If CMOs and CIOs had to make their relationship status public, most would have to check the "It's complicated" box.

Conflicting priorities and increasing competition for IT budgets are causing more and more friction between these C-levels—even as the need for a unified digital strategy makes cooperation more important than ever.

We are often reminded of that divide between Marketing and IT among our customers at Rackspace as we help them re-platform their websites and online stores. Those are complex, politically fraught digital assets tied directly to revenue, which makes them a common battleground for the marketing and IT departments.

But if they can't cooperate, they can't create consistent, relevant customer experiences.

The obvious solution is to build trust. But that's easier said than done when you consider the competing priorities, expectations, and personalities at play.

Based on our experience building bridges between CMOs and CIOs for the sake of a unified solution, here are four tips for a tighter alliance.

1. Respect each other's priorities

The Problem

In a lot of ways, the priorities of CMOs and CIOs are at odds. For marketing executives, it's all about revenue and speed of execution. But for CIOs, the technology is their baby—and it has to be safe, scalable, and supportable. If there's a serious breach or outage, it's their job on the line.


CMO and CIO priorities might be at odds, but recognizing the importance of both perspectives is crucial for every business.

The rise of digital and Big Data gives CIOs an opportunity to affect the top line (revenue) instead of just the bottom line (profit). They need to acknowledge that revenue is critical. Yes, they may have to occasionally deviate from their road map to address a pressing Marketing need. But if that temporary fix means increased revenue while they work on a permanent solution, that's a meaningful contribution.

Meanwhile, CMOs need to recognize that they are increasingly accountable for IT success themselves. Scaling failures, downtime, and breaches all have a direct impact on revenue and brand perception. That means the CIO's strategic vision keeps the CMO's tail out of the fire—even if it sometimes slows us down.

2. Improve communication to align expectations

The Problem

Most CMOs don't have a real-world understanding of the challenges behind complex technology projects, and they don't speak the language of IT.

The CMO says: "We need the new e-commerce store live by next quarter. But don't worry, the sales rep promised the platform is super-easy to implement and support." The CIO says: "You have absolutely no idea what this is going to take... 18 months, bare minimum."

The CMO asks why. The CIO dives into the weeds of implementation and loses the CMO after 15 seconds. They're both frustrated, and they start the project with completely misaligned expectations.


As marketing executives, we need to get to a place where we can accept the timeframes the CIO gives us without challenging them at every turn.

CMOs need to understand the on-the-ground complexity of technology projects. That means getting directly involved in day-to-day execution throughout the implementation phase: Sit in meetings, scan email threads, bring in the VP of Digital or E-Commerce to maintain a presence.

CIOs, meanwhile, need to simplify the technical stuff and communicate at a high level. Give us three high-level slides, and keep those 30 detailed slides just for backup in case we ask you to drill down.

Analogies work wonders. I once asked our chief technologist why we couldn't double the headcount to finish a project twice as quickly. He told me that you can double the size of your pit crew, but the car still has only four tires. Point taken.

3. Avoid ego to prevent personality clashes

The Problem

The personalities of CMOs and CIOs couldn't be more different: CMOs tend to be visionary, creative, optimistic, and bold, whereas CIOs tend to be practical, detail-oriented, and conservative.

Those differences create dysfunction because—let's face it—marketing executives have some of the largest egos on the planet. We've got big, bold ideas, but admitting we're wrong doesn't come easy. And for IT folks there's nothing more obnoxious than wrongheaded arrogance that flies in the face of cold, hard facts.


  • Have a willingness to learn. Inevitably, there will be some challenges and pushback between the CMO and CIO, especially at the outset of a project. But only if you're open to learning from one another can you build trust.
  • Learn to admit when you're wrong. Being defensive is inefficient—you waste time justifying every decision—and it can poison your working relationship.
  • Speak up if you don't understand something. Do it even if doing so makes you feel stupid.
  • Be patient with your CIO/CMO counterpart. It may not always be pleasant to spend time together, but that's exactly what's needed to build trust and rapport. Before you start firing missiles at each other, spend time together offsite. Learn to appreciate each other outside of the office.

4. Learn to share limited resources

The Problem

We're well on our way to fulfilling the much-disseminated Gartner prophecy that by 2017CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs do. I've seen CMOs get approval for multimillion-dollar IT projects in 3-6 months. That can drive the CIO completely mad.

In many organizations, IT is still viewed as a call center fielding requests for help, and the CIO is struggling to satisfy demands from all over the company while working with a sluggish operational budget. Meanwhile, the CMO can come along and ask for a big-ticket technology item, and the budget comes flowing—because the CMO is promising a return in the form of revenue.

The result is resentment that politicizes projects and makes it even more difficult to build trust.


  • Embrace the CMO budget. CMOs are driving revenue, and they've been given a budget to do it—especially for new projects. CIOs can see that as a threat, but they can also choose to see it as a major silver lining. For instance, the CIO may need to develop a temporary solution to help the CMO hit a revenue target—and the CIO can dip into the CMO budget to do it.
  • Tie everything back to revenue. CIOs can tie their services back to revenue as well. Doing so will give them more clout when they make budget requests.
  • Outsource where appropriate. When faced with limited resources and competing priorities, a company can outsource expertise—by going with a managed Cloud provider, say—and in doing so help CMOs and CIOs meet closer to the middle.

If CIOs don't have to worry about hiring a bunch of content management specialists, for example, they free up resources to focus on long-term goals, and they can move much faster to adopt a solution—making CMOs happy.

Trust has practical value

Overcoming all of those challenges takes serious commitment. But building trust delivers real, lasting value.

When as a marketing executive you trust your CIO counterpart, you spend significantly less time diving into the weeds on every project, your strategies will be better aligned with IT, and your teams will cooperate more effectively. Trust just makes life easier and more pleasant for everyone.

Working together, CMOs and CIOs can better apply technology to empower their employees and deliver an exceptional customer experience.

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Four Practical Tips for Resolving the CMO-CIO Disconnect

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image of Kyle Metcalf

Kyle Metcalf is general manager, Rackspace Digital Practice, which offers specialized hosting for e-commerce and content applications.

LinkedIn: Kyle Metcalf