My marketing organization has a great partnership with our IT department.

But it wasn't always so. And I know we're not alone in that. We did a quick poll during a recent AMA/SAS Webcast about IT-marketing alignment: 34.2% said although their marketing department is aligned with IT, challenges remain, and 22.4% said they were just starting.

You can't afford to neglect this relationship: As customers change, the channels of engagement morph, and data explodes, ultimately it's going to be the partnership between IT and Marketing that will be the lynchpin to grasping new, emerging opportunities.

For all those struggling, here is why we value our partnership and how we built it together.

1. Recognize the problem

First, we had to recognize there was room for improvement. In 2011, representatives from all SAS marketing groups—field marketing, digital marketing, messaging, advertising, PR, and others—formed a workgroup to tackle what we termed "digitizing the business."

Our monthly meetings prioritized modernizing communications across digital channels and focused our efforts on the most impactful projects. Enhancing the overall customer experience was our objective. We wanted to develop a joint vision by identifying hot topics, key marketing initiatives, and collaborating on problem-solving and innovation.

We quickly realized it wouldn't work without IT to shepherd the initiatives. So we invited IT to the table.

2. Walk the walk, together...

Thankfully, IT accepted our invitation. The immediate benefit was learning from IT what other groups were doing along similar lines, where there were gaps, and what opportunities we could seize—all of which helped tremendously with alignment outside of Marketing. Finally, we had stopped talking about alignment and were taking steps to achieve it.

So don't stop with IT. Look across the organizations that have an impact on the customer and evaluate how you collaborate, interact, and communicate more effectively. All of the groups engage IT; imagine the value realized if the effort was aligned and collaborative.

3. Eliminate silos

Customer experience is based on interactions across all business areas. Those interactions, in turn, are based on systems or data provided or supported by IT. If you're not working with IT, you're creating another silo. By partnering with IT, you gain access to other data, which creates more value across the organization, ultimately improving the customer experience (the primary objective).

4. Evolve as needs change

Inviting IT to Marketing meetings isn't enough if IT isn't also willing to adjust. Luckily, our enlightened SAS IT pros also recognized that in order to take advantage of new channels and data, they needed interact differently with Marketing.

Traditional back-office IT—responding to issues, maintaining infrastructure, and considering only internal customers—wasn't going to cut it. The new IT is strategic, targeting the same customers as Marketing.

Not only did IT attend Marketing meetings, they began participating in a strategic fashion, advising Marketing at planning stages. No longer would Marketing send requests to IT after planning was finished and hope resources were available.

Berni Mobley, SAS's senior director of information technology, said about this: "Being involved with Marketing up front, and hearing their business needs, helps IT be more proactive in allocating resources and suggesting new technologies to help them reach their goals sooner. As their partner, when Marketing succeeds, my staff feels proud of the role they played and that fosters the desire to do it again."

5. Fortify the bridge

The IT-Marketing partnership proved so beneficial to everyone that IT created a new position to formalize the linkage: the integration analyst, who bolsters an understanding of marketing with deep technical knowledge.

The integration analyst is present at the outset of any initiative by Marketing in order to make sure Marketing's needs are met using latest technologies that fit into the IT infrastructure. Instead of saying "no, you'll create technical issues," IT says, "Here's a nifty new application that that will fix that problem." Point of interest: although the position resides in IT, Marketing participated in interviewing and hiring.

Says Berni, "It was very important to me that it was a joint decision on who to hire for this position. The integration analyst position benefits both IT and Marketing. IT gains a much deeper understanding of the business and acts as a communication bridge between the two departments, ultimately helps IT deliver a better product for Marketing."

6. Create an analytics-driving marketing culture

The integration analyst is a technologist with a marketing bent. Similarly, we realized our marketers needed to be more conversant with technology.

In a previous article, "Six Tips for Creating an Analytics-Driven Marketing Culture," I discussed how to inject fact-based decision-making into the traditional creative process. Now that my marketers are using analytic solutions, we've seen significant reductions in opt-outs and increased conversion rates.

We have changed the way we do marketing. But we couldn't have done it without IT support—data management, hosting, training, troubleshooting, and all the other ways it has supported us. If you're moving toward fact-based decision marketing—and I hope you are—then consider how vital IT is to your success and start talking to them today.

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image of Adele Sweetwood
Adele Sweetwood is vice-president of Americas marketing and support at SAS. She is responsible for directing interactive marketing plans and investments with a focus on increasing and protecting revenue.