Bringing Marketing and IT Together

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I'll bet you think the war in the go-to-market process is between sales and marketing. Well, it is. Did you ever hear a salesperson say great things about the support he was getting from marketing? Nope. Has any marketer anywhere been satisfied that a sales representative followed up on his lead properly? No, again.

But the Internet has created a new battle line. Now we marketers are pitted against a new adversary: the information technology department.

Not that the tension between sales and marketing is going away. It's just being supplemented -- and how.

The Web is the only business environment where marketing/sales and distribution/delivery are conducted through the same medium. In order to design, build and manage a successful Web business, marketing and IT should be on the same page. Convergence in front of the customer requires convergence in the office. And it's tough to pull off.

The problem has complex roots. Marketers and IT people, frankly, come from different planets. Their cultures are different, and so is their training, their vocabularies and their personalities.

Worse, their objectives are different. IT is about control, smooth operations, logic, efficiencies, low cost, right brains. Marketers need to be flexible, ask questions, change their minds and ask other questions, experiment, apply new ideas, test new programs. One chief technology officer of my acquaintance put it this way: "There is no group of people in the office that is more different from us than marketing."

Look at this example: My first job in direct marketing was at Book-of-the-Month Club, a book-marketing business that was run on mainframes built for efficient order processing. I daily needed to work with data from operating systems, financial/payment systems, enrollment systems. IT, in effect, owned the access to the customer. So, as a marketer, I practiced the art of the possible. Could we do this? No, well, what about that? No? Well, what can we do? OK, let's choose the best from a list of compromises.

To be fair, BOMC's IT department was not chartered to build a customer-centric infrastructure. Its mission was to get customers enrolled and books shipped and paid for, fast.

And that's why life on the Web is so interesting. Here are businesses that are all about customers and systems, and the marriage between them. To run a Web business successfully, marketing and IT need to work in lock step. They need to understand each other's needs, requirements and objectives. And they have to be able to communicate with each other.

So what do we do when we come from other planets, yet we are trying to run a business together?

Here are solutions that can work.

• Bring in a translator. Create a function that talks to both sides, and staff it with people who understand both cultures. Typically, these people are organized to live in the IT group and are called something like business analyst. They are usually older than the typical IT geek, and they have business experience from having worked in sales or management or customer service. They are trained in the structured thinking that works for IT, but they understand the business case and the marketing imperative. And, most important, they are good communicators, both written and spoken.

• Bite the bullet, marketers, and get some IT training. Web technology is actually pretty easy to follow, especially some of the surface applications like HTML, XML and Java. And direct marketers like us already are comfortable around databases, the basic workhorse of a Web business in the first place. Diving into the nuts and bolts is a useful and accessible technique we can use toward bridging the chasm. With a better appreciation of the technology, we can accomplish a lot with our IT partners.

Luckily, Web businesses naturally enjoy a bit of a head start on the road toward forging a successful synergistic workplace. For one thing, Web techies are likely to have more exposure to marketing than traditional IT people. They probably grew up in a less structured, more experimental technology world. For another, the marketing talent involved in these businesses is likely to come from the direct marketing tradition vs. the marketing communications field. And direct marketers are likely to be more adept at absorbing IT-like logic, discipline and structure.

So the situation is not hopeless. Instead of moaning about our new adversaries in IT, let us marketers take active steps to meet them halfway.

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