Technology Questions Every CMO Must Ask

Marketers today encounter a mind-boggling array of technologies. CMOs I talk to are swamped by meeting requests from technology vendors, and most feel an acute pressure to climb on the tech bandwagon. But they worry about the massive distraction of full-scale technology assessments—and about the risk of buying expensive tools that don’t live up to their potential.

My colleagues and I believe CMOs can make better technology sourcing decisions by asking five fundamental questions. The first two focus on avoiding the all-too-common trap of treating each technology decision in isolation.

1. Will the technology advance a critical marketing priority? This seems like an obvious consideration, but we often see the technology tail wagging the marketing dog. Plenty of the new tools have the potential to add value in an absolute sense, which is why they appear on CMOs’ radar screens in the first place. But the real question is how much value the tool under evaluation adds relative to other possibilities.

Marketers who ask this question make individual technology assessments in the context of the overall marketing priorities that a given tool will address. It’s hardly rocket science. But this common-sense discipline often falls victim to a combination of poor planning and siloed decision-making—for example, when individual marketing teams independently make narrow, channel-specific technology choices without accounting for interdependencies and appropriate sequencing.

2. Will the tool add balance to the marketing technology portfolio? It’s useful to categorize marketing technologies into three buckets. The first helps a company deliver more personalized marketing content and experiences to customers and prospects (especially through digital media). The second allows marketers to use data and analytics to reach better decisions. The third improves the effectiveness and efficiency of core marketing workflows. These buckets are interlinked. For example, marketing automation technology helps deliver personalized content and offers to large numbers of individual customers on a scale that would be unfeasible using traditional manual processes.

Over time, marketers should strive to build a technology portfolio that is balanced across the three buckets. So any individual technology assessment needs to account for how a given tool fits into the architecture of the overall portfolio.

In many ways, acquiring a new technology is the easy part. The harder part is getting people to use it—which raises three additional questions.

3. Is the organization culturally ready to adopt the new technology? Like technologies elsewhere, marketing technologies can unsettle long-held views and ways of working. Changing these attitudes and behaviors requires a multi-pronged approach: championing by senior leadership, evangelism by believers on the marketing front line, and active involvement of middle managers in encouraging the change. This “sponsorship spine” is at the core of effective change management and raises the odds of disciplined, deliberate adoption. Success requires identifying desired adoption behaviors, anticipating resistance and challenges, and having a deliberate mitigation plan — all before acquiring a new technology.

4. How readily can current marketing workflows integrate the new technology? To take one example: a number of new technologies can improve the analytic power of marketing test-and-learn processes. But many marketers still treat test-and-learn as an adjunct to their main creative and campaign-management workflows. If test-and-learn remains a sideshow, the impact of these new technologies on marketing outcomes will necessarily be limited. It’s only when core marketing processes are overhauled to integrate ongoing testing and iteration (so-called agile marketing) that the value of the new technologies will be realized.

5. Do potential users have the skills they need to benefit fully from the technology? Even when marketers are excited about a new tool, they may lack the skills and capabilities to use it. While most vendors do provide training and support, it may be inadequate to an organization’s needs. Additional training and other support—even new hires—may be required to bridge the capability gaps. Hence, the technology assessment needs to include a plan (and a budget) for whatever additional training and capability investments are needed.

Questions like these are part of the playbook of technology buyers in other parts of the enterprise, who have been adopting new technologies for more than two decades. Marketing is a relative newcomer to this game, which is why so many CMOs feel overwhelmed. The good news is that a well-planned technology diligence process—a process that anchors individual decisions in a larger context and focuses on creating the right environment in terms of sponsorship, process changes, and capabilities—can significantly improve the odds that marketing’s many new technologies will deliver on their promise.

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Expanding the Mobile Apps Market: Making Mobile Work at the Base of the Pyramid

Arne Hoel/The World Bank

The diagram of a horizontally sliced triangle, with its wide base and pointy tip, has been used to represent socio-economic data for decades. The lowest and largest portion represents the poorest and most populous segment of society – living “at the bottom of the pyramid.” In the context of mobile innovation, we prefer the alternate term, “base of the pyramid,” which is closer to signifying the foundational, fundamental role of this demographic group in the health of an economy.

Regardless of semantics, the phrase has been widely used by researchers to consider the effects of various phenomena on this group of people (see select references related to digital entrepreneurship here). While many of these studies have produced insights for the development community, few have contributed practical knowledge for the entrepreneurs who live among and serve this critical group.

In 2012, infoDev commissioned country case studies on the use of mobile devices (then still mostly simple phones) at the base of the pyramid in Kenya and South Africa, with funding from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and DFID (UK). Relying in part on a diary methodology and household surveys, the team was able to collect a rich set of qualitative and quantitative data to describe how mobile technologies were being used by the poor in their daily lives, as well as recording a series of videos with users.

They showed, for instance, that users in Kenya were willing to forego basic necessities such as food, transport or toiletries to pay for mobile credit in the knowledge that this would give them better opportunities to find work. In other words, we found that mobile phones are highly valued by and influential in the lives of people at the “base of the pyramid,” and decided to deepen our knowledge further in a way that would benefit entrepreneurs who create applications that serve this population.

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Monitoring and Evaluation vs. Good Management in Development

Last week, I was at the M&E Tech conference in Washington, DC. It was two days of discussion on how to better use technology for monitoring and evaluation of development projects, and how to monitor and evaluate the use of technology for development projects. So ICT4M&E as well as M&E for ICT4D. Got it? Cool.

We were barely done with the second session when I had a quick reaction: We’ve talked a lot about the need to put more time and money into M&E. It’s a perennial issue in development, even ignoring the technology dimension. What’s always struck me as weird about the “spend more on M&E” argument is that the whole idea of M&E is totally unique to development, aid, nonprofits, and the broader social good space. M&E doesn’t exist in the private sector. Why is that?

Short answer: monitoring and evaluation are part and parcel with management. Whether you’re managing a project, store, service provider, manufacturing plant, or whatever, you can’t manage (read: make decisions) without data that creates a feedback loop. That’s monitoring. And you can’t make larger choices about strategic direction or investments without making a summative assessment of past work. That’s evaluation.

M&E is just good management.

But the development sector doesn’t care much for management. We don’t value it. The reasons why are many – relating to funding models, accountability structures, and institutional culture – that I won’t get into here. The practical upshot is that no one gets much traction in the sector by saying, “Let’s improve our management practices.” When good management practices spread, it’s often because they take another form. Our focus on M&E, measurement and metrics is a great example of this. (“Innovation” is another one.)

So as much as I lament our sector’s lack of respect for good management, I’m at least hopeful that better M&E can provide a backdoor for better management.

Dave Algoso is the Managing Director at Reboot and this post was first published as Monitoring-and-Evaluation versus Management

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The Most Innovative Companies Don’t Worry About Consensus

Consensus is a powerful tool. When CEOs set out to conquer new markets or undertake billion-dollar acquisitions, we’d hope they’d at least sought out some consensus from their trusted advisors. We hope they’d be as sure as possible that their teams are ready, that their strategies are sound, and that they’d done their diligence.

The problem with consensus is that it’s expensive. And while it’s worth the cost of consensus in the pursuit big, bold moves, it’s often crushing to small experimental ones.

Consider the story of Nick. Nick is a typical manager at a one of the world’s most successful widget companies. He’s well respected, but far from the top of his organization. The good news for Nick’s company is that Nick has some great ideas; ideas for new ways of producing and distributing widgets that have never been thought of before. Nick’s company is also lucky that Nick has read The Lean Startup. Nick readily grasps the value in testing his ideas before asking for any full-scale operation.

Like a good student of the lean start-up, Nick plans out a cheap test for his latest idea, “Widget 2.0.” He determines that he can take just $10,000 to determine if Widget 2.0 has legs. If the test goes well, he’ll figure out the next step. If not, he’ll get back to his day job.

Inside most companies, this is where the problem kicks in.

Nick’s company is like most companies — only a small number of key executives have real authority to distribute cash and try new things. Everyone else is happy to defer responsibility (generally terrified of approving a failed experiment). But like most hierarchical organizations, Nick’s managers and their managers expect to be informed of his ideas before they make their way to the big boss. Even though there is only one check writer, there are a lot of potential naysayers. So Nick sets out to convince his key “stakeholders” to support his test plan for Widget 2.0. He has meeting after meeting and slowly gets people on board. Finally they approve his $10,000 dollar test.

The test fails, and Nick goes back to his day job. Success, right?

Not really.

In the last few decades executives have started to get wise about the value of systematically testing new ideas. Whether it was Rita McGrath explaining the importance of identifying risk in inherently risky ventures, Rosabeth Moss Kanter encouraging leaders to let their small experiments proliferate, or Eric Ries and Steve Blank teaching us the value of systematic experimentation and innovation accounting, the message has been clear: constantly testing new ideas is vital in the search for organic growth.

The reason testing is so vital is because it minimizes the investment required to eliminate uncertainty. In so doing, you increase the speed of innovation and decrease the cost of failure.

In the case of Widget 2.0, Nick’s company appeared to understand the value of his experiment… but their process got in the way. Consensus didn’t just slow Nick down, it dramatically increased the cost of his test. If Nick made $120,000 a year and he spent just a month trying to drive consensus around the project, the cost of his salary during the month of meetings doubled the cost of the experiment. If Nick had a small team working for him, seeking consensus may have quadrupled the cost of the experiment. And that’s not even accounting for the executives’ time that he had to sit down with.

Again, consensus can be a powerful tool. Consensus can be used to ensure multiple perspectives are looked at in any decision process. Consensus can help us honor fiduciary responsibilities. But it’s is slow, it’s messy, and it’s expensive. It eats away at the value of experimentation.

Milton Friedman once argued that the beauty of private capital is that it streamlines the act of experimentation in a capitalist society. Instead of driving consensus, “the market breaks the vicious circle [of having to convince a variety of stakeholders].” Individual entrepreneurs only need to persuade a few empowered parties that their ideas “can be financially successful; that the newspaper or magazine or book or other venture will be profitable.” To drive those same benefits inside our firms, consensus needs to be sought only where necessary.

So the challenge to managers is determining how to manage the consensus tax. How do you avoid investing in mediocre ideas, but still act with the speed and efficiency that helps you increase your ROI and get more at bats?

1. Acknowledge that not all investments are the same. Some investments are inherently complex and difficult to test systematically or at low cost. Often, these investments require that we drive consensus and be as sure as possible before we experiment. Others, however, are far less risky. If I can spend $10,000 for a one-day experiment that will tell me if a product won’t work in the future — that’s cheap. (That’s basically the same cost as the pro-rated salaries of a 100-person business unit on a 90-minute call.)

Managers in the modern organization need different processes for different types of investments. If your organization has one pathway for funding you’re doing it wrong. Either, you’re not considering the complex investments deeply enough or you’re crushing the small ones.

2. Push decision authority as low as possible. Senior executives are busy. As much as they want to control everything in the organization, it’s simply not realistic. To be nimble and innovative, part of the key is pushing decision authority as low as possible (but not lower).

What’s as low as possible? That’s going to change from situation to situation. But the key is acknowledging that the more senior you make your decision makers, the more waste you’ll require of those looking to experiment. It’s much better to have a slightly less qualified decision maker that is empowered to act on a much shorter timeline than to force decisions all the way to the top. If the latter is your approach, the only thing that will happen is your execs will end up drowning in a sea of meetings and nothing will ever get done.

To push decisions down, you need to limit your downside. Make sure that you hire smart people who you’d trust to make a good decision (not just order-takers). Make sure that you clearly define what success is for an experiment. And make your corporate mission and boundaries well known and well defined. If you do each of those things and distinguish between experimental investments and more meaningful operational investments, you’re already going to be in a good spot.

3. Don’t punish failure. Punish waste. Most executives are happy to point up the chain in order to avoid retribution. They’d rather not make a decision, because decisions can fail to pay off. It’s a lot easier to coordinate an additional meeting than to take the heat for another investment.

If you truly want to innovate, it’s important not to punish failure. Similarly, it’s not alright simply not to punish people at all. The type of punishment that I’ve seen work well is punishing waste; those who waste resources by failing twice the same way or those who waste time by being satisfied sitting in meeting after meeting without getting anything done. If you have an intrapreneur out there pushing the boundaries, learning new things, and adapting, you’re likely to have success in the future.

As Joe Bower once explained to me – “In pursuit of the novel, small is beautiful.” I’m more convinced than ever that he’s right. In part because small limits downside. But in part, because it also limits the need for consensus. In your search for innovation, it’s vital that you use consensus with some discretion. It’s a powerful tool, but it’s not for every occasion.

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Innovative strategies for transforming internal medicine residency training in resource-limited settings: the Mozambique experience.

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Innovative strategies for transforming internal medicine residency training in resource-limited settings: the Mozambique experience.

Acad Med. 2014 Aug;89(8 Suppl):S78-82

Authors: Mocumbi AO, Carrilho C, Aronoff-Spencer E, Funzamo C, Patel S, Preziosi M, Lederer P, Tilghman W, Benson CA, Badaró R, Nguenha A, Schooley RT, Noormahomed EV


With approximately 4 physicians per 100,000 inhabitants, Mozambique faces one of the most severe health care provider shortages in Sub-Saharan Africa. The lack of sufficient well-trained medical school faculty is one of Mozambique’s major barrier to producing new physicians annually. A partnership between the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane and the University of California, San Diego, has addressed this challenge with support from the Medical Education Partnership Initiative. After an initial needs assessment involving questionnaires and focus groups of residents, and working with key members from the Ministry of Health, the Medical Council, and Maputo Central Hospital, a set of interventions was designed. The hospital’s internal medicine residency program was chosen as the focus for the plan. Interventions included curriculum design, new teaching methodologies, investment in an informatics infrastructure for access to digital references, building capacity to support clinical research, and providing financial incentives to retain junior faculty. The number of candidates entering the internal medicine residency program has increased, and detailed monitoring and evaluation is measuring the impact of these changes on the quality of training. These changes are expected to improve the long-term quality of postgraduate training in general through dissemination to other departments. They also have the potential to facilitate equitable distribution of specialists nationwide by expanding postgraduate training to other hospitals and universities.

PMID: 25072585 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

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Guiding the development of family medicine training in Africa through collaboration with the Medical Education Partnership Initiative.

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Guiding the development of family medicine training in Africa through collaboration with the Medical Education Partnership Initiative.

Acad Med. 2014 Aug;89(8 Suppl):S73-7

Authors: Mash RJ, de Villiers MR, Moodley K, Nachega JB


Africa’s health care challenges include a high burden of disease, low life expectancy, health workforce shortages, and varying degrees of commitment to primary health care on the part of policy makers and government officials. One overarching goal of the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) is to develop models of medical education in Sub-Saharan Africa. To do this, MEPI has created a network of universities and other institutions that, among other things, recognizes the importance of supporting training programs in family medicine. This article provides a framework for assessing the stage of the development of family medicine training in Africa, including the challenges that were encountered and how educational organizations can help to address them. A modified “stages of change” model (precontemplation, contemplation, action, maintenance, and relapse) was used as a conceptual framework to understand the various phases that countries go through in developing family medicine in the public sector and to determine the type of assistance that is useful at each phase.

PMID: 25072584 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

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Community-based education programs in Africa: faculty experience within the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) network.

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Community-based education programs in Africa: faculty experience within the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) network.

Acad Med. 2014 Aug;89(8 Suppl):S50-4

Authors: Mariam DH, Sagay AS, Arubaku W, Bailey RJ, Baingana RK, Burani A, Couper ID, Deery CB, de Villiers M, Matsika A, Mogodi MS, Mteta KA, Talib ZM


PURPOSE: This paper examines the various models, challenges, and evaluative efforts of community-based education (CBE) programs at Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) schools and makes recommendations to strengthen those programs in the African context.

METHODS: Data were gathered from 12 MEPI schools through self-completion of a standardized questionnaire on goals, activities, challenges, and evaluation of CBE programs over the study period, from November to December 2013. Data were analyzed manually through the collation of inputs from the schools included in the survey.

RESULTS: CBE programs are a major component of the curricula of the surveyed schools. CBE experiences are used in sensitizing students to community health problems, attracting them to rural primary health care practice, and preparing them to perform effectively within health systems. All schools reported a number of challenges in meeting the demands of increased student enrollment. Planned strategies used to tackle these challenges include motivating faculty, deploying students across expanded centers, and adopting innovations. In most cases, evaluation of CBE was limited to assessment of student performance and program processes.

CONCLUSIONS: Although the CBE programs have similar goals, their strategies for achieving these goals vary. To identify approaches that successfully address the challenges, particularly with increasing enrollment, medical schools need to develop structured models and tools for evaluating the processes, outcomes, and impacts of CBE programs. Such efforts should be accompanied by training faculty and embracing technology, improving curricula, and using global/regional networking opportunities.

PMID: 25072579 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

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