I recently had the privilege of attending an event that is one of Dallas’ best-kept secrets: The quarterly Spotlight Series breakfast hosted by Pearson Partners International, one of our long-time clients. Each breakfast addresses one current hot topic, with either a panel of experts or a single speaker answering questions from an audience of local business leaders. This time, the topic was, “The Digital Business Dream Team: How the CIO and CMO Collaborate for Success.” As a marketing professional, I found the discussion particularly intriguing.
The panelists included marketing and IT executives, as well as a research director from Forrester Research, which conducts an annual study, in conjunction with Forbes magazine, on the state of chief information officer and chief marketing officer relationships. This study has found that CIOs and CMOs have been collaborating more in the past two years than ever before, and that these close working relationships appear to be growing stronger. Even so, it’s only in about half of companies that the CIO and CMO actually create a customer-centered strategy together, defining the customer lifecycle, visualizing an ideal customer experience, prioritizing technology initiatives to create that experience, and budgeting to make it a reality.
Still, it’s a step in the right direction for businesses. The panelists pointed out that when the CIO and CMO come together with a single goal in mind – winning and retaining customers – they can achieve much more than they could alone. It’s a bit of a mind-shift in many organizations, in which IT has traditionally focused on internal support, while marketing’s focus has been on the customer. This new collaboration requires each department to understand the other’s processes, priorities and concerns, and to learn how to reconcile them in a way that achieves the company’s goals.
For example, in digital business, data security is critical. Done well, security can enhance the customer experience. But done poorly, it can have a negative impact on the customer relationship. When both the CIO and CMO are invested in the customer experience, both understand how much data security matters, and both can work together to do it well. CMOs, for example, might visit their company’s data storage center and learn about what data is housed there and how it’s kept secure. CIOs might ask for the CMO’s opinion about how the customer might feel about encountering strict security measures while using a company’s web site or customer portal. Together, they can ensure that customers experience data security in a positive way that builds trust rather than causes frustration.
CIOs and CMOs both need a deep understanding of customers and the technology they use. Do their company’s customers buy via computer or mobile phone? Do they use a credit card, or PayPal? What exactly are certain demographics buying? Many companies with customer-facing operations are sending IT and marketing employees right into stores, where they can actually see and hear customers interacting with their people and products.
Creating specific customer “personas” based on known characteristics and behaviors is one of MPD Ventures’ specialties, as it allows us to craft distinct marketing messages and mediums to appeal to specific target customer groups. CIOs and CMOs are now working together to use personas in the same way, integrating what they know about customer behavior into their own technology initiatives.
Any new way of working is likely to involve some obstacles along the way, and this new realm of CIO and CMO collaboration is no exception. But if there was one big takeaway from Pearson Partners’ recent Spotlight Series breakfast, it was this: Strengthening these relationships is very much worth the effort.