This post is by Amy Protexter from HBR.org
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The digital marketplace has created a business imperative that every company be — in some way — a technology company. This means that IT departments are being pulled out of their traditional “gate keeper” role of protecting the core technology infrastructure to collaborate across the enterprise to drive business outcomes.
While almost all business units, such as HR and sales, have started working more closely with IT, we have become especially interested in the marketing-IT relationship because we’ve seen firsthand just how much of marketing is increasingly powered by technology. Even the aspects of marketing that aren’t traditionally thought of as being tech-driven, such as event marketing and mail campaigns, now are.
Marketing executives are being tasked with leveraging technology to improve customer experience, drive client growth, and meet loyalty goals. Therefore, they’ve become more reliant on IT for web- and data-based marketing activities, such as behavioral targeting and geo-tracking. The CMO
has found that more than a third of CMOs believe that digital marketing will account for 75% or more of their spending within the next five years. This means everything from search engine ads and website optimization to building mobile apps and tools to personalize web experiences — projects that require greater technical expertise.
From IT’s perspective, our company’s Intelligent Technology Index, a survey of 403 senior IT professionals, found that 61% believe mining big data for business intelligence has already had a business impact, followed by the Internet of Things (48%), digital audience expansion (41%), and geotagging and geo-tracking of consumers (39%). The vast majority of respondents believed these will have an even greater impact over time.
Yet marketing and IT executives often don’t speak the same language or understand each other’s goals or roadmaps. One of the common divides is that the former is focused on adopting the latest technologies, while the latter is focused on governance, security, and enterprise architecture. However, based on our experience in senior marketing and IT roles, we believe this divide can be bridged. A few best practices can help build a better marketing-IT partnership so both parties achieve their goals, maximize the company’s investments, and ensure new technologies work.
Align your vision. All too often marketing will outline a vision for a new initiative and then pull in IT to create the end product. This can create a lot of problems, as the marketing team doesn’t necessarily have the technical expertise to know whether what they are trying to achieve is feasible or how to execute the project. The best way to avoid issues is to work on the initial plan together to make sure both sides are aligned from the beginning.
This is why we started creating jointly built roadmaps for projects. If the marketing team is developing a strategy to advance client needs, the IT team helps prioritize those needs based on the requirements of the infrastructure. For example, while we might want a certain feature for clients from the marketing side, the IT team helps us understand that there are five steps necessary to get to that feature, ensuring that we are prioritizing our work in the most efficient manner.
Overcommunicate. Overcommunication should be mandated between both teams and modeled by senior leadership. For example, senior leaders of IT and marketing should touch base weekly on the key projects they are working on together. We do this to monitor progress, discuss roadblocks, and make decisions.
It also helps for long-term planning. We discovered that our teams would be working on multiple projects and competing for common resources and budget share in 2016. Website innovation and other digital marketing projects, which require IT staff to accomplish, would be top priorities for marketing. Yet, IT was also being tapped for a major organization-wide undertaking to integrate our United Kingdom and European systems and processes into a single global system. In order to ensure that both important business objectives could be accomplished, we came up with an approach to focus some IT resources on exclusively driving marketing priorities, while the rest of the IT staff can continue on the global integration project and other responsibilities.
Be empathetic to each other. Both parties should try to better recognize each other’s differences. For IT leaders, it is mission critical to put themselves in the shoes of the client — i.e., marketing — and ensure that they understand what marketing executives have been tasked to deliver on and how their IT expertise can help guide the mission. Marketers, on the other hand, need to be cognizant of the fact that IT leaders have to be responsive to the whole business, keep data safe, the core infrastructure protected, and that there are still limitations to what they can do.
One of the most common interactions between these two groups is when marketing wants to use a new technology and has to work with IT to make that happen. Thinking about the questions both sides must answer, and then working together to answer them, can make this process much easier.
From the IT side:
- Is the technology actually available to help marketing achieve their vision?
- How will it fit into our existing architecture? Does it break anything? Does it impact our information security?
- Do we have the skill set and resource capacity to deliver and sustain it?
- How much will it cost?
From the marketing side:
- How are client experiences in general driving expectations of our company’s digital experience?
- Why is IT saying no and is there a different route to yes?
- How can IT help us get this up and running quickly?
- Can IT help us integrate different tools to deliver a more seamless experience?
- How can we not only keep pace but innovate and lead?
- What is the cost benefit to the organization, and how quickly can we show ROI?
- Where does it pay to take a calculated risk?
- And…where is that not possible?
There are always going to be challenges when different people within an organization come together to forge new paths. From our perspective, marketing and IT departments will become even further blended. We’ve taken steps to make the transition easier. For example, at least twice a year, the teams gather (marketing and IT) for face-to-face communication and planning, as well as to partake in some social activities to continue to build relationships. And we’ll keep discovering more best practices along the way.