Who Won the War of the CXOs?: Marketing vs. IT Spending on Technology

By Paul Engels, VP Marketing & Sales at Authentic Web

Marketing vs. IT spending on technology and how we’re getting along while spending it.

A Gartner analyst, Laura McLellan once famously predicted that CMOs would outspend their CIO counterparts on technology within five years. Not surprisingly, Ms. McLellan attracted a backlash of opposing opinions, including one from a competing research firm, Forrester.  Someone along the way coined the phrase “War of the CXOs,” to dramatize this competition; a phrase that today, uniquely fails to produce a meaningful result on a Google search.

McLellan is now retired but of greater note, the five years is up, her original report having been authored in 2012. So: was she correct? According to her fellow analyst Jake Sorofman, likely “yes.” He reckons that as of September 2016, marketing allocated 3.24 percent of revenue to technology spending vs. the CIO’s allocation for IT at 3.4 percent. Sorofman concludes that marketing spending on technology will have surpassed that of IT in 2017 – spot-on to McLellan’s prescient thesis. 

Unlike the global conflicts of the last century, wars today rarely end with an all-parties’ armistice. They tend to change shape and continue on a reduced scale; skirmishes if you will, perhaps ready to re-ignite into larger conflict on another day. Out in the real world of B2B technology sales and marketing, my colleagues and I have a fascinating vantage point over the relationships between Marketing and IT. In descending order of enterprise effectiveness, these are the situations we see:

1. Empowered Partners

Among a rare few companies, Marketing and IT are strategically welded at the hip. Each knows the other’s role and both are on the same page with respect to strategy.  They are a joy to work with because their mutual clarity of direction is solid whether they are buying technology or not. They typically attend meetings in pairs. If a business fit can be found, these two partners will make a decision and implement quickly and effectively.

2. Enlightened Champions

In these companies, Marketing and IT aren’t necessarily in lock step with one another. There are gaps of knowledge and execution. But all is not bad. Enlightened IT operators have an idea what their marketing counterparts might need and are quick to identify technology opportunities that merit involvement from marketing. Likewise, the marketing manager is pretty sure who his or her IT counterpart is and both parties enjoy the ability to engage, evaluate and act on ad hoc opportunities. Either player is empowered enough to be a champion for a compelling initiative or secure enough to let the other take the credit, so long as a positive mutual outcome is enjoyed by the organization.

3. Strangers

Frustrating organizations don’t seem to know “who’s on first.” Marketing execs routinely evaluate technologies in the absence of an IT representative. It isn’t a malicious move on the part of marketing. They actually don’t know whom their IT support advisor is. If they do know, that person is so buried in a convoluted matrix org-chart, they may as well be from another company. It becomes apparent in meetings with either group that “ownership” is ambiguous across numerous operational areas. Everybody is busy. Priorities are always something else and “next steps” are harder to establish that unanimity at the UN. Meetings abound. Execution…not so much.

4. Enemies in the Same Camp

Sadly, examples of organizational hostility do exist in the corporate landscape. Skirmishes are real because would-be colleagues are politically gunning for one another. Marketing believes that IT has a counter-agenda reinforcing status quo on allegedly antiquated systems. IT is “often late and over budget.” They are seen to command ever-increasing headcount and capital budget, yet under-deliver and frustrate innovation. IT sees marketing as techno-cowboys, leaping to impulsive silo purchases with little thought given to integration, leveraging existing assets, risk management or compliance. IT inherits poorly documented business requirements and wastes cycles correcting a marketing-led tech initiative that could have been avoided with up-front consultation. Mutual mistrust prevails and passive resistance rears its dysfunctional head as players knowingly watch their counterparts fail from a misplaced sense of corporate schadenfreude.

Does it really matter who won the war of the CXOs? Not really. IT vs. marketing spending on technology doesn’t actually help predict business success in any case. The more telling correlation to business results is the prevailing culture and relationship between the CIO and CMO and their respective organizations. Successful companies benefit massively from the teamwork of partners or enlightened, empowered players. Strangers and enemies are not your best go-to folks when it comes to getting things done. When my team plans a marketing campaign, we factor company culture into our target segmentation. Partners and empowered-enlightened players make way better customers than strangers or enemies.

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Paul Engels is the former CMO of a publicly traded tech company (TSX: H/NYSE: DLX) who enjoys working with his IT colleagues. He currently heads marketing and sales at Authentic Web Inc., an enterprise software application used by Marketing and IT to jointly manage their corporate domain portfolio and optimize their digital brand.

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Tags: marketing, IT, war, cxos, spending, c-suite, technology