Forbes: The CMO-CIO Power Partnership: Part One

In 2012, Gartner, the world’s leading information technology research and advisory company, famously prognosticated that CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs by the year 2017. Contrast this with a survey conducted by IBM which suggested that more than 70% of CMOs felt they were unprepared to handle the explosion of big data. Regardless of what will happen in the future, the importance of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Chief Information Officer (CIO) working together has never been more important. In fact, a recent study by the CMO Council suggests that 80% of marketers and 88% of IT experts believe that working together is critical to ensure customer centricity.

To learn more, I’ve begun a series focused on understanding how firms can create a stronger CMO-CIO partnership. As part of the series, I will interview CMO-CIO pairs to get two different perspectives within the same firm, CEOs, and external experts such as IBM . To kick off the series, I interviewed Mark Daprato, the CMO for SHOP.CA , the largest online retailer in Canada and Gary Black, the CIO for SHOP.CA. I also interviewed Elana Anderson, VP of Enterprise Marketing Management for IBM, and Larry Bowden, VP of Web Experience Software for IBM.

After extensive conversations with Mark and Gary, it’s clear that SHOP.CA is somewhat of a model regarding a truly connected CMO-CIO relationship.

The SHOP.CA Secret to a Strong CMO-CIO Relationship

    Sit Together, Eat Together, and Work Together. This may seem like a joke, but it isn’t. I interviewed both Mark and Gary independently and asked each to identify what seemed to make their relationship so strong. Both listed co-location at the top of the list and they didn’t mean the same building. Mark indicated: “Our relationship literally began in the same office. What is so powerful about working in the same room is that we quickly started sharing our work with each and built a trust that may be more difficult to achieve when information is less transparent.” Gary further suggested: “We eat together weekly, have coffee regularly, and talk first about the broad business issues before wrestling with tactical issues.”

Larry from IBM suggested: “Some functions behave like cops. You simply can’t do this if trying to develop a collaborative relationship. In some industries and firms, the CIO behaves like the police, identifying what will and won’t be done. In other industries, CMOs behave like the police determining what they will and won’t do. This behavior prevents functions from collaborating effectively.”

    Share – and Plan – Together: What struck me from both interviews, despite being interviewed separately, was how aligned Mark and Gary were in their answers. When asked about how to build a strong relationship, both indicated that sharing and planning together was critical to driving alignment and buy-in. Said Mark: “Alignment is central to a strong relationship and it doesn’t happen when the two leaders are on islands operating in their own silos.” Suggested Gary: “While all people talk about collaboration, we really live it. We develop roadmaps, plans, and priorities together.” The only time they have issues is when they aren’t aligned, and that is unusual given the amount of time they spend together.

    Take Responsibility: I have to admit that what was so refreshing was that both Gary and Mark did not throw stones, blame or cast aspersions. Independently, they each focused on what their individual groups could contribute to building the firm. I finally asked Gary (CIO) why he didn’t blame marketing for issues that might have happened as a result of poor quality traffic from his CMO counterpart and Gary indicated: “It never occurred to me to do that. If we have a bad performance week, we go around the table and each leadership team member details how their own function contributed to any problems.” Suggested Mark: “When we have weekly business reviews, it’s imperative that you identify how your own function either contributed to success or failure. There is no blame game here – only accountability.”

While both Gary and Mark individually took responsibility for their own successes and failures, they also indicated that they had very distinct measures for which they were held accountable. While Mark owns traffic, Gary owns conversion. Together they really own a significant amount of the firm’s business performance.

    Business-First Mentality: One of the things that is readily apparent when talking to Gary is that he is not a typical CIO. While his functional training is in technology, his managerial experience is much broader as he has been a general business leader. Both he and Mark view their functions as tools and levers to help drive overall business performance. As Mark indicated: “CIOs often can have a command and control approach to running the business. Gary doesn’t do that. He is transparent and a true partner. As a result, I tend to ask his opinion on a variety of topics, including things like advertising messages, even though they have nothing to do with his formative training. We are a team committed to driving the business and because he thinks like a business leader, I treat him like one.” Gary similarly suggested that: “Mark is an unusual CMO. He isn’t territorial and doesn’t hide what he is doing. He is open with his process and data so it makes it easier to help him achieve his goals.”

Larry separately suggested that a strong CMO-CIO relationship can’t occur without the right type of CMO and CIO who have broad business skills. “The CIO of the future will be a business leader and not an operations risk manager. They will think of how to quickly and efficiently leverage technology to build the business. This requires a very different career path than many CIOs today have.”

Elana suggested a similar reality for tomorrow’s CMO. “The future CMO can’t just be a promotions manager. They will need to be technology-literate, business-literate, and have more of a general manager sensibility to be an effective steward of an ever-increasing set of responsibilities.”

While much has been written about how responsibilities are shifting from the CIO to the CMO, what probably matters more is determining how the two can effectively work together. As Elana indicated, “IBM has been bringing CMO-CIO pairs together in discussion and what often becomes a barrier to a strong relationship is a culture that doesn’t support it”. While Gary and Mark provide a roadmap regarding what can happen when the two people are aligned, trust one another, and plan together, the reality is that the firm’s CEO and President have established a culture where this behavior is rewarded.

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