10 things I hate about narrow CIO vs. CMO arguments

Last night, Vala Afshar and Michael Krigsman announced on Twitter that I would be their guest on CxO Talk show this Friday. A harmless enough promotional tweet, I thought. But crikey, it instigated a bit of a Twitter brawl over the topic of CMOs, CIOs, and tech budgets.

Here’s a sample of how it started:

CIO vs. CMO Twitter Debate

Twitter is not my preferred format for a meaningful discussion, so I thought I’d reply with this post. And I certainly welcome any and all useful comments, whether you agree or disagree with me.

The short version is: CMO vs. CIO arguments almost always suffer terribly from a “narrow frame.” Who should be in charge of marketing technology, the CMO or the CIO? Who should have the budget and responsibility to spend on tech-driven marketing, the one or the other?

That’s almost always an unproductive debate — because, frankly, there are good points on both sides. Instead, a better approach is to widen the frame. In a nod to the book Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath, everyone at the table should move beyond a false dichotomy of marketing vs. IT and ask: are there even better options? (And no, I don’t mean simply hiring a CDO.)

Most of these choices shouldn’t be A or B, but rather a combination of A and B.

Two of the people who chimed in on the Twitter “exchange” last night with what I believe were insightful comments:

Dell CIO on CMO/CIO Partnership

Holger Mueller, a VP at Constellation Research, who pointed folks at his excellent blog post: Can we please stop the [silly] CMO vs. CIO spend debate? (Amen, brother.)

Adriana Karaboutis, the global CIO at Dell, who remarked that IT is ubiquitous, CIOs and CMOs should partner for innovation and value creation — otherwise it’s the competition who wins. (Well said!)

Both of these remarks, I’ll emphasize, are about CIO and CMO collaboration. AND, not OR. Here are a few additional “wide frame” remarks that I’ll add, absolutely none of which fit in 140 characters or less:

10 not-quite-Tweetable remarks on the CIO vs. CMO debate

#1. Marketing is now a technology-powered discipline. We can debate the split of budgets and responsibilities in that mission, and we can debate the pros and cons of different organizational structures to manage it. But if you’re seriously debating whether marketing in a digital world is or is not deeply entwined with technology, please read my super short book, A NEW BRAND OF MARKETING. This train has left the station.

#2. Marketing cannot abdicate its relationship to technology — even if the CMO or the CIO might prefer that. An amazing CIO does not absolve the CMO of the responsibility to harness technology in the design and delivery of brilliant marketing and compelling customer experiences. You can’t lead this at arm’s length.

#3. Knowledge is not a zero sum game. Having a tech-savvy marketing department does not imply a weak IT department. Organizations benefit from having as many people as possible skilled in wielding technology to excel in their work. We need to hire and train more! Most of the “tech” that marketing is working with today is net new to the organization — this is not about taking things away from IT. In truth, it’s more taking things away from traditional media and marketing.

#4. The role of a chief marketing technologist is to help marketing be more effective in its use of technology. It’s not shadow IT. It’s not a replacement for the IT department. It is a liaison to help marketing be more successful in its relationship with IT (and, for that matter, its relationship with increasingly tech-powered agencies too).

#5. Marketing technology is not ERP. It’s not at all like software used for finance, HR, or manufacturing. It’s about designing and delivering customer experiences that will define your brand — and that is the core of marketing today. It’s done in an environment that is constantly shifting, out of your control, where the most important actors — your prospects and customers — are under no obligation to willingly adhere to your ideas of process.

#6. There is no “one size fits all” approach to organizational structure. The “right” relationship between CIOs, CMOs, and CDOs depends on the business, its culture, its industry, its choice of competitive advantages, and the individuals involved. There is not a universal “right way” to tackle these issues. What matters is finding a structure that is right for your specific organization.

#7. The definition of “tech” is broad — and getting broader every day. To say that IT is in charge of all things tech is unrealistic in an age of BYOD and ubiquitous web access. IT cannot be in charge of all tech spending because tech is interwoven into so many sources of spending. Does IT purchase and operate the badge scanners at a conference? Does IT control how marketing uses Google AdWords to bid on keywords? Should IT write the code anytime someone wants to include HTML in a sponsored email campaign? Of course not.

#8. All tech is not equal — and should not be governed equally. Selecting the company’s core CRM or marketing automation platform is not at the same level of, say, selecting a content curation tool or an agile marketing project management tool. For key infrastructure systems, IT and marketing should deeply collaborate in their selection, integration, and operation. For a whole multitude of other non-critical marketing software tools, overbearing IT governance simply imposes costs — including opportunity costs — with little benefit.

#9. The greatest tech expense is talent. This is true in all departments, and marketing and IT are no exception. Your marketing analytics software is not going to cost you as much as your VP of marketing analytics. It’s probably not going to cost you as much as your front-line analyst. When seeking to optimize tech spend, let’s make sure that we’re optimizing the overall equation, not just baseline vendor costs.

#10. Our focus should be on the customer and the overall business, not IT vs. marketing. Debating budgets and responsibilities outside of the context of what we collectively need to do to deliver remarkable customer experiences is a pointless exercise. The why, what, and how of leveraging marketing technology are far more important than who does which pieces and who pays for which pieces. Horse before cart.

There are more points to be made, but if these haven’t convinced you that an all-or-nothing IT vs. marketing debate is a misplaced investment of intellectual energy, then there is probably nothing I can do to persuade you to take a more open approach to this discussion. That would be a shame though, because the world really could use more creative thinking on this topic.

Agree? Disagree? Feel there’s something important I’ve missed? Do tell.

I’m sure that Friday’s CxO Talk will be interesting.

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18 thoughts on “10 things I hate about narrow CIO vs. CMO arguments”

  1. I would gladly be the catalyst for this conversation 🙂

    Alas, some of what I said may have been misinterpreted (darn 140 chars) or totally taken to the wrong side. So, I thought i’d use this space to expand on it (thanks for providing it, have not blogged for about 2 months in my blog – want to break a record of non-blogging there…)

    I have never said it was either OR – my statements were about the shift in budget and technology spend from one function to the other: CIOs woke up in the past 2 years to see the mess left by every business unit buying their own “cloud” (hosted SaaS apps) applications and along the way they realized that there was massive exposure to cover and no way to support it.

    In their defense, they had been busy both outsourcing their departments to every corner of the globe (some good, some bad – mostly all by mandate) and trying to patch the damage done by the longest economic recession on record. In addition, they had a new mandate to “go cloud” – which for most meant they first needed to figure out what that was (there is no possible way in the world any board meant use hosted apps only – distributed computing enabled as cloud computing is far more complex an rewarding).

    Of course, this meant that the CMO (and all other C-officers in the world) had to fend for themselves. At the time, following the recession, the CMO became the organization’s most powerful officer for three reasons: 1) emergence of social (and marketing driving it), 2) the need to bring in customers (recession killed the concept of customer churn), and 3) retention became crucial (see before about churn). The CMO was leading, for better of for worse, these initiatives and thus was able to justify massive spending growth for technology (if we can call hosted apps such – I don’t).

    Catch-22 situation.

    So, come 2013-2014 and economies recover (or begin to) and money goes back to the CIO who acting like a mother who comes back from a weekend away finds the house trashed goes to her husband (the CEO) and says “i need to clean this up, and you need to talk to those darn kids” gets more budget and bigger mandates. Using words like security, compliance, etc. the CIO takes some of the toys away from the many officers that have been using them and begins to build the cloud infrastructure. This will take 1-3 years, depending on many factors, and will mean more shifting of “tech” dollars from C-all-O to CIO in exchange for an infrastructure that will let them do — well, whatever they want.

    This is point 1, point 2 was that this is not new.

    We saw the same shift of budget and power when SFA and CRM was new to sales, and when electronic channels (email, chat, etc) were new to customer service. We saw the same shift happen recently for HCM or HR (whether you are a new age person or an old frog like me) and we will likely see it again soon somewhere else. This shift of power and tech happens all the time from the CIO/IT to somewhere else – and always goes back to the person who needs to make it work: the CIO/IT and more recently, even the CTO and architecture teams. Same concept.

    Technology belongs with the people / departments that can manage it, integrate it, and leverage for the entire organization. not with a single user in a single department somewhere. There is virtually zero value to the organization to hold a license for any technology can cannot be integrated, secured, and shared across the organization – and tons of exposure of not knowing where the data and content tied to that application resides or how secure it is – or worse, who and how can access it. It is nuts to believe that ANY department can do what IT and the CIO do – in the same it is nuts to think that ANY CIO knows (or cares in most cases) what the day-to-day of C-all-O is.

    The only solution is for them to collaborate, but to paraphrase a old phrase: each cobbler minds their own shoes (or however you’d say it). CIO minds tech, CMO minds marketing, and C-all-O minds whatever they need to mind. And they work together, under the augurs of the CEO to accomplish what must be accomplished.

    So, go ahead and make me the meanie(catalyst) – but do it for the right reasons, not attributing things to me that I never intended to say (darn 140 chars).

    With all the love in my heart, but still taking your technology toys away,

    1. Thanks for taking the time to elaborate/clarify your perspective, Esteban.

      I think if there were a Venn diagram of our viewpoints, we might actually overlap quite a bit. Many of the points we’re each making are not mutually exclusive.

      Question for you though. If a CMO wants a certain technical capability — pick one, say, a SaaS predictive lead scoring add-on to the CRM — because they believe it will help them achieve their business objectives (better prioritization and nurturing of leads to be handed to the sale department), should they:

      (a) Convince the CIO to buy it and pay for it from IT’s budget.
      (b) Convince the CIO to buy it and pay for it via chargebacks from IT to marketing.
      (c) Get approval from the CIO to buy and for it directly out of marketing’s budget.

      Which would you prefer and why?

      1. I think another consideration for this is the idea that the investment can be, or maybe better “should” be used for the entire enterprise. This isn’t about an Enterprise Service Bus that a business organization was looking at because they were trying to tie the AS400 for Store data together with SAP and their Financials along with POS. This was a decision that got pulled to IT because an ESB could be used in other areas and not just in one area. IT could get the right internal skills or ensure support, cost control, etc. Another point on your comment about a) – c). Think of the time it takes to potentially wrangle that discussion and decision. What if Marketing has a specific goal around a Brand launch in response to some shifting market or competitive condition. Can you expect to wait the time it takes to work through those scenarios? And once decided can you wait for it to land in outsourced infrastructure owned by another company? When customers demand seamless, not Omni-channel (silo) but seamless experiences and they are changing daily…speed is part of the winning equation. Not without consideration of Security, Reliability and other key “IT” terms…but IT has to change how it can deliver and consider not trying to make every digital technology decision some function of a 1990’s SDLC process.

  2. #11 Tech needs to be secure. Recently we’ve seen a number of data breaches where customer email address, telephone numbers and payment card details have been taken. It’s critical that CxOs align around the issue of data security. A modern, digitally savvy CMO will know this but they’ll need to align with the CIO around the specific requirements of the technology.

  3. Outstanding as always. The Twitterverse became enamored with the CMO v. CIO after Gartner’s spending prediction. Lots of high-speed arm-waving followed, and continues. The CMO and CIO roles are fruit and vegetables. The bottom line is marketing IS a technology drive discipline now. People (Talent) are the most important resource. Marketing business processes are way complex than anything a traditional ERP system supports in other functions. And technology is not the strategy with marketing. Technology supports and enables the strategy to help businesses engage and win customers. The CMO’s that understand how to utilize technology to help drive business are the ones who will thrive.

    1. Thanks, Brian. We’re definitely in full agreement.

      It doesn’t matter if the CMO “owns” the technology from a budget perspective. It does matter, however, that they take “ownership” of the technology — in the sense that they’re taking the responsibility to leverage the technology to achieve brilliant marketing results and deliver remarkable customer experiences.

  4. I couldn’t agree more with the theme that rather than picking a winner, the solution comes down to collaboration. As a colleague of mine has said, “Marketers complain that IT is slow and unresponsive. IT complains that Marketing has gone rogue.” It’s going to require both groups to think a little differently than they’re used to, but in an increasingly complex digital world where big data, responsive solutions and integrated platforms set the foundation for delivering the experience customers demand, there aren’t a lot of other viable options. To read more on our opinions of the topic, please check out a recent blog post: Delightful Customer Experiences Mean IT and Marketing Must Play Nice – http://ow.ly/uIkLQ

  5. I’ve had some glimmers of thought along these lines recently; thanks Scott and Esteban for saving me the trouble of working them out in detail. Yes, CIOs and CMOs must cooperate; each are good at different things that are required to build a sound marketing technology infrastructure. All that’s changed from 20 years ago is that marketing technology itself is so much important, so marketers must be much more skilled at defining what they need when working with the CIO.

    In fact, I’m just fielding a survey with VentureBeat that explores how good a job marketers do when buying technology — please fill it out if you’ve purchased a marketing automation system. See http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/1555875/VB-Intel-Marketing-automation-buyers-survey

  6. First of all great post, secondly thanks for mention. I agree 90+% – but a few comment:

    Ad 1 – Marketing is technology enabled – not powered – it still remains an art and it should stay there…

    Ad 6 – Marketing is not ERP – and ERP (as we know it) cannot even power the enterprise – as it moves to digital business models… but the customer orientation is not the difference. A customer driven / oriented enterprise know how to align resources around and for the purpose of serving customers. CRM was not able to redefine ERP – as setup right away as a separate category. The hope now has to be that the transformation to digital business will foster the creation of next generation ERP software that is 21st century ready.

    My view is that marketing is very much the start of this – hopefully.

  7. Thanks, Holger.

    I think we actually agree on #1. Powered might be slightly stronger than enabled, but I absolutely agree that the human talent and leadership required in great marketing is at the top of the food chain.

  8. As always, Scott, the voice of reason in a needlessly contentious debate. Great companies are like great theatre–a team of subject matter experts who work together to create the best possible work. The old ways of top down command: both in management AND in technology selection are starting to crumble. Our natural human tendencies are always to try and hold on to something to control it, but as the Buddha says, “everything ends.” To the extent that all marketing and IT professionals can relax the need for control over money and each other, and work together to find the best in each other, the enterprise, its employees, AND its customers will be better off.

  9. Chief marketing principles that are poorly implemented via technology will only magnify the ineffectiveness of said policy … a schooling in effective techniques is still necessary!

  10. Scott, this is a terrific post. Thanks for the interesting recap of your discussion.

    This might not be the right venue to broach the topic, but something keeps occurring to me as I follow this (interminable) debate: what, exactly, is the point of having a CIO, or IT department, at all today?

    After all, we don’t have “plumbing” and “HVAC” and “electricity” departments. Those are infrastructural services, which is increasingly what IT itself is – just an integral part of how everything else works. IT itself is not value-adding to the core business mission of an enterprise in the same way that Finance, Sales, Development, Research or (indeed) Marketing is.

    As you know, I’m just a dumb millennial and so arrived about five minutes ago, but I understand that IT departments generally developed as companies scrambled to keep up with the breakneck pace of technological development going on around them. Other functions often either lacked the technical sophistication needed to select and configure their own applications, and/or companies needed people who could operate their enterprise foundational systems properly (networks, email platforms, servers, security, etc.).

    But a lot of those foundational systems are now vastly simplified – if not completely commoditized. Many are now offered entirely as hosted solutions. Other functions are quickly gaining the technical expertise necessary to select, configure and operate their own departmental vendor solutions (though this too is an ongoing process).

    Thus, I can envision a day when the “IT guys” are absorbed into some other group that runs all the other foundational systems for the company. No less critical than the guys who make sure the power stays on; but on a day-to-day basis, no more relevant.

  11. In this list, the last bullet will or should be the first one: “Our focus should be on the customer and the overall business, not IT vs. marketing”. Whatever we decide, build, buy or organize, what the customer thinks, likes, prefers or wants is above all the most important aspect to drive business. While we are debating who should be in control, IT or marketing, social networks are better, faster and more intelligent to build deep knowledge and understanding of individuals for delivery of and feedback on relevant customer experiences. Real-time. Relevant. Massive scale. It’s a shame. And the other 9 points: Well done Scott!!

  12. It goes all back to customers. And to satisfy customers you need the best talent delivering the best product and services ot them.
    The conflict I see is the following: the best talent is normally not in the big corporation but less risk adverse/smaller companies or concentrated in some regions (Sillicon Valleys). Here are the best SaaS tools been developed. BUT the security issue is a big one, specially for big European Companies (in my company recently ALL external cloud solutions have been forbidden). The mentality here is “we can not source the management of our data via SaaS tools to external vendors, we will do it our selves”…well. good luck wit that! This makes impossible for such big companies to make any use this these greate Marketing SaaS tools.

    Scott,do you get my point? How can this conflict be managed more effetivily besides the strong cooperation between Marketing and IT? Data Security is an issue and we learned we can not trust the data to any software company (thanks NSA).

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