During the late '80s and early '90s, many companies, in an effort to facilitate the creation of their Internet presence, shifted control of their Web sites and Internet technologies from their IT departments to their marketing or e-commerce departments.

“They wanted us to be fast, nimble and completely unencumbered by the bureaucratic processes that existed in the IT department,” said one e-commerce director.

Many executives were sold on the idea that current IT department procedures simply wouldn't fly in the Internet space—we needed to be much, much faster.

For many companies, this proved to be a great strategy. Nimble e-commerce groups created Web sites and strategies quickly and started producing almost immediate results.

However, this approach has lost its luster over the past few years as IT departments have been finding their budgets shrinking and staff stagnating. In some companies where the IT department has not had a significant hand in Internet strategy and Web site development, a great deal of animosity has grown on the part of IT managers toward anything “Internet,” including Internet marketing.

Migrating from an exclusionary mindset to a collaborative mindset is not something that comes easily to some companies. Egos, politics, logistics and relationships are usually altered in the process.

Countless companies are still hobbled by the lack of communication between IT and marketing, inefficient vendor relationships and archaic processes—all of which compromise customer service.

Sure, there are positives to the aforementioned separatist strategy, but there are countless negatives, as many companies have recently discovered. The tide is slowly turning toward cooperation as marketers realize that they cannot go it alone anymore in the Internet space—the customers and the technology simply move too fast.

Who's to blame for this? Both the marketing leaders who do not understand the need for soliciting cross-functional support and the IT leaders who fail to bridge communication gaps across functional teams play a role in creating the gap that separates IT from marketing.

A recent UK study by CatchFIRE Systems reported that nearly three quarters of IT departments are not involved in the initial planning stages of online marketing campaigns, leading to 24% of UK organizations suffering from Web overloads and site crashes.

Sound familiar? It does to me. I can recall bringing down our Web servers several times when we began doing email marketing before I thought to involve the IT department.

The study goes on to indicate that almost 75% of organizations surveyed admitted to not knowing how many users the corporate Web site could support. Even worse, over 60% were unaware how many users were leaving Web sites with incomplete transactions, and barely 1 in 10 could put a figure on the consequent monetary losses to their organization.

These statistics underscore the basic problem: how can we act as goodwill ambassadors to our customers when we do not have an adequate technical understanding of the tools at our disposal?

Any good sales manager knows how many calls his sales staff can make in a day, week or month. Yet, the average marketing manager hasn't taken the time to inquire about how many visitors her Web site can handle in a day. This state of affairs clearly indicates the need for increased contact between IT and marketing.

Results and relations would improve appreciably if marketing were to send a representative to IT project meetings and IT were to assign a technical liaison to each marketing team. Even involving an IT developer in a weekly sales and marketing planning meeting will have a beneficial impact. While the developer may have little understanding of marketing concepts like CPM, CPA, ROMI and what have you, at least he can give an honest answer on whether your current CRM technology can handle the sales management mandates or reporting requirements.

The average IT person can also bring your meeting back to Earth in a hurry when you casually suggest launching your next product via a worldwide Webcast of a real-time speech from your CEO and an exclusive Rolling Stones concert to millions of viewers.

At the end of the day, your sales and marketing team needs an embedded IT team member, especially if you are placing a great deal of emphasis on CRM, Internet marketing and your Web site to drive your sales numbers. Moreover, if you have designs on any integration of your CRM, ERP systems and your Web presence, you're in a far better position with an IT person on board than if you try to go it alone or make that integration happen through the flavor-of-the-month vendor you've hired for the job. If you're scratching your head on how to get more involved with IT, or what all the elements are in the equation, here are 10 points to consider when engaging your IT department:

  1. Treat IT like a partner. Your IT department is not a vendor that you can give orders to. Seek the department's input. An IT solution is a tool that requires technical input and information sharing.

  2. Embed IT personnel into your team. If possible, have IT and marketing staffs sit nearby so they can get a sense of each other's day-to-day activities and concerns. Have an IT person go on several sales calls to get a better sense of a rep's daily needs.

  3. Choose a project champion to lead both the IT and the marketing aspects of a project, regardless of whether they are from the business or the technical side. Also, get executive sponsors from both departments. Nothing kills an initiative faster than a lack of upper-management support.

  4. Share funding between all departments that will realistically benefit from the IT project, rather than placing the financial burden on a single department.

  5. Cross-train individuals on basic technology and marketing skills, or encourage the migration of tech-savvy marketers or business-savvy techies to the other side.

  6. Develop shared metrics for IT and Internet marketing. IT is usually concerned about ROI and seeing projects implemented, while marketing wants leads, sales and conversions. Develop metrics in tandem that apply equally to the objectives of each department.

  7. Use collaborative knowledge management tools. By using a project extranet, shared MS project files or a project Weblog, members of both teams can be kept up to date on projects.

  8. Build for CRM. Consider how you will be using the data that you will be collecting and how it can be integrated with both existing and future systems, tools, processes and initiatives. Don't collect information in a vacuum—or, even worse, miss opportunities to collect it.

  9. Forge vendor relationships together. If marketing is going to be using an ASP for email marketing or Web analytics, involve the IT folks in the decision and implementation to extract the most value from the tools.

  10. Work out a service level agreement (SLA) between the parties. IT has many projects on its plate, and marketers are almost never on time. Make sure the SLA requirements and expectations are clearly and unambiguously defined, along with measurement criteria, consequences, and performance-monitoring contingencies. This will help keep things honest and serve to sustain consistent levels of expectation.

If you're a marketing consultant and you're reading this and thinking, “Whew, glad I don't have to deal with that stuff,” think again. If you're in a meeting with a client during the advanced stages of an Internet marketing campaign that will have a significant impact on site traffic or the IT infrastructure, you will need to make sure that your client has involved its IT partner in the planning of the initiative.

Are you ready to start working together with your IT department? It's amazing how little it actually takes to build a strong bridge between your IT and marketing camps when everyone is focused on the needs of the customer.

Links to articles and resources on the Web:

Communication Chasm Between IT and Marketing to Blame

Marketing Campaigns ‘Can Paralyse Web Sites'

Marketing and IT Don't Talk

Bridging the Gap: Marketing Versus IT

The Weenies vs. the Geeks: Bridging the Gap Between Marketing and IT

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image of Dana VanDen Heuvel

Dana VanDen Heuvel is the New Media Director at Balance Studios, a worldwide firm specializing in animation, interactive development, and broadcast productions for feature film, B-to-B, and commercial clients. You can reach him by email at newmedia@balancestudios.com or phone at 920-433-9770.