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The Missing Link: What CMOs and CIOs Really Need to be Doing Together

(And It's Not Digital Marketing)

Pretty much everyone is poking a nose into the CMO and CIO relationship these days. From bloggers to research firms, inquiring eyes are fixed on the two chiefs. You’d think they had a juicy tabloid story cooking. How close are CMOs and CIOs – really? And then there’s the tantalizing question of collaboration. Are they or aren’t they?

Current headlines paint a rosier picture of the two roles’ alignment than in years past. CMOs and CIOs rubber-stamp these stories, agreeing their relationship is improving. While CMOs are less enthusiastic than CIOs about the relationship progress, the two chiefs agree on this: digital marketing has catalyzed a stronger working rapport.

Here's the naked truth: Digital marketing merely scratches the surface on – if not downright misdirects – where the CMO-CIO partnership should be headed.
Shelly Lucas, Content Marketing Director, Dun & Bradstreet

Given its relatively intense technology requirements, digital marketing sounds like a logical accelerant to closer CMO-CIO collaboration. Yup. There’s only one problem with this assumption: It cues up the wrong conversation. Here's the naked truth: Digital marketing merely scratches the surface on – if not downright misdirects – where the CMO-CIO partnership should be headed.

“Digital marketing” isn’t the real glue between the CMO and CIO. What actually forges the stronger bond between the two roles is the art and science of building relationships with customers. This is the “missing link” featured in the title of my blog series – and the main focus of subsequent posts.

Let's start by taking a closer look at digital marketing and customer relationship-building within the context of CMO-CIO alignment. Is the difference between them merely semantics, or something more significant?


When I say digital marketing merely scratches the surface on the CMO-CIO relationship, it probably sounds suspiciously off-kilter. After all, how can anyone knock digital marketing for having anything less than a profound impact on employee roles and interactions? Certainly, the platform has come a long way. Introduced as a channel delivery method (via connected devices), digital marketing has quickly grown into a transformational way of doing business (via aligned people, processes and technology). According to thought leaders in the space, digital marketing has a pretty deep enterprise penetration, if not in actual practice, then at least conceptually.

So how is digital marketing lacking the depth necessary to carry the CMO-CIO partnership forward? The answer lies in the mind space we occupy when we talk about “digital marketing” pulling CMOs and CIOs together. To put a finer point on my concern, consider the default question asked in a digital environment: “Can it scale?” Sara Wills, executive director of General Electric Fast Works, responds: It’s the wrong question. It doesn’t make sense to scale technology, she explains, if you don’t have a customer.


Digital technology and activities may connect us, but we work together as people for people. And that’s what we risk losing in the CMO-CIO / digital marketing discussion. Let’s not bury customers in the elaborate technological scaffolding (and rhetoric) of a “digital” enterprise. For that matter, let’s not limit the CMO-CIO partnership to doing digital for digital’s sake.

As modern marketers, it’s becoming easy to be seduced by science and obsessed by data. Sometimes we lose our human footing. While we strive to decipher data signals and personalize to scale, let’s not lose customers – and their individuality – in the shuffle. After all, what we’re trying to do as B2B marketers goes beyond “knowing” (or analyzing) our customers better – or, for that matter, “personalizing” our marketing by reaching them at the right time, via the right device, with the right message. As important as these considerations are, our ultimate goal is not as temporal as that. Ultimately, we’re looking to strengthen our bond with customers and grow mutually valuable, sustainable relationships… which, come to think of it, is exactly what CMOs should be aiming to do with CIOs (and vice versa).

In my next post in “The Missing Link” series, I'll unpack the notion of CMOs and CIOs as true relationship partners, equally data-inspired and customer-obsessed. If this description of the CMO-CIO partnership sounds odd, it's because we won't find this type of "alignment" in a tired-and-trusty funnel environment. Instead, look inside a continuous customer loyalty loop. You'll see the two chiefs in a completely different light.

It's time we start poking our noses in some new places.

View other posts in “The Missing Link” series:

  • CMOs & CIOs: Relationship Co-Pilots, From Lunchroom to Loyalty Loop