Bridge in fog

In the world of digital marketing, the IT and marketing departments can be incredibly disconnected, despite the critical need for them to work together. 

But this isn't an insurmountable problem.

According to a recent Rackspace survey, only 14 percent of marketing leaders and 17 percent of IT leaders said they felt their departments were integrated with one another. That's a huge disconnect, and it affects the bottom line.

As general manager of the digital practice at Rackspace, I’ve dealt with this issue firsthand — and fixed it. The steps I took can be replicated in almost any company. It wasn’t easy to do, but once we got through some of the issues described below, it became apparent that working together is far easier than the alternative.

Acknowledge the Problem

Problems that go unacknowledged will continue to be problems. It may be a cliché, but it’s true — in any relationship, personal or professional, admitting a problem exists is the first step towards solving it.

While this can be a relatively simple step, it also demands a fair amount of humility (more on this in the next step). If the disconnect between marketing and IT is slowing down processes, delaying product launches or affecting the business in any significant way, the executives from both departments must put everything else aside and admit that there is a problem.

Once the disconnect has been acknowledged, the real work can start. Be prepared though, as the next step can be the most difficult and time-consuming of all.

Seek Humility, Seek Understanding

The overall divisions between marketing and IT have been identified. Next, it’s crucial to understand how those divisions came to be in the first place. To gain this understanding, both sides must leave their egos at the door and seek to understand one another.

This was a big part of fixing the problem for me.

I’ve always been on the business and sales side of the house, so when I came into my current role as a CMO, I hired a chief technologist to help lead product and technical discussions. In the beginning, we butted heads. A lot.

I would want to roll out our product quickly, as everyone does, but my timelines never seemed to work with his. I thought it was a headcount issue, and would ask him, “How many more people do you need to get the job done by X date?” He would come back and say, “It doesn’t work like that.”

The whole process was incredibly frustrating for both of us, and after much ­chagrin, I finally realized we were speaking different languages.

He was speaking from a place that took into account his resources (or lack thereof), and I was speaking from a place that focused on my immediate action items. That’s a rather large disconnect.

To fix it, I had to take the first step. I believe in general, the marketer should take the first step, to understand why the CIO’s timeline is what it is and what’s affecting it.

Why? To put it frankly, it’s harder to understand what the CIO is doing than what the CMO is doing. The CIO has a more specialized role, and like it or not, it falls to the CMO to extend the olive branch.

As a marketer expands into not only being marketing focused, but utilizing technology, she has to either blindly trust what the CIO is saying, which could lead to misunderstandings down the line, or understand why the CIO is saying what he’s saying — and that’s the better approach.

My advice? Seek to understand why the CIO needs more time than you initially thought, seek to understand his constraints. Don’t assume she’s stonewalling. Assume she wants to be helpful — and empower her to do so.

By making that time at the onset of a project, by understanding each other and by being humble, you will save infinite time (and frustration) down the road.

It will also allow you to approach planning from a new perspective, by taking the CIO into account. This is what step number three is all about.

Set Realistic Goals, Insist on Accountability

This is really about internalizing the first two steps and taking action. The CIO and CMO understand there’s a problem, and they’ve sat down and had meaningful conversations about each others’ needs and constraints.

The groundwork has been laid, and now it’s time to build on it. It’s time to manage the new relationship and get to work.

To ensure the hard work both sides have done isn’t squandered, hold each other accountable. This can come in the form of simple, agreed-upon commitments or if necessary, more formal service-level agreements (internal SLAs). The point is to be upfront about expectations and to deliver on them. If you agree on a two-month timeline for a product launch, both sides must deliver.

By holding each other accountable, and by involving each other in the planning process early on, mutual respect is fostered and a cooperative approach is undertaken. This allows the CMO to relinquish control in good faith while the CIO retains the trust and goodwill of the marketing department, and contributes to the bottom line without delays.

Reap the Benefits of a Connected Workplace

If you can figure out the above, you’re well on your way. It’s all about acknowledging, moving to planning, and then from there, execution.

I know none of this is difficult to understand, but it really can be difficult to do. Acknowledging the problem takes guts, reaching out and saying, “Help me understand,” takes even more.

But ensuring that IT and marketing are truly aligned means success. Ignoring problems simply won’t work.

These disconnects won’t fix themselves; they won’t just heal naturally. It’s incumbent upon CMOs and CIOs to reach across the aisle, sync up and get back to getting things done. Good luck!

Title image by Christina Munteanu