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Can Marketing and IT Get Along?

July 30, 2013 | By Monica Behncke

One of the fundamental challenges of the marketing/IT relationship is the contrast between the overall mission and motivation of these two functions. Developing a marketing/IT alliance requires willingness and hard work, but it can create an enormous competitive edge that will pay dividends to the company and elevate both functions.

In the original 1967 movie Dr. Dolittle, a mythical animal called a pushmi-pullyu is portrayed as llama with two heads. Each head wants the body to go in its own forward direction, leaving the animal stalled and doubly frustrated.

I recently heard about a company that made a remarkable organizational decision: The information technology (IT) department now reports into marketing. But is this company charting the new path to success for both functions, or has it created a pushmi-pullyu organization?

One of the fundamental challenges of the marketing/IT relationship is the contrast between the overall mission and motivation of these two functions. Marketing is under pressure to help produce revenue and constantly looks for new ways to attract, nurture and retain prospects and customers. Marketing departments want to try new technologies and fear being left behind by competitors’ actions. They can also be notoriously short-term thinkers in pursuit of a quarterly target.

IT departments feel the pressure of integration and uptime and are frequently risk-averse. A major part of their mandate is to make things work every single day, keep maintenance costs in check and build a strong foundation that can support unknown future needs.

With one function racing forward – sometimes haphazardly – and the other overwhelmed or holding back, can the marketing/IT relationship work without a radical organizational change?

I believe the answer is yes. But as is the case with all healthy relationships, it takes effort, understanding and compromise. A good place to start is recognizing the common challenge: Both functions carry the burden of proving the relative value of their work or being labeled a cost center.

Here are five other ways to bring marketing and IT together:

  • Marketing (and sales) leaders need to know their IT partners and meet with them regularly to understand IT’s processes, priorities and challenges.

  • IT should lead the charge on corporate data stewardship. Marketing data that is well integrated into sales, product and financial data is critical to marketing best practices, and both IT and marketing will increase their corporate visibility and value by ensuring reliable data.

  • Sales, marketing and IT should use the same planning horizon that comprehends the speed of the market and the time required for an IT to complete a cycle of design, development, quality assurance and deployment. Six weeks may seem fast to IT, but to sales and marketing, it represents half a quarter gone. IT may need to relax its  governance processes on occasion.

  • Business goals (e.g. go-live dates and shared business measurements that indicate success for both IT and marketing) should be mutual. For example, both functions should be measured on the number of channel members actively using new functionalities developed for a partner portal at marketing’s request. In order to ensure mutual goals, create and share a joint dashboard.

  • Both functions need to modify their communication styles and learn each other’s humor and hot buttons in order to avoid misunderstandings and frustrations. Some IT professionals may prefer to communicate via e-mail, but in-person meetings (or conference calls, depending on geography) are more effective. Marketing professionals must present precise, business-justified requests and cannot assume their IT partners will “just know” what they are asking for and why it’s important to the business.

In most companies, developing a marketing/IT alliance requires willingness and hard work, but it can create an enormous competitive edge that will pay dividends to the company and elevate both functions. Although the merits of a full organizational shift are yet to be known, there is no better way to really understand the operations of another function than to be right next to it.

Monica Behncke

Monica Behncke is Vice President and Group Director of Demand Creation Strategies at SiriusDecisions. She has more than 20 years’ experience in global positions across marketing disciplines ranging from product marketing to field marketing. Follow Monica on Twitter @mbbaustin

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