by Stephanie Overby

7 tips for improving IT-marketing collaboration

Oct 22, 2019
Business IT AlignmentCollaboration SoftwareIT Leadership

A strong relationship between IT and marketing correlates with improved business growth. Here’s how to bury past frictions and build a better business-focused, cross-functional team.

Hands clasped in a heart shape against a background of abstract data / collaboration / empathy
Credit: Ilyast / Violka08 / Getty Images

In many organizations, CMOs now spend more on technology than CIOs. Marketing budgets amount to 11.2 percent of company revenue, according to the 2018-19 Gartner CMO Spend survey. In fact, technology is now the single biggest area of investment for marketing, according to the report.

As data and systems have become central to marketing strategy — and overall business results — the relationship between IT and marketing organizations has grown crucial. “This is a relationship of necessity,” says Jeff Fleischman, CMO at Altimetrik, who has seen the relationship between marketing and IT evolve from skepticism to acceptance. “A modern marketing program cannot exist without a strong technology foundation.”

What’s more, a good relationship between IT and marketing correlates with improved business growth. A 2018 McKinsey study showed that companies whose CMOs worked closely with IT to reach company goals were more successful, growing their revenues at 10 percent a year or twice the average rate of the S&P 500.

At New York Life, three factors drive the need for strong collaboration between marketing and IT. “First, technology needs to be at the center of the marketing discussion to enable early identification of consumer needs; highly targeted, uniquely customized messaging; follow-up and message reinforcement; and easy to discover information should a consumer wish to delve deeper into a product or service,” says Dave Castellani, senior vice president and business information officer for New York Life. “This targeted, end-to-end view requires the right software, data integration, and intelligence to work effectively.”

In addition, the organization is pursuing a mobile-first strategy that both IT and marketing have a stake in. Finally, that wealth of customer data driving the marketing engine needs to be secured by IT. “A firm that fails to respect and protect data will see brand erosion by creating irreparable distrust,” Castellani says.

For Michael Cantor, CIO of data center maintenance provider Park Place Technologies, a close relationship with marketing ensures that the analytics generated by marketing can be used for the greater good of the business. “There are lots of technologies which generate valuable analytics that can be crossed into data warehouses and improve data analyses,” Cantor says.

In the past, some marketing and IT leaders may have clashed — or avoided each other altogether. IT leaders grew frustrated when marketing developed or purchased its own solutions, and marketing leaders were exasperated with IT organizations that didn’t understand their needs, prioritize them, or move fast enough. “Those are all mistakes,” says Cantor. “It takes effort to pay attention and understand the need rather than trying to fit everything into the IT box. In fact, marketing technology tends to be more market-leading and easier to fall behind than other business technology areas. If IT doesn’t recognize that and accept some leading-edge solutions, a company can fall behind much quicker than in an area such as CRM or ERP.”

At Park Place and New York Life, there is a close and cooperative relationship between the two functions working together to innovate and develop new capabilities. But some CIOs still have work to do to improve the IT-marketing relationship. talked to marketing and IT leaders about some of ways to create a solid partnership between the CIO, the CMO, and their organizations.

Create a cross-functional structure

New York Life has embraced agile operating principles, and IT and marketing are connected at the hip as they plan and deliver new capabilities. “Employees work for the project lead, not the department,” Castellani says. “In addition, we readily move key personnel from tech to the business and vice versa.” His lead Adobe expert recently left IT for a senior-level role in marketing. “It is one way to break down traditional barriers,” says Castellani. “Departments create silos, teams execute to common goals.”

Otavio Freire, President and CTO at digital risk protection company SafeGuard Cyber, says silos are the biggest impediment to IT-marketing collaboration. “We have to remember that a lot of organizational swim lanes and responsibilities are holdovers from a different information landscape.”

Lean into enablement

IT was long considered the department of “no”. What the marketing organization needs instead is help figuring out what solutions make sense.

“Our marketing team does take the security of our customer’s data and compliance with mandates such as GDPR very seriously, but we often need to guidance on how we can get our jobs done effectively within those security frameworks,” says Stacy Blaiss, director of corporate marketing at cybersecurity company BeyondTrust. “If a proposed marketing technology can’t be supported by IT for some reason, help us find an acceptable alternative.”  

An unwillingness to compromise is a relationship-killer. “When working out obstacles or disagreements, keep in mind that each team has their own goals, capabilities and bandwidths,” advises Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group, “and try to find a solution that best serves the customer and the business.”

Invite marketing to participate in key IT hires

Brian Gies, CMO at Church’s Chicken, is consulted when the company is recruiting new IT leaders.

“It not only ensured candidates were like-minded in the mandate of linking technology needs tightly to the marketing organization, but also helped to forge a strong relationship at the earliest possible stage,” Gies says.

With the CIO, he’s also jointly hired a senior director that bridges the marketing and IT organization. “This person has one foot solidly in each group, fostering a common language and priorities between business needs and technical know-how,” says Gies.

Assist CMOs in digital hiring

IT’s knowledge can come in handy when creative and marketing teams are looking for professionals with tech chops.

“IT leaders may be able to use their technological expertise to help creative and marketing teams in their hiring efforts,” says Domeyer. A 2019 survey of advertising and marketing decision markers by The Creative Group found that 45 percent were understaffed in digital and a majority said it would be helpful to work with IT when hiring for creative roles that require technology know-how.

Get to know marketing, not just its tech

IT should regularly participate in marketing initiatives,” says Cantor of Park Place Technologies. “A good marketing business segment will have all kinds of efforts under way: videos, marketing material generation, external media contacts. It’s easy for IT to ignore participating in those initiatives, but it’s an important part of the relationship that IT supports marketing resource needs outside of pure technology.”

Make sure IT has a liaison to marketing, says Ron McMurtrie, chief marketing and business enablement officer at Sage. That liaison can attend planning and strategy sessions and get to know marketing, what it’s trying to achieve, and why.

“This is a proactive approach, rather than waiting for a moment of conflict,” say Otavio Freire, President and CTO at digital risk protection company SafeGuard Cyber. “By creating a system of trust and understanding, you can develop a positive working relationship.”

Collaborate early on

“Marketers can articulate what the strategy is, but there is often a communication barrier when it comes to explaining technology needs with the IT team,” says Fleischman of Altimetrik. “Conversely, IT may not fully understand the needs or requirements of the marketing team, which can lead to sub-optimal technology purchases and implementation issues down the line.”

The key to overcoming this is to get involved with marketing strategy as early as possible.  “Don’t ignore marketing’s needs or requirements because they aren’t fully developed,” Fleischman says. “Coach and partner with them to clearly define and develop what is needed as part of every project. Make time to be engaged in the very early stages before planning and investment decisions move too far along.”

Scan the horizon

Anything the IT organization can do to help the marketing group see around corners is valuable. Park Place Technologies CMO Jennifer Deutsch appreciates when the IT organization troubleshoots ahead of time to ensure new technology will actually work and be delivered on time. In addition, it helps when IT shares innovation with her team to help them stay ahead of the tech curve.

T.J. Waldorf, CMO and head of customer success for data center and cloud solutions at INAP, urges CIOs not to be shy recommending ways in which marketing can better leverage IT’s skillset and understanding. “I want to know about tools and tech that could accelerate my ability to drive greater ROI for the business,” Waldorf says. “Even things as basic as recommendations on how we can make our website faster — it’s all very helpful.” 

The business reality is that CMO commands a larger tech stack and budget than the CIO. And much of that investment is now in channels outside the network perimeter, like social media, and enterprise CRM apps. So, marketing is in charge of channels that present a critical attack surface, but is not usually trained in a security mindset. As more of the business elements that touch revenue move outside the network — marketing, sales, CRM, customer care — it becomes ever more important that IT and marketing regularly share information and work together.