Marketing and IT:

Conflict or collaboration?

Baxter Thompson Ltd, Jon Baxter

Introduction and Summary

This post is written for both the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of an organisation. It looks at how conflict can occur and offers some insight into how it can be overcome. The main outcome is the realisation that no-one department or sub-function "owns" or "controls" technology. Instead it's a shared capability that both Marketing and IT both contribute to in order to make it value adding. So, how is this done?

I believe that ensuring IT becomes value adding for Marketing then collaboration needs to occur between the two functions through strengths-based leadership. Finally based on a spirit of collaboration, a "connector" role needs to exist to help sample the opportunities and threats, putting together the pieces of the jigsaw, show the story and the relevance to the current situation, coming up with a joint plan of action to show each function's contribution.

Disruption Everywhere

The CMO says.....

It's only in the past 5 years that social media has taken off and become yet another channel to engage customers with. Now we're positioned to influence through referral and what other people say about us online. It upsets what was a fairly linear sales and mass-market promotion process and now requires 'forum managers', closer coordination with customer services to ensure Tweets and Facebook messages are responded to in the same way that emails and telephone calls are handled. This time though, this is in front of a public audience and so the risks are higher, requiring public relations expertise. Indeed, I've just got over the headache of implementing Customer Relationship Management, personal 1:1 engagement processes and net promoter scores, I'm now faced with yet another challenge. What's next? Sharing economy? Even more heavily discounted products and services online? New business models?

The CIO says....

Faced with the myriad of requests coming into the IT organisation it's difficult to get the time for thinking about what's up and coming, never mind the current list of snags, operational issues that continuously bite. All requests, be them large or small are presented with the most urgent priority. Who will drive the planning; keeping an eye on industry and technology trends to make sure the company is well positioned to take advantage of the changes? How do we crystallise the requirements clearly and evaluate them against the business strategy? And are there better ways to integrate one system to another to say, extract customer data for email promotion?

Draw your weapons.....

Who is responsible for defining strategy? Who is responsible for delivery? Who is responsible for E-commerce? Responsibility is a loaded question and in our experience if it isn't at least made explicit and aired open and honestly, it's certainly becomes a major background play in the chess game of organisation politics, to the detriment of progress.

The facade of control can quickly dissipate as a pet project incurs unforeseen costs, new services or products get promoted by competitors. Soon, what was once seen as the bandwagon to jump onto is now stuck in the ruts. Responsibility is shied away from and the finger of blame starts to point.

Failed expectations on both sides soon cement an 'us' and 'them" attitude - any signs of our opponent's weakness mixed with our own stories justify our viewpoint on 'how things should be done' still further. Yet, when these viewpoints are taken together over a period of time, they get further and further apart despite the fact we're still dealing with the same issues and the same people.

What is needed is a new way of working together and a new way of looking at disruption.

"Could" instead of "Should".

Strength based leadership requires an appreciation of colleagues' skills and the value they bring. The point is simple: This is not your assessment of their skills- everybody has at least an idea of their own inventory of skills and if you were to ask them, they would probably tell you. After all, it's why we find ourselves generally, in the occupations we do today and to a certain degree why stereotypes flourish about the different types of people who work in different departments. It's a fact to be celebrated rather than shamed.

The approach is threefold:

  1. celebrating the differences and accepting where people are;
  2. listening to what your colleagues need from you (this is not repeating the soundtrack in your head what you think they should need / do / have); and
  3. identifying common areas of interest and how you / your team could contribute to those areas.

Irrespective of where people "should" be, the power of collaboration of different people with different skillsets is far greater than:

  • people working independently; and
  • people criticising people or being obstructive to further individual aims.

In a nutshell: Collaboration - cross-departmental teamwork and a positive focus on the future. I.e. what could happen. Responsibility and therefore control is shared for strategy, delivery and say, E-commerce. We've found that collaboration is a joint responsibility. What could you do differently to help make collaboration a reality?

Meet your Connector.

So, there are no whizzy technical solutions or “magic quadrants” just yet. I've found it's the "people" stuff first. Is there anyone in the organisation who shines out as being able to weed out choices from ambiguity, to take stock of the company direction and assess what things are needed to achieve said direction? Someone who doesn't come in and "tell"? Can they sample opportunities and threats, putting together the pieces of the jigsaw, show the story and the relevance to the current situation? It's about having an open mind to the possibilities and letting the options sell themselves to come up with a joint plan of action.

This "connecting" role and the activity it does is significant. It takes time, listening, discussion, analysis, negotiation and finally agreement. The CMO or CIO can do it, but with other demands on their time is this something that could be partially delegated?

Without collaboration between functions, the connector role will not be possible. But that collaboration needs a reason to exist: Creating a joint plan of action where the contributions of both IT and Marketing are evident is such a reason.

How Baxter Thompson Associates can help

We can help by listening to needs of the business partner organisations, such as marketing. There may be operational issues that need sorting out first, but we keep a firm focus on the future and help vision where the business partner would be in at least the next 2 years time. We help articulate what that means in terms of opportunities and threats, plans and projects – so there is a clear roadmap for both IT and the business partner to understand and work towards together.

We help IT understand the opportunity with business partners through our Reconnaissance for IT framework and can help implement a business relationship management capability to ensure that the Value in IT is delivered.

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