Better customer insights lead to better growth potential. But today, acquiring, developing, and interpreting all that customer data requires both the marketing and IT departments. In fact, recent research conducted by the CMO Council, suggests that this process should start with the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and the Chief Information Officer (CIO).
According to Kimberly Whitler, in her recent HBR article, “One of the key challenges CMOs face is figuring out how to partner with other internal functions.” CMOs are often viewed as the link between the company and its consumers, and by developing a strong relationship with CIOs it can allow these individuals to better leverage technology to understand their consumers.
Despite the proliferation of analytical tools available to marketers today, most CMOs are still struggling to convert data into actionable consumer insight. A recent IBM study indicates that “more than 70% of CMOs feel they are underprepared to manage the explosion of data and ‘lack true insight.’” This means that while today’s CMOs now have access to all this great data, they lack the skills to analyze and use in the decision making process. Whitler points out that because of this problem, “there is a growing need to identify how CMOs and CIOs can use the technology that’s on-hand to ease this process – which will ultimately drive growth for the entire business.” Luckily for us, Whitler outlines four suggestions to help build this partnership in your company.
Find Common Ground
“Differing incentives is one of the biggest barriers to an effective relationship between marketing and IT,” says Whitler. It’s really up to the CEO to ensure that marketing and IT are on the same page in terms of both innovation goals and risk management. According to Gene Morphis, former CFO of CVS and David’s Bridal, “There is an interesting intersection between risk management and innovation that emerges in the CMO-CIO interface.”
One of the best ways to overcome this is to start by understanding – and respecting – the conflicting incentive structures of each department and work collaboratively to find common ground. Whitler points out that, “In some instances, it may be necessary to align the CEO on a plan, but a united recommendation between the CMO and the CIO has a better chance of success.”
Business Needs First, Infrastructure Second
“Companies often mistakenly focus first on creating the infrastructure, and then focus on figuring out what to do with the data afterwards,” says Whitler. An “infrastructure first” approach opens you up to a lot of unplanned challenges. According to David Norton, the previous CMO of Caesars Entertainment, the “data infrastructure should follow an understanding of the business questions. For example, something as simple as deciding how to look at the data – hourly, daily, weekly – can influence how you organize the data.” By having the CMO work directly with the CIO to outline the data they will need to understand the customers, the CIO can better ensure that the data infrastructure will be aligned the ultimate business needs.
Have a Holistic Understanding of the Customer
Data can come from anywhere: loyalty cards, purchases, social media behavior, website analytics, surveys etc… With today’s technologies, businesses can integrate these disparate sources of customer-related information. However, according to Dr. R. Sukumar, CEO of Optimal Strategix Group, “the challenge that we find with most of our clients is that they do not have the internal capacity or bandwidth to focus on integrating customer data to generate superior insight. Yet, this assimilated perspective is precisely what is necessary to move ahead of the competitor’s level of customer understanding.”
Even when firms get a holistic customer view, they often lack the capacity to act on it quickly. “This is why they often turn to external partners to help fill the skill gaps needed to integrate, analyze, and use insights to drive business results,” says Whitler. These external partners typically have the technology and expertise needed to successfully generate and leverage in-depth customer data.
Apply Tools All Can Use
Whitler points out that “Historically, data analysis and customer research has been reserved for only a few skiller employees (typically in marketing research) who can navigate technically sophisticated systems.” Today, we are seeing the emergence of new tools that enable multiple users in marketing – yes, even the tech novices – to analyze customer research themselves. “Gone are the days when marketers had to get their information from a PowerPoint presentation that marketing researchers of consultants provided,” says Dr. Sukmar.
When CMOs and CIOs successfully collaborate, the relationship puts the business at a distinct competitive advantage. Technology provides the muscle to make sense of the exploration. Whitler puts it best by saying, “When the CMO and CIO share a focus on the customer, the power to drive business growth is potent.”