- to help IT understand the necessity of various tech-driven marketing initiatives.

When the CIO and CMO have gained this solid foundation of mutual understanding of each other's roles and organizations, they and their teams can start collaborating on a wide range of projects, from website consolidation and redesigns to CRM-system implementations to improved decision making in marketing-technology implementations.

Interviews we conducted with more than two dozen chief marketing and information officers in June 2007 for the Forrester CMO Group Research Project, "Partnering for Success: The CMO-CIO Relationship," revealed four key focus areas:

Creating team structures that drive marketing-IT collaboration involves activities such as co-locating the teams to work on projects; assigning cross-functional marketing-IT teams with leaders who have both marketing and IT experience; and creating liaison roles for marketing and IT to ensure that communication stays frequent and each function always has a champion in the other group.

Developing effective processes for collaboration involves mutually discussing and agreeing upon how projects are prioritized; creating standardized processes for change requests that provide transparency to marketing for the cost and timeline implications; and jointly developing a set of guidelines for making decisions and measuring value for joint marketing-IT projects.

Marketers can increase IT teams' understanding and buy-in of marketing decisions by involving them early in the process through invitations to participate in marketing-strategy meetings; regular check-ins to seek IT opinions when making marketing-technology purchase decisions; and joint development of business cases for marketing-technology projects.

CMOs and CIOs should set an example for their teams by hashing out disagreements behind closed doors to ensure that team members see a unified front at the top. It's important to demonstrate the trust you have in each other's expertise by not publicly second-guessing every decision the other makes.

With these elements in place, marketing and IT can drive significant organizational change and growth, just as Air Canada VP-Marketing Charles McKee and CIO Lise Fournel have done through their partnership during the past four years.

In 2003, Air Canada faced competitive pressures as well as downturns in travel due to the outbreak of the SARS illness in Toronto. Mr. McKee and Ms. Fournel recognized the urgency of improving Air Canada's customer-experience and revenue models, and they knew that neither could do it alone.

One key focus was improving their self-service-technology options, including online check-in; online itinerary changes; kiosk technology; and hand-held devices for check-in, booking and flight status.

To align their teams and enable an effective partnership between marketing and IT, Mr. McKee and Ms. Fournel did the following:
  • Built a vision for the future together, sharing that vision broadly with their teams to ensure alignment around the overall objectives and how they fit into the business strategy.

  • Discussed and reached agreement on core elements of the process, including time frames, accountability, team structure and roles, and the vendor-selection process at the beginning of each project.

  • Gathered the marketing and IT teams, as well as outsourcing partners and vendors, each Friday morning to discuss the status of projects, issues and any complexities that may have arisen.

  • Mutually created the conceptual design of new technology projects and compiled the appropriate requirements before having the technical team work on the end product.

  • Built and defended business cases together to ensure shared ownership of the projects and initiatives, as well as shared incentives to achieve success.
The efforts paid off: Air Canada received Air Transport World's recognition as market leader in 2006. Just as they collaborated throughout their initiatives, the marketing and IT teams celebrated together, with members of both teams attending the awards ceremony and sharing the recognition. Since then, Ms. Fournel and Mr. McKee have maintained these practices and continue to collaborate and add value to each other's initiatives, even actively introducing ideas to the other functional group.

It's an example that shows the extent of the impact that can result when marketing and IT come together to help drive company strategy. CMOs, if you're sitting down and reading this, stand up and take the first step: Walk down the hall, knock on your CIO's door and get to know that person. Building this foundation and working on the relationship with your CIO will give you a partner and an ally at the executive table that can not only help you elevate the role of marketing as well as the role of IT but also achieve personal and organizational success.
Cindy Commander is an analyst at Forrester Research. She helps marketing leaders build influence throughout their organizations and develop strong and successful relationships and teams. She works closely with Forrester's CMO Group, an executive-level peer knowledge and networking community for chief and senior marketers.
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