5 Questions Every CMO Should Ask the New CTO

Brandon Elliott, CTO of Rackspace Digital, offers five key questions a CMO can ask the new CTO recruit in order to kick-start a conversation around working together. Although, he notes, “It’s not really about the specific questions. It’s about breaking the ice and the CMO putting himself or herself in the CTO’s shoes.”

1. How involved do you want to be?

The point of this question is to explore the CTO’s comfort level, with marketing taking the lead on activities that fall between both your departments. Elliott suggests an example: “Are you comfortable with me dealing directly with AdWords and sharing that burden?”

2. What does success together look like?

More than 60 percent of marketing and IT professionals say they don’t agree on incentives and metrics. “There needs to be an upfront conversation that establishes solidarity in the executive suite,” Elliott says.

The CMO and CTO should rapidly determine how to come together as leaders who:

  • are directionally aligned.
  • can execute quickly together.
  • can keep costs in balance.
  • can present organizational wins as a joint success rather than part of the departmental domain.

Elliott says the conversation should start with the CMO explaining he has resources (money) and needs wins (sales). “Technology and talent investments are often expensive, and the CMO is offering to make that investment together,” Elliott says. “There’s nothing like skin in the game.”

3. How do you measure success?

This is a question that should lead to the setting of metric priorities for the CMO and CTO — typically involving costs and speed. “The goal is to establish a faster mindset,” Elliott says, “and show the organization that, as a pair, you are executing faster than you can individually, that costs are under control and that you have the ability to execute.”

The best starting point for metrics, based on historical data, likely involves reducing page load time. Forty percent of users abandon websites that take longer than three seconds to load, notes Kissmetrics. “If an e-commerce site is making $100,000 per day, a one-second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5 million in lost sales every year.”

A possible follow-up: “How do you expect to get recognition for those successes?”

4. Can I take on some of your expenses?

The CMO can make a huge overture to the CTO by committing that the burden of technology expenses will not be carried by the technology group alone. “Effectively, a CMO should offer a CTO whatever she needs, so she doesn’t look at requests as a burden or a negative,” Elliott says. “For example, the CMO should offer to take the expense of maintaining the website underneath her P&L.”

5. How can we work together faster?

More than any other metric, speed is increasingly crucial in today’s enterprise environment. “The CMO should make it clear that he’s willing to spend more in order to move faster,” says Elliott, “and acknowledge that you can’t do everything for free.”

The CTO should offer input on how to get the job done — working in-house vs. through a third-party, for example. Says Elliott: “The CMO needs to express an understanding that speed equals money, which is an all-too-common sticking point.”

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