IT Developers Reporting To Marketing? Crazy Beautiful.

Okay, the title may have raised an eyebrow or two. However, sometimes to make colossal leaps ahead of the competition some completely unconventional strategies may need to be attempted.

At a large consumer products firm they successfully integrated their Ecommerce marketing and Ecommerce IT divisions and realized some quite spectacular results.

The company was expanding across multiple domains that required them to split efforts between direct-to-consumer and third-party partner integration of their product offering.

Direct-to-consumer Ecommerce was their only customer-facing application at the time. Partner Ecommerce applications were more focused on integrating with third party systems and didn’t contain much of a “customer experience” component.

Wanting to deliver a robust customer experience and grow that channel, direct-to-consumer Ecommerce required more and more IT resources. Unfortunately, these requests came behind third-party bug fixes, partner integration issues, etc. As is typically the case, Marketing had responsibility for revenue growth but no control over the resources which could deliver upon those goals.

A Crazy Idea

As resource issues brought things to a head, Ecommerce marketing leadership approached the SVP of Customer and Partner Integration with an idea.

In order to meet the company’s online marketing and sales goals, they needed dedicated IT resources. The initial reaction of the SVP was “You want me to have my IT people report to Marketing? You know nothing about IT.” That wasn’t necessarily true. Over time, the Ecommerce marketing director had accumulated enough of an understanding of the company’s IT environment, their legacy systems, and internal barriers and was able to combine that knowledge with that of the company’s competitors, what they were offering online and how they could pull ahead.

Within a few weeks the Ecommerce marketing director was assigned five programmers, a website designer, two Quality Assurance people, and an IT project manager combined with four traditional marketers and a marketing manager. Within the Ecommerce IT area they carved out an area for this new team and purposefully placed a marketer and an IT person in every other cubicle. For both entities it was like getting a new neighbor who didn’t speak their language and didn’t like very much.

Growing Pains

It comes as no surprise that Marketing and IT don’t generally get along (extroverts meet introverts).

After a week or two of grumbling and consistent closed door meetings, it was time to begin the integration. The IT group came in and took the marketing team through a presentation on the terminology they used, an explanation of the current operating environment, the challenges with the legacy systems and the new technologies they were bringing onboard over the coming months. At a follow-up meeting the marketing team took the IT group through the Ecommerce goals that had been set, an overview of what the competitors were offering online, the products they wanted to introduce and the anticipated revenue and profit.

Beyond show and tell, the combined team went to numerous team luncheons together and offsite team building events (movies, golf outings, baseball games, outdoor team building retreats, etc.).Complaints dropped off quickly. Individuals didn’t want to complain about someone who just caught them in a trust fall the week before. The IT people enjoyed the constant flow of sugar that Marketing generally brought in and Marketing enjoyed the quick IT help when they had issues printing or loading new software.

Both teams came to an understanding that in order to be successful both sides had to work together as one cohesive unit. The goal was to obliterate the competition not each other.

The “Can’s” Can Do Miracles

More weeks passed and the rough edges started to smoothen among the rank-and-file. New conversations in the cubicles such as marketers asking their IT neighbors “Now, tell me again why our system can’t do X?” or IT asking “Can you tell me again where on our competitor’s website they have that feature you’re interested in?” were encouraging; but they weren’t there yet.

In earlier times, if Marketing launched requests out of their silo and into IT’s, IT managers would present their concerns to their IT VP. Now those concerns had to come directly to Ecommerce Marketing.

During one interaction, the IT Manager and Project Manager explained that something the marketing group wanted simply couldn’t be done. The Ecommerce marketing director asked if they understood why what they wanted was important. They did. He then said, “Okay, then you need to go back and figure out how to make it happen. Determine the necessary investment in people, technology or otherwise you need.‘Can’t’ is not an option.” They frowned. He then said “Now, I’ll tell you a little secret. If you can get me to 70 -80% of what they want, I’ll be happy.” Their attitudes improved because “marketing” was being reasonable. They weren’t fighting with them, but willing to work with them. And, they knew that the business held the purse strings to add resources which IT, as an enabling function, didn’t have. This was a game changer for them.

Never again did the IT team come to Marketing with an impossible situation. Instead, they came with concerns and then ideas on how to get most, if not all, of the way to the goal. That worked.

Flying High

Over a relatively short period of time, change occurred. Ecommerce marketers assessed the competition and their online offerings while taking into consideration their knowledge of the company’s systems and development timelines. Ecommerce IT negotiated and rearranged requirement priorities and resources with Marketing and became problem solvers. Everything started to gel.

Within two years, the customer Ecommerce channel grew from $560,000 to $13.5 million in annual revenue and became the most profitable channel in the company.

Tony Streeter is the Chief Marketing Officer, SVP at Y&L Consulting, Inc. in San Antonio, Texas. Mr. Streeter has led new product development, Ecommerce marketing, and integrated platform marketing initiatives for major companies such as Harland Clarke, Deluxe Corporation and RR Donnelley. Currently, Mr. Streeter leads marketing and branding initiatives for Y&L Consulting, a comprehensive IT Services & Solutions company specializing in IT Development, Information Management/BI, and Service Desk Services.