The future of IT-marketing collaboration

[bctt tweet=”Marketing and IT have to let go a little bit, trust each other and get together in the middle.”]

For years, the division between marketing and IT departments has been held up as an example of the old way of doing business: rigid silos, all housing information to be doled out on a strict need-to-know basis. The CMO and CIO (at least in their stereotypical guises) were perfect emblems of this fractured way of approaching business.

At our last Collabosphere, we gathered a quartet of IT and marketing experts to talk about how the digital age has forced a reconfiguration of the role they play within organizations—and with each other.

All eyes on the customer

The best and easiest way to unite disparate departments around shared goals? Focus on the customer.

“We created a car rental company that was supposed to disrupt the car rental space—and we did that by starting with a customer experience, customer journey-designed team,” said Silvercar CTO Allen Darnell. The goal was to remove friction from the process of renting a car. No single department held the solution, so Darnell’s customer-driven team brought in people from product, tech, marketing and more. This kept team members in roles that traditionally aren’t customer-facing or traditionally customer-focused from being “isolated in an ivory tower.”

Regardless of your company size, technology will help bridge the gap between departments, especially once you’ve established some common ground. Of course, many IT teams aren’t used to having marketers poking around in their business, and vice versa.

“It’s scary for a lot of IT people who have been in this sort of monolithic IT approach where you write requirements and send them back to the business,” said Andy Roach, CTO at CDS, an Omnicom Group company. “Having someone in a daily meeting hearing all the warts and issues… radical transparency is what it is. Tools like iMeet Central—not to plug the conference—those are the kinds of tools that make that available to you.”

“Act like a startup,” Darnell advised. “In a larger organization, if that means going rogue a little bit and finding a different tool to micro-plan inside of a specific use case for a small project and specific team, take advantage of that. Build a better process and use that as an example to show other people how you can decrease cycle times or increase development output.”

“Everybody in the entire organization has a lens into all of our tools,” he said.

The magic of middle ground

Perhaps it should go without saying in 2016 that no single department should “own” your customer experience, but the panelists suggested that even traditional IT and marketing tasks are no longer the sole domain of those respective departments.

“Marketing in the digital age has become the company’s responsibility to a degree,” said Dan Roche, VP of marketing at TalkPoint. “It becomes everyone’s job to help work on demand gen or getting customer feedback to help [their colleagues] build a better product. At the end of the day, we all have a common goal: we all want more business, more customers and to keep them as long as we can. [Marketing and IT] have to let go a little bit, trust each other and get together in the middle.”

The middle. That came up a lot.

“The future is in the middle,” said Andy Roach, CTO at CDS, an Omnicom Group Company. “We call it digital governance. Some organizations have a very large legacy IT footprint and they need to step up into the cloud, into agile, into DevOps. Others are coming the other way and jumped straight into the cloud without the legacy environment. Honestly, both can learn from each other. There’s power in the middle. If you look at security breaches, the importance of protecting PII (personally identifiable information), all the things that can get a marketer into trouble, IT brings that skill set to the table in ways that don’t exist elsewhere in the organization.”

The next generation of collaborators

Who is best poised to lead a silo-smashing cultural transformation? Thom Unterberger, Chief Officer at the Good Thinking Corporation, urges his agency clients to climb aboard the chief marketing technologist train.

“Chief marketing technologist oughta be a title everywhere, in my opinion,” he said. “What I see a lot is a fear of hiring people who are better at doing what you’re supposed to be managing. That has extreme complications when it comes to technology-based concerns.”

For new hires in IT, Roach said, he focuses on technology consulting. Who has the ability to really understand the needs of a customer or colleague? “Sometimes you need to have two modes of IT,” he said. “One, where you are willing to take a little bit of risk, and give up a bit of the control you previously had. For other things, you actually have to have a lot of control. IT departments need to be very skilled in both areas.”

On the marketing side, Roche talked about a shift from chasing English majors and marketing majors to chasing tech-savvy users. “I want people who have used systems, who are comfortable learning SaaS tools, people who have used Marketo and Salesforce and HubSpot, people who understand how to diagnose or look through data from Google,” he said.

Your recruiters and HR leaders probably have some ideas about how to hire collaborators. At Silvercar, Darnell, as CTO, has taken a very proactive approach to recruiting, in part due to the highly competitive nature of Austin’s tech scene. He’s the first person to interview candidates; during periods of rapid organizational growth, he estimates that recruiting can take up as much as half of his time. And he doesn’t even have the final say.

“The team is responsible for hiring,” he said. “I hold the team responsible for its performance, its output, its health. I can’t expect my team to do that if I force upon them the people who are part of the team. So they self-select, they self-groom, they self-motivate. If somebody can’t carry their weight, they don’t survive with their peers; the team kicks them out.”

While engineering candidates obviously must demonstrate sufficient mastery of engineering, one group of peer interviewers focuses entirely on team fit, helping protect the organization from any old-fashioned types looking to just hunker down in a silo.


Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.