How the Most Successful CMOs Foster Relationships Across the C-Suite

Chief marketing officers are more successful if they can forge better relationships with executives across the C-Suite. This is especially true for the CTO and CIO — who can be good partners on technology transformation.

Any savvy executive recognizes the importance of breaking down silos between departments at a company. It’s good for business: Companies with more cross-collaboration had greater customer loyalty and higher margins, according to a Harvard study.

Fostering collaboration among teams — especially hybrid or remote teams — is easier said than done. But for marketing executives, cross-team collaboration is more important than ever. Getting buy-in from members of the executive team is critical, especially the chief information officer, or CIO, and chief technology officer, or CTO, who are key partners for marketing teams that increasingly use data and emerging tools like AI to market more effectively.

“That one relationship is going to determine the success of every company,” Anup Rege, chief business officer of Zensar Technologies, a technology consulting firm, said in an interview with Forbes. “If I’m a CMO, it is in my interest to keep my CIO organization and the platform’s organization completely in tune. If I want to have subsequent successes in whatever marketing I’m doing, I need to make sure that whatever is being followed lives up to the promise that we have made in marketing.”

On small teams, it’s even more crucial that employees learn to be cross-collaborative to get the support and the resources they need to be successful. The average number of employees on a marketing team at a community bank or credit union is four, according to a survey from the American Bankers Association.

Marketing teams are crucial for the success of any bank. The better connected the CMO is to other teams, the more successful the team — and the bank — will be. Here are a few strategies smart marketers can use to foster better collaborations amongst the C-suite.

CIOs are Key Partners for Technology Transformation

Technology transformation is critical for community banks and credit unions, which often lag behind big bank competitors when it comes to implementing it. Yet, only 30% of banks report having executed a successful technology transformation strategy, with the majority falling short of objectives, according to a McKinsey report.

Marketing technologies are getting smarter — and it’s becoming more important for marketing teams to invest in technologies to keep up with a fast paced media cycle. It’s generally expected that marketers are familiar with new technologies, including AI, says Amanda Swanson, senior director in the Delivery Channels practice at Cornerstone Advisors.

“When I think about digital marketing, SEO, SEM, and social media, it’s about having the skills that an employee feels comfortable with [AI],” she says. “It’s the skills related to innovative marketing technologies.”

With shrinking budgets, it’s important to have someone else in your corner when it comes to technology transformation. The CTO or CIO can often be that partner, as some advanced technologies can cost companies millions of dollars, says Gyanendra Pati, global head of marketing and communications at Acuity Knowledge Partners, a research analytics data and technology provider to financial services.

“It could not be any better time to forge a better relationship with the CTO, and CIO,” Pati says. “As we talk about AI and large language models, technology adoption, and both from the client side and the marketing side, I am in need of technology like never before.”

“As we talk about AI and large language models, technology adoption, and both from the client side and the marketing side, I am in need of technology like never before.”

— Gyanendra Pati, Acuity Knowledge Partners

In turn, marketers can be good partners to the CIO, Pati says. “For a CIO or CTO to be extremely successful in implementing significant technology changes, they need to lean on marketing for significantly impactful internal communication and change management,” he says.

chart showing the roles of marketing in banking

But don’t neglect other members of the C-Suite, either, Pati says. For example, the chief human resources officer, or CHRO, can be a good partner when helping to make strategic hires for your team and even when developing consistent brand messaging.

“Marketing communication plays a significant role in onboarding, this is all integral in part of the brand building exercise,” he says.

Be a Good ‘Cultural Broker’

A 2019 article in Harvard Business Review explored implementing “cultural brokers” — or people who are intrinsically good at interfacing with other people — as a way to eliminate silos on teams. A study by one of the authors found that diverse teams that contained a “cultural broker” outperformed those that didn’t.

These employees help teams be more productive by acting as bridges and adhesives, the authors write. “A bridge offers himself as a go-between, allowing people in different functions or geographies to collaborate with minimal disruption to their day-to-day routine,” the authors say. “Adhesives, in contrast, bring people together and help build mutual understanding and lasting relationships.”

Marketing executives that want to forge closer relationships with other executives can work to develop these skills themselves, or hire employees who are naturally good at connecting with others. CMOs can improve their cultural brokering skills by working on developing a clear and consistent style of communication.

chart showing the types of positions marketers are being recruited for

“There’s no clear and straightforward recipe you have to adopt with the C-Suite but these two things stand out very clearly: one is communication and another is show and tell,” Pati says. Don’t leave room for interpretation, he says, especially when communicating with other teams. The more clearly you can communicate, the fewer assumptions others will have to make about what you mean, he says.

Additionally, “show don’t tell,” a popular adage for writers, encourages the communicator to describe something to the listener in a way that immerses them in the story or situation. “From the get-go, you are giving clarity on what you want to achieve,” Pati says. “It’s a lot more toward value creation.”

Read more from Caroline Hroncich on banking culture:

Know Your Team — And the Market

In some ways, being a good cultural broker not only means being good with people, it also means being able to masterfully navigate the politics of your organization. Spend some time getting to know the other parts of the bank, and encourage your team to do the same.

It’s also important to understand the market you’re working within, Pati says. The global financial and banking market has been going through a significant shift, between changing regulations and elections in different countries worldwide, there are numerous impacts that are drastically shifting the appetite of consumers. The more marketers can understand these conditions, the better positioned they’ll be to work across the broader C-suite.

“The role that marketing has played in the last couple of years, especially post pandemic, has become extremely important,” Pati says. “It’s not just about the vanity aspect of marketing, it’s about the value creation part of marketing. Marketers need to understand how they’re working to push the business forward.”

Caroline Hroncich is a freelance business journalist based in New York. She writes about workplace trends, HR, personal finance, banking, and more. Her work has appeared in MarketWatch, Business Insider, Employee Benefit News, the Society for Human Resource Management, and Cannabis Wire.

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