CMOs/CTOs: Let's Have Lunch

This is one of those articles you may/may not forward depending on which lens you read it through. Some writers look at the glass half-empty and say that there is still contention at the top ranks between CTOs and CMOs.  Some have said that the tensions between the two functions (CMO/CTO) just simply must exist,and it’s a lot better now than it was a decade ago.  

Spencer Stuart has been tracking the CMO role since early 2000s and the average CMO’s tenure since 2004. Adobe’s done studies for the better part of 7 years on CMO/CTOs and the general dissonance of the two roles, IBM has put tons of effort into evolving the CMO's and CTO’s role with its Smarter Planet theme.  The roles and dynamics have simply changed.  

Let me offer a simple perspective on the dynamic between the two roles, as it relates to our world of data-driven marketing and omnichannel.   



First,  CMO/CTO relationships are far more healthy today than they were in the mid-2000s, when the CMO role was still a new organizational entity and CTOs owned the war chest. CTOs for decades have ruled the coop, but not the budgets.  Think of it like the  electoral vote: You need a majority to influence policy. 

CTOs in the past simply thought they’d outlive the 20-month tenure of CMOs. Yet digital has evolved in a big way and CMO tenures have doubled since 2004 (20 months to 48 months). Is it evolution of expectations for the role, or just latent lessons from Y2K? Technology planning done in a vacuum will not propel a company to sustainable growth in a game of real-time increments.

Secondly, the skill sets of CMOs have evolved.  The first generation of CMOs were brand and salespeople, and not many could even spell API correctly.  Technology has become so ingrained in our big decisions that everyone was forced to come to the table with a common set of skills/knowledge.  The most successful CMOs are hybrids of tech, digital, brand and sales.   The skills grew out of the need to understand the technical implications of using big data and technology. Call it evolution of people or just smarter CEOs and boards?  It’s just different, CTOs have been forced to evolve along the way as well: they aren’t just load, code and mode, they’ve evolved their business skills, and  go-to-market thinking and are digitally savvy.  

Thirdly, CMO/CTOs while in many cases right brain/left brain, have learned to meet in the middle when it comes to budgets, strategy and goals.  There is still the corporate budget line battles that can be some of the most insane and interesting battle lines to see firsthand (I have certainly lived this struggle), but the one with the biggest hands usually won.

Today, CMOs actually spend more than CTOs, and that shift has created a new dynamic in the relationship: interdependence. The reality is, one is a technology budget and the other is largely variable based on company success. I liken it to lunch money budget vs. bar budget.  One is far more influenced by the present temperament of the company. 

What CEOs and boards have realized is that you needed a forcing mechanism at the goal level to make this work.  And that is exactly what’s happened.   

You tend to see less of the CMO building mini-IT organizations, called marketing operations.  Now you’re seeing both marketing and IT use the term “agile” to mean the same thing for different functions.  This is evolution!

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