By Tony Streeter
Due to poor communication between IT and marketing, companies lose millions of dollars every year in failed integration and missed opportunities. One company’s organizational re-alignment from silos to project-based teams has had positive effects on the bottom line.
The company was expanding across multiple domains requiring them to split efforts between direct-to-consumer and third-party partner integration of their product offering.
Direct-to-consumer e-commerce was their only customer-facing application at the time. Partner e-commerce applications were more focused on integrating with third party systems and didn’t contain much of a “customer experience” component.
Wanting to deliver a robust customer experience and grow that channel, direct-to-consumer e-commerce required more and more IT resources. Unfortunately, these requests came behind third-party bug fixes, partner integration issues, etc. As is typically the case, marketing had responsibility for revenue growth but no control over the resources to deliver those goals.
A Crazy Idea
As resource issues brought things to a head, e-commerce marketing leadership approached the SVP of Customer and Partner Integration with an idea.
In order to meet the company’s online marketing and sales goals, they needed dedicated IT resources. The initial reaction of the SVP was “You want me to have my IT people report to marketing? You know nothing about IT.” That wasn’t necessarily true. Over time, the e-commerce marketing director had accumulated enough of an understanding of the company’s IT environment, their legacy systems, and internal barriers and was able to combine that knowledge with that of the company’s competitors, what they were offering online and how they could pull ahead.
Within a few weeks the e-commerce marketing director was assigned five programmers, a website designer, two quality assurance people, and an IT project manager combined with four traditional marketers and a marketing manager. Within the e-commerce IT area they carved out space for this new team and purposefully placed a marketer and an IT person in every other cubicle. For both entities it was like getting a new neighbor who didn’t speak their language and they didn’t like very much.
It comes as no surprise that marketing and IT don’t generally get along – extroverts meet introverts.
After a week or two of grumbling and consistent closed door meetings, it was time to begin the integration. The IT group came in and took the marketing team through a presentation on the terminology they used, an explanation of the current operating environment, the challenges with the legacy systems and the new technologies they were bringing onboard over the coming months. At the next meeting, the marketing team took the IT group through the e-commerce goals, an overview of what the competitors were offering online, the products they wanted to introduce and the anticipated revenue and profit.
Beyond show and tell, the combined team went to numerous team luncheons together and offsite team building events like movies, golf outings, baseball games, and outdoor team building retreats. Complaints dropped off quickly. Individuals didn’t want to complain about someone who just caught them in a trust fall the week before. The IT people enjoyed the constant flow of sugar that marketing generally brought in and marketing enjoyed the quick IT help when they had issues printing or loading new software.
Both teams came to an understanding – in order to be successful, both sides had to work together as one cohesive unit. The goal was to obliterate the competition not each other.
The “Can’s” Can Do Miracles
More weeks passed and the rough edges started to smoothen among the rank-and-file. New conversations in the cubicles such as marketers asking their IT neighbors, “Now, tell me again why our system can’t do X?” or IT asking “Can you tell me again where on our competitor’s website they have that feature you’re interested in?” The interaction was encouraging, but they weren’t there yet.
In earlier times, if marketing launched requests out of their silo and into IT’s, IT managers would present their concerns to their IT VP. Now those concerns had to come directly to e-commerce marketing.
During one interaction, the IT Manager and Project Manager explained that something the marketing group wanted simply couldn’t be done. The e-commerce marketing director asked if they understood why what they wanted was important. They did. He then said, “Okay, then you need to go back and figure out how to make it happen. Determine the necessary investment in people, technology or otherwise you need. ‘Can’t’ is not an option.” They frowned. He then said, “Now, I’ll tell you a little secret. If you can get me to 70 -80 percent of what they want, I’ll be happy.” Their attitudes improved because marketing was being reasonable. They weren’t fighting , but willing to work together. And, they knew that the business held the purse strings to add resources which IT, as an enabling function, didn’t have. This was a game changer.
Never again did the IT team come to marketing with an impossible situation. Instead, they came with concerns and then ideas on how to get most, if not all, of the way to the goal . . . and it worked.
Over a relatively short period of time, change occurred. E-commerce marketers assessed the competition and their online offerings while taking into consideration their knowledge of the company’s systems and development timelines. E-commerce IT negotiated and rearranged requirement priorities and resources with marketing and became problem solvers . . . things started to gel.
Within two years, the customer e-commerce channel grew from $560,000 to $13.5 million in annual revenue and became the most profitable channel in the company.
Tony Streeter is the Chief Marketing Officer, SVP at Y&L Consulting, Inc. in San Antonio. Tony has led new product development, e-commerce marketing, and integrated platform marketing initiatives for major companies such as Harland Clarke, Deluxe Corporation and RR Donnelley. Y&L Consulting is a comprehensive IT services & solutions company specializing in IT Development, Information Management/BI, and Service Desk Services.