How Data Helps the CMO and CIO Collaborate
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How Data Helps the CMO and CIO Collaborate

Karen Quintos, SVP & CMO, Dell

Plenty of ink has been spilled over the potential conflict between Chief Marketing Officers and Chief Information Officers as companies race to harness new technologies to engage with connected consumers.

But this tale of ‘us’ versus ‘them’, though good for grabbing headlines in the business press, misses the real story of collaboration between marketing and IT that’s happening at companies that are constantly innovating to move at the speed of the consumer.

Other CMOs agree our partnership with the CIO is essential to keeping pace with our customers. This spring at SXSW, I met with several marketing heads from other customer-obsessed companies, including Verizon and Kaiser, and we shared how our roles have evolved with the unprecedented pace and breadth of disruption in IT.

New technologies—from social tools and Big Data analytics to the cloud—are shifting how we do business and blurring C-suite roles. In particular, CMOs must employ social and other IT innovations to listen to what consumers want and connect with them in new ways on a global scale.

That’s why marketing departments, rather than IT personnel, are already buying nearly a third of their companies’ marketing-related technology, according to a recent study by Gartner. And the firm anticipates that, by 2017, the CMO will actually be spending more on IT than the CIO.

The imperative for adopting IT in marketing isn’t being dictated from above. It’s being driven by socially-savvy customers who expect companies to anticipate their needs, not just meet them. The challenge is only going to grow, with research firm IDC predicting that 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies will have a socially-active customer community by 2017, up from just 30 percent today. Some tension is inevitable when leadership roles are being redefined. But rather than signaling conflict, these trends point to new opportunities for collaboration between CMOs and CIOs. Indeed, marketing and IT leaders who break down the silos and take risks can turn their partnership into a competitive advantage.

“By 2017, the CMO will actually be spending more on IT than the CIO”

In the age of the customer, CMOs must be agile enough to quickly translate rich customer insights into integrated marketing campaigns. To achieve a 360-degree view of the customer and respond to the real-time demands of the market, they rely on CIOs to provide an IT infrastructure that enables them to innovate rapidly and scale as needed. No simple task, to be sure. At Dell, CIO Andi Karaboutis and I have a tremendous partnership. Yet while we recognized early the advantage of working together to create a single view of the customer for support and sales, it took a little time to figure out, how best to leverage the strengths of each of our teams.

The key to our success is that, we share the same goal: getting closer to the customer with the help of data. One key innovation as evidence of this partnership is our social media command center, an integrated system that allows us to listen to 25,000 daily conversations about Dell and respond in real time. The insights we gain help ensure we keep the customer at the forefront of our entire organization, from identifying customer support needs to improving product development. 

Ultimately for us, it’s all about being a better IT partner with our customers and helping them do what they do best. Yesterday in Dallas we helped the American Red Cross to launch its second digital command center to monitor social conversations and aid disaster relief efforts across North Texas.  It’s the second listening center we’ve donated as part of our Powering the Possible strategic giving program; the first was built in Washington, D. C. in March of 2012. By ramping up its social media efforts, the Red Cross is able to respond immediately to disasters with the help of social tools, improving its ability to identify trends in affected areas, anticipate the public’s needs and quickly connect people to food and other resources.

The marketing-IT partnership at Dell extends well beyond social. We apply Big Data analytics to glean insights from all the customer data we get from multiple sources. We have collaborated to create a self-service marketing analytics workbench that our team can use to quickly access the data and tools they need to reach customers.

As we work with our business customers to provide the end-to-end solutions they need to succeed, we often find that their CMOs and CIOs are embarking on a new level of collaboration as well. What we have found is the partnership is a journey, with no singular path to success.  But there are a few fundamental steps that we can take away from our own experience, starting with making sure the CMO and CIO have aligned their priorities with the company’s overall business objectives.

Establishing a decision-making process for IT implementation across the business is also key, so the leadership can remain agile in the face of the changing landscape. But fostering the right culture is at least as important as the governance structure, so risk-taking and collaboration should be rewarded.

Finally, make certain the right talent is in place to enable the flexibility needed to adapt and innovate. Hire and develop marketers with analytics and technology skills and IT professionals with an interest in business and an understanding of customer needs. Customers are seeking to take their relationship with companies to a new level—as CMOs and CIOs, we owe it to them to defy stereotypes about our roles and work in concert on innovative solutions that will rise to the occasion.

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