Synergy between CIO and CMO: A Boon to the Organization

Synergy between CIO and CMO: A Boon to the Organization

Scott Terrell, SVP & CIO, HealthMarkets, Inc.

Scott Terrell, SVP & CIO, HealthMarkets, Inc.

Now more than ever, it’s critical that the CIO of a company be in lockstep with its Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). I can attest to this, having gone through some of the biggest transformations seen in any industry, at any company, at any time. But before discussing my story, it’s important to relate why the CIO-CMO relationship is critical to success.

3 Reasons to Partner with Your CMO

One, it’s a consumer-driven world out there. With their dollars in hand, consumers are solely in charge of who they work with, when, where, and how. The CMO, as the champion of the customer, is the key participant in that market dynamic.

Two, all technology is marketing and marketing is technology. The line between technology and marketing is almost completely blurred. Websites, consumer apps, email, text and communication systems, customer service tools, sales software; all of it may appear to be technology but it all touches the consumer and, as such, is marketing too.

Three, the pace of change doesn’t just appear to be getting faster, it actually is. The needs of your business, the opportunity in the market, and the demands of consumers aren’t going to wait while your team schedules prioritization meetings and develops a waterfall project plan. The time is now, making it all the more critical that you and your CMO are working in tandem.

Embracing Fast-Paced Changes

So, what did my trial by fire look like? It began when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) changed our world. HealthMarkets is one of the country’s largest health and Medicare insurance agencies serving individuals and families. Back in the fall of 2013, the major provisions of the ACA were set to go into effect, and we all knew it would accelerate the consumerization of healthcare in America. What we didn’t know was how much turbulence there would be along the way.

In April 2013, we hired our first CMO, Michael Z. Stahl. Before that, our marketing strategy was rooted in a strong ground game with more than 3,000 local agents performing their own community-based outreach. But with the ACA on its way, the marketing function needed more focus, the company’s message coming from a single source. Mike was brought in to drive that change.

We had six months before the start of the first ACA Open Enrollment Period, and Mike set forth an ambitious agenda. The plan included rebranding the company completely. That included changing its name to HealthMarkets. We built out new direct-to-consumer channels on the web at and introduced a new contact center. We developed a branded advertising program across online and offline media, created a data and attribution infrastructure to accurately measure marketing performance, and so much more.

I have to admit, when my team and I saw the ambitions of our new CMO, we felt it would be daunting to accomplish everything in half a year—but only for a minute. Instead of slowing things down with red tape, we quickly became invigorated by the vision and everyone buckled down to figure out how to get it all done.

Since then we’ve embraced an ever-changing environment. Our business is facing normal consumer and technology evolution like most businesses. But we’ve also continued to ride a turbulent ACA market that’s been marred by regulatory changes, large premium spikes, and insurance carrier exits. At every turn, we’ve moved in concert with our marketing department. We’ve built improved enrollment software, proprietary lead distribution technology, and deployed marketing automation tools, among many other fruitful projects.

By working on that initial plan with an aggressive deadline leading up to the ACA’s launch, we forged a bond with the CMO that continues to this day and allows us to attack the challenges of tomorrow with vigor and great collaboration.

While managing chaos within ACA is probably unique, the opportunity to find success through deepening the CIO-CMO relationship isn’t. CIOs are well-served to partner with our CMOs in a way that allows for mutual success. Here are my five tips.

5 Tips for Strengthening CIO-CMO Relationships

1. Keep an open mind. The CMO is your friend and needs technology to be successful. The CMO just wants you to have a flexible approach that puts the focus on achieving the business’s needs.

2. Welcome marketers’ use of technology, and partner with them to make the right purchases. The world is awash with marketing and consumer technology, and CMOs are going to need many tools to be successful. Work with your CMO to find the right solutions, and make sure they fit in with the rest of your tech stack.

3. Create the right model for the tech and marketing teams to work together. The lines between the marketing and tech worlds are blurring. Building a culture of inclusiveness will benefit your teams and will encourage collaboration across departmental lines. You’ll find success if you foster an organic working relationship between key team members.

4. Embrace change and alternative thinking. The CMO is trying to create a brand that appeals to a consumer whose demands are growing swiftly. The CIO needs to be comfortable leading an organization through rapid development processes. Since consumer demands are evolving, marketing demands will too, necessitating requirements and scope to often adjust on the fly. The days of slow and steady are over.

5. Avoid the “big reveal.” Encourage transparency when participating in planning, design, and working through problems. The best marketers are less interested in simply providing requirements and sitting back while you develop. Instead, they want to be deeply engaged end to end. That will give them the assurance that the project meets their needs completely. And you’ll avoid re-work and achieve an improved end product.

Weekly Brief

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