CIO Zone

Love your CMO so customers will love you

There is still plenty lost in translation in the relationship between the CMO and CIO, writes TransUnion Africa CEO Lee Naik.

Read time 4min 30sec
Lee Naik
Lee Naik

It's the month of Valentine, and that means nurturing the most important relationship in your life. Sadly, while millions of couples are reaffirming their love, there's one pairing that can't quite find that loving feeling. I'm talking about the relationship between CMO and CIO.

The move to digitisation has led marketing and IT to collaborate and communicate better. Despite their best efforts, there's still plenty getting lost in translation. An Accenture study found that less than a quarter of marketers thought the level of collaboration between CMOs and CIOs was where it needed to be.

Like any fraught relationship, those communication barriers can lead to friction. It could be that the CMO keeps hitting the credit card when you're supposed to be the one in charge of the household purchases - Gartner predicts that marketing tech spend will outpace the IT department's average tech spend this year.

And while marketing is setting up the shiny new CRM platform they just bought, you're considering the security implications they completely overlooked.

Or perhaps, you've found the CMO is stepping out on you, approaching an outside digital agency to build content management systems. Why go through the IT department at all when there's a third party offering SaaS marketing functionality without those pesky checks and balances?

But would the CMO be tempted by that agency if you were providing them with the platforms they needed in the first place? Maybe you've been too busy with back-office functionality to enable them to build multi-channel experiences.

Whoever gets the blame, the outcome is the same. Customers expect companies to understand and address their needs. While you and your CMO are battling over who controls the digital spend, customers are busy turning to someone that can offer a data-driven customer experience.

Redefining roles

Thankfully, the importance of working together to bridge the divide has not escaped South African enterprises. Many large companies are redefining the traditional leadership roles and are experimenting with governance models driven by customer experience.

Some businesses are bringing in key people to account for the communication gap between marketing and IT - Barclays Africa created a new role to be in charge of both digital channels and IT, a move that has won it various data creativity awards, as well as the launch of Africa's first banking chatbot. MTN, meanwhile, has a chief customer experience officer who brings together IT and marketing skillsets.

Other businesses, such as Vodacom, are choosing to merge the roles of marketing and IT into an overarching CTO role. Some large South African companies, such as Discovery, have a CDO bridging the gap between CIO and CMO, responsible for enterprise digitisation.

Many large companies are redefining the traditional leadership roles and are experimenting with governance models driven by customer experience.

The lesson from the big guys is clear: find a way of unifying around customer experience and you'll have a shared vision to build towards. But how, short of redefining your entire executive structure, do you do that? Here are some starting steps towards building a strategic partnership between marketing and IT functions.

Create a roadmap for change

One of the main points of friction between CIO and CMO comes from not having clarity on their respective roles and accountability in rolling out digitisation. This is why it's important to start by sitting down together and creating a shared vocabulary, by creating a comprehensive roadmap for the future.

McKinsey advises that the overall vision should include business goals, use cases, feasibility and priorities. This should be followed by what each person's key performance indicators are going to be, particularly around the customer experience.

Bring down the siloes any way you can

Now that you've determined your objectives, make sure you don't come up short on execution. That requires not just the right skills, but enabling collaboration and communication between departments.

Build cross-functional teams with a good mix of marketing and IT knowledge, and make the objectives clear from the start. The ultimate goal of these teams should be to define and act on the data.

Grow your own capabilities

Finally, there's the task of evolving your own role: nurture your communication skills, so that you can eventually fill more of a CTO role. And as you buff up your own and the department's marketing and customer experience knowledge, work with the CMO to ensure they have an understanding of intelligence and automation technologies.

Like any relationship, understanding won't come right away. It's an ongoing process, but one that's absolutely necessary as digital continues to blur the lines between IT and marketing. Sit down with your CMO and talk it out. Stop worrying about preconceived roles about what it means to be an IT or marketing exec, and start talking about customer experience metrics.

What are your experiences with integrating marketing with more traditional IT functions? Have you found a partnership style that works for you?

About Lee Naik

Lee Naik is CEO of TransUnion Africa and is recognised as one of SA's leading digital and technology transformation experts.

Naik has worked across all spheres of government and private sector industries. He has a deep understanding and appreciation of the transformative role technology can play and his experience ranges from developing first-in-country strategies and solutions to leading complex delivery programmes.

In his previous role as MD of Accenture Digital, he focused on helping organisations transform their businesses to remain competitive in an increasingly digital world.

A frequent speaker and commentator, Naik was recognised as a global top 10 commentator in the 2015 LinkedIn Top Voices awards, and was a recipient of the 2015 Standard Bank Rising Stars Award. In 2016, he was one of the top 10 finalists for the IITPSA's IT Personality of the Year award.

* Follow Lee Naik on LinkedIn: and Twitter: @naikl

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