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CEOs must act as diplomats to balance the changing dynamics between marketing and IT

Gartner predicted in 2012, that by 2017 CMOs would outspend CIOs on IT.  

The prediction was right on the money. 

Marketing and advertising technology budgets have continued to rise in the years following the prediction, according to a 2016 survey by the research firm. The survey showed marketing budgets increased to 12 percent of company revenue in 2016, up from 11 percent in 2015. Fifty-seven percent of the marketing leaders surveyed expected their budgets to increase even further in 2017. 

And an increasing part of this growing marketing budget is going to technology.

Who Owns What?

Marketing has become a technology-driven business function. It is now responsible for the development and operation of critical customer-facing revenue-generating systems and applications. So it stands to reason that the influx in CMO / IT spending might actually lead to greater innovations in technology.

At the heart of all of this technology lies customer data. Marketing and IT both have a plausible claim to the coveted customer database, resulting in confusion at many companies.

Ask any CEO, "who owns what technologies, platforms and data?" and you will likely get a confusing story.

You can find CMOs and CIOs fighting over who gets to "own" the CRM database — and in many organizations, there’s trouble brewing.

It rests on the CEO to be the conductor and diplomat who ensures these two factions make beautiful music together. The CEO coordinates, facilitates, collaborates and manages these executives, who may well have large egos and defined territories (and jobs) to protect. 

In many cases, the CEO’s job is to make sure these two people "play nicely" rather than wasting time, money and opportunities for progress.

How to Play Diplomat

One step CEOs do to avoid this is by ensuring they hire a CMO with a strong grasp of database technology. Many companies make this a prerequisite of even landing an interview. 

While the CMO does not need to personally be the pinnacle of the marketing department’s technology expertise, he or she must possess a strong understanding of the landscape, such that they can define the vision and future way of working within marketing and customer experience, then assemble the right team to develop and deploy technology within the organization. 

The more technologically savvy the CMO is, the greater the odds of success.

Another key to navigating this dynamic is to encourage partnership and cooperation between the two business leads. For large B2C companies, arguably nothing matters more today than customer data and CRM. 

To settle any potential feuds over CRM database control, the CEO must put the CMO and CIO on the spot and ask each of them — separately — to share their vision, passion, strategy and plan (costs, sourcing, etc.) for the CRM database.

There is a risk the CIO's vision may be dull. IT may see this as simply a software and hardware development problem, rather than an opportunity to rebuild the company focus and value creation model around investments into customer lifetime value. 

The CIO might say something like, “It’ll take three years and cost $10 million.” That answer belongs in the 1990s trash can. 

Many old school engineers hate shortcuts, which might lead to failure. Old school build, test and deploy models no longer work in today's pace of rapid change. If your competitors develop a better customer database before you and use that for precision marketing, they will pick off all the profitable customers in the world and drive you out of business.

On the CMO side, the risk is he may either have a brilliant, unrealistic vision or be flummoxed due to a lack of technological or general IT know-how. That’s a huge red flag. How can you be a CMO today without a solid understanding of databases and information technology?

In my experience, it probably plays out this way: backed against the wall, marketing comes up with a vision and plan that reflects the organization’s goals, while IT comes up with a plan focused on building out a platform. Other senior leaders from Finance, Customer Service, etc. also get involved.

That’s not a bad outcome, as long as the CMO and CIO can collaborate effectively. 

Complementary Capabilities

Now more than ever, CMOs and CIOs need each other’s perspectives to create a unified view of customer data that drives business growth. CMOs often have a vision of what they want but need the CIO to define how to make it a reality.  

The CEO who orchestrates a cooperative alliance of these left and right brains improves their chances of success.

None of this is meant to diminish the importance of IT. Digital marketing technology is evolving so quickly that even if you have a CMO who “gets” database technology, no one can possibly stay current on all of the subject matter. It’s simply a matter of focus and specialization. 

So the IT department must take the lead on the software, hardware and networking side of marketing.

If the CEO is fortunate to have people in IT who understand the marketing landscape and key concepts like CRM, SEO and Customer Lifetime Value, he could hand that department responsibility for everything from predictive analytics and the website’s CMS to app development and innovation. 

Two areas where IT should take the lead to really help marketing are data collection and online brand development.

Data Collection: Marketing might take the lead in determining what data to capture and how it will be used, but IT brings valuable knowledge to that discussion regarding things like how to de-dupe overlapping data sources. 

Data streaming and application data from sources (like the website or Facebook campaigns) not only allow marketing to learn more about customers but allow them to study factors like brand awareness in almost real time, at scale.

IT engineers and coders are also great go-to resources for database security and hygiene, as well as insights on data capture tech like QR codes, barcodes and RFID.

Online Brand Development: Attractive, clean functioning websites, landing pages and mobile apps that offer seamless, satisfying user experiences are essential to fostering customer relationships and leveraging traffic to boost sales. Marketing probably owns these. 

But it’s not just about pretty pages. It’s about the underlying technology, too. Things like fast load times, 99.9999 percent uptime, integrating the user front end with the back end, logistical and billing systems, etc. IT would likely own these.

We're All On the Same Team

Historically, IT and Marketing have been at odds, but it's time that's put to rest. 

As David Chan, director of the Centre for Information Leadership at City University London, said, “There is nothing fundamentally different between Marketing and IT. It is about the culture of the organization. If the departments work together, you shouldn‘t have a problem.”