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Five Reasons CMO Alliances With C-Suite Peers Fail, Part 1

By Laura McLellan | July 25, 2014 | 0 Comments

In five alliterative words, the reasons for failure can be categorized as focus, fit, feasibility, function and financial.  “Collaborate or die” may be an over-exaggeration, but as companies grasp the magnitude of change necessary to survive and thrive in the world of digital business, the most successful understand the need for cooperation between executives.  CMOs are one of the key players in alliances because their mission to attract, acquire and retain customers touches so many other functions.

What is Collaboration?

Collaboration doesn’t mean everyone has equal responsibility.  Think of it as working together to accomplish common goals.  The reasons range from “need to have” to “nice to have”.  Alliances between senior executives usually mean formal but flexible intra-organizational and collaborative relationships which have enterprise-wide impact and scope.  They can be both strategic and tactical.  In the short-term they can be as simple as coalitions with temporary but symbiotic objectives.

This blog will discuss focus – where alliances fit in marketing’s strategy and why they are important.  The series will continue over the coming weeks with deeper looks at fit, feasibility, function and financial. 

Where Are Peer Alliances Needed?

If the CMO has done due diligence, s/he has a pretty good idea before they join the organization who likely allies and overt or covert adversaries will be at the C-suite level, and what the key issues are. During the first 100 days of intelligence gathering and planning short-term wins, s/he has to set the groundwork to strengthen allies and convince others of the benefits of some form of alliance.  See The Ultimate Key to CMO Tenure: Align Up, Down and Sideways Expectations. 

This is not to imply that alliances are simple or easy to initiate and manage.  Alliances are complex because they deal with people, with company culture, and the uncertainty and fluidity inherent in all corporate relationships.   A peer alliance, unlike an external strategic alliance, is not managed by formal contract terms and conditions.  Gartner has seen too many instances where lack of focus has resulted in less than productive alliances.

Why Is Focus Important?

Lack of focus, as exemplified by the absence of clear and well-conceived direction, goals and purpose, is the original sin for any business.  The majority of CMOs tell us building cross-functional collaboration is a stated strategic goal for their companies – designed for impact to both the top line and the bottom line. Many CMOs have made alliance planning with key peer functions an integral component of their annual business planning and budgeting.

This is all good news, providing that goals, plans and budgets are tied to the strategic goals of the company; strategic goals are clear; and the resulting goals between functions are clearly understood. In short, success depends on clear and consistent focus.

What Are the Symptoms  of Lack of Focus?

Misalignment with the company’s strategy is the most common problem.  It manifests itself in three main ways:

  • Different strategic goals are being pursued because there is no clear business strategy against which each alliance group’s needs can be assessed, aligned and prioritized.
  • The CMO’s credibility is damaged when the alliance appears to operate well at the C-suite level, but is chaotic underneath because the alliance agreement has not been integrated into the functional vision, mission and purpose.
  • A failure to “connect the dots” that results in a wasteful use of company resources as the CMO and one or more functions operate the same but separate unconnected activities, even if in pursuit of the same strategic goal.

What are the Remedies for Lack of Focus?

The CMO goes back to square one and revisits the company strategy. S/he looks at the goals of the marketing organization and performs a diagnostic exercise on how alliances with various peers do vs. should contribute to the short- and long-term goals of the company as a whole. This includes a review of the existing cross-functional relationships, with the goal of revamping them to better match.  

One way to do that is with relationship and influence mapping.  They are not new disciplines.  Usually the CMO can draw an influence map at their peer level on one sheet of paper without much difficulty.  Myriad visually appealing software tools exist if you want to carry the exercise down to all levels of the marketing organization, or build maps for different business priorities and overlay them. 

Another remedy some companies have found effective is to put partnering one or two levels down from the C-suite in their organization.  They train all their managers in order to build a level playing field of knowledge about the company’s strategy, goals and purpose.  They workshop how each function could better align to meet those goals. They often supplement the managers’ knowledge with the use of experienced consultants. 

Fit is the Next Failure

Fit is focus in action. Focus refers to the degree to which alliance strategy and goals are aligned with business strategy and goals.  Fit refers to the degree to which an organization’s culture, structure, systems and processes are aligned with the strategy and goals.  Look for that discussion next week.

This week’s Gartner for Marketing Leaders editorial calendar contains published Gartner documents on Marketing Management, including “Reshaping the Marketing Organization for the 21st Century”  (subscription required) and two sets of five articles on the different hats the CMO wears and what tools they are using to address internal challenges.  There’s also new free marketing research available at


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