Nicus logo

The 3 Biggest Obstacles to CIO-CMO Alignment

Jan 23, 2020 | By Wil Cleaveland

IT Leadership

According to the 2018-19 Gartner CMO Spend Survey, Marketing departments are the top consumer of IT in most organizations today. That means CMOs are often spending more on technology than their CIO counterparts, and the need for close alignment between Marketing and IT is stronger than ever.

Unfortunately, the relationship between most CIOs and CMOs has always been tenuous (at best), and this massive increase in marketing-related IT spend is only highlighting the problem, as Glen Hartman reports in the Harvard Business Review:

“At a time when many executives say that improving digital reach will be a significant differentiator for their companies, our research shows that two of the most important digital leaders — the CMO and the CIO — do not trust each other, understand each other, or collaborate with each other.”

Why are CIOs and CMOs struggling to stay aligned? Let’s look at the biggest hurdles and what can be done to overcome them.

Mismatched Appetites for Speed & Risk

One of the biggest sources of division between CIOs and CMOs is their fundamentally different philosophies of how IT should operate.

CMOs value speed and agility. They’re focused on driving results quickly, and they’re not afraid to take on risk. CIOs, on the other hand, tend to prioritize safety and technical accuracy above speed, making it difficult to move at the pace most CMOs would prefer.

The first step to balance the CMO’s desire for speed with the CIO’s responsibility to minimize risk is to develop a shared roadmap of cross-functional projects — a living document with clearly defined goals, timelines, and execution tactics.

Keep in mind, the exercise of creating a shared roadmap may lead to more short-term conflict — as CIOs and CMOs are forced to merge their competing perspectives into a singular vision. In the long-term, however, it will drive a mutual understanding of IT’s capacity and Marketing’s true needs.

Structural Inequity

Reporting structure in the C-suite can have major implications for cross-functional alignment and collaboration, and the CIO-CMO relationship is a prime example.

It’s common for CMOs to report directly to the CEO, but that’s often not the case for CIOs. In most organizations, the CIO reports instead to the CFO or COO.

Naturally, placing CIOs and CMOs at different levels in the corporate hierarchy can quickly lead to resentment and conflict — simply due to the disparity in power.

But there’s a deeper issue at work here too.

When CIOs don’t report directly to their CEO, it’s usually an indicator that the business views IT strictly as a cost center, not a partner for value or growth. The result is a culture where IT is cast in a one-sided “utility provider” role, and where collaboration is neither expected or encouraged.

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix here. If the CIO and CMO don’t share equal status within the reporting hierarchy, conflict is almost inevitable. It’s that simple.

Lack of Joint Accountability

Although CIOs and CMOs are evaluated independently on domain-specific performance metrics, the two are rarely evaluated together on specific, collaborative goals. As a result, the quality of cross-functional efforts deteriorates, because IT and Marketing are both chasing two very different measures of success.

Yvonne Genovese from Gartner explains, saying:

“The number of CIOs and CMOs who are not held accountable for discreet, ownable, and shared results is unfortunately high. There are more specific measures that the CIO and CMO can be held accountable for — website performance, new customer service technology development, customer acquisition, and conversion. The reality is that both technology and marketing strategy enable the success or failure of these programs. Both of the functions should be held accountable.

Cultivating Stronger Relationships through Cost Transparency

To support effective cross-functional alignment between IT and the business partners it serves, it’s essential to achieve full visibility of technology costs, what’s driving them, and the capabilities they enable. Without that visibility, decision-making is ruled by emotion over fact, and conflict becomes the norm.

If a lack of transparency is causing tension between IT and business leaders in your organization, and if you’re interested in hearing how ITFM/TBM could help, get in touch today to start the conversation.

Get actionable insights and updates about ITFM in your inbox.