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Why Your Company Needs to Hire a CMTO

How to define and recruit the right tech-marketing leader

CMOs and CIOs are increasingly asked to do each other's jobs. Getty Images

When they were in college, your CMO and CIO did not have the same major. Their first jobs out of school were probably not the same, and no decent hiring manager would consider them for the same position today.

Yet here we are, increasingly asking them to do one another's jobs.

Sheldon Monteiro Illustration: Alex Fine

As marketers depend more and more on technology to connect with consumers in an always-on world, and as IT is increasingly responsible for creative executions, the boundaries between CMO and CIO are rapidly blurring. Consider the now-famous prediction from Gartner analysts Laura McLellan and Michael Smith that "by 2017, the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO." As we approach that date, their forecast seems less and less far-fetched.

This is not a bad thing. Consumers today want seamless brand experiences. They want to move fluidly among a company's advertising, its shopping platform, its social media and its customer service. This means that marketing and IT must learn to work more closely together. Leading organizations are centralizing accountability for investments in marketing technology by establishing a newly created executive position: the chief marketing technology officer.

They are introducing this person either as a fully decorated member of the executive team or, more commonly, as accountable directly to the CMO, with close to the full mandate of a CIO or CTO. Ten years ago, the CMTO position didn't exist, but lately it's become something of a hot topic.

As important as departmental alignment is, the CMTO charter is not to bring technology to marketing. There are plenty of application vendors who are happy to do that on their own, selling to the CMO.

What, then, should the CMTO charter be? This person's most important work focus is to change marketing, customer experience and IT—including what those functions do and how they work together—in service of creating competitive advantage.

Three meta-trends fuel this charter. First, empowered consumers demand seamless brand experiences. Second, connected martech systems, built in thoughtfully organized layers, are replacing stand-alone products as enablers of competitive advantage. Third, organizations must consider how they go about transforming their entire businesses for a digital world, rather than digitizing a piece of them or adding limited digital revenues as an adjunct.

Despite excitement around the CMTO role, the ambiguity as to who these individuals are, the skills they possess and where they sit organizationally has led to considerable confusion. To help us understand the state of martech talent, SapientNitro conducted a first-of-its-kind study of marketing technologists' skills, career paths, attitudes and behaviors.

The results are striking. For example, we discovered six distinct professional archetypes, differing in background and competencies and which, consequently, are not equivalent or interchangeable. Organizations in search of the best person to steward marketing technology through a period of profound disruption need to define the role more specifically than simply as "marketing technologist."

But regardless of how each organization defines the CMTO, there is, without question, an enormous industry skill gap to fill these roles. In 2013, SapientNitro decided to do something about it and created CMTO University. Each year, up to 20 of our best technologists—talented people who are already in the business of creating beautiful experience platforms and e-commerce systems—spend an entire year learning to become full-fledged marketing technologists.

We've leveraged the best thinkers from across our agency and from every discipline, including business strategy and branding, research and analytics, creative and interaction design, experience and enterprise technology, and data management and data science.

This program takes a three-pronged approach to creating these hybrid individuals. First, CMTOs should be immersed in the business and culture of marketing and advertising, understanding concepts like segmentation and positioning, ROI and NPV, branding, media and mix modeling. Second, they should be exposed to the vast and ever-expanding marketing technology landscape, its categories and evolving vendor landscape, and advanced practices in software and product life-cycle management.

Lastly, they must possess the influence and management skills to foster cross-department collaboration. If they're going to break down silos, they must be able to speak to and influence people coming from different backgrounds.

To move beyond ads, we need people who can see around corners, paint the big picture and allow customers to experience brand stories through integrated story systems. We need to move beyond thinking in terms of channels and platforms.

The truth is, employees rarely come equipped with that breadth of perspective, or the charisma to evangelize it.

It's up to us to grow our talent.

Sheldon Monteiro (@sheldon_tm) is CTO of SapientNitro and founder of SapientNitro CMTO University. 

This story first appeared in the Sept. 28 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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