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The Key to an Optimum CIO-CMO Relationship

By Bienert, CMO & EVP-Digital Commerce, GoDaddy

Bienert, CMO & EVP-Digital Commerce, GoDaddy

The “digital bug”

From the early days when we called it the World Wide Web, I’ve always loved the digital space. Lots of folks told me I was crazy to focus my career on the web as dot.com bubble was bursting, but the first time I went to a website and saw “Welcome back, Phil” at the top of the screen, I understood how the world of marketing and customer service had changed forever. Suddenly, we had a scalable touch point that could use technology to learn about customers, remember it, and reflect that learning back to customers in a more personalized experience. I was bitten by the digital bug and never looked back.

“Both the CIO and CMO have to help each other understand implications, prioritize, and adjust to keep up with evolving customer expectations” 

Digital and the “Perfect” IT-Marketing Relationship

Since those days, digital has grown to become a key part of just about every industry. We’ve seen lots of trends and buzzwords come and go—CRM, Web 2.0, omnichannel, mobile-first and others, but beyond the buzz, what was always exciting was what the technology behind each of these trends meant we could do to better serve customers. During this growth of digital, I’ve held digital roles across four very different industries. A regular question I’m asked from my experience is what the “perfect” model is for the IT-Marketing Relationship. Until my time at GoDaddy, I would have answered this question based on “just” four industry models I’ve experienced, each of which had different degrees of imperfect alignment between the IT and marketing. However, the unique way we have built the GoDaddy team, with a mix of talent from Web startups to Fortune 100 companies, has given me a new perspective on the elements that make a successful relationship with my Chief Information Officer. Instead of replicating a single approach at GoDaddy, we’ve been able to take the best learnings from multiple models and create a CIO-CMO interaction model that is organic and productive.

When I look at what this close relationship has yielded us, it goes far beyond teams getting along and identifying as internal partners. What do I mean? Let’s take the hot topic of “big data.” GoDaddy is a technology company with a unique customer base of small businesses that are largely unserved by other tech firms. These “mom and pop” businesses would rather focus on their business than figure out the high-priced technical puzzles that tend to get pitched to them by other players. With more than 14 million paying customers in our base, it was clear to us three years ago that we had an opportunity to build a big data platform that would allow us to both help our customers serve their customers more effectively and simultaneously provide us the opportunity to evolve our marketing model to one based on personalized experiences delivered via digital touch points. The way we would do this would be to hire great data scientists, build a ground-up big data platform, and operationalize our data insights through a personalization system.

What was different in this project, versus what many of us had seen and experienced in other companies, was we never once debated who was going to fund the work, who was validating the business-return, who owned the platform, or who would run it. Customers were the unifying element—once we identified the opportunity to deploy big data to better serve our customers with the right advice at the right time through the right touchpoint, we were aligned, went to work, and delivered the first customer-facing phases of the solution quicker and cheaper than many of us expected at the start of the project.

Sounds Cliché, but Let’s Work Together for the Customer

Today, digital experiences have come a very long way from simple web pages that say “Welcome back, Phil.” At GoDaddy, we are operationalizing thousands of campaign funnels and millions of versions of digital experiences. Without a CIO and CMO partnership revolving around the customer, we would not be where we are today. From big data to digital marketing platforms, to commerce systems and everything in between, the plans and execution revolve around customer feedback and iteration based on that feedback. This has to be a core value both the CIO and CMO demonstrate everyday through behaviors to their respective teams. You can’t fake it.

Here’s a quick litmus test for the joint customer commitment the CIO and CMO must have–do each of you know the others’ goals, and do you share the same goals around the customer? Do your teams know each other’s goals and the impact that each has on their counterpart in the other team? I knew we had made this breakthrough at GoDaddy when I heard an engineer from the CIO team and a website marketer from my team having an energetic discussion. After listening, I realized the engineer was sharing ideas with the marketer on ways to increase customer conversion. If you didn’t know which team each was from, you could easily have mistaken the engineer as being from the marketing side of the house.

Constant Curiosity Required

So you finally have alignment between CIO (IT) and CMO (marketing) around the customer, your teams are beginning to execute well, and you’re off to the races. Until a new technical breakthrough–internet of things, wearables, you name it–comes along and disrupts your roadmap. This is where focusing the CIO-CMO relationship on the customer can be most helpful.

Albert Einstein, who was mostly a scientist but also was part philosopher and articulated some valuable marketing advice, once said “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”  Yes! In order to evolve with changing technologies, diverse customer needs and the people with whom we work, it’s critical to be curious…constantly.

A CIO needs to be on top of technologies and their broader implications across the operation, and the CMO must have expertise about technology and customer trends. The more curious we are, the more quickly we can develop new ways to work, and leverage technology for our customers. Both the CIO and CMO have to help each other understand implications, prioritize, and adjust to keep up with evolving customer expectations.

For our customers, the whole of the CIO-CMO relationship is definitely better than the sum of its parts.

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