During the Middle East CIO summit, I was intrigued by the nature of the relationship between senior IT leaders and line-of-business executives (especially marketers) within Middle East organisations.

As we already know, new IT buyers are never offline, they possess deep domain expertise, and are laser-focused on business impact. They want highly personalised concierge-style interaction throughout the buying cycle. As a result, they require new go-to-market strategies, new systems of engagement, and a vast amount of real-time intelligence to properly serve. This has raised the question of how marketing and IT can work together to more effectively meet the requirements of the new buyer.

We clearly see that marketing investment will flow like water to where the revenue growth is, and today this growth is in the sectors of cloud, social, mobile, and big data software and services. Many CMOs (chief marketing officers) and their teams are now going through their second or third attempts at implementing broad-based “transformation” of their marketing organisations, people, and processes. It is harder than it looks. It is also more crucial than ever before that this transformation is successful.

Data-driven decision making is an imperative for the CMO; they need to drive the pervasive use of technology in marketing, raise analytical IQs across all marketing roles, and champion customer data management as an enterprise process.

We encourage CMOs to look closely at the current hot trend of “content marketing” and to understand that this does not just equate to better or unique “thought leadership” of marketing assets, but must also span all areas of buyer and influencer engagement.

Customer behaviour

The challenge for many companies is that marketing is trying to keep up with rapid changes in customer behaviour, and new cloud-based deployment options make it easy for them to do so. On the other hand, corporate IT is striving for homoeostasis to optimise efficiency and lower costs. These two models are inherently incompatible. Therefore, CIOs are starting to realise that they need to open more capacity to support line-of-business functions. We believe that there are many issues to work out: Who funds which projects? How can departmental requirements and enterprise policies be balanced? And what does a good working relationship between the CMO and CIO look like?

The CMO and the marketing operations leadership need to become “masters of data” — and fast! IDC predicts that CMOs will only be successful if a productive relationship with the IT organisation is created and developed. While marketing can go it alone, there are significant downsides to this approach. In particular:

n To be a more effective partner, corporate IT must reorient its mission around business process improvement.

n CMOs and marketing operations and their organizations are at the centre of how companies are addressing key issues of innovation and funding for the new infrastructure, data governance, and analytics required to create customers.

What is the key to managing investment in marketing?

Marketing should have a model to show its contribution to pipeline and revenue, and what it’s going to cost. IT resources and systems marketing needs are part of the cost model.

n It helps to have a corporate technology governance structure that goes beyond marketing to provide a standard cost model for lines of business.

n Corporate IT needs to have an orientation around business needs. A good mantra is “there are no IT projects, only business projects.”

n The IT department needs to become much more familiar with the business processes within the functional departments it supports and much more proactive about advising on how new technologies can improve those processes.

n CMOs and CIOs should jointly pitch to CEOs/executive board members on projects and funding models.

n If you want innovation, you have to accept some experimentation — not everything is going to work. Ideally, projects should either succeed or fail quickly. Taking an agile approach to marketing automation can help reduce the perceived risk of a large up-front commitment.

Marketing automation typically starts out as a departmental solution, but it should evolve into an enterprise system that is deeply integrated with CRM, compliant with enterprise data standards, and responsive to changes in business strategy. Therefore, CMOs and CIOs are on a course to cross paths.

The question is whether it will be a train wreck that results in marketing having to build out its own IT function or whether it will be a meeting of the minds that results in lower overall costs, better customer data, and a solid basis for continued innovation.

Achieving the latter scenario will require CIOs to adopt a much more proactive approach toward supporting business process improvement, which may in turn require endorsement of this new mission from senior executives. Clearly, CMOs need to become much more tech savvy and CIOs will need to embrace marketing as a key player in the enterprise infrastructure.

The columnist is group vice president and regional managing director for the Middle East, Africa, and Turkey at global ICT market intelligence and advisory firm IDC.