There may be no two groups more opposed to each other than IT and marketing. One traditionally focuses on back-end support and long-term strategy. The other values creativity and quick wins. Their leaders form the ultimate odd couple: CIO and CMO. In the best cases, the two coexisted, but rarely collaborated. In the worst, the relationship was downright acrimonious.
It's no mystery how things got this way. Marketing feels IT refuses to acknowledge the urgency of its requests and has "the uncanny ability to make the simple more complex," says Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst Nigel Fenwick. IT thinks marketing lacks effective business processes and thwarts optimization efforts. "Some misunderstandings are no doubt caused by conflicting priorities," Fenwick says. "The CIO is forced to plan technology into the future, and this long view can be at odds with the need to make a market impact this quarter."
CIOs and CMOs have no choice but to build a better relationship to move ahead. "Based on the revolutions occurring in mobile applications, Web-interaction models and social media, the technology needs of marketing are increasing substantially," says Robert Urwiler, CIO of Vail Resorts. "[CIOs have] a real opportunity to make a difference. Enabling the marketing agenda could not be more important to your future success."
To Urwiler, it's a chance to form a closer bond with customers. But building a beneficial relationship between marketing and IT can be challenging in organizations in which the two groups have all but given up on each other. Here are eight places to start:
Make the case for collaboration. If IT focuses on marketing technology and business processes, that frees up the CMO's team to focus on marketing. Agree on mutual goals with the CMO and build a team within IT dedicated to marketing.
ID rogue IT groups. "The building of shadow IT services is often a sign of overstretched IT, where IT budgets have been cut so much that departments provision their own services. Or underperforming IT, where IT simply lacks the skills to provide good governance and effective services across the enterprise," says Fenwick. Address those core problems first.
Become A+ students in marketing. Urwiler and his IT leaders keep up with marketing trends, technologies and case studies. "If IT organizations want to be true partners, it starts with gaining an understanding and appreciation for the challenges and opportunities that they deal with," he says. "You need to understand the end consumer in a way that was probably less relevant when you were working on the last ERP upgrade."
Get flexible. Marketing is thinking in terms of next week, not next year. Rethink IT processes to make them more agile.
Master customer data. Examine how customer data is currently captured, stored and used in the organization and "develop a go-forward strategy for how data could be used to change the customer experience," advises Fenwick. "Determine how well existing technology meets [that] need."
Drop the jargon. "Many IT professionals still lack the communications skills to converse in business terms, quickly degenerating into technology acronyms that are meaningless to non-IT professionals," says Fenwick. "The challenge with marketing is that, as a profession, it has its own terminology, which can seem unintelligible to the folks in IT without marketing experience." Insist on jargon-free conversations and cross-pollinate the IT group with marketing to ensure nothing is lost in translation.
Share your expertise. Want to make fast friends with the CMO? Help him stretch his budget by tapping into IT's project-management, sourcing and vendor-management know-how.
Respect boundaries. "Just as we don't need business partners to collaborate on messaging strategies, platform evaluations and architecture design," says Urwiler, "we need to have the same consideration for core marketing functions."
Read more about web productivity in CIO's Web Productivity Drilldown.