Chief marketing officers are naturally very friendly and outgoing, so we tend to have a lot of friends. No, really, it’s a known fact. The thing is, we can have all the friends we want, but are they the right ones?
Just like in our personal lives, there are some relationships in the business world that are worth courting more than others—ones that “complete” us as business professionals. As CMOs, we just might be overlooking the one person who, today, could be the most critical to our success—the chief information officer. Yes, the CIO—the quiet yet insightful person who sits in the dark corners of the data center staring at lines of code and who is good at fixing computers.
Years ago, we might not have thought so, but today this just might be the match we’ve all been pining for. I’m not saying to send flowers and chocolates. But now that technology and data are crucial components of the business process, this relationship is becoming more important than ever.
Much like marketing agencies did decades previously, internal IT departments over the past few years have taken on a prominent role in the success of marketing organizations, and rightfully so. As marketers in particular, with marketing automation, real-time bidding engines for display advertising and social media monitoring systems, we rely on technology to be successful—which is only going to increase.
Let’s face it. Data—big data, that is—has taken over the marketing department—despite the questionable quality of stuff that inevitably finds its way into executive’s hands along with the good stuff. To make smarter decisions, we require more computing power and smart people to look at the data so we know exactly where to invest our precious marketing dollars. This is where a strong partnership with the CIO can help marketers decide on the right technology and methodology to collect data to make better business choices.
If the CIO isn’t on your side, you won’t be able to execute the initiatives you want and at the scale you need. As a result, you will be forced to hire outside firms to run your software and data programs—an expensive solution that will only dilute the value of your programs and, perhaps, your department as a whole.
When I was CMO of Intermec Technologies, the CIO, John Guevara, was my best friend. I respected his cautious and scientific approach to solving problems, and he appreciated my projects and measured expectations.
George Thacker, CMO of Gerber Life Insurance Company, has worked hard during his 11 years in the position to establish and maintain a strong working relationship with his CIO.
“As part of a data-driven organization, my relationship with our CIO is mission critical,” Thacker said to me. “Knowing that I have the right technology and best data at hand gives me the confidence to make better business decisions that are not only good for me and the marketing department, but for the entire organization.”
What made Thacker successful (besides time and hard work) in fostering this long-standing relationship?
Below are five techniques he used to get the most out of the relationship:
1. Seek to Understand. Make sure to understand the constraints and possibilities of a joint initiative before setting it in motion. Doing so will ease any IT concerns that you will stuff an unrealistic project down their throats.
2. Be Intentional. Clarity is your friend when it comes to working with IT. The people in this circle all have mathematics-related degrees, so they appreciate precision. When scoping a project out, be as detailed and specific as you can so both teams are on the same page.
3. Understand Program Management. Knowing the CIO’s process—how IT gets stuff done—is invaluable. Not only will you appreciate the steps they go through, you will know how best to work within the process to ensure your needs receive priority.
4. Be the Chicken. This doesn’t mean you should be afraid of the CIO or that you should channel your inner fowl. The “chicken” is a nontechnical member of the development team who provides insight into the requirements of a project but doesn’t have a vote in how the project gets completed. This person’s only job is to be helpful without hindering.
5. Defend Them in a Gunfight. In any company there is bound to be a shootout between departments or executives. It’s the nature of corporate life. There is no better way to show your allegiance to your new CIO friend other than to have his or her back. Stand up for your CIO when it matters most to them and they’ll have your back when the time comes.
There’s no question you should be friends with everyone on your executive team, but befriending your CIO is critical for the next-generation CMO.