CIOs Are from Mars; CMOs Are from Venus

CIOs Are from Mars; CMOs Are from Venus

CIOs Are from Mars; CMOs Are from Venus: Seven Ways to
Bridge the Great Divide (and Strengthen Your “Soft Edge” in the Process)

Infighting is nothing new in the corporate world, but in today’s marketplace it can be
especially damaging. And the rise of web commerce and social media has exacerbated the friction between two C-suite leaders in particular—CMOs and CIOs. Rich Karlgaard explains why their “Mars vs. Venus” rivalry matters and how companies can bridge the divide.

Behind closed doors, in the corner offices of companies throughout the nation, a heated C-suite battle rages on. On the surface it looks like a battle waged over the corporate budget—a tale as old as time—with both sides seeking to claim a bigger portion of the pie. But take a closer look at the classic fight between chief marketing officers (CMOs) and chief information officers (CIOs), urges Rich Karlgaard. When you do, you’ll see that the contention is actually about much more than just money.

“The CMO-CIO divide is exacerbated by the rise of web commerce and social media,” says Karlgaard, author of the new book The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-118-82942-4, $28.00, “These new marketing channels mean CMOs command a growing share of their company’s investment in technology, and CIOs are none too happy about that. But still, it’s only part of the story.

The Soft Edge

The Soft Edge

“Dig deeper and you start to see stark differences between CMOs and CIOs,” he adds. “CMOs tend to be female while CIOs tend to be male, so you have a War of the Sexes going on. Then, you realize CMOs are liberal arts types while CIOs are technologists. As I learned from Forrester Research’s Sheryl Pattek, most CMOs think their CIOs are jargon-speaking nerds with no sense of market urgency, while CIOs think CMOs are ignorant fakers when it comes to technology more complex than a PowerPoint slide show.”

So Corporate America has a dogs vs. cats problem—or perhaps a “Mars vs. Venus” problem is more appropriate. And mutual disdain and squabbling prevent the collaboration needed to thrive in a tough global economy. But can anything be done about it?

Actually, yes, says Karlgaard. Invest in your company’s “soft edge,” and while CMOs and CIOs may not start holding hands and singing Kumbayah, at least they will have the language to discuss their differences and the values to bridge them.

First, what is the “soft edge”? To understand it, picture a triangle. Great strategy makes up the base. Masterful execution makes up one of the triangle’s two vertical sides. (Karlgaard calls this the “hard edge.”) It’s the third side of the triangle—the oft-neglected, misunderstood, and underfunded soft edge—that consumes Karlgaard’s book.

It’s much tougher to quantify but might be summed up as “the expression of your deepest values” or “the heart and soul of your company.” The author describes the soft edge culture in terms of five pillars—Trust, Smarts, Teamwork, Taste, and Story—and the book, packed with real-world examples, unfolds around them.

“Most C-suites and shareholders speak the language of the hard edge: metrics, analytics, logistics, strategies, and a well-defined and easy-to-see ROI,” says Karlgaard. “But today’s turbulent marketplace has taken much of the bite out of the hard edge. What can be measured and quantified can also be analyzed and copied by the competition.

“Look around and you’ll see the companies that have achieved soft edge excellence—the FedExes, Apples, and NetApps of the world—are thriving, while others flounder in our uneven and unforgiving recovery,” he adds. “A strong soft edge makes a company resilient and agile— even in the face of the occasional C-suite disagreement.”

One company that has figured out how to nurture its soft edge is NetApp, the $6.5 billion vendor of computer network storage solutions, which regularly makes Clayton Christensen’s list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies and a number of the best-places-to-work lists. Specifically, look at the relationship between NetApp’s CMO, Julie Parrish, and its CIO, Cynthia Stoddard—they’re the perfect example of how a strong focus on the soft edge improves relationships, eases internal strife, and makes for a healthier company.

Read on for some steps CMOs and CIOs can take right now to follow their lead:

Strive to understand each other’s challenges. (Soft Edge Pillar: TRUST) NetApp’s CMO, Julie Parrish, wisely empathizes with the company’s CIO, Cynthia Stoddard. She’ll tell you straightaway that she thinks Stoddard has one of the toughest jobs at NetApp. Parrish recognizes that Stoddard faces multiple challenges including: adapting to the cloud while assuring adequate security; betting on which technology platforms to go with; serving all functions at the company, not just marketing; and always doing more with less. Hers is a rapidly changing world.

And Stoddard recognizes that Parrish’s world is changing just as rapidly. After all, the share of marketing that goes through digital channels—through the web and social media, on smartphones and tablets—is growing like crazy. Social media in particular is always tossing up market opportunities that are fleeting in nature. These must be grabbed or they’re lost.

“Stoddard recognizes, as all CIOs must, that a CMO’s requests for greater technology budgets are not power grabs, but a reflection of reality,” notes Karlgaard. “Of course, to come to that understanding, there must be trust. And in these high-level relationships, trust comes from three places—first, showing that you have the other person’s best interests in mind; second, working hard to achieve common language and transparency; and finally, doing what you say you’ll do.”

Work together to ensure you’re mining the right data. (Soft Edge Pillar: SMARTS) To stay ahead of the curve, Parrish and Stoddard regularly meet to discuss trends in predictive analytics, sentiment analysis, and other valuable information. This requires a healthy CMO-CIO relationship. To stay smart, Parrish likes to put this question to their teams: What are the questions we should be asking?

That’s how NetApp gets the information it needs in order to build the right dashboards. If you don’t ask the right questions, Parrish explains, you build up a lot of technology in marketing without any coherence. As CMO, she uses Stoddard and her team of technologists to make sure marketing is using technology wisely and efficiently to get the data it needs. Parrish adds, “The key question for me is, where can I get data that will help NetApp be smarter? How do we mine data from the outside and pull it back into the organization? Those are the big questions.”

Don’t succumb to departmental tunnel vision. Keep the needs of the whole company in mind. (Soft Edge Pillar: SMARTS) This is an important reminder for any C-suite leader, but especially for CMOs and CIOs, who may feel the urge to dig in their heels for their own departments.

“No company survives solely based on its marketing, its technology, its operations, or any other factor,” says Karlgaard. “The company functions as a whole. In order to be successful, C-suite leaders cannot get bogged down in their own department’s issues. Every leader must recognize that the company’s overall needs matter more than an individual department’s.”

In The Soft Edge, Karlgaard tells of his conversations with Tony Fadell, CEO of Nest Labs. Fadell told Karlgaard about the importance of team meetings at Nest. Fadell brings everyone together—from user-experience people to management people to algorithms people—so that there are people there who can speak to every aspect of their product from design to marketing to user experience. Otherwise, Fadell says, the company’s thermostat algorithms might be written solely to satisfy the “code jockeys” at Nest.

And Stoddard notes that at NetApp they use proper governance to facilitate faster learning: “We use an enterprise executive architecture committee, with all the leaders of every NetApp function—marketing, sales, HR, operations, finance, and so on. That’s how we can come up with a roadmap for the whole company. We put on our NetApp hats and ask if this is the right thing to do for the company at this particular time.”

“My conversations with Fadell and my observations of how Parrish and Stoddard handle things at NetApp show just how vitally important it is to have analytical people and intuitive people in the room together on every major issue,” says Karlgaard. “You need the complementarities of the design people and execution people; the creative people and discipline people; the math people and salespeople. We have to be willing to learn from each other. We have to be humble enough to say, ‘I don’t know’ and then seek out the answers in each other.”

Regularly immerse yourself in the world of the “other side.” (Soft Edge Pillar: TEAMWORK) In a healthy CMO-CIO relationship, members of the marketing team and the IT team do regular “tours of duty” on the other side. “Embedded marketers get to learn from their IT counterparts about data and analytics; embedded IT people get to learn about key marketing programs and metrics,” explains Karlgaard. “These tours of duty help establish common ground that can help create unity and trust and helps lubricate collaboration.”

Be as transparent as possible. Invite scrutiny. (Soft Edge Pillar: TEAMWORK) At NetApp, both sides are open and honest about their cost structures. NetApp’s CMO Parrish established a foundation of good teamwork with CIO Stoddard when she admitted that marketing owned too many projects. “I raised my hand for an IT audit,” Parrish said. From that day, Stoddard knew Parrish wasn’t trying to build an empire.

“Collaboration and innovation are musts for survival in the global economy and that means great teamwork is vital,” says Karlgaard. “But you can’t have great teamwork if you aren’t strong in another Soft Edge Pillar as well: Trust. And you can’t have trust without transparency. That’s why Parrish’s IT audit request was so powerful. It was a way of saying, ‘Our information is your information. Help us see what we can do to make this company better.’ Transparency increases accountability, passion, and effort; it facilitates learning and catalyzes innovation.”

Don’t try to bury disagreement. (Soft Edge Pillar: TASTE) In a soft edge excellent company, CMOs teach CIOs how marketing platforms are crafted and how to fine-tune messages for any given audiences. CIOs show where complexity will slow down deployment, and therefore suggest areas to simplify the platform for maximum rapid deployment. Sometimes there is disagreement. Don’t bury it. Instead, use it to push everyone forward as you keep your eye on the prize. The truth is, taste evolves through disagreement. When opinions are shared, problems hashed out, arguments heard, the best possible products are born—products that look great and work great and that are somehow so compelling to customers that they must buy them.

“Recall how Nest Labs CEO Tony Fadell likes to put analytics people and marketing people in the same room to discuss which algorithms will create customer enchantment and loyalty in Nest’s products,” says Karlgaard. “Rest assured these meetings aren’t spent with everyone in agreement, congratulating each other on their perfect ideas. There’s disagreement, maybe even arguing. And what Fadell, and Parrish, and Stoddard, and other soft edge leaders understand is that that’s okay. Sometimes it’s just better to argue it out.

“Yes, there will be tension,” he adds. “It may be messy, and there will very likely be misunderstandings. It might even feel dysfunctional. But sometimes you just have to get people together, urge them to speak up, and convince them to face their disagreements. Encourage these difficult conversations. In the end, their differing opinions and interests will sharpen the company and result in better products and services.”

Let your story drive your behavior (and solve your disagreements). (Soft Edge Pillar: STORY) NetApp keeps really, really good company. (Excuse the pun!) Along with Google, Singapore Airlines, Starbucks, and very few others, it makes two annual lists: the world’s best places to work and the world’s most innovative companies. It takes huge pride in making both lists, and it should. But aside from pride, the real value of making both lists is that it creates a consistent story for employees, suppliers, and customers.

Whenever NetApp’s CMO Parrish and CIO Stoddard disagree on anything, they can call a time-out, step back, and ask: What would a top innovative company do? What would a best place to work company do? Thus NetApp’s story—its belief about itself—drives the right behavior and, more often than not, correct decisions at every turn. It’s a beautiful thing.

“Knowing the right story to tell combined with knowing how to deliver it effectively can inspire everything from understanding to action,” notes Karlgaard. “It can be used to connect employees to a strategy by providing understanding, belief, and motivation. Story can create legends that an entire workplace culture can build upon, grow with, and lean on. Stories capture and communicate knowledge, drive innovation, build community, strengthen organizational culture, and support individual growth.”

“Julie Parrish and Cynthia Stoddard realized long ago that greater things would happen for NetApp if they put their own departmental loyalties aside and worked together,” says Karlgaard. “They realized this would help them more easily respond to the challenges and changes constantly being thrown at NetApp. And it would let them optimize both departments’ functions, helping the company grow and innovate—one of the only roads to corporate survival these days. The confidence to do all of that comes from NetApp’s strong soft edge.

“The message to all C-suite leaders is clear,” he adds. “We are now working in a corporate environment where the soft edge dominates, where trust, teamwork, smarts, taste, and story matter as much as ROI, market share, and other hard metrics. Recognize this truth, and live by it, and you’ll thrive. Get caught up in infighting over hard edge principles and you may not even survive.”

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The Five Pillars of the Soft Edge
By Rich Karlgaard, author of the new book The Soft Edge: Where Great
Companies Find Lasting Success
(Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint, 2014,
SBN: 978-1-118-82942-4, $28.00,

Success in business has traditionally meant having a strategy and excelling at the hard skills. Controlling costs. Boosting speed. Effectively managing the supply chain. Superior number-crunching and analytics. Most of today’s CEOs, CFOs, chief operating officers, boards of directors, and shareholders speak the language of this hard edge. It’s their comfort zone: numbers, metrics, analytics, logistics, strategies, and a well-defined and easy-to-see ROI.

But today’s turbulent marketplace has taken much of the bite out of the hard edge. Its very appeal, the fact that it can be measured and quantified, also means it can be analyzed and copied by the competition. To really get ahead, and stay there, a company must also master its “soft edge”—a powerful competitive advantage that is made up of five pillars:

PILLAR 1: Trust. When it comes to trust, you must ask yourself two questions: 1) Does your external market, your customers and shareholders, trust you? And 2) Does your internal market, your employees and suppliers, trust you?

Customers must trust that your product or service is authentic and robust enough to withstand the immediacy of today’s media. And when things go wrong, they must believe you’ll do the right thing. Internally, trust underlies effective working relationships. It improves group effectiveness and organizational performance. Maybe most importantly, trust underpins innovation by facilitating learning and experimentation.

Trust may seem like a blurry concept in terms of ROI. But research and market results have proven that deep trust creates measurable real-world returns.

PILLAR 2: Smarts. Today, “smarts” is much more than what we conventionally think of as “intelligence.” In the age of Google, true smartness means the ability to see and recognize patterns—and constitutes the difference between forecasting a likely future and simply following the conventional wisdom.

Of course, we know that unlocking knowledge and supporting learning are pivotal to success. But there’s another dimension to being smart: one that relates to a few old-fashioned sounding concepts like grit, perseverance, and hard work. It also requires an ability to learn from others and from our own mistakes.

PILLAR 3: Teamwork. How does FedEx’s Fred Smith manage 290,000 worldwide employees, who move more than 3 trillion packages in a year? What balance of central authority and peripheral autonomy works in such a logistically complex organization? Or why, in an entirely different industry, did German software giant SAP blow up the management framework for its 20,000-person development department and replace it with small teams?

Since collaboration and innovation are a must in the global economy, effective teamwork is vital. Yes, we humans are imperfect. We have different needs, roles, and perspectives that we bring to every interaction or team effort. But when we work together, we make each other better. We increase accountability, passion, and effort. We facilitate learning and catalyze innovation.

For example, just consider that team-oriented selling and sales commissions outperform individually focused sales teams by 30 percent.

PILLAR 4: Taste. This is the word Steve Jobs used when he described Apple’s unique but universal aesthetic appeal. Jobs felt taste came from his own understanding of the yin-yang of science and humanity. The chief designer of Specialized Bicycles, Robert Egger, calls it “the elusive sweet spot between data truth and human truth.” Nest Labs founder Tony Fadell said, “If you don’t have an emotionally engaging design, no one will care.”

Clever product design and integration are proxies for intelligence—they make customers feel smart. If your product or service is seen as a badge of intelligence, you’re far along the road to lasting success. But taste is much more than just good design. It’s a universal sensibility, an emotional engagement, that appeals to the deepest part of ourselves. It’s wonderment and desire, power and control. And we see it in those magical products that not only show us at our best, but also make us feel and perform even better.

PILLAR 5: Story. In a world where outsiders can weigh in and have a greater voice on your brand, the ability to create an effective narrative is more important than ever. Used both internally and externally, stories create purpose and build brand. Purpose may be a soft attribute, but it’s what gives you steel in your spine, especially when cutting corners might temporarily boost the bottom line and delight shareholders.

Externally, stories are used to launch new brands and enhance the image of existing brands—a task made more difficult by today’s many new forms of communication.

Make no mistake, the hard edge does matter. Mastering it is “table stakes”—necessary to compete but not sufficient to win. Still, companies that can’t find the right balance between their hard and soft edges—those that neglect and underestimate the five pillars—will ultimately fall to those that can.

What many left-brained business titans have viewed as the realm of artists, idealists, hippies, poets, shrinks, and do-gooders, the soft edge is where innovation happens. It’s where brands are built. It’s how companies become agile. It’s where loyalty, passion, and commitment are born. It’s how today’s companies can differentiate themselves from the competition.

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About the Author:
Rich Karlgaard is author of The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-118-82942-4, $28.00, He is also the publisher of Forbes magazine, where he writes a column, Innovation Rules, known for its witty assessment of business and leadership issues. He has been a regular panelist on television’s Forbes on FOX since the show’s inception in 2001. Karlgaard is also a serial entrepreneur, having co-founded Upside magazine, Garage Technology Partners, and Silicon Valley’s premier public business forum, the 7,500-member Churchill Club. He is a past winner of Ernst & Young’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” award. Karlgaard’s 2004 book, Life 2.0, was a Wall Street Journal business bestseller. A graduate of Stanford University, Karlgaard and his family live in Silicon Valley.

About the Book:
The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-118-82942-4, $28.00, is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and direct from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945. In Canada, call 800-567-4797. For more information, please visit the book’s page on