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The challenges of striking a successful relationship between marketing and IT are well documented, and yet we’re still not sure of the best way to get there. While both CMOs and CIOs increasingly recognise the need to work together to drive business outcomes and customer engagement, there’s no getting away from the fact that these two leaders come from different backgrounds and have, until now, been speaking very different languages.
According to the recent Evolved CMO in 2014 report by Forrester and Heidrick and Struggles, 62 per cent of CMOs surveyed globally believe the CIO is a strategic partner in meeting corporate goals, yet only 29 per cent profess to partner with their IT counterpart when procuring marketing technology, and less than half share a common vision of how IT and marketing should partner.
Similarly, last year’s The CMO-CIO disconnect: Bridging the gap to seize the digital opportunity report from Accenture found nine in 10 marketing and IT executives believe collaboration between their two functions is poor, despite the need to join forces in the digital age.
Common areas of conflict include data and project management, lack of communication and collaboration, a misalignment of priorities, and different delivery timelines.
So what can you, as a CMO, do to strike up a more constructive and proactive relationship with your CIO?
Here, three experienced IT leaders and industry representatives share how they’re working with their marketing teams, and their advice for how CMOs can win over their IT peers.
Get your priorities right: Amaysim’s IT director, Julian Dell
The operations and IT team at amaysim collaborates closely with the marketing team when it comes to prioritisation, budgeting and development. We all get to see each other’s pain points but one thing it shows me loud and clear is that marketing teams need to be realistic with prioritisation. We’re not afraid to remind them of this.
Once projects are prioritised, we need to stand by the decisions made at the outset and not try to squeeze more changes in. By embracing Agile Methodology, and appointing a marketing project manager to take ownership the whole way through a project (even when they’re in technical development), scope creep can be avoided and the results will be better all round - as will the mood at the post-project Friday afternoon beers.
Marketing teams need to prioritise with a vengeance. Be realistic about what you need to achieve then add a little on top; but just a little. CIOs shouldn’t need to sugar coat things for their marketing counterparts; it should be easy to agree on the priorities. CMOs who say “everything is a top priority” are being unrealistic or just plain lazy. Our marketing team is – mostly – pretty good at this.
Although Agile methodology allows change, if technology teams swap out projects delivered results are often poor or fail to meet expectations. If the CMO is focused on their priorities, it helps the marketing team as a whole to stay focused. I’d encourage other marketing leaders to focus on the minimal feature set for going live, but also the minimal feature set for ongoing usage.
CMOs also need to make sure the entire marketing team knows which projects have been prioritised so individuals don’t try to run roughshod over established priorities to get their projects delivered. Because we’re a small team, this doesn’t happen often here, but in bigger companies it’s par for the course.
In addition, marketing needs to understand how to work within a development project that uses an Agile Methodology. This will make it easier for all in terms of communications around progress, as well as helping reduce the inefficiencies with technical delivery and traditional go-to-market plans.
For large marketing projects, even ones that are expected to use very little technology, it is always best to engage technology subject matter experts early to get buy in to the business case and drivers. We make sure there’s a sponsor or owner in marketing and operations / IT for every project, and representatives from both teams attend all our project stand-ups and scrums.
That way no-one is left out, projects are steered together and the whole process feels more collaborative than combative.
Don’t keep changes or ideas behind closed doors: Wotif Group’s CIO, Janet Sutherland
As an online business with a portfolio of travel brands, Wotif Group relies on technology every day to help travellers get where they want to go, and to ensure product innovation timelines align with marketing plans. Here are a few pitfalls in striving for marketing and IT alignment, and tips to avoid them.
Pitfall #1: Forgetting that IT innovation changes our world
Innovation economists believe technology innovation drives economic growth, and the same can be true for marketing and many businesses. There are plenty of great ideas inside a business and ensuring people are encouraged to share their ideas across teams is crucial. Wotif Group has strategies and activities in place to develop cross-team relationships designed to foster an inspiring and adventurous environment for idea-sharing: Everything from brainstorms to cross-team planning workshops, showcases, presentations, cross-team planning, innovation challenges and social events. These help bring the powerhouses of marketing and IT together to and promote the sharing of ideas.
We also encourage marketing colleagues to drop in and say hi, hot desk with IT for a while, video-conference with us, participate in online chats and so on, which all help put names to faces and help bridge marketing and IT worlds.
Pitfall #2: The days of ‘us and them’ are overRead more: Ensighten chief: CMO,CIO roles are getting closer, but technology tastes remain distinct
Communication and joint planning is the key to success. IT team members are the quiet achievers of a business: Maintaining, replacing and innovating behind the scenes to ensure business continuity, security and contemporary evolution, as well as making key marketing communications channels possible.
Ensuring engagement between team members inside a business, and that both marketing and IT team members are included, respect each other’s role and have a ‘stake’ in planning, unites cross-functional teams, and heralds the great results we see daily.
Pitfall #3: Don’t keep changed plans behind closed doors
Let’s face it, things change; timelines stretch and priorities get shuffled. It’s the same for both marketing and IT. Making sure IT is not a ‘black hole’ is critical to success. Resolving this relies on transparency, planning with appropriately long lead times, and being open and upfront about current and changing priorities. Joint efforts help prioritise IT ‘roadmaps’ and innovation plans, as well as make marketing timelines realistic.
A close working relationship, and a history of close collaboration, can earn important ‘brownie points’ from IT team members when urgent, last-minute marketing activities or changes are called for. Ensuring both teams can advise each other honestly and early about when things aren't going to plan saves a lot of headaches.
IT and marketing are actually ‘one team’ at Wotif Group in that we have a shared vision and a focus on customers. This mutual aim, and sense of purpose, can help resolve differences of opinion and resource allocation when disputes arise.
When we all remember that the most important things to do are the ones that fulfil our vision, any differences of opinion or negotiations about priorities between IT and marketing teams are much simpler to resolve.
Be honest about skillsets: Ensighten president, Dan Dal Degan
CMOs looking to forge a more productive relationship with their CIO have to be inclusive. The best CMOs I work with, from the likes of Home Depot, Fidelity, T-Mobile and Microsoft, are truly visionary. Those are also embracing IT and are very upfront about when they have to hire their own technology resources or bring in digital agencies to augment what IT is able to provide.
The benefit they give their organisations is allowing the CIO to understand where they don’t have to hire – for example, IT might hire an expert in digital analytics, thinking that the CMO is going to need that person’s time, when in fact the CMO has already appointed someone from an agency or a person from another brand who does that. This transparency around talent management avoids that issue of hiring someone who will be underutilised.
CMOs need to work in agreement with what IT provides and collaborate on the hiring plan to cover any gaps in skillsets.
It’s hard to think of a time in technology where the landscape has changed so quickly. The most effective CMOs are technology savvy, but also understand that it’s impossible for them to stay current on Web technologies in particular.
Partnering with IT to continue to inform their decisions and to keep them near the leading edge of understanding and leveraging these Web technologies whether these be personalisation, optimisation, analytics, social and email marketing, is vital. It’s impossible to keep up with the rate of which all these companies are acquiring each other.
The best CMOs who partner with IT have a very collaborative relationship, even when there might be some friendly tension.