Guest author Esmeralda Swartz is chief marketing officer at MetraTech.

Most of the high-end products we purchase are bought without inherent understanding of how they work. That's not usually a problem, but the Internet went nuts when Gartner recently predicted that by 2017, chief marketing officers (CMOs) will spend more on technology than chief information officers (CIOs) will.

Various technologists and data center experts howled that “People (CMOs) who don’t understand enterprise software are going to spend billions of dollars on stuff CIOs understand far better.”

(See also Chief Digital Officer: Technology + Marketing = New Enterprise Leader.)

What Do You Really Need To Know?

To which the logical, if counter-intuitive, response might be, “So what?”

CIOs most often deal with back office technology and are typically not the internal champions or the drivers of front office innovations. But in today’s world, that's no longer where the action is. In the modern, connected, mobile environment, companies need to connect with customers with personalized and differentiated services. So called "stickiness" is essential, and CMOs are better equipped to meet those demands, regardless of whether they have the same level of technical knowledge as the CIO.

Let’s look at an everyday example. Prior to investing large sums of money in a new car, few people feel the need to master the inner workings of the internal combustion engine. Not only do we not go to mechanic school before handing over $20,000 or more, we don’t even take a qualified mechanic to inspect the goods we’re considering buying.

Likewise, we buy houses ignorant of the first principles of building or architecture. And many of us drop significant cash on personal computer hardware and software knowing little or nothing of Java or C++ or anything else technical.

Despite all this blindness, for the most part, what we buy doesn’t let us down.

How Do Buying Decisions Work?

Let’s think about how we buy a car, and how it relates to how we buy enterprise technology.

First, we think about what we want at a high level: Does a particular vehicle appear fit for the purpose? Do the manufacturers’ brand values create a sense of identification and aspiration? Is the price right? Is this car (perhaps fueled by peer pressure) desirable?

In short, we respond to cues created by a combination of real needs and automotive marketing. We read the brochure (solution description) and if we’re really interested in cars, we check the performance specs (functional description). Maybe we’ll watch Top Gear or an equivalent TV show (in other words, check out the webinar). Then, we go for a test drive (the proof of concept) and find out if – for at least 10 minutes – the car does what it should. And then, without so much as lifting the hood, we sign on the dotted line. Ultimately, we’ve got a problem that buying a car solves, so we buy a car.

How Would Technology Buying Decisions Change?

So, here’s the salient question: How would enterprise technology buying decisions change if they felll out of the hands of the guy who runs the data center and into the hands of the guy who helps run the business (i.e., someone like the CMO)?

CIOs might recoil in horror at the thought of commercially fueled CMOs taking over a key aspect of their domain. Buying software - wait for it - simply because it threatened to get the job done - will likely ruffle some feathers. Software companies, too, might not adapt well to the challenge of selling to an entirely different audience with significantly different motivations.

But when you look at the data center and the state of enterprise software today (outdated, outmoded, under-performing - much of it no longer fit for the purpose and shored up by adjunct solutions), you have to wonder if the IT experts who’ve been responsible for buying enterprise software for the past two decades have got it right.

  • We hear of spaghetti code rendering the rapid change necessary to monetize new business models being near impossible.
  • We see system heaped upon system where each new component is delivered simply to shore up a function or bill for a service that old systems can’t handle.
  • We are told of escalating costs, impossible maintenance, and a patchwork quilt of product work-arounds that at best just about do the job.
  • We learn of enterprises locked in to vendors for life, even after getting something entirely different than what they thought they were buying.

CMOs Won't Get Fooled Again?

All that makes it easy to argue that the era of CIO-driven enterprise software purchasing hasn’t been a resounding success. If the CMOs took over, would things likely be any worse?

It may be that Gartner's prediction isn’t so much an evolutionary change as a response to a broken buying pattern. A growing number of enterprises complain of their data centers being held ransom by vendors. But isn’t part of the problem their own CIOs’ purchasing decisions?

Isn't it possible that a new and commercially driven buying process will make things better?

Either way, CMOs buying technology will create challenges for big, established software vendors in an interesting place. How do you market your next product if your last one created the problem you're now trying to solve? As CMOs assume more purchasing responsibilities, they are unlikely to want to buy from poachers-turned-gamekeepers

See Also:

 
Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.